Hot for Halloween: This year's costumes range from cutesy store-bought to oddball DIY

photo Christopher Bonner searches for a costume at Halloween Express at Hamilton Place.
photo Shandra Finley models a witch costume, which was pulled together from pieces in stock at Collective Clothing. The vintage clothing store has locations in St. Elmo and on the North Shore.
photo Shandra Finley models a devil costume, which was pulled together from pieces in stock at Collective Clothing. The vintage clothing store has locations in St. Elmo and on the North Shore.

Google's most-searched Halloween costumes1. Elsa from "Frozen"2. Olaf from "Frozen"3. Maleficent4. Ninja Turtle5. Anna from "Frozen"6. The Avengers' Black Widow7. Captain America8. Groot from "Guardians of the Galaxy"9. YouTube's viral Dog Spider10. Assassin's CreedMost popular Halloween costumes on PinterestGo to• Woman dressed as gumball machine• Women dressed as loofah sponges• Women dressed as sprinkle-covered doughnuts• Hipster version of Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" > Effie from "The Hunger Games"• Man in armchair carried by death (you're gonna have to see it to understand it)

Collective Clothing co-owners Travis and Sandra Aten just returned from a Midwest buying spree with a giant lobster, a humongous cellphone and enormous ketchup and mustard bottles.

In the five years they have owned the St. Elmo vintage shop, "we always made a Halloween buying trip to find unique costumes then we post them on our Instagram page and they sell out fast," Travis says. "A couple bought the ketchup and mustard costumes almost the same day we posted the image."

There will be hordes of Elsas, Olafs, Maleficents, Ninja Turtles and Groots roaming around on Halloween night. Google, Party City and Halloween Express all list those as best-selling costumes nationwide, and store owners say Chattanoogans love those costumes, too.

But Halloween seems to inspire Chattanooga's resourceful pioneer spirit with huge numbers of locals creating their own cosutmes rather than buying a box of "Frozen" gear. Local vintage shops like Collective Clothing, Goodwill thrift stores and even some hardware stores report an influx of Halloween customers determined to create a unique look.

"October is our biggest retail sales month for Goodwill thrift stores here due to people wanting to make Halloween costumes you can't find anywhere else," Goodwill communications coordinator Mary Lockhart says. "For the first time ever this year, we've stocked brand-new costumes we purchased and put them in a special section in each store.

"We sell 'Frozen' costumes at a discount at all 14 stores in the 23 counties we cover here. We sold out and are restocking. But we also have children's costumes people donated. Yesterday I noticed lots of bears, all kind of bear costumes."

Lockhart's advice for adult costume makers is to find one unique clothing item like an incredile hat or cape or a unique accessory like a statement necklace or combat boots. Let that item inspire you into building a look around it.

Due to the influence of social media, some costume makers head to the hardware store this year. A YouTube video of a good-natured dog waddling around with fuzzy black spider legs attached to his back went viral, prompting partiers to search out materials to make a dog head and spider legs for their Halloween costume.

On Pinterest, the 10 most popular Halloween costumes are a trio of women, each one wearing giant ball of festively bright colored netting. They are loofah sponges. Another Pinterest hit is a bosomy woman with gumballs covering her torso. She claims to be a gumball machine.

Halloween Express stocks items for sexy-seeking shoppers who want naughty cop, nurse, teacher, librarian and even an astronaut who looks like Barbarella not Sandra Bullock. District manager Jamie Hunt says there was probably a naughty version of most occupational uniforms -- but not naughty Hazmat worker, not with the recent Ebola outbreak.

But Ebola has figured into this year's bad-taste costume controversies. Online retailer BrandsOnSale sparked criticism for selling a $79.99 Ebola containment suit costume complete with breathing apparatus, white hazmat jumpsuit and blue Latex gloves. The online catalog description reads: "This literally will be the most 'viral' costume of the year."

Inappropriate costumes for preteen girls also are sparking controversy, as they do almost every year.

National chain Party City stirred controversy with some costumes for preteen girls that seemed more appropriate for college coeds. "Cutie Cop" features a photo of a preteen girl in a short-skirted police uniform flaunting handcuffs. "Why is she in knee-high boots and heels -- and why isn't she in pants? Real female cops don't wear skirts," an annoyed parent asked The New York Daily News.

In an online ad, the "Fallen Angel" costume is worn by a girl who looks about 8 years old and uncomfortable to be wearing a black tulle miniskirt, black leather boots and sooty wings. The "Daredevil," meanwhile, is a black miniskirt with red pointed tail worn by an equally glum preteen girl, a pair of red horns poking through her hair.

At Party City's location on Hamilton Place Boulevard those costumes are not among the bestsellers.

" 'Frozen' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and 'Monster High' characters, Ninja Turtles, Batman 'Dark Knight' characters, zombies and pirates have been the big sellers," Party City assistant manager Carey Kelley says.

Nationwide, Party City's top 10 bestsellers include a categories called Geek Chic, Rave partygoers and the little minions from Steve Carrell's movie "Despicable Me." Minions can be bought as a group costume for several people.

Halloween Express also offers suggestions for plus sized adults -- horned Maleficent from this summer's Angelina Jolie movie of the same name, wicked wench and Roman Empress for females with Swashbuckler, Nerd and Super Mario suggested for husky men.

You won't find a single costume from "Frozen" at Red Bank's Beauty and the Beast but there are plenty of plus-sized vintage clothing, costumes, fabric and accessories.

"If I bought an Elsa costume from Disney, I can't compete with Wal-Mart and Target on prices so why bother to do that?" Beauty manager Susan Stringer says as she helps a customer figure out how to don a 19th-century bustle. "Instead, I focus on what we can bring to customers that other stores don't have, like a wide array of plus-sized costumes and enough leather and metallic clothing to outfit a steampunk army.

"We get a lot of young, creative customers who want to create a costume based on a book character or an anime cartoon creature or a graphic novel hero."

Stringer is well-versed in pop culture, but some customers ask for characters from cult hits or comics she has never encountered "so they just flip open their phones and show me pictures of who they want to be."

Last week, she helped transform a pair of young customers into the Wonder Twins -- according to Super Friends comics, they are orphaned Exorian shapeshifters forced to appear as freaks in the Space Circus until they come to Earth, graduate from Gotham High and begin superhero training. She put together the costumes in the store by grabbing purple spandex jumpsuits, stretchy fabric for the belts and a sparkly unidentified substance for the buckles. She proudly vows she can create any superhero costume thanks to the store's stock of spandex body suits in a rainbow of hues and her cache of adult-sized Underoos in different colors.

Contact Lynda Edwards at or 423-757-6391.