It's technically not a holiday and no gifts are exchanged, but Halloween is beginning to look a lot like another frightfully expensive seasonal celebration.
While the average household cost of Halloween still ranks well behind Christmas, spending is creeping up. Seven out of 10 Americans plan to celebrate Halloween this year, up from 64 per cent in 2010, according to a National Retail Federation survey. And they'll be shelling out $72.31 apiece on costumes, decoration and candy, up from $66.28 last year.
Halloween is expected to scare up big bucks for retail north of the border, too, where Canadians are expected to spend on average $60 per person for a single day of fun.
More than half the fun, of course, is getting dressed up -- and we're not just talking about the trick-or-treaters here.
Halloween costumes are big business, especially since most adults and kids alike want to have an entirely fresh look every year. Never mind that many of them wait until the last minute to choose an alter ego.
"The last week is wall-to-wall people. In the past few, years, we've even had to hire bouncers" says Brett Hogan, manager of Gags Unlimited, a costume and party supply store on Osborne Street. It stays open until midnight the Thursday and Friday before Halloween weekend.
A lot of guys are "going retro" this year, he says, opting for such pop-culture classics as the Thundercats, the Super Mario Brothers and that elusive, bespectacled scamp, Waldo.
And while the "sexy princess" look remains a favourite, the ladies have also started jockeying for position in the Justice League.
Super Girl and Wonder Woman are selling well, where "five years ago there weren't many girls dressing up as superheroes," says Hogan. "Comic book characters are becoming more unisex, period."
The store sells a "full spectrum of politicians from Nixon to Gadhafi," but where President Barack Obama and Sarah Palin might have been hot sellers in recent years, political costume sales are less than bewitching in 2011, as people are apparently opting for fantasy over debt-ridden reality.
Once again, Jack Sparrow and his swashbuckling ilk appear to be the belles of the costume ball.
"Pirates are as strong as ever," says Jonathan Glass, owner of Party Stuff on Milt Stegall Drive. "I'm actually seeing entire families come in and buy pirate costumes."
Another trend that picked up last year and is continuing strong, he says, is dressing like a celebrity -- living or dead. Top sellers include pop stars Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj, as well as late greats Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson.
Hollywood has also inspired another "winning" look this season, Glass adds. "We have Charlie Sheen wigs and masks if you want to be a bad boy, but you have to provide your own party favours."
Costumes at Party Stuff run the gamut from around $13.99 to $129.99 for the perennially popular gorilla suit. (There's also a life-sized banana for a cute couple costume.)
If you love Halloween but would rather not spend monstrous amounts of money, there are alternatives.
In its annual Halloween shopping survey, thrift retailer Value Village found 54 per cent of shoppers were willing to either combine new and second-hand items or even make their costume by hand to achieve a unique look and get the most bang for their buck.
Meg Allan Cole, national costume consultant for Value Village, suggests making a list of everything needed to create your costume, allowing you to start assessing what you have at home before heading out to pull together the remaining items.
For instance, if a theme is inspired by the movie poster for the hit comedy Bridesmaids, she suggests cutting the hemlines of mismatched dresses of a similar hue to get a more uniform look for the would-be bridesmaids. The dresses can later be recycled by pairing them with a tiara and fake blood as an homage to the prom queen from Carrie.
Meanwhile, the woman in white can transform into a zombie bride by ditching the pink sash from the Bridesmaids look and spray-painting her bouquet black and donning ghoulish makeup.
Value Village stores, which do sell new accessories -- from wigs to wings to makeup, starting at $1.99 -- have set up "transformation stations" where shoppers will find gently used clothing to help turn the bits and pieces into an original ensemble. (Makeup tutorials are available at valuevillage.com.)
"That's what really sets us apart," says Sabino Urciuoli, Value Village manager at Winnipeg's Ellice Avenue location. "You can be a pirate but you don't have to be the same pirate as anyone else.
"This is a lot cheaper and you can be sure that when you go to a party you're going to be the only one with that specific costume."
-- with files from Postmedia News, Canadian Press
Get your disgusting roaches, heeeeere!
IF you think groaning, disembodied spirits and dripping ectoplasm make a haunted house a home, imagine the hospitality that could be generated by a swarm of scurrying cockroaches.
That could be the icky ambience in your home or party venue this Halloween thanks to the interactive floor and wall "installations" created by a two-person Winnipeg media firm called PO-MO Inc., short for Post-Modern.
"That one is disgusting, but for Halloween it's fantastic because they look like real cockroaches, says animator Meghan Athavale, who co-owns the company with her tech-savvy partner Curtis Wachs.
"They swarm at you and you run around squishing them, and as soon as all of them are squished, a whole bunch more swarm out at you. There's an online video of me testing it and I can't even stand watching it."
Cockroach Invasion ($9.99) is just one of three seasonal scenes PO-MO created specifically for Halloween. There's also Creepy Eyes -- imagine several pairs of "crazy, googly eyes" staring at your from a wall or screen and following you as you walk on by -- and Creepy Owl ($4.99). A cute owl sits innocently on a moonlit tree branch until your movement activates a mysterious mist and leaves the poor hooter a mere skeleton of his former self.
Before you can set the scenes, however, you need the Po-motion software, which can be downloaded free from the company website (www.po-motion.com). The software works with any computer or webcam and can be used on a TV or projected onto a floor or wall, as big as you want.
As a bonus, PO-MO has digitally created some haunted house portrait-style paintings that are available for free on their website in case you're looking for some seasonal artwork that can look right back at you.
PO-MO's scenes can be also customized with a company name or logo for an extra $50.
(Check the web at www.po-mo.com)
Seek and ye shall find
Hunt down old sports equipment in the garage and dress as a football player or a boxer. Look through your closet to see if a striped sweater can become Where's Waldo, or if a fur coat can turn into Cruella de Vil.
Pull out the scissors and paint. An empty cardboard box can transform into anything from a giant live playing card to a driver's licence with a cut-out for your head.
Borrow before you buy. Send an email to family, friends and co-workers. If your kid wants to be a pirate this year, you're bound to know someone whose kid was a pirate last year or the year before. They might even thank you for taking it off their hands.
Breathe new life into any used costume by turning it into a zombie version.