Halloween costumes go Hollywood

NEW YORK – Pretty soon, we might be calling Oct. 31 Hollyween instead of Halloween.

Manufacturers and retailers predict that this year’s top costumes will be inspired by the same Hollywood characters that dominated the big and small screens.

The National Retail Federation picks princesses and pirates, often of the Disney variety, and Spider-Man to be the top children’s costumes of the year, while Yahoo! Shopping adds “Star Wars,” “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical” as favorites with trick-or-treaters.

“Sometimes I feel I’m either on Wall Street or a movie mogul, I pay such attention to the box office,” says Mary Ellen Turner, Party City’s divisional vice president of seasonal departments – a k a the company’s “queen of Halloween.”

At Party City, “Transformers” and “Hannah Montana” costumes are on top, while Amazon.com’s Halloween store suggests “Harry Potter,” “Shrek” and “High School Musical.”

And it’s not just movies – the big names in toys are another source of costume inspiration. Barbie-themed costumes are consistent performers and Transformers were in toy chests before they stormed the movie industry, notes Mark Randall, vice president of toys and baby for Amazon.com. Randall will be looking at the fall ’08 toys next week for inspiration for next year’s costumes.

“A licensed character is a powerful engine, whether it starts with a DVD, a Saturday morning cartoon, a network or a book like ‘Narnia’ or ‘Harry Potter,'” agrees Turner. “They’re such powerful influencers for children and, quite frankly, adults, too.”

Not just kid’s play

The adult-costume business gets bigger each year at Party City, according to Turner, and even adults aren’t immune from the lure of Hollywood.

Costumes mimicking “Reno 911” rank as one of their top sellers with men this year, and even longtime favorites “Freddy” and “Jason” first showed up in horror films “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th.”

The gory movie “300” wasn’t really on the radar as a hot movie this past spring, Turner recalls, but she saw the marketing barometer begin to move and Party City called its costume supplier long before it became a sleeper hit grossing more than $200 million. The same thing happened last year for “V for Vendetta,” she recalls.

Does Brangelina count as a character costume? A survey by Shop.com finds that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are the most anticipated celebrity couple costume, followed by Bill and Hillary Clinton, David and Victoria Beckham, and Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

“Our generation of parenting is about including the kids and getting included in their lives,” Turner says. “The Halloween holiday accentuates family fun.”

Family sized

The pirate theme – also a huge success last year – appeals to the family that wants to dress as a unit, says Amy Hauk, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Disney Store, which happens to have versions of Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swann for all ages. Disney Store also has a family-sized group of costumes linked to “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” including a dog costume for the Zero character.

But Disney’s target is 3- to 6-year-olds because they have direct association with a character. Their favorites include Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story” and Cinderella. The older kids who are more into “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical” aren’t so much dressing up as a character as expressing their affinity for the whole property.

“With ‘High School Musical,’ the most popular costume is more like a full-cast concert T-shirt,” observes Hauk, while the Hannah wannabes are more in the market for a costume that is hip and fashionable – something that Miley Cyrus might wear – but not necessarily an exact replica of something they’ve seen on the show.

Party City’s Turner notes, though, that its “Hannah” customers are also eager to add a long blonde wig and accessories to their stylish outfit.

Yes, many people have already bought their costumes, several weeks before Halloween.

“We’ve already seen costumes picking up,” says Amazon’s Randall. “Parents have to be a little cautious. If they’ve heard, ‘Hey mom, I want to be Spider-Man,’ parents want to avoid disappointment. Mid-October is the peak but even right now is the sweet spot.”