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Sunday, Oct 29, 2006
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For adults, skin is in for Halloween

OOH LA LA: Amanda Day models a cancan dancer outfit from ABC Costumes.
AL DIAZ/ MIAMI HERALD STAFF
OOH LA LA: Amanda Day models a cancan dancer outfit from ABC Costumes.

So maybe her folks weren't paying attention, or maybe she was changing clothes after sneaking out of the house. But some way, somehow over the past four or five years, Little Red Riding Hood has turned into a vamp.

That red robe? Mid-thigh these days. And the boots? Let's just say they were made for walking.

And Red isn't alone. Classic cancan girls and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra are raising temperatures with skin displays as well.

These sexed-up costumes, say the experts -- those making and selling costumes, and those who study human behavior -- is just another reflection of a less inhibited American society.

''Over the years I've seen amazing changes in the way things are done,'' said Judi Cain, who owns Center Stage Stars, a costume shop in the college town of Gainesville. ``Halloween has definitely become an adult holiday, in more than one way.''

The National Retail Federation reported recently that 2006 would mark the second consecutive year that Halloween spending jumped among adults.

This Halloween, more than 85 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds will be celebrating Halloween, compared to just under 67 percent last year. Also, 77 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds will be scaring up Halloween costumes, along with 71 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds.

Adults, said Cain, who is also a board member of the National Costumers Association, haven't changed Halloween in terms of costume themes.

POPULAR STAPLES

All the old staples -- nuns, priests, devils, witches, ghosts, monks, French maids and vampires, among others -- are all as popular as they were 25 years ago. In South Florida, add Cleopatra, cancan girls and gladiators to the classics list, local costume shops say.

''But there are two things at work here,'' Cain said. ``First, old school is popular. Look around you. The kids are wearing bell bottoms. They're wearing old hair styles. They're listening to old music. But their attitudes about sexiness are becoming more open at the same time. And when those two things meet, especially on Halloween, when you don't need an excuse to dress up, you find people combining their old-school interests with their more current sexy attitude.''

In spite of the plethora of current film characters to mimic, the only people buying that sort of costume are parents in search of get-ups for their children. As far as five months in advance of Halloween, Cain said she began stocking hundreds of extra adult-sized capes, fake fangs and even Frankenstein accessories, all for the diehard Halloween celebrants who couldn't care less about the latest and greatest.

But there is one area of costume choices in which adults apparently do mimic childlike behavior.

''Well, it seems like only the women want to look sexy,'' she said. ``The guys? They seem happy to go with goofy and funny looks, like beer kegs, absurd stuff. We have a bottle of tequila, a super-caffeinated coffee, Green Giant, a Tootsie Roll, and a donut with a cop's hat. Only guys buy those.''

And while adults in the rest of the state, and the country for that matter, have discovered recently that sexy costumes are all the rage, South Florida Halloweeners have known it for some time.

LITTLE RED'S FANS

''Little Red Riding Hood has always done well, but she's had a great resurgence over the past few years,'' said Debbie Diers-Weisman, manager of ABC Costume Shop in Miami's Midtown neighborhood. ``She's right up there along with the Bavarian girls look, you know like the image on St. Pauli Girl's [beer]?''

South Floridians have also made looks like Marie Antoinette, Louis XIV, the Three Musketeers, Catholic Cardinals and cancan girls popular for the better part of 25 years, Diers-Weisman said.

''And yes, South Floridians have managed to make those costumes sexy too,'' Diers-Weisman said with a laugh. ``It's really simple, a shorter skirt here, a slit there, a lower cut to a blouse.''

**Debbie Mandel Qoute**

Stress management expert Debbie Mandel pointed out that many old-school Halloween themes have always had sexy undertones.

''Vampires and their sexy bite -- vampires need to be invited in before they can suck your blood,'' Mandel said. ``Little Red Riding Hood in her red cape, strutting her stuff with her basket filled with goodies, what's a hungry wolf to do?

``See my point -- that stories and fairy tales do have a sexy version. Since adults are sexual creatures, donning a costume for Halloween releases another self.''

SEXY GETUPS

Dr. Charles Sophy, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist who has studied the adult costume phenomenon, applauds South Floridians for being less inhibited in their costume choices and recognizing that sexy dress has a time and a place, and a purpose.

''More and more adults are feeling more free to express themselves,'' Sophy said. ``They recognize that Halloween is just once a year, and it's a chance to step outside the box and have fun and be someone different.

``I actually think it's healthy too, for parents, because it sends a great message to the kids that mom and dad can free themselves and have fun and be silly, but the next day, when Halloween is over, that family structure that the kids were raised on, their safety net, is still firmly in place.''