Show some character
Halloween a treat for alter egos

By LaReeca Rucker

The sinister sound of organ music vibrates through the store. Bats and skeletons dangle from the ceiling.

And at the end of an aisle stocked with cardboard coffins, Styrofoam tombstones and severed latex hands wrapped in plastic that resemble grocery store ground chuck, Trey Dotson, 8, of Byram stares at a wall of superheroes, monsters and movie characters. He's trying to make one of life's most important decisions - just what costume will he wear this Halloween?

Squinting and straining to meet his fitness goal, he soon opened his eyes, shocked to discover he was in an entirely different room.

"No, we're not going to be a zombie this year," his mother, Sandy, says conclusively, as her son's facial expression silently argues that he'd prefer to be one of the living dead.

Eventually, the third-grade student at Jackson's Gary Road Intermediate School and his mother reach a costume compromise. 

"He's mad because he's not going to be a zombie," Sandy said, "but we're going to go with a ninja. We're not going to do scary again this year. Last year, he was Jason." 

According to the National Retail Federation, nearly 60 percent of American consumers plan on celebrating Halloween this year. Total Halloween spendingis estimated to reach $5.07 billion, and the average person will likely spend about $23 on costumes.

One in 10 will even dress up their pets. In addition, one-third of adults will buy and wear Halloween costumes, and those ages 18-24 will spend the most on the holiday. But the fun is just beginning. Approximately 28 percent of consumers will either throw or attend a Halloween party. 

Inside the Ridgeland Party City store, costume seekers do the monster mash. Pressed together, they share the confined space while selecting different, more daring personalities they'll try on, if only for a night. 

Masked zombie faces that drip blood, horned devils and hairy werewolves hang above the costume photo index staring at those who study the wall. 

Keyana Brown, a 7-year-old student at Ann E. Smith Elementary in Ridgeland, searches the crowded store for a broom to complete her Halloween look. "I'm going to be a witch," she says. "I dressed up as Princess Jasmine last year." 

Scott Swalley, who owns Party City stores in Ridgeland and Flowood, says business is booming.  "Halloween has progressively gotten bigger every year," says Swalley, who has owned the Ridgeland store eight years. "It took a little bit of apit fall after Sept. 11 because people didn't want to dress scary, but since then, it's grown." 

Swalley says many adults are buying two costumes because they have more than one Halloween party to attend. And for the second year, pirates remain popular choices for both men and women because of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. "You can be a conservative pirate or a sexy pirate," Swalley says. "We have about six different pirates to choose from." 

Women seem to prefer sexy costumes, Swalley says. Playboy-inspired bunny outfits, possibly influenced by the E! television show The Girls Next Door, are popular choices this year, and honeybee and 1960s go-go dancer costumes have also sold well. 

"Halloween gives you a chance to act unlike yourself," Swalley says, explaining why sex sells at Halloween. "If you're a prim and proper person seven days a week, you have one night to be sexy." 

While little boys want to be superheroes this Halloween, little girls want to dress like the cast of Disney's High School Musical and Hannah Montana. Steve Erickson of Ridgeland has attended Halloween parties in the past as singers Gene Simmons, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Ozzy Osbourne.

Last year, he was Capt. Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. "This year, it's all about my 5-year-old daughter, Ashley," he says. "She loves Hannah Montana. We are trying to coordinate her costume and do something for me so we can trick-or-treat together. And that only leaves me to be Billy Ray Cyrus post-mullet." 

Other pop culture costume influences this year include the movies Hairspray, Shrek the Third, Transformers, Spider-Man 3, Nacho Libre, Reno 911 and The Simpsons Movie. 

While some opt for costumes of the moment, others prefer to stick with tradition. Charleston native Sherika Bradford, a 19-year-old Ole Miss nursing student and Army soldier, will not be dressing in fatigues this Halloween. Instead, she chooses something a little more feminine.

The self-described fairy fanatic will don wings and dress as Tinkerbell. "I think the fairy theme is going to be really popular this year," Bradford says. "Tinkerbell has been really big this year as a party theme. I figured why not dress up as her since my entire room here in college is decorated with her." 

Carolyn Shelby, owner of Tupelo's Costume World, said retro costumes and pirates are doing well this year. "On average, they are spending around $35 to $50 each on costumes," says Shelby, whose store has around 9,000 costumes in stock. 

"The kids don't seem to be choosing scary costumes this year. They are getting policemen, firemen and soldier costumes. They are more like what they want to be when they grow up." 

Shelby says Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger masks also are popular items that have withstood the test of time. Belhaven student

Brighton Goode, 19, says the holiday is simply about being a kid again. "I think people pick certain costumes for the same reason I'm a theater major," she says. "It's fun to explore characters unlike yourself, whether it is in looks, personality, achievements or frailties. It is an escape fromreality. Masquerade balls, Halloween parties and theme parties are just a legitimatee 'adult' way to pretend. Honestly, adults just like an excuse to play dress up."