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Party Hounds Gear Up for Halloween

Halloween is already the third-biggest party night of the year, behind New Year's Eve and Super Bowl Sunday. So perhaps it's little surprise the holiday is picking up steam among the country's most devoted group of partiers—college students—much to the delight of retailers.

Online gift retailer Beyond Bookmarks added a special Halloween "care package" for college students in October, 2005, after receiving numerous requests each year from parents to "please add some Halloween candy" to their packages. "Halloween is the first holiday freshmen spend away from home and parents want to acknowledge it," says company President Christy Moore Bradshaw.

This year, the San Antonio-based site started receiving advance orders for the Halloween package in August, and Moore expects sales for the pack to more than triple. That will make Halloween the best-selling holiday for the company, outselling Valentine's Day by a ratio of 2 to 1.

Boo, Dude This year, about 85% of 18- to 24- year olds say they plan to celebrate Halloween —that's up nearly 20% from the same time last year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF). About 63% of those celebrating say they plan to dress up.

Ellie Goebel, a 19-year-old sophomore at St. Louis University, didn't dress up for Halloween last year; instead, she stayed home to hand out treats to neighborhood kids. But this year she's planning to take more advantage of what the holiday has to offer—visiting a haunted house and attending a friend's costume party. Though she flirted with the idea of dressing up as a Catholic schoolgirl, Goebel says she'd rather be comfortable than shiver in a short skirt.

"For most girls, Halloween is a time when they can dress skanky and get away with it," she says. "I just want to have fun." Instead, Goebel will probably spend about $30 to assemble a cowgirl costume—the 20th most popular this year, according to the NRF.

Timothy Smith, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Scranton, hasn't really gotten into Halloween in years past. "This year, it's my last chance to really go all out, so I figured, why not? It's just an excuse to go out and party." Smith says he's planning to hit at least four Halloween parties over the weekend, and he estimates he'll spend $20 to $30 on a blond wig, black-frame glasses, and a flannel shirt to complete his costume—Garth, from the 1992 comedy Wayne's World. (His girlfriend will be dressing as Wayne.)

Arrr, Matey Halloween trends often follow Hollywood's summer blockbusters, and while Star Wars costumes were top sellers last season, the box-office success of Walt Disney's (DIS) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest this year has helped drive sales of eye-patches and tricorne hats nationwide. At Party City, spokeswoman Deborah Radman says pirate costumes topped the charts among adults, kids, teens, and even pets; the NRF survey named "pirate" this year's second-most popular costume for both adults and kids. Radman says it's unusual to see such a sharp increase in one category. For adults, it's the old Halloween standbys—witches, vampires, and ghosts—that do well year after year.

More then 6.1 million adults—about 17.5% of those dressing up—say they'll dress as a witch this Halloween, making it the most popular costume for the day. But no worries on variety: Retailers have seen to it there's a different get-up to represent almost any witch. At Spirit Halloween, a division of Spencer Gifts and the nation's largest Halloween chain, wannabe witches can choose from a dizzying number of garments. There's the basic witch costume ($14.99)—not to be confused with the Classic Witch ($34.99)—as well as the Renaissance Witch ($29.99), the Hot Rockin' Witch ($39.99), and the Pumpkin Witch ($44.99), among others.

Playboy Hipster Witch For those seeking a bit more oomph, sexy costume supplier offers more than two dozen styles of witch costumes, including Fantasy Witch ($55.95), Playboy Hipster Witch ($82.95), and Witchy Poo ($24.97). Then of course, there are hats to consider (glitter or feathers?), wigs (traditional black, a streak of orange, blue, with bangs?), brooms (purple metallic, perhaps?), as well as tights, shoes, and makeup. With so many options to choose from, it's no wonder the average young adult will spend about $30.38 on a Halloween costume, and $70.42 on the holiday overall, according to NRF projections. And that's even before all the pumpkin beer and other "spirits" are taken into account.

Which costumes are the most popular this season? To find out, Click here for the slide show.

Miller is a reporter with in New York.

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