It's that time of year when you peer into the ghostly gloom at the back of your closet and mutter a hopeful incantation for the Unseen Forces to materialize an acceptable Halloween costume.
But let's face it: Some Octobers, even the powers of the unknown can't come up with a home-brew outfit that's appropriately Halloweenish.
So if the spooks among the coat hangers let you down, you may want to turn to an earthly, commercially motivated source, such as one of Southern California's many costume shops. The staffs at these companies just might be able to make you the monster of your dreams.
And there's no law that says you've got to be double ugly every Oct. 31. How about becoming a sexy Prince Charming or Cinderella? Elvis or Marilyn? Superman or Wonder Woman?
A key to successful costuming stressed by many shops is to select and reserve your outfit as early as possible before Halloween (or any other holiday or celebration for which costumes are popular).
Most costume stores concentrate on rentals, but you may purchase at some, especially children's costumes that are generally offered for sale and not rent.
You might not want to rent or buy an entire outfit. If you have the primary makings of a costume at home, you can get accessories or makeup at many of the businesses.
Rental prices range from $25 to $150, with an average price of about $35 for a rental of one to three days.
All stores require a security deposit of $25 to $100 to ensure that the costume will be returned in reasonably good condition.
Here's a sampler of Southland costume stores that will help you have an enchanting evening as you party or go trick-or-treating.
Cabaret Costume, 1302 Kingsdale Ave., Redondo Beach, (213) 370-0098. Owner Christine Massler, who has an extensive background in fashion design, says the firm designs and makes 90% of its rental costumes. "When we create a costume, we are building a fantasy, and there is always someone who wants it," she says.
In addition to fairy-tale, saloon-girl, witch, pirate and gangster costumes, you can find genuine evening gowns from the early 1900s and authentic Indian headdresses. Or perhaps you would rather be a lobster, a hamburger or King Kong's hand or go with your date in a couples costume, such as King Neptune and a mermaid.
Sorry, but their one-of-a-kind black widow costume (a sexy creation that is guaranteed to attract comments and other things) has been reserved since last June.
Cabaret Costumes also supplies drama productions and corporate, theme and murder-mystery parties.
Costumes by Magic World, 900 S. Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank, (818) 848-8100; 10122 Topanga Blvd., Chatsworth, (818) 700-8100; 2010 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego, (619) 574-6201. Owner Phil Sherman says that in addition to costumes for adults, he sells thousands of children's costumes, the most popular being princesses, cartoon characters and ninja. The firm also can provide elaborate balloon sculptures for events such as conventions, and it specializes in theme parties.
Sherman says this year, everyone wants to be the evil Freddy Krueger of "Nightmare on Elm Street."
Another shop that can turn you into the stalking killer from the hit horror film and its sequels is Magic Emporium, 19641 Ventura Blvd. in Tarzana, (818) 344-2525. Owner Paula Kincheloe says that other hot costumes this year include super heroes, '50s-style characters and Mardi gras revelers. Magic Emporium specializes in masks of television personalities and Presidents, including half-masks that enable the wearer to eat and drink.
The Costume Closet, 2161 Via Olivera Drive (Margate Intermediate School), Palos Verdes Estates, (213) 541-2213. This nonprofit rental shop generates thousands of dollars for the three Palos Verdes Peninsula high schools and their PTAs.
"The Costume Closet was started by a dedicated group of volunteer mothers," said director Judy Lacer. "They saw that costumes for drama productions were often used and then stored carelessly and often forgotten about. So they had an idea to store all the costumes from the Peninsula schools in a central place, with all these schools and the public having access to the inventory."
The Costume Closet now has nearly 4,000 costumes available for rent by the public. It has complete sets of costumes from plays such as "Cabaret," as well as period clothing and garb for flappers, harem girls, gangsters and animals. It also has boas, wigs, hats and other accessories.
"Last year the Costume Closet was able to give $17,000 to the local schools and school district," said Lacer.
The Costume Closet, which is staffed by volunteer parents, is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays during the school year.