Halloween looms at week's end, but in Arlington costume shops, there's still no consensus. "People have been at a quandary" about what to wear, said Meranda Kim, owner of Stein's Theatrical and Dance Supplies.
Business is steady at Stein's, and at Kinder Haus, the Lee Highway children's store that also offers costumes, but will crescendo with last-minute shoppers on Friday. Similarly, some parents say their children have costumes selected and ready; others expect a flurry of activity on Friday afternoon.
With only six days before Halloween, the Stein's costume shop in Clarendon was crowded with adults flipping through packaged costumes, looking at a barrelful of scythes, swords and axes, and asking for help in finding just the right wig.
But 2003 hasn't seen the kind of costume trend that marked previous Octobers, Kim said. The costumes of Halloween past have been hippies, disco dancers, pimps — "Retro," said Kim — and also costumes based on the year's big movies: Spider-man or Neo from "The Matrix."
The only thing that came close this year was also a movie tie-in, Kim said, but it was not based on a movie. There's been a run on Arnold Schwarzenegger masks, so much so that Stein's is sold out.
The biggest business so far, Kim said, is from old Halloween staples. People always buy costumes to become pirates, witches, gorillas and vampires. "That's what Halloween is," said Kim. "It's not disco. It's supposed to be scary."
<b>WITH SCREAM MASKS</b> and black robes, Ellen Jakovich said, her children are doing their best to be scary. The family will go to Pentagon City Fashion Mall on Friday night, but Jakovich herself will not be dressing up.
"I never do. If they get hurt — and they always do when they wear these stupid masks — if they trip, I may need to rush them off somewhere," she said, not relishing the thought of hitting the emergency room in full costume.
Like Kim, Jakovich said she hasn't heard of any hot costumes this year, although there are some popular political masks. "I heard adults talking about Saddam Hussein masks out there," she said.
Dennis Bruns does have plans for his Halloween costume. "I'll be at the Caps game," said Bruns, whose son is a Tuckahoe student. "Hopefully I'm going as a winning fan, although maybe I should go with a bag over my head."
The only trend Bruns has seen this year is more excitement about Halloween. "Last year was on the heels of the sniper, and everybody was totally paranoid," he said. "This year, it will be interesting to see what happens."
Like Bruns, Judy Sullivan wondered whether there will be more interest in trick-or-treating this year, after the sniper shootings put a damper on Halloween 2002.
"We cut back on many activities," said Sullivan, president of the Washington-Lee PTA. But this year, there have already been neighborhood parties uniting children with candy.
With teenagers in the house, though, there is less need to plan for Halloween. "High school kids don't plan that far in advance," she said. "It's really too much for them to say Monday what they'll be doing Friday."
But her daughter, W-L junior Megan Hannigan, will probably end up at the Washington-Lee football game on Friday, which students are encouraged to attend in costume.
"They'll come up with something, and it will probably be Friday afternoon," said Sullivan. "They've come up with some really cute things at the last minute."
<b>TEENS LIKE IMPROVISED</b> costumes, said Kim. "They want to make up their own costume. I did." It's adults who come in to buy packaged costumes. Similarly, young children and their parents pick and choose bits and pieces of costumes at Kinder Haus Toys, said manager Kay Yingpissutt.
In the back of the store, a box holds a collection of hats, completing a firefighter or soldier costume. Another smaller box holds a collection of Zorro masks, and a rack of fairy wands leans against the wall nearby. Above it all, rows of gauzy pink dresses wait to fulfill fairy princess fantasies.
In the front of the store, a rack holds costumes for toddlers — smaller pink dresses, alongside Dalmatian jumpers and dragon suits.
"Little girls ask for a princess of a fairy costume, little boys want to be firefighters, police or pirates," said Yingpissutt. "For boys, parents are usually looking for accessories."
But in a store catering to the parents of young children, dress-up supplies are not just October stock. "We usually sell a lot of dress-up things for little girls," said Yingpissutt. "Now we're selling more."