The one-note Halloween look may have gone the way of Darth Vader and E.T., say costume industry experts who are predicting a greater diversity in Oct. 31 disguises this year.
With no single, blockbuster movie providing inspiration, trick-or-treaters and adult party-goers are expected to return to the season's staples--with a twist. And television cartoons are holding their ground, inspiring costumes that are favorites for children.
"It's going to be a good, old-fashioned Halloween," said Leslie Bliss, owner of Hudson Southwest Costume Co. in Garden Grove and immediate past president of National Costumers Assn. "There isn't a predominant costume."
But Clay Yancy, who succeeded Bliss as president of the organization representing nearly 500 costume-shop owners nationwide, warns that the prediction means costumes will be anything but tame.
"People are primarily into sexy things," said Yancy, the owner of Helene of Arkansas, with stores in Fort Smith, Fayetteville and Little Rock. "As long as they're revealing, they'll go for them."
For women, this translates into tight-fitting, closely cropped costumes in this year's darling fabric--Lycra.
Best-sellers include feline costumes inspired by the Broadway musical "Cats," which has been on tour nationwide. Elvira costumes, inspired several years ago by the television hostess of horror movies, remain popular. Business is also brisk in the traditional peekaboo costumes.
"You don't see pumpkins much anymore," Yancy said. "Instead you see cancan dancers, French maids and corselets."
"Everybody wants to be Playboy Bunnies," confirmed Marti Gallego, a salesclerk at the Halloween Place in the J.C. Penny store in Harbor Shopping Center, Costa Mesa.
For men, an emphasis on the sex appeal of a man in uniform translates into a marked preference for things military.
"We've been renting a lot of fancy military uniforms, especially German World War I uniforms," Bliss said. "It's a real tailored, sharp uniform that makes any guy look like he's six feet tall with broad shoulders and a narrow waist."
Men have also been playing into the hands of major manufacturers, which have been scurrying to make up for sales lost last year when they failed to release a costume in time for the first wave of the "Rambo" craze.
National Theme Productions of San Diego, Collegeville Costumes of Philadelphia and Rainbow Manufacturing of Los Alamitos all are offering Sylvester Stallone spin-offs, which are being billed as "American Hero" and "Joe Commando." Prices start at $22.99 for men and $16 for boys.
Also in an apparent attempt to appeal to male vanity, National Theme Productions has released "Muscle Man," a Latex body suit with bulging muscles available only at J.C. Penny for $79.98.
Concessions run by National Theme Productions in major department stores, an innovation dating back to 1980, continue to draw a large portion of customers. Participating stores include the Broadway, Gemco, J.C. Penny and Sears.
But conventional costume outlets--trick shops and second-hand stores--still say Halloween business is good.
"You'd be surprised how many adults want to be kids and vice versa," said Sandy Morey, manager of Goodwill Industries Store in Orange.
Along with the Goodwill Industries Store in Buena Park, it is renting costumes for the second year running.
"We just put aside stuff as it comes into the store. We say, 'Gee, this looks like something,' " she said of costumes such as ball gowns, hospital uniforms and military uniforms.
Others, such as Sally Crow of Newport Beach, plan to wear makeshift costumes using ingredients from the back of their closets. She is on the coordinating committee of Le Bon Marche, a fund-raising bazaar for the Newport Harbor Art Museum. Set to open at 6 p.m. Friday, the sale of "donated treasures" runs through Sunday at the South Coast Plaza Village Mercantile Building at Sunflower Avenue and Bear Street in Santa Ana.
"This was strictly a homemade jobbie," Crow said of the pirate's costume she plans to wear for the sale. She had combined striped madras pants, a black woolen vest and a turban decorated with fake coins. A black, wooden letter-opener had been tucked beneath a cotton cummerbund.
"I thought it would look more like a sword than anything," she explained.
Meanwhile, interest is blossoming in the creative costume that becomes a "visual pun," according to Norman McKinnon, director of marketing for National Theme Productions in San Diego.
"Some people are buying Gumby costumes, wearing a flight jacket and going as 'Top Gum,' " he reports, chuckling at the spoof on the recent movie, "Top Gun."
"We also are selling a lot of monkey masks and monk robes," he said. "What does that make? Chimp monks."
The trend toward diversity marks a significant departure from past years when a single family-oriented movie captured the imagination of Halloween revelers for an entire season.