PITTSBURGH Long gone are the days when Halloween costumes were cobbled together with old clothes, sheets or a costume-and-mask combination from a discount store.
While kids have always wanted costumes reflecting popular culture figures, parents are likely to spend considerably more money nowadays than in the past.
Want to look like Spiderman? It could cost you from around $17 at Kmart to up to $70 at specialty retailer Costume World, which has stores in Pittsburgh, Deerfield Beach, Fla., and Dallas.
The pricey Spidey comes with built-in muscles and nicer materials.
''When it comes to children's costumes, parents are more time-strapped than ever before so it's easier to buy one than it is to make one or piece something together,'' said Ellen Tolley, a spokesperson for the National Retail Federation, which tracks Halloween spending.
''Parents know that Halloween is one day out of the year where parents can encourage their children to be something they're not,'' Tolley said. ''They can let their children be a princess or be a fireman for a day.''
''Kids live in costumes today,'' said Jamie Smith, manager of Costume World's Pittsburgh location.
Many children sleep and play make-believe in their costumes, he said, adding that recently, one little girl wore her princess outfit out of the store. Today's children's costumes are better built than those of their parents, he said.
In a suburban Pittsburgh Target store on Monday, Monica Laughery was shopping for a ''flower child-diva'' costume for her 6-year-old daughter, Brenna, and a butterfly costume for her 3-year-old daughter, Kylie.
Laughery said she typically shops at discount retailers for Halloween outfits because costume stores are pricey and to avoid paying shipping from an online retailer. She wanted to spend no more than $50 for both costumes.
Before she left, her girls had apparently changed their minds. Brenna wanted to be a ''spider countess,'' and as younger siblings are wont to do, Kylie was eyeing the same costume.
Many adult customers rent from places like Costume World, where prices start around $125 and cover three days' rental, cleaning and alteration.
Spiderman is this year's top costume, according to the National Retail Federation, but traditional favorite costumes like witches, ghosts and monsters point to Halloween's pagan roots.
The holiday has evolved into a retailer's boon.
With an estimated $3.12 billion that will be spent this year, Halloween ranks as the sixth-largest spending holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. Winter holidays ($220 billion), Valentine's Day ($13 billion), Easter ($10.5 billion), Mother's Day ($10.4 billion) and Father's Day ($8 billion) rank ahead.
The National Retail Federation estimates that the average costume-buyer will spend about $28 this year. That includes spending on less costly costume accessories such as makeup, Tolley said.
Few off-the-shelf costumes today come cheap.
At Costume World, SpongeBob SquarePants is one of the cheapest costumes for kids at $30. A Little Orphan Annie-type getup complete with a wig lists for $75.
Phyllis Galembo, an art professor at the University at Albany and author of the book ''Dressed for Thrills: 100 Years of Halloween Costumes & Masquerade,'' laments how expensive costumes have become.
''The costumes used to be like 89 cents, $2 ... Now I don't know if you can get anything for $20,'' Galembo said, adding she believes the increase in prices has outpaced inflation over the years.
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