Halloween 2005 looks a lot like a cross between a sock-hop and a "Star Wars" convention.
Breakout movies of the 1970s, like "Grease" and "Star Wars," are the inspiration behind many of this year's Fright Night costumes, thanks to Americans' ever-growing nostalgia as well as the success of "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith." (search)
"Pop culture dictates what we do and what we buy. 'Star Wars' is a big part of pop culture and is estimated to be the No. 2 best-selling costume this year," said Ellen Davis, spokesperson for the National Retail Federation (search), who adds that witches are always No. 1, and actor/famous person rings in at No. 3.
Halloween has become such a phenomenon in recent years that even the outdated "Scream" mask equals big bucks for retailers.
"Halloween has transcended into a season, not just a day of the year," Davis said.
Retailers can thank young adults, aged 18-24, for this boost in holiday status, as they are the ones shelling out serious dinero for the perfect costume.
"Young adults' Halloween spending has substantially increased in the past year. Young adults tend to be unfazed by economic circumstances. Many of them don't have car payments, or insurance payments. They tend to have high disposable income and they don't mind investing in Halloween, because it is the one holiday where they can act like a kid again and nobody would care," Davis said.
Davis added that when it comes to Halloween, the term "young adult" stretches all the way up to age 35.
Columbia University MBA student Evan Bashoff, 28, is one of many "youngsters' in this age group gearing up for a fun night on the town.
"I have a party to go to. It's a special Halloween happy hour party at the business school. I'm not sure what I am going to go as, but I might just buy a mullet wig and take it from there," said Bashoff.
Costumes for the post-college set used to mean fishnets and bunny ears for the ladies and a hockey mask, a la Jason from "Friday the 13," for the guys.
But this year, count on seeing a slew of Pink Ladies in poodle skirts, wild-haired "Napoleon Dynamites," more Darth Vaders than one can count and an array of high-quality superhero costumes, like the $1,000 Batman and $600 Chewbacca costumes sold at Ricky's NYC.
"I've never bought a costume before in my life. It's pretty funny how the older you get, the more important Halloween becomes," added Bashoff.
And the more important it becomes, the more people will pay for it.
"We've been surprised by how much [this demographic] is willing to spend," said Jalem Getz, CEO of buycostumes.com. "We have a Darth Vader Collectors Edition costume. It is modeled after the original costume used in the movies. They are replicated so that they are identical or nearly identical to the ones seen in the 'Star Wars' films. It's priced at $799, but unfortunately we are sold out of them already. We've sold hundreds upon hundreds of them."
Buycostumes.com has added over 1,500 new costumes to its inventory, just to keep up with consumer demand. Some of the new costumes to be on the lookout for are the Wonder Woman 2005 Delux, which costs $56.99 (tube top and arm-bands included), the pink Jackie Kennedy-inspired First Lady ($34.99), "Star Wars" Emperor Palpatine Deluxe ($49.99) and the geeky '50s Prom King ($32.99).
"Our job as a retailer is to provide the costumes that people want," Getz said.
And people want more than just duds for themselves. They want to dress up Fido as well.
"Not only do we sell pet costumes, but last year, we created an entire category for them because that industry started growing so rapidly," said Getz, whose best-selling pet-stumes include Princess Leia ($18.99) and Superman ($13.99).
Putting pooches and co-eds aside brings us to the marrow of it all, which is kids and trick-or-treating, an image synonymous with All Hallows Eve.
According to the Nation Retail Federation's 2005 Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, which polled 8,106 consumers, the majority of little girls plan on playing princess this year, while boys are going to use their Spider-Man powers to get extra candy.
Not surprisingly, "Star Wars" is also hot among the tots, with Darth Vader rounding out the top five costumes.
Indeed, with so much attention being paid to young adults, it's easy to forget that kids are the repeat offenders who keep the costume industry alive.
"Let's face it, there is always the possibility that an older person will buy a costume and then wear it a few years in a row, but an 8-year-old won't fit into his costume or want to wear the same thing the next year," Davis said.