Costumes of dead celebrities not popular at local shops

Friday, October 30, 2009 | 6:38 p.m. CDT; updated 1:50 p.m. CST, Friday, November 13, 2009

COLUMBIA — An abyss of sparkling silver gloves lines the wall behind Aaro Froese, owner of Gotcha, a year-round costume rental shop.

They were brought in last minute this Halloween season to appease the craze for Michael Jackson costumes.

But few have been sold.

Same goes for the feathered Farrah Fawcett wigs kept on hand, just in case of a surge. They remain on the mannequin heads lining the packed store.

“I’m not sure if it’s one of those things where it’s too soon, but I anticipated a lot of demand, but I haven’t seen it,” Froese said.

With the number of pop icons who died this year, including Jackson, Fawcett and Patrick Swayze, national retailers were banking on skyrocketing sales of related costumes.

Local costume shops beg to differ.

Pop culture and Hollywood are typically safe bets in the business, but this season shop owners said they have heard odd requests, including costumes of The Big Bad Wolf and Patsy Cline. They said there have been minimal requests for outfits of late pop icons.

However, local shops say Lady Gaga is hands down the hot costume this year. Sabrina Braden, owner of Maude Vintage Clothing & Costumes, said it's the performer’s persona and outfits requiring “over-the-top shapes and textures and colors” that make her the big seller.

“She’s really hot right now, music-wise,” Braden said. “I think what has captivated society is her look. She’s definitely doing more elaborate and exciting visual things than anyone else is right now.”

But because of last year’s success of "The Dark Knight" Joker costume following actor Heath Ledger’s death, shop owners said it's difficult to translate public reaction into costume sales.

Absolute Vintage employee Colleen Blake attributes the lack of interest in deceased star costumes to consumers wanting to aim for originality and not be “sacrilegious,” she said.

“I think a big reason is that last year everyone did do the Joker, and I think people are hesitant to pick a costume that they believe everyone’s going to do,” she said. “A lot of people were disappointed when three out of 10 people were that.”

Also, the difference might stem from who or what is being portrayed.

“With Michael Jackson you’re actually portraying him, and with the Joker you’re portraying the character that Heath Ledger played,” Blake said.

Braden said it's more a matter of how the past celebrities are portrayed than taking on their image to begin with, she said.

“I think those people lived their lives as celebrities,” she said. “Their personalities were iconic to people. I think it is a way to honor. I don’t think it’s taboo or disrespecting at all. Unless you would do something within your costume about how they died. That would be tasteless.”

For example, Braden said one Maude’s customer came in wanting to furbish a Ms. Piggy costume, and said she was going to dress as the "swine flu."

But as some in the business know, listening to trends in preparation for Halloween is sure to backfire, Froese said.

“It always comes in cycles," he said. "You never know what to prepare for."

Forgetting the pop culture icons here and gone, the unanimous costume trend seems to be one of fun, Braden said.

“With all the heavy things going on, like swine flu and the recession, I think it mimics the way history has shown that movie-ticket sales always go up during a recession: It’s a good, cheap way to escape and enjoy yourself," she said. "I think costuming is like that, too.”

So whether we see Jackson’s trademark military jackets, or extreme fluorescent minis for Lady Gaga fans this Saturday night, Braden said one goal is universal this season.

"Maybe there’s some sort of subconscious feeling that we all have, culminating to wanting to have a really fun night, a good time," Braden said.


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