NEW YORK | Inside a Ricky's NYC store, Lucie Sudmeier selects a Hogwarts uniform from racks filled with sexy pirates, blue Avatar makeup and vampire fangs.
"I was going to be a runaway bride, but when I saw this costume, I had to grab it," said the 19-year-old. "My friends know me as the Harry Potter nerd. I have a Harry Potter tattoo."
Potter's hot for Halloween this year, including prominent billing on child costume lists for the first time, according to a survey conducted by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation (NRF). But he's going to have some pop-culture competition as retailers stock a wider variety.
Think Snooki versus Gaga, Buzz Lightyear versus Spiderman.
The NRF said more people than ever before plan to dress up for the holiday — 40.1 percent compared with 33.4 percent last year and the highest percentage since the group started tracking Halloween trends in 2003.
"We expect 2010 to be the year of the costume," said NRF spokeswoman Kathy Grannis, who cites the poor economy as a reason people are investing in some fun.
"It's relatively affordable, purely discretionary spending and a great way to kick back and forget about what lies around the corner," she said. "We saw a rise like this in 2008 as well as in 2002 after 9/11."
This season's Halloween costume trends also include rises in classics, humor and lighthearted gear: According to the NRF survey, "witches" are still the No. 1 costume for adults, followed by vampires, pirates and nurses.
"Nurses and political costumes completely fell off the list last year," Ms. Grannis said. "It was right when health care was in the news every day and we had already been through an election year. Both categories are back on this year."
While classic costumes still top the list, Ms. Grannis cited a rising influence of pop culture. Leading the pack is a certain blond chameleon who's tailor-made for the holiday.
"In our online business it's Lady Gaga hands down," said Todd Kenig, chairman of Ricky's NYC. "The wigs, her outfits, the accessories, it's all Gaga."
Ricky's NYC sells no less than seven different full Lady Gaga costumes and dozens of her accessories, including a hair-shaped bow and soda-can wig.
Expect MTV's Jersey Shore characters — Snooki, Pauly D and the Situation — to be hot tickets for men and women. Snooki wannabes will sport orange "tan" makeup, a skintight leopard dress and the quintessential "pouf" wig, while men can become DJ Pauly D with a spiky wig, or "The Situation" with a muscle tank and fake set of ripped abs underneath.
"The 'Jersey Shore' has been hot, even since the beginning of the year when people started throwing Jersey Shore parties," said Dorice Dionne, senior vice president of merchandising for iParty. "I can't tell you how many fake tattoos we've already sold."
The characters in "Alice in Wonderland" are part of another big trend, according to the NRF survey, and several retailers specifically cite the Mad Hatter as one of the top costumes for adults.
Retailers report big sales in scaly blue Avatar costumes and Mario Brothers, along with "classic" and more Twilight-modern vampires.