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From Sexy Co-Eds to Soccer Moms, Everyone Wants a Costume

Friday, 30 Sep 2011 | 2:18 PM ET

Rapper and DJ Lil Jon was cranking out the tunes at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego as 20-somethings dressed in sexy costumes and danced to the beat. All around, club goers were dressed as pirates, Indians, apes, and naughty school girls. But this scene wasn’t a typical Halloween party—it was April.

Mrs. Potatohead costume
Photo: Disguise
Mrs. Potatohead costume

The costume business is booming. Not only are more adults dressing up for Halloween each year, but it seems costumes aren’t just for trick-or-treating.

These days almost any occasion can be turned into an excuse to don a costume—birthday parties, baby showers, and Oktoberfest, to name a few. And yes, some bars in cities such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York are even celebrating “Halfway to Halloween” parties in the springtime, according to Cheryl Kerzner, vice president of product design and marketing at costume manufacturer Disguise.

“Everyone was dressed up,” Kerzner said, talking about the Hard Rock event that featured Lil Jon. As the “Halfway to Halloween” concept spreads, costume sales are getting a little lift in April and May, she said.

Kerzner admits the trend is still small—Halloween remains the busiest time of year, by far—but the trend has been growing over the past two to three years. To nurture it, Disguise, a Jakks Pacific unit, is talking with retailers about promoting these parties on a larger scale.

The trend also underscores the importance of bars and clubs to the costume business.

Although some costumes that are worn to bars are the homemade variety, slapped together after rummaging through the closet, most people who attend these parties in these venues put a lot of effort—and money—into their costumes. This is particularly true of the women, who tend to pick sexy costumes that leave little to the imagination.

“This age group is spending more money on their costume,” Kerzner said. She estimates they typically buy high-end costumes that cost $90 or more.

“When you look at a college-age adult, they typically have more than one costume because they will often will attend several parties and won’t want to wear the same thing to each of them,” she said.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have more parents wearing costumes while they take their children out to trick-or-treat.

Photos: Disguise

Part of the reason is there are a lot of younger parents who want to have fun on Halloween. (About 63 percent of mothers are 28 years old or younger, according to the National Retail Federation, the retail industry's trade group.)

In total, the NRF estimates this year adults will spend $1 billion on costumes, compared with $840 million last year.

Ken Doll costume
Photo: Disguise
Ken Doll costume

Although parents are getting in on the act, they don’t always want an involved costume. This year Disguise is selling a line of costume kits called H2Gothat feature T-shirts and half-masks, or headbands featuring some of the company's popular licensed characters. These kits costs cost about $14.99 to $24.99 each.

The success of these costumes is incorporating the right details, so that when someone sees a person wearing it, the character is immediately recognizable. So far, the characters in the line include superheroes such as Captain America, Iron Man, and Spiderman; Sesame Street characters such as Burt and Ernie; and popular toys and games such as Monopoly and Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head.

Kerzner expects these costumes will add to sales because they will lure in consumers who either won’t buy and wear a costume, or those who would have pieced together their own homemade disguise.

In some cases, fans of certain characters may even fine they like to wear the H2Go shirts throughout the year.

Those who are really into the holiday are probably planning their costume as we speak.

Thrift retailer Savers polled 11,781 customers in the U.S. and Canada this summer, and on average, they said they spend about 61 days planning and preparing their costume.

In fact, nearly two in 10 (13 percent) will plan for Halloween a year or more before the big day, according to the retailer's survey. On the flip side, 20 percent of people wait until the very last minute to plan their costume, picking it out on the day of Halloween.

And one thing is certain, everyone wants a new look. An overwhelming majority of adults (90 percent) and kids (93 percent) told Savers that they must have a new costume every year.

And that's very good news for costume retailers.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.

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