Forget Barackula and other political ghouls that flew off costume store shelves last year.
This year, Halloween retailers are scrambling to meet demand for new outfits based on Lady Gaga's outlandish red-carpet get-ups and the rippling abs seen on Jersey Shore, making this year all about the over-the-top pop culture phenom.
"We're completely sold out of Gaga and Jersey Shore," says Scott Morris, whose family has spent nearly 50 years selling dress up as the owners of Morris Costumes in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The wholesaler has come a long way from selling the original Bigfoot costume seen in the famous 1960s short film. Morris's 20,000 costumes include a kaleidoscope of Gaga options, such as the blue swimsuit she wore in her "Poker Face" video.
It's tough to keep up with the pop star's ever-changing personas, notes Morris, since the costume selection process starts up to a year in advance. Had Lady Gaga worn her meat dress to last year's Video Music Awards, fake steaks would have been all the rage, he posits.
Jersey Shore characters are the No. 1 choice among young adults aged 18 to 24, according to Brand Keys, a New York brand consultant that polled 6,000 people. Not surprising, considering the Jersey Shore-themed Halloween parties—complete with hair gel, spray tans, bikinis, and spiked punch—that have swept college campuses across the nation.
Three costumes based on the notorious reality TV show were designed for MTV by Rubie's Costume Co., based in Richmond Hill, New York. The network's exacting standards included the short length of Snooki's leopard-print dress and the height of her poofy wig, says Howard Beige, an executive at Rubie's. And fake tattoos screen-printed onto flesh-colored 'muscle chests' were integral to costumes for 'The Situation' and 'DJ Pauly D.'
'The licensed costumes are becoming a bigger part of the business in general,' and are edging out the generic witch and vampire outfits, adds Beige, whose company also designed the Star Wars and Lady Gaga costumes. 'These are fascinating characters who wear really over-the-top clothes. They're a costume designer's dream.'
And with so many box-office hits this year, hot sellers will include the film characters Woody, Jessie and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story 3; Avatar's Neytiri; and Alice in Wonderland's Mad Hatter and the Red Queen. But unlike the provocative, skin-showing Gaga get-ups, these family-friendly choices are 'fun and flirty, but not overtly sexy,' says Cheryl Kerzner, vice president of product design at Disguise Costumes. The San Diego company boasts a portfolio of costume licenses for Disney, Marvel, Sesame Street, and Hasbro characters, among others.
There are still some current-events-based costumes this year, including a green jumpsuit splattered with oil and a BP sunburst logo sewn over the left lapel. The BP stands for 'bad planning,' says Stanley Geller, founder of Fun World, the Long Island company behind the costume. All it took was some quick retooling of the firm's 'killer mechanic' look to make corporate horror the message-minded costume of the moment. Several thousand have sold so far, with some of the proceeds going to families affected by the Gulf oil spill.
And Halloween Adventure, a costume seller in New York's East Village, has sold out of its supply of miner's hats and other accessories pegged to the dramatic, headline-grabbing rescue of 33 Chilean miners earlier this month.
The bottom line, says Morris, is that this Halloween will be the industry's biggest ever. More than 40 percent of people will dress up, up from last year's 33 percent, according to the National Retail Federation. That's the highest figure since the trade group began releasing its annual survey on Halloween spending.
'Ironically, the economy has really driven our sales,' says Morris. 'With all the bad news out there, people are looking for that release, that way to vacate yourself and be someone completely different for a day.'