Brian Jacobson
Costume Watch

Superhero, celeb and couple sets leap forward

By - Oct 23rd, 2009 10:00 am

“What are you going as this year?”

It’s a question that plagues the Halloween adult partygoer, who is mentally gauging the value of being relevant and hot (both in temperature and attractiveness) against being frugal. There are hundreds of advertised bar contests and planned house parties (Oct. 31 falls on Saturday this year) with prizes for best costume. CNN recently declared that dressing up as Michael Jackson was the most popular celeb-costume trend this year, followed by a host of other dead celebrities (Billy Mays, Farrah Fawcett, etc.). So TCD decided to pick the brains of four area costume retailers to track local trends, check on costume requests and to see just what’s possible in hauntingly creative outfits this year.

1. Skully’s Halloween Express (84th Street and I-94 location): Bags upon bags of nurse, ghostbuster, Raggedy Ann, fairy princess and athlete costumes hang on a long wall inside the giant pumpkin tent that is home to one of the Skully’s Halloween Express stores. These outfits are on the far opposite wall of the children section, where there are cute G-rated bumblebees, a far cry from the sex-kitten options in the women’s section. Costumes for men seem to be mostly superhero, viking and the scary demon types.

Most of what you’ll find here are cookie-cutter costumes that represent 21st-century pop culture; thus, there’s not a lot to select from if you were planning to make your own. Business at this location and others has lagged as the economy forces many to dig into home closets or thrift stores for their party looks. But if you have the money, this is the place to find fully licensed adult versions of Strawberry Shortcake and Halo’s Master Chief.

Staffers here hurriedly work the aisles (this day, some vainly try to re-hang scattered Faerie wings) but are willing to talk shop. When asked what people are leaning toward this year, one checkout guy said, “A lot of women want to be cops this year. I don’t know why, but we’ve been selling a lot of those costumes to them.”

Michael Jackson watch: One display, cleverly hidden and spaced apart by the helpful aisle clerk. The mask hanging there is not actually meant to be MJ but eerily looks like an undead version of him anyway.

2. Kim’s Costumes (7143 W. Greenfield Ave.) :  This is one of the more unusual shops that has haunted a prime spot in West Allis for years. Kim Huber’s multi-purpose place, which also concentrates on rentals for school plays, mascots and clowns, provides other custom services when it’s not October. A few of her more expensive demon masks have impressive working jaw movements, which Kim demonstrated for me.

fangsHer 19-year-old daughter Nikki hands me a pair of sharpened fangs. The shop gets a lot of inquiries for vampire material, they say, given the success of TV shows like Twilight and True Blood. They also get a lot of couple costume requests, like for the King and Queen of Hearts. (Surprisingly, Kim says women are looking to wear warmer costumes this season.)  And, the back of the store is well-stocked with Renaissance-era and gangster (think Johnny Depp in Public Enemies).

In fact, Depp is all over the store, in a way. There’s lots of pirate wear, which he made popular as Captain Jack Sparrow. There are shirts that bare Depp as the Mad Hatter in the upcoming film version of Alice in Wonderland. Many of the outfits here are creatively put together as commercial likeness copyrights are difficult to attain for smaller retailers. So here, for example, there is a Sponge Squareguy outfit.

Michael Jackson watch: A “Universal Pop Star” outfit, including items like sunglasses, a hat and sequined glove. Surgical mask and stringy hair sold separately.


Special models from Gag Studios, on display at Bartz’s.

3. Bartz’s Party Store (4150 S. 108th St. location): Like many other stores, this party chain had outfits from vendors like Purecostumes, so licensing is covered. You can find a ready-made Dexter outfit or Sexy Robin superhero costume. The store workers say that couples’ costumes, like a monkey and banana, are moving quickly. Also popular are some specialty costumes made so expectant mothers can still dress up; it makes the “one in the oven” baker costume funnier.

frankbunnyAt the moment that I’m discussing Watchmen and witch costumes with a store worker, I take in my breath with awe. Standing before us in the corner is a Frank the Rabbit costume from Donnie Darko. This is a costume I’ve wanted for five years running — not counting this year (I want to be Max from Where the Wild Things Are). To see it commercially available in a store is astonishing, and so is the $140 price tag, which is beyond my means for a one-night affair.

Michael Jackson watch: Yes. You’ll see the widespread versions recently spotted at Wal-Mart and other retailers. You can get the “Thriller” jacket or the military blue-and-gold one.


4. Miller and Campbell Costume Service (907 So. 1st St. in Walker’s Point): Kelly Doherty noted that there are a lot of requests for masquerade ball apparel this year. Other huge draws? Flapper gear, Star Trek ensembles and Barbie outfits (it’s her 50th anniversary). This shop has licenses from Rubie’s and Morris Costumes, and there are plenty of theater costumes. You’ll find a variety for rent or sale along with some gnarly masks and a few special-touch accessories.

On one corner of a makeup island is a display of professional-looking prosthetic face pieces, ensuring you look like a real orc. Kelly also noted the Watchmen outfits, but only because one very buff male came in wanting makeup help as he had plans on becoming Dr. Manhattan. Miller and Campbell anticipates an uptick in business as cosplay fans hit Milwaukee for the 2010 Costume Con.

Michael Jackson watch: Yes, but they’re already sold out.


A wall at Kim’s Costumes

Categories: Life & Leisure, VITAL

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