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Pop culture influence is hot for Halloween: swaps, creativity among ways to save

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When choosing her Halloween costume as a youngster, Danielle Strohan was more likely to sift through hand-me-downs in a box than check stores for something new.

She fondly recalls her chipmunk costume being a perennial favourite.

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"For years — until I literally could not wear it (anymore) — that's what I wore growing up."

Now with two daughters of her own and Halloween looming, Strohan has turned to pre-loved getups for her little ones.

"I know we're going to do the Halloween thing, but I'd very much rather do something used," she said. "Most kids wear (costumes) for a couple of hours and then it's done. Most costumes are in fairly good condition, still."

Strohan attended Calgary's National Costume Swap Day over the Thanksgiving weekend, trading in devil and dragon costumes for a witch costume for her two-year-old and a fluffy monster outfit for her 20-month-old.

Organizer Amanda Barker got in touch with those behind the National Costume Swap Day south of the border because she wanted to associate her swap with a more established event. Those without a costume to trade could pay $10 for a preworn find. Barker held a swap in September as well, where 40 costumes were swapped and six were sold.

National Costume Swap Day launched last year as a kick-off to Green Halloween season, a volunteer-run grassroots initiative to create more Earth-friendly holidays.

"It was part of being eco-friendly, and also, a lot of parents just don't have maybe the budget to buy their kids brand-new costumes, because they can get quite expensive," said Barker, owner of Edamame Kids, an eco-friendly baby boutique.

The year when Barker's daughter, now two, was first born, she wore a secondhand cow costume for Halloween. Last year, her little one was geared up for the gridiron, pairing a jersey homemade by a family member with jeans, shoes and a little football.

"Some kids when they get to a certain age, they're really particular about what they want to be and so a lot of parents will either try to make it with the stuff they have at home or they'll just maybe buy accessories.... maybe buy a tiara or a hat," Barker said.

Value Village says on average, a family of four expects to spend $300 to costume, decorate and celebrate Halloween.

In its annual Halloween Shopping Survey, the thrift retailer found 90 per cent of adults and 93 per cent kids want to have an entirely fresh look each year. The poll of more than 1,000 adults revealed 54 per cent of shoppers would either combine new and secondhand items or even make their costume by hand to achieve a unique look and get the best value for their money.

"My tried-and-true method that I like to give people as a suggestion is to find and print out or draw and sketch an image that is your ideal look," said Meg Allan Cole, national costume consultant for Value Village.

Cole 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 those seeking to get value-added wear from one ensemble, Cole crafted a video showing how to get multiple looks from one outfit.

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 spraypainting her bouquet black and donning ghoulish makeup.

While budget-conscious consumers are inventive about keeping costume costs down, the appetite for both beloved classic and contemporary looks shows no sign of waning.

In the Value Village survey, zombies from "The Walking Dead" topped the list of TV-inspired costumes, scaring up support from 31 per cent of respondents. The AMC series was followed by the sequinned shimmiers of "Dancing with the Stars" at 19 per cent. Last year's top vote-getter "True Blood" had a bit less bite, with the sexy vampires sinking their fangs into third spot at 17 per cent.

As for costume inspiration from the silver screen, pirates were at the top of the heap among adult and child respondents, thanks to "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." The final instalment of "Harry Potter" was also a popular influence.

Rhona Segarra, general manager of B.C.-based retailer The Party Bazaar, believes "Potter" and "Pirates" will be mainstays for the foreseeable future.

"Anything where the character is such a character where people can kind of pretend to be something larger than life .... They love that," she said.

Cole said the perma-tanned, fist-pumping cast of "Jersey Shore" is still a favourite, and the ever-outrageous getups worn by Lady Gaga and Katy Perry remain a colourful source of inspiration.

But Cole said the absence of one definitive standout look this year could be a reason that throwback and flashback costumes are on the rise, such as Minnie Mouse, Smurfs and the Green Hornet. Men are also embracing more humour in their looks, with the rock star and mullet among the top-selling wigs.

In kids' costumes, Cole said little boys like characters from superhero blockbusters, like Spider-Man, ninjas and wolverines. Meanwhile, girls gravitate more towards princess or fairy costumes, which Cole said leaves the door open for parents to show their creative side.

"You could do a little girl's dress from a gently-worn area and then combine that with say a wand, a tiara," she said. "That way, at your kid's parade, even if there are other fairies or princesses, your daughter has her own unique costume which we're seeing as a big trend — that people want to stand out and have something that is one of a kind and very different."

Segarra said full-bodied morph suits worn by famed Vancouver Canucks supporters the Green Men are hot tickets this Halloween, newly introduced in ninja, leopard, witch and skeleton varieties.

"People seem to be really enjoying those because they can, I guess, cover up their heads and be somewhat anonymous as they go out to parties," she said.

Segarra said costumes inspired by Super Mario Brothers and Angry Birds are also popular. And more than a year since its big screen release, "Alice In Wonderland" is still a hot commodity, with a dark Mad Hatter costume selling well.

Cole said despite the challenges in the economy, Halloween remains a source of excitement for people and it can be a low-stress, fun and easy holiday.

"It's not like Christmas. It doesn't drag on for a long time. It's just one day," she said. "You just need to make sure you have a fun costume, your house looks spooky."

————

Online:

Calgary's National Costume Swap Day:http://www.calgarykidscostumeswap.com

DIY Costumes: Bridesmaids, Zombies and Carrie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBINCA_6CUk&feature=shareThe Party Bazaar: www.thepartybazaar.com

Value Village: www.valuevillage.ca

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