Halloween: Dress Up for Grown-Ups

They say youth is wasted on the young, but not when it comes to Halloween, now that grown-ups play dress up and party as scantily clad witches and super-cool ghouls.

This year Americans are expected to spend $3.12 billion on Halloween, up from $2.96 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation. That makes it the sixth-largest spending holiday, trailing only Christmas and Hanukkah ($220 billion), Valentine's Day ($13 billion), Easter ($10.5 billion), Mother's Day ($10.4 billion) and Father's Day ($8 billion).

It's no secret that adults are fueling Halloween's growth spurt. More than 70 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds celebrate the holiday. More than half of them attend a party, with the average consumer shelling out $43.57 on costumes, candy and other goodies.

Roughly speaking, some of the same costume themes are just as popular with adults and kids. Spider-Man is this year's runaway best seller, followed by princesses, witches, vampires and other monster themes, and SpongeBob SquarePants, according to the NRF.

However, the adult versions of these costumes are quite different than the ones for kids.

For instance, adult superhero outfits often come equipped with padded muscles and rock-hard synthetic abs that would make any cosmetic surgeon proud. And while the kiddy versions start at around $20, adult varieties can run to more than $100.

Hollywood can be counted on to produce Halloween heavyweights. Characters from "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Shrek" and "The Lord of the Rings" are popular with trick-or-treaters of all ages. Superman is experiencing a late surge, sadly as a result of Christopher Reeve's death.

Movies don't even have to be popular to inspire costumes. "Catwoman" was box office kitty litter, but Halle Berry's outfit is leaving women at retail stores scratching and clawing. The girls' version is decidedly more modest, but still popular.

Also a perennial hit: professional uniforms. But again, the adults go for a sexy remake of nurses, firefighters and construction workers, sometimes even complete with fishnet stockings.

"Pimps and hookers are always popular Halloween costumes for adults," says John Majdoch of Halloween Express, a wholesale distributor.

Costumes like "Ghoul Cheerleader" and "Perky Viking" need no description other than their title, and with Nicole Kidman's version of "Bewitched" coming to theaters next year, you can assume many women will be accessorizing a little black dress with a little black lipstick.

"These days, the witches are hardly old crones with twisted noses," Majdoch says. "They've got fishnets and you'd just want to jump in their cauldrons."

Here's a look at some of the haunting trends in adult Halloween:

1. The Ghost of the Democratic Party

Bad news for John Kerry: Costume suppliers say they've been able to predict every election back to 1980 based on rubber mask sales, and this year, George W. Bush is outselling his rival by a slim margin. But hold on, a Halloween political scandal might be brewing.

Halloween Express is now reporting that Kerry masks were inexplicably held up in U.S. Customs for two weeks. "There's no telling how it affected sales," says Majdoch. "Right now, they're very close."

If you had any doubt about the powerful predictive power of mask sales, BuyCostumes.com has been selling discounted Al Gore masks for three years, following his loss to Bush in 2000.

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