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Trick or Chic - A night in the Halloween section is a spook-tacular experience.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Wal-Mart employee models a vampiress costume.
By DANA LARSEN / Pilot-Tribune Editor

Oh sure, every parent has high intentions to spend months hand-making the perfect, one-of-a-kind Halloween costume for their little boy or ghoul, all polticially correct, perfect down to the makeup cooked up from environmentally biodegradable soybean oil.

And then there is reality.

It's the night before Halloween and frazzled mom is desperately pawing though the picked-over, warzone costume aisle of the department store searching for something to wrap their trick-or-treater in that won't break the bank.

With this in mind, I decided to spend the night this week in the massive costume department of the local 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter, the mecca of all things Halloween, to gather information on this year's big hit costumes and perhaps a bit of the spirit of the holiday.

Hanging out with Halloween-intoxicated curtain-climbers is an experience. And why not - aside from Christmas it is most every kid's favorite day of the year.

Aside from the sugar-rush avalanche of free candy, it is a chance to be someone and something different for one night. It's the one holiday with a bit of an edge - ancient and mysterious and moonlit with just that tickle of fright to the fun...

"What are you doing, mistah?"

A little girl, maybe 8, is looking up at me curiously. Pondering, I tell her.

"Well, aren't you a little old for a Halloween costume?" she demands.

Yeah, maybe. But since you're so smart, what are you going as this Halloween?

"Hmmm. I'm thinking witch. But which witch?"

Indeed, she has a point. I count about a dozen different incarnations of the Halloween staple - the glamour witch, the gothic witch, the bride witch, sorceress witch, blue witch, Salem witch, trendy witch, twisty witch, pirate witch, good witch, bad witch... you are on your own, kid, Halloween has gotten too complicated for me.

In fact, there are aisles and aisles of costumes here - as many for adults as for children. Prices range from five bones for an "instant costume" - leopard or bunny ears, tail and bow tie to throw on over a black leotard or t-shirt - on up to about $40 for an adult Wizard of Oz Dorothy ensemble or a full Star Trek uni.

Even at night here, the place is busy for most of my stay. Early in the evening aisles are packed with families, kids spilling out of carts, pawing through clown and vampire suits; but after midnight, lone parents still prowl for the perfect purchase, themselves looking a bit like vampires.

A veteran Wal-Mart associate of the holiday department keeps me company for a while.

"So far, I think the most popular costumes are the classic princesses for the girls - seriously, who doesn't want to be a princess?" she says. "The little boys mostly seem to want scary before anything else. And a few of the girls like going that way too."

A large part of this year's hot stock is movie-based - Transformers, GI Joe, Iron Man, Wolverine, High School Musical, Wizards of Waverly Place - $12-20.

There are some classics as well - '50s poodle skirts and sweaters, hoop-skirted southern belles, zombies, mummies, and a boneyard of skeleton designs.

A new trend is the package costume, she adds - with all the accessories enclosed. "In these times, people want the whole thing in one, to know exactly what they are spending on Halloween."

Materials have become safer and more reflective, and a lot of "glowing" accessories - light up necklaces and glow-sticks, for example, are offered for as little as a dollar to keep trick-or-treating safe.

In the adult aisles, it is clear that sexy is the goal. Some of it looks like it belongs in the lingerie aisle.

"The trends of adult costumes come and go. Whenever Halloween falls on a weekend, as it does this year, there are going to be tons of parties and we stock up on adult costumes," the employee says.

At times during the night, I'm the only living soul in the haunting Halloween department. Gulp. Hey, what was that noise?

I occupy myself browsing the must-have accessories.

The top of the line is a six-foot-tall skeleton "butler" who serves out candy from a hors d'oeuvre tray. Triggered by sound and motion censors, it turns it's head menacingly, eyes light up red, and it utters, "So good of you to come."

I back away slowly.

Read more of this story in the October 3 Pilot Tribune.