October 28, 2013

Halloween is not just for kids anymore

Not just one day, Halloween is a whole season now of parties, events, and fantasy for grown-ups.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Anne Cote sits in the haunted funeral parlor she’s created at her home in Falmouth. Cote likes Halloween because it lets people explore scary themes while “controlling the horror.”

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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John Robertson and his daughter Isabel, 15, have created a haunting scene in front of their Cape Elizabeth home.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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The idea of adults using Halloween to live out fantasies, even for a little while, is evident in the top-selling adult costumes each year. Spirit Halloween, a 1,000-store chain that is open for Halloween season only, says the hottest-selling costume this year is a replica of the teddy bear leotard that pop singer Miley Cyrus wore while doing a racy act on stage at the Video Music Awards in late August, with singer Robin Thicke.

The striped suit Thicke wore is a hot costume, too, and both of them sell out within days of being stocked in Spirit stores, said Deede Dunbar, who runs the three Spirit Halloween stores in Maine. The music awards performance was recent, yet costume trend spotters knew a hot pop-culture costume idea when they saw one. Rights were secured, and the replicas of Cyrus’ and Thicke’s outfits were on Spirit Halloween store shelves within three weeks.

“We’re only getting limited quantities, and when they come in, they go right out,” said Dunbar, adding that about 50 percent of her stores’ sales are adult costumes. Children’s costumes make up about 25 percent of sales and decor makes up the rest.

Adults dressing up as fantasy characters for Halloween is not completely new, but certainly much more mainstream today than a generation or two ago, said Erica Rand, a professor of gender studies at Bates College in Lewiston. She points out that Halloween was “big” for the gay community long before mainstream adults started dressing up. And she thinks the fact that adults are jumping feet-first into Halloween festivities is definitely attributable to good old-fashioned capitalism as well. She questions whether so many adults would be dressing up or decorating for Halloween if costumes and decor weren’t so readily available in stores and online.

But there does seem to be a lot of folks, especially teens and young adults, who are growing up now with the idea of Halloween as a fun season for all ages, not unlike Christmas. And they may not need to buy all their Halloween fun.

Isabel Robertson, 15, of Cape Elizabeth grew up embracing Halloween on many levels, including elaborate home decorations and visiting haunted attractions with her family. Isabel herself has given up on going out for candy, but has been busy this fall preparing for Halloween. She and her family have filled the yard with spooky stuff, including a coffin. She and her father built the coffin, which Isabel will pop out of to scare folks. She will be wearing a fake-fur papier-mache werewolf mask she made herself, with a movable jaw.

“There are so many levels to Halloween – there’s something for everyone, adults and kids,” said Isabel, a sophomore at Cape Elizabeth High School.

Halloween dates back 2,000 years, when people believed it was a night when the spirits of the dead could come back to Earth. During the gentler times of the 20th century it became a kid’s holiday. But maybe now Halloween is just coming full circle, or so says perhaps the only Mainer who has been the inspiration for a Halloween mask worn by millions.

“If you think about the time when Halloween was the day of the dead, it was a very adult holiday,” said Gunnar Hansen, 66, a Down East Maine resident who starred as Leatherface in the 1974 horror classic “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” “When I was a kid, the only way adults participated in Halloween was to make sure there was enough candy in the bowl.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: rrouthier@pressherald.com

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