The same old haunts still exist (save for one). Halloween costumes fall into two general categories for me—the pre-packaged costumes that feature bad photography on the front of the poly bag showcasing a model whose other gig is working at Hooters (if it's a man's costume, insert name of Gaslamp bar here). Or costumes cobbled together with makeshift parts and goods. You wouldn't catch me dead in the former. But maybe you're not as easily embarrassed. Just please: avoid those Halloween superstores that are taking over 20,000-plus square foot abandoned stores.
I got excited about hitting up Flashbacks (3849 Fifth Ave., flashbackintime.com) in Hillcrest because it deals in used clothing, and, therefore, I assumed the pickings would be genuine-article old. But the racks marked “Halloween Costumes” are filled to the brim with those poly bagged “costumes.” Still, they're a notch above the bigbox stores. You'll find the requisite That '70s Show clean and sweet-smelling version of a hippie, plus cop outfits, sailors and convicts. For women, there are ridiculously short-skirted hippies, cops, sailors and convicts. If you like complete ensembles that match from head to toe, then this is your place. If not, you only have to walk a few steps to the regular racks and peruse the real costumes. You could quite effortlessly be Betty or Joan from Mad Men, Holly Hobbie, a Bollywood princess or the Kings of Leon. There are a ton of wigs, leg warmers, tutus and glasses.
Across the street at Buffalo Exchange (3862 Fifth Ave.; second location in Pacific Beach, buffaloexchange.com), I found more of what I was looking for, even if it was only one rack. There was a real floor-length Disneyland employee coat (for only $16!), a homemade super-hero outfit complete with leg warmers and lightning appliqué, and something that resembled a tightrope-walker ensemble—all that was needed was a long stick to hold—plus thrift-store style used costumes. They, too, have a large selection of silly hats, glasses and obnoxious accessories.
Last year, I wrote about Buffalo Breath (2050 Hancock St., Middletown, buffalobreathcostumes.com), the year-round costume shop that supplies theaters, photo shoots and local TV productions. Their used-costume section has dwindled considerably, but there are still a load of harem pants for less than $20. And, on the bright side, they do have a giant banana costume. And a very large Gumby ensemble. And an enormous selection of mustaches, wigs, fairy wings, fangs, fake blood and any other accessory you may or may not need.
And maybe this is cheating—because last year it fueled the majority of my costume concepts—but American Apparel (four stores in San Diego; americanapparel.net) keeps getting weirder and weirder. You can't even find a plain cotton tee there anymore. But you can find shiny plastic-looking pants, gigantic bows and full bodysuits in nude, shiny snakeskin and bright colors, too. All this whack '80s throwback gear makes for endless costume ideas. AA's website features photos of the hip kids dressed up as high-school wrestlers and a flag-football team. I instinctively think Olivia Newton John: You could go either bad-girl Sandy from Grease or roller-skating Kira from Xanadu. I'm sure there will be plenty of Sue Sylvesters this year, but I say don the red tracksuit and tell everyone you're Bruce Jenner, pre-Kardashian days. American Apparel also has ernie and Elmo shirts, so you could slice one up and be Katy Perry not on Sesame Street. My 9-year-old daughter picked out the splatter-paint shiny black leggings and leotard. So she's gonna be either Cyndi Lauper or MIA.
And me? I'm getting a mustache at Buffalo Breath and calling it a day.
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