Though it's always tempting to dress up for Halloween in a ripped-from-the-headlines costume, one infamous look seems to be passing Bakersfield by:
"I have not had a soul ask for (the Miley Cyrus) twerking costume."
So said Jennifer Keller, owner of Fantasy Frocks, in an interview last week.
Keller and other local costume retailers were enjoying the last days of relative calm before the pace accelerates this week, when Bakersfield's notoriously last-minute shoppers are expected to get into gear.
Though the National Retail Federation forecasts that spending will be down nationally -- $6.9 billion, from $8 billion in 2012 -- local retailers say that's not reflected in Bakersfield. Keller said her costume supplier "hadn't seen orders this low since 9/11."
"I was surprised to hear my rep say that because we haven't noticed that sales were down," she said. "We ordered just as heavy as we do."
Other Bakersfield retailers seem to be experiencing the same boom; a downtown antique and consignment shop recently doubled its inventory, an Oildale operation expanded a couple of years ago, and a Rosedale costume seamstress continues to work her fingers to the bone to meet demand.
"Everybody knows that I'm out here working," said Naomi Marberry of her home shop, where she makes 300 to 400 costumes a year, with another 100 in backstock.
"They stop by during the day because I'm working. I have a terrible boss -- that's me. I give me no time off."
Sonja Talamantes, of Bakersfield Costumes and Workwear, said that with Halloween just under three weeks away, the relatively calm part of her season has officially ended.
"The first week, customers that come in know what they want and they don't mind paying for it. Eighty percent are last-minute shoppers. Those last two weeks are crazy."
Putting it together
In Your Wildest Dreams Consignment and Antiques in downtown Bakersfield recently doubled its costume options when it picked up the inventory from a Southland store.
"Mom can't turn a great costume away," said Ginger Boyd, marketing director for the store owned by her mother, Dixie Brewer. "This year she accepted an entire closeout from a Hollywood costume shop."
To house the hundreds of new items, Brewer added a section at the back of the store ("Disguise the Limits") as well as two additional dressing rooms and more stock on their third floor.
"You can buy separates or whole outfits (with accessories), ranging from supersexy little bits to conservative things, but not the plastic stuff you get at Party City."
That personal touch is where local costume shops feel they compete best with the national retailers.
"Some people have their heart set on something when they call and when they get to the shop they're on plan C, D or F," Keller said. There are so many choices. And decision-making is not everybody's strong point."
In some instances, changing someone's mind can be just as difficult.
"I had a little boy, 31/2 or 4, who wanted to be the mermaid from 'The Little Mermaid,'" Marberry said. "He had just seen that movie. That's what he wanted to be. His mother and I had H-E-L-L talking him out of it because she said his father would not like it. We talked him into the crab. ...
"(Most of the time) when they got their little brain on something, you just need to suck it up and buy it."
Sonja Talamantes is there to guide her customers; there's really no other choice, considering her vast inventory of 15,000 new and second-hand costumes, housed inside Howard's Work Wear, her father's store on Roberts Lane.
"One room is just a costume closet. You can pull it together, mix and match," said Talamantes, who moved from a trailer to the more accommodating 6,000-square- foot space two years ago.
With vintage items and costumes, Brewer, of In Your Wildest Dreams, makes unique pairings for customers.
"There's so much of everything. I just piece it together," Brewer said.
"I didn't even get a clown outfit," she said, admiring an ensemble -- including oversized leather shoes -- she put on a customer being photographed. "It's something he'll feel a little cool in."
Marberry doesn't use models, which can present challenges.
"I'm nosy; I want to see it on, if I fitted it right. That's how I know if I messed it up."
And if that's the case, she has no problem telling you, as she did for a woman in a bell costume that has a problematic neckline and sleeves.
"I am terrible. I will tell you if it don't look good. I can't lie, it's not in me. I ripped it apart and made a little bell."
Looking for deals
Along with a good fit, many people don't want to spend a lot on something they might not wear again.
"This year, we're really pushing it, so the costuming is coming back to us," Boyd said of reconsigning. "If they spend money on a quality piece, but don't want to keep it or don't have anyone to hand it down to."
At In Your Wildest Dreams, customers can bring back their good-condition items that, if sold by the store, they will recoup some money on.
Talamantes at Bakersfield Costumes also offers a "trade-up" deal, allowing customers to bring in items in good condition that can go toward the cost of a new costume.
"I also have a company (selling me sets) that if it's missing something, they're cheaper."
"People are surprised they can get three costumes, a pair of shoes for the price of one (somewhere else)."
Marberry, whose costumes range from $25 to $60 for children and $45 to $119 for adults, said the backstock she keeps in her garage is discounted further. Although she varies her offerings each year (see accompanying article), she said she tries to stay flexible.
"In retail, nothing is a guarantee. I don't think. Every year, styles change, people change."
Hunt for ducks, foxes
So if Cyrus' performance at the MTV VMA Awards isn't a source of inspiration, what will be?
Classics like "The Great Gatsby" and Disney characters are big, as are the larger-than-life Robertson clan, the first-family of television these days.
"'Duck Dynasty' is our new biggie," said Keller, of Fantasy Frocks. "It overtook the '80s for party themes. This summer there were 'Duck Dynasty' parties almost every weekend. Willie and Uncle Si are the two favorites, but there are couples -- Miss Kay and Phil.
"(Some) people just buy the beard, flag bandannas. A lot of people around Bakersfield have their own camo clothing."
But if you'd rather play the hunted than the hunter, Keller's got you covered.
The Norwegian duo Ylvis have become a viral sensation with their video that asks, "What does the fox say?"
"Foxes have had a new surge in popularity (from the video)," Keller said. "I'm selling a lot of the fox kits, ears and tails. There are other creatures in the background that people request as well."
But whether the customer opts for a trend or classic, Marberry has been making costumes long enough to have become an expert on the most important consideration:
"I know I'm an old woman, but I was once a young woman, and you want to look good."