Halloween may still win hands down as the most popular day for masquerading, but many adults are creating other occasions to don costumes.
Representatives of several costume-sales and rental companies, citing '50s and mystery-murder parties as the current rage, report an increase in business not only in October but throughout the year. "I can hardly keep the (1950s) poodle skirts clean," says Rosaland Faigle, owner of Carol's Costumes Co. Inc. in Ventura.
Charity fund-raisers, parties aboard cruise ships, theme weddings, birthday parties, retirement and anniversary celebrations and "come as 'X' " parties also were cited as popular occasions for dressing up--not to mention the old standards of Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and Mardi Gras.
What's behind this phenomenal increase in the number of adults who are wearing costumes?
Psychologist Marilyn Ruman, who practices in Encino, attributes it to the desire to create opportunities to play.
"This time (the '80s) is in some ways as stringent as the '50s," Ruman said. "It's a very responsible time. Financially, people are doing better, but they are working harder and longer. It doesn't allow people to have much time to play. Little of what they do, even for leisure, isn't work. They work out, they work up.
"Wearing costumes lets a person be someone else and gives them the license to do things they would not normally do," Ruman said. "Maybe it says we haven't yet been able to create an adult role in our society that still allows adults to play."
Adults often are required to dress to the expectations of others, even if they personalize their clothing to some extent. Such clothing can be constricting, and Ruman theorizes that costumes provide a way of breaking away from ourselves and trying on somebody different. This same theory could account for the fact that several sources said many costume parties are being organized by females. It may be a reaction as more women have joined the work force and feel restricted in their business dress.
Another trend is for business organizations to use costumes for sales and motivational meetings. One insurance company had Buffalo Breath Costumes of San Diego transport enough '20s speak-easy costumes to Hawaii for 200 of its employees.
All of this costuming is anything but child's play. Toy Manufacturers of America Inc. estimates that nearly $400 million will be spent celebrating Halloween this year, with 35% of those dollars attributed to the adult market.
National Theme Productions, a San Diego costume manufacturer, has Halloween boutiques this year in more than 1,000 deparment stores throughout the United States and Canada. They even have installed a toll-free line (1-800-DRACULA) to assist people in locating the nearest store.
"Back in 1978, we had about 10 costumes and one makeup kit for sale," company president Paul Sullivan said. "With our current inventory of costumes, makeup kits and accessories, a person can create more than 150 costumes."
He also noted a trend during the last decade to purchase costumes that are durable. People are willing to spend a little more money for something they can wear again or trade with family or friends, Sullivan said.
To accommodate this trend, Joan Ellen Blakely, designer for National Theme Productions, said many of the company's costumes "build from standard apparel basics--long draping capes and flowing gowns, short spiky skirts or tantalizing necklines and waistlines. To transform these basics into a costume, they can be accessorized with exciting Halloween goodies, such as shimmering rhinestones and glitter and soft velvety materials." Some also may be used as lounge wear.
Costumes have become much more fashion oriented, Blakely said. People want to make a fashion statement when they dress up.
The company also sells children's costumes, including several that can double as playwear or sleep wear. For the first time this season, they're marketing a children's costume set, which includes a basic white gown and three versions of gauzy gowns that go over it to create a princess, fairy or bride.
"I begin my search each year immediately following my production deadline for the previous year," Blakely said. "I spend a lot of time watching new rock videos, cartoons and movie heroes." She also gets inspiration from fashion shows and publications, parades and theater premieres.
Blakely and others predict that one of the hottest costumes for males this year will be Freddy Krueger of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies. "I think the she-cats and deluxe devils will be big winners in the 1988 women's Halloween wardrobe," Blakely said. Many interviewed said laytex masks are another big seller. Today's masks can include blinking or eyes that pop out, movable jaws, even gushing fake blood, said Phil Sherman, owner of Costumes by Magic World on Topanga.
Often people select costumes that they would be embarrassed to wear in everyday life. National Theme Productions' Sullivan recalls a mild-mannered young man who normally worked as a paint-department manager but was transferred to the store's costume boutique for the Halloween season. In that department, he was required to dress as a living mannequin, and the man chose to don Dracula attire. It completely changed his personality, according to Sullivan.
"He ran around all day attacking female co-workers with his fangs. The next day, when he dressed normally and returned to the paint department, he was practically hiding behind the cans."