Strong and courageous female characters like Princess Leia, Supergirl, and Harley Quinn are the top-selling costumes for women this Halloween season, according to retailers and experts who say that there’s been a trend toward what one store called “fierce” heroines and anti-heroines this year.
The staggering amount of money spent on Halloween costumes this year is expected to reach $2.5 billion, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), an amount that has encouraged the growth of the costume industry into a year-round business, with designers and marketers forecasting trends a year in advance and creating last-minute costume orders to fulfill pop culture “moments” just weeks ahead of October 31.
The lion’s share of that purchasing power will be expended on adult costumes, about $1.2 billion worth, according to the NRF. And while witches remain the perennial best-selling costume for adults, costume choices for women have in recent years become increasingly dependent on movie and TV franchises.
Spirit Halloween, which has retail stores throughout the country, said that Wonder Woman, Batgirl, and Catwoman are in high demand this year, along with characters from Orange is the New Black, American Horror Story, and The Walking Dead.
Brad Butler, chief operation officer at the costume retailer Halloween Express, said that sexy women’s costumes are still some of the hottest sellers, and as with every year, sexy costumes with a tinge of dominance to them — military, police, SWAT — are among the top sellers. Day of the Dead costumes have also been flying off his shelves, he said.
Political costumes are in an “off year,” Butler added, noting that he expects an up tick next year during the run-up to the presidential election. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin masks are still among the top personality masks sold to women on the site, but the numbers are down from their peak in 2008, he said.
The NRF noted that about 775,000 Americans chose a political character as their costume this year, compared to the more than 4 million who dress up as witches, 1.4 million playing the part of a character, or 1.9 million going as zombies.
Butler said that 2015 has proven to be a bit of an anomaly in costume sales in that a single movie or theme hasn’t dominated the market. “There’s always one genre or style that’s really popular, last year it was Elsa, that’s all people cared about. This year it’s really widespread, which we love,” Butler said. “We’re selling a broader selection of costumes.”
Kathy Grannis Allen, a spokeswoman with the NRF, said that the trend of pop culture costumes continues to increase each year. “Reality TV and Hollywood and pop culture now have a tremendous impact, and thanks to constant internet access with Pinterest and YouTube, everyone has a way of figuring out unique costumes now,” she said.
Both Halloween Express and Spirit Halloween said they work year round to try and identify which costumes might sell well in October. Spirit Halloween said its team of merchants and designers try and focus on “keeping their finger on the pulse of pop culture trends,” while Halloween Express places bets on what blockbuster movies will be released by Hollywood during the upcoming year. Still, it’s hard to know exactly what will be a hit with consumers. “That’s the million dollar question,” Butler said.
About two weeks after Halloween a team of buyers from Halloween Express will attend meetings with designers and merchandisers in Los Angeles and New York to begin to make decisions on what they will order for Halloween 2016. In January the company begins to place orders for the following October, and will continue placing them until about May. If an event or person surges into the public consciousness after that, retailers will scramble to approve designs and place merchandise orders to get the costumes in time for Halloween. Butler said that Lady Gaga’s 2010 MTV Video Music Awards outfit — the infamous meat dress — sent a wave of panic through the costume industry as retailers rushed to place orders in September.
The costumes are almost entirely produced in China, Butler said, and containers full of costumes begin arriving by ship in the late spring and early summer. Because the costumes are manufactured abroad, he said, the sizes tend to run smaller, a fact little-known by American buyers. Butler said he has received a flood of requests for plus-size costumes in recent years — particularly sexy costumes that are not too revealing — and has expanded his stock to carry sizes from extra-small through 4XL in women’s wear in response.
And while work begins on next year’s Halloween orders almost as quickly as the clock strikes midnight on November 1, Butler said he has other orders to place as well: sexy Santa costumes have made Christmas his next priority.