published Monday, October 8th, 2012

Dressed to impress: Princesses, superheroes, witches top choices for Halloween costumes

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    Finley Burnette, dressed as Queen Amidala from "Star Wars," and brother Forbes Burnette, dressed as a baby bear, model their Halloween costumes.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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Finley Burnette's obsession with "Star Wars" influenced her decision to dress up on Halloween night as Queen Padmé Amidala.

"She had a 'Star Wars'-themed birthday party in the spring, and she got a Princess Leia costume then," said Elizabeth Burnette about her 5-year-old daughter. "I thought she would want to be Princess Leia (for Halloween), but I think she saw this as a good opportunity to get the only other female character's costume."

Choosing a costume is a priority for people of all ages at Halloween. Whether for trick-or-treating, parties or just to set the mood for handing out candy, costumes are a chance to take on a different persona.

Many consumers say their biggest source of inspiration is what they see in a retail stores or costume shops, according to the National Retail Federation's 2012 Halloween consumer spending survey.

"More than one-third (35.7 percent) will look for new ideas in a store, and nearly one-quarter (23.7 percent) will turn to their friends and family," said the survey, conducted by BigInsight.

"Online searches will also be popular with celebrants -- 33.3 percent say they will get their inspiration online. Of those buying or making costumes, the average person will spend $28.65 on costumes this year, up slightly from $26.52 in 2011."

According to NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay, retailers are stocking traditional and not so traditional garb inspired by Hollywood and pop culture. Recent and current events also influence this year's costume ideas, ranging from athletes to politicians.

A record 170 million people plan to celebrate Halloween this year and are expecting to spend more than last year, according to the BigInsight survey. "The average person will spend $79.82 on decorations, costumes and candy, up from $72.31 last year, with total Halloween spending expected to reach $8 billion," the survey showed.

Kim Bullock, owner of Halloween Express, said she's heard those predictions but sales at her East Brainerd store are down about 25 percent from the same time last year.

"This is our fifth year in Chattanooga, and, frankly, we're surprised that sales aren't better," she said.

However, this year, the store moved about two blocks up Gunbarrel Road to a site behind Best Buy. "We're thinking people don't know where we are," Bullock said. "We're hoping sales will get better."

The store stocks ready-made costumes as well as "everything you need" to put a customized costume together, she said. "We have masks, hats, jewelry, wigs, makeup, props -- everything for children and adults."

So far, the top sellers in children's costumes in Bullock's store have been ninjas and Batman for boys and Dorothy from the "Wizard of Oz" for girls.

BigInsight's Top Costumes survey said Americans are expected to spend more than $1.1 billion on children's costumes this year.

Burnette said Finley's costume cost about $35, while her 18-month-old brother, Forbes, who will dress as a bear, cost $6.

"We have purchased most of the kids' Halloween costumes (rather than make them), but I prefer to buy the dress-up costumes that are sold year-round instead of the ones that come out at Halloween because they seem to hold up better," Burnette said. "Since the kids like to play dress-up in them all year, they get quite a bit of use out of them.

"We also sometimes repurpose dress-up clothes into Halloween costumes," she said. "Last year, Finley was a dancing butterfly fairy, and she put together a host of dress-up clothes like wings and leotards and tutus."

Victoria Underwood, of Dayton, Tenn., said she's saving money on costumes by dressing her boys, Max, 4, and Bear, 2, as zombies, using old clothing.

"I will cut up old T-shirts and old pants," she said. "I did buy zombie makeup from Target though."

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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