Features & Columns

Halloween Costumes, Parties
& Pop Culture for 2014

A last-minute compendium of pop culture-derived costumes
for time-pressed Halloween partiers

Best Halloween Parties | Worst Costume Ideas

A special thank you to our cover models, Jayde Ci and Stephanie Ann Cardoza of RAE Agency and Marcus St. Marcus. Alice and 'Clueless' schoolgirl costumes courtesy RAE Agency Photograph by Dave Lepori

The Unnatural yellow hazmat suit of one desperate meth-cooking schoolteacher turned drug lord. The impenetrable red-and-gold-armor of Tony Stark's alter-ego. The fuzzy teddy bear negligee of a pop star (sometimes with companion singer to grind against). They linger, but are fading away.

(For one thing, Hazmat suits now belong to the more topical but truly ghoulish "quarantined Ebola victim." See "Costumes That Spell Doom.")

Zombies, with their torn clothes and rotting-off faces, still lurch around, but their numbers have dwindled.

And, at last, the sparkly, emo vampires seem to have overstayed their welcome. No sign of them.

That was all 2013.

So now, it lies in wait in every aisle of every costume shop. It lurks in the Halloween-obsessed corners of the Internet. It mercilessly stalks the unprepared, the costume-less: The creeping dread of finding the right costume. Halloween proper falls on a Friday this year, and as the parties of Oct. 31 relentlessly draw near, so does the dread, at this point, of finding any costume.

This year's VMAs offered nothing that begged for mockery like 2013's "Blurred Lines" spectacle. The matching bedazzled denim patchwork ensemble Katy Perry and Riff Raff copied from Britney and Justin's 2001 American Music Awards appearance offers an understated couple's costume, comparatively speaking. But nothing to twerk in this year.

And we'll have to wait another two years—the next big election—before one of the easiest timely costumes returns: rubber politician masks which are usually only slightly less dead behind the eyes than the real thing.

"We do get a lot of last-minute shoppers. The busiest times are the evenings when people come in after work," says Katie Ramirez, a manager at Natasha's Attic in San Jose.

And there is still hope for a quick costume that will be recognized.

Pop culture has long possessed the collective costume consciousness, but characters from the big and small screens have insinuated themselves into Halloween to the point of taking over.

Flappers hovered at the fringe of the costume continuum for years, but have made a comeback along with other disreputable 1920s gangsters since the release of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby last summer. That may have been back in 2013, but an uptick in Gatsby-themed parties this year has encouraged stores to boost their stock of short, fringed dresses and pinstriped gangster suits. Thrift shops offer additional options—look for drop-waist dresses and pinstripe suits. New and vintage stores—Goodwill, for instance—sell new accessories to trick out the 1920s look.

Greek god and gladiator costumes have made a strong showing this year for men's costumes, and the sturdier of the latter can double as Game of Thrones armor. "Renaissance" dresses with trailing sleeves and darker colored peasant shirts can also pretty easily pass for Game of Thrones' medievally garbed citizens of Westeros. HBO-branded GoT costumes at a South Bay Spirit store recently were nearly sold out, save for a few blonde Khaleesi wigs, a handful of Cersei dresses and a whole passel of shaggy black wigs for perpetual grump Jon Snow. He may never smile, but he's one of the easier characters to impersonate: long black cape, sword, tousled black hair and a grim expression are all that's needed.

Likewise, Hunger Games costumes have largely sold out at stores, but the look is easily replicated with tight-fitting black pants and shirts in Lycra or another athletic fabric—add a plastic bow and arrow and braided hair. The guys don't even really need props for this one.

Orange is the New Black offers women the rare chance to wear a baggy, comfortable costume. Orange "First-Time Offender" prison shirts and pants popped up at costume stores. Khaki surgical scrubs from a medical supply store could also sub for Piper Chapman and friends' prison-wear.

But it was two Disney creations that dominated women's 2014 costume choices. The shiny, pale blue gown of Elsa, the ice-making princess from Frozen—and source of the cruelest earworm, "Let It Go" (you can't once you hear it)—came and went early at most local costume shops. Did you want to be her anyway, and risk never escaping the song?

Gothic black dresses and robes, topped with horned headdresses for the sorceress Maleficent were sold out at Natasha's Attic by last weekend, while Affordable Treasures in Los Gatos still had some of the witch's distinctive dress and headgear in stock.

Rezam Bayazit of Fun House Theatrical in Sunnyvale confirms that her store also sold out of Frozen and Maleficent costumes, but has other popular costumes like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still available.

If not an amphibian, maybe another animal? Bayazit says that all things canine have been in demand. "Everybody is asking for dog costumes," she says, "Lots of dog costumes."

And for those failing to obtain the costume for a particular horned witch: don't despair—just go as some other witch. Ramirez notes that witches of all types have made a serious resurgence.

"I don't know, every costume, it circulates," she says. "But witches are coming around again—this is the most popular I've seen them." Witch costumes and hats are omnipresent at new and thrift stores alike—frocks come in all styles, from sexy short to a more demure floor-length.

Natasha's Attic and Fun House Theatricals are among the local costume stores that offer rentals, with offerings that tend to range more on the classic side, like Western saloon girls and cowboys, medieval gowns and tunics, togas and other historically inspired wear.

Alice in Wonderland pops up at costume stores with brightly colored and sometimes exaggerated-scale props in Alice and Queen of Hearts costumes, as well as Mad Hatter for men and women.

At thrift stores, seek out '90s clothing. The giant silhouettes of the '80s may be easier to mock, but the high-1990s Clueless era is due for a spoofing and the clothes are easier to find at vintage stores.

Focusing on makeup is another way to go. "We sell lots of professional makeup," says Bayazit, "We sell lots of scars and things like that." Stick-on blood drips or rotting flesh prosthetics offer a quick way to look gross. Roy Lichtenstein-style "Pop Art" is easy to achieve with evenly spaced large dots drawn on the face, arms and legs.

For the truly last-minute, online-sourced inspirations include "50 Shades of Grey," which employs an array of grey paint color swatches to get all 50 shades.

"Identity Theft" requires a package or two of stick-on name tags—write many different names on them and stick them all over your shirt.

The truly time-pressed can take a page from that idea, with a twist courtesy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, making themselves all powerful with just a few strokes of a pen: wear a "God" nametag.

Best Halloween Parties | Worst Costume Ideas