• Rip Claassen's Top Ten Costumes of 2014

    The overarching trend this decade is a fusion of fantasy and history. With the popularity of alternate superheroes and alternate timeline fiction, people are now freshening up their costume looks by creatively mixing and matching costume pieces, accessories, and makeup.  Imagine Wonder Woman as a Wild West Saloon Girl. Glinda the Good Witch as a vampire. Little Red Riding Hood AS the Big Bad Wolf.

    Here is my list of the most popular costumes for 2014:


    #10: Roaring Twenties. The movie “The Great Gatsby” brought this popular trend to #1 last year and it is still around. Women are renting flapper dresses and tango dresses, and men are dressing in gangster costumes, striped jackets, and zoot suits.  The fringed Flapper dresses are fun and foxy and emphasize a boyish figure. Tango dresses from the same era are more flattering to curvy figures. Authentic accessories include flapper beads, garters, and cigarette holders.

    #9: Nuns. Today’s real-life nuns are less likely to wear the traditional “habits,” but these black and white robes are still popular costumes for both women and men. Every year we run out of religious items for Halloween week. Sometimes a group costume will include both nuns and monks.

    #8: Pirates. We outfit lots of pirates and wenches, both authentic styles and Hollywood-inspired versions of pirate maidens in sassy short skirts. Pirates have moved down the list from their “Top Five” ranking for the last 12 years, perhaps because these swashbucklers now have their own featured holiday in September,  “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” All ages enjoy pirate costumes and the traditional accessories of eye patches, sashes, hats, and even a false gold tooth.

    #7: Victorian and Edwardian/Gilded Age.  This year, we have seen a lot more requests for Victorian costumes. I can’t perceive any Hollywood connection, so perhaps this trend is driven by historical societies. Many people ask for Victorian but find they prefer Edwardian costumes, which came along a little later. The Edwardian gowns tend to be more flattering to ladies, and the Edwardian men’s styles are a little flashier (brocade vests instead of solid, etc). Some customers combine Victorian costumes with fantasy accessories and makeup to create some wonderful Steampunk looks or characters from the great horror novels . Popular group costumes are a mix of  ladies, gentlemen, and servants (we have enough period servants costumes to staff Downton Abbey itself). Historical note: The proper gentleman’s hat was the “bell crown” which differs in shape from the later “top hat.” Think more “Mad Hatter.”

    #6: Vikings. The Viking invasion has taken the costume industry by surprise. Thanks to a popular show on the History Channel, Viking costumes are more popular than they have been in years. Viking costumes are going fast, and we have had to reorder Viking helmets and weapons.

    #5: Superheroes. There is always demand for Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Batman, Bat Girl, Superman, etc.  This year, some of the lesser-known superheroes are popular as well, perhaps inspired by the TV shows about Arrow and Flash. Customers who want to put together their own superhero costumes can start with unitards and trunks. Insider’s tip – watch for Constantine, a trench-coated wizard detective whose TV show premieres this October.

    #4: The 1970s, back into the “Top Five” this year. This era has been a Halloween mainstay since the 70s nostalgia kick of the 1990s. It calmed down for a while, but now it’s back in full force. Some of the best 70s looks are Disco, Hippies, and Pimps. We have some wonderful caftans and afro wigs for people who want to be Mrs. Roper while greeting trick-or-treaters  (“Come and knock at my door….”)!

    #3: Colonial characters, always in our “Top Five.” Colonial period/Age of Enlightenment costumes are perennial favorites in the Washington area. People like to portray historical figures like George and Martha Washington and Marie Antoinette. We sell a lot of colonial wigs to go with these costumes.  We also have a great product called Instant Disguise that is perfect for school projects, where you can be Thomas Jefferson or Betsy Ross or Ben Franklin quite inexpensively.

    #2: Fantasy genres have moved steadily up the list over the last few years. The most popular costumes are Renaissance Faire styles repurposed as fantasy. .Bolder colors, accessories, and makeup change a historical costume into fairy tale garb. Knights, princesses, witches, maidens, peasants, elves, all can join together for a group costume.  

    #1: “Frozen.” It is no surprise that the highest-grossing animated film of all time has inspired a million would-be Elsas and Annas. These Disney denizens are selling out fast. There are licensed Elsa and Anna costumes, but one can get the same general look by combining Nordic and Fantasy elements. Group “Frozen” costumes can include Viking peasants, gentlemen in military-style ball costumes, a reindeer, and a snowman as well as the two sisters.

    Also popular but not making the Top Ten List this year are Zombies, Greeks and Romans, Cowboys and Saloon Girls, and character costumes such as Star Wars and Disney Princesses. The store's twelve Elvis costumes are always fully rented for Halloween week. "Drag costumes are big, in more ways than one! Drag is popular at Halloween for the college boys who want a funny costume, and we have a lot of more serious drag customers as well, year round," Claassen says. “We always do a good business in plus-sized costumes,” he adds. “Most stores don’t carry them at all, but we have large sizes in sales and rental both.”

    Rip Claassen has been in the costume business for decades, as a theatrical costumer and as manager of DC’s famous costume shop Backstage Inc., which closed in December 2012. Claassen acquired Backstage’s huge costume inventory and opened his 6,500 square foot theatrical specialty store, the American Backstage Company, in April of 2013.

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