Want to know something scary?
You have exactly eleven days left to make the two most important decisions of your life.
1) What to do for Halloween
2) What to wear while doing it
We can't help you with the first, but we've got your back on the costume front. Because we checked with an expert — general manager Chuck Nicklow of Costumes on Haight — and he gave us the scoop on what's hot, what's not, and what's just plain freaktastic in Halloween costumes this year.
Since Costumes on Haight opened in its current location at 735 Haight more than a decade ago, Chuck has noticed at least one clear trend.
"Continually skimpier costumes for women. And teens. And even children."
Beyond that, Chuck notes that the most popular costumes consistently fall into three categories: popular culture, classic characters, and topical events.
Here's what you can expect from each in 2010.
"Alice in Wonderland is a huge hit this year. The industry seems to have gone really heavy on Avatar, Jersey Shore, and Lady Gaga, but our store has shied away from that trend, because the market will be saturated with those products. If you can find a costume at Target or Walgreens, you are unlikely to find it here."
"For years, pirates were dominating classic character costumes because of the Pirates of the Carribean movies. This year, we can expect vampires and werewolves, due to the success of True Blood, Twilight, the Vampire Chronicles, and so on."
"Topical events usually happen last minute, and can involve some questionable taste. These are impossible to predict, and require us to get creative quickly. Who knew McCain would choose someone so easily spoofed as Sarah Palin, causing a big run on highlighted wigs, pig noses, and rimless glasses? Or that Roy would get mauled by his tiger Manticore? We haven’t seen that event this season – yet – although I am expecting some marijuana themes with the ballot issue in November."
At the shop
So it's unlikely you'll find a Lady Gaga meat dress or set of plastic Situation abs at Costumes on Haight this year — but what will you find there?
For one thing, wigs. "At any given time, we probably stock 500 different wigs," Chuck tells us. Also, accessories, mustaches, props and the like.
But Costumes on Haight is really about amazing rental costumes. "We’ve got some really bizarre stuff, and it’s a little hard to describe. Our Peter Rottentail costume is amazing – a twisted, warped version of the Easter Bunny."
Prices for rentals vary, so we asked Chuck to identify the most expensive costumes in the shop.
"We have a suit of armor that rents for $250. Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and the Minotaur all rent for $200."
Oh, the Minotaur? That would be this guy, a new creation from Pittsburgh-based Specter Studios:
"We are primarily a rental shop," Chuck says. "Because of this, we focus on higher quality costumes that will hold up for rental over and over again. This means our costumes have a higher price point than at a seasonal chain store."
Another differentiator? Costumes on Haight caters to adults.
"We do not stock any items that are specifically sized for children. This allows us to keep focus on higher quality costumes, and keep us separated from our competition. Adults like to rent their costumes. Children’s costumes need to be purchased, and they need to be purchased inexpensively, because they are likely to only be worn once, then destroyed or outgrown."
That means they're stocking items this year like a new selection of leather masks from Denver-based Artsmyths. "Each one is a unique work of art," Chuck says. "The Dancing Bear, Raven, and Medusa are particularly impressive."
And if you prefer your costumes to be more Snuggie than scary, you'll definitely want to check out a new line called QT Comfy. According to Chuck, they're "flannel, one piece costumes in a variety of characters, including cows, pandas, flying squirrels, skeletons, dinosaurs, and Santa Claus. They are like soft, cuddly, one piece pajamas that are also costumes. Half our staff has purchased one for themselves!"
October at the shop
Obviously the next eleven days will be busy at Costumes on Haight, but after all these years in business, Chuck has it down to a routine.
Around the end of September, he starts hiring more staff. It swells from the usual 6-8 employees to 20-plus.
Costumes on Haight does 80% of its October business in the last two weeks of the month, resulting in lines like this one here:
To accommodate the crowds, a couple of weeks before Halloween, i.e. now, the shop extends its hours. It will now stay open till 8pm nightly until Halloween. And as Halloween falls on a Sunday this year, Chuck expects the shop's busiest day will likely be Friday the 29th.
One last thing Chuck wants you to know about Costumes on Haight: they're not just about Halloween.
"We are open year round, and locally owned. This is of increasing importance to customers that want to keep their dollars in the local economy. We’re fortunate to be located in a city like San Francisco, where there are lots of times through the year to dress up and have fun!"
Many thanks to Chuck Nicklow for sharing some time with us!