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Haunt Couture

It's not too late -- unleash your demons tonight with a bewitching, high-end Halloween costume.
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The excitement of Halloween is upon us, and as the candy-coated holiday approaches, one concern seems to be weighing on everyone's mind: what to dress up as.

As Americans get ready to celebrate tonight, the holiday season is in full swing, with estimated Halloween consumer expenditure to be $4.96 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Costumes account for as much as $1.81 billion of that, with candy making up $1.57 billion, decorations totaling $1.31 billion and greeting cards making up the rest.

Always a favorite of the Halloween tradition, costumes have become more elaborate over time, to say the least.

Gone are the days when dressing up consisted of cutting out a couple of holes in a white sheet and throwing it over your head in an attempt to become a ghost, or better yet, fitting a cardboard box around your waist and attaching antennae to the top to look like a TV. Please. Nowadays, that would be considered a major costume faux pas.

From young infants to the young at heart -- and even family pets -- everyone's getting into the Halloween spirit and donning a high-end disguise.

So what's in this season?

For the tiniest consumers, Le Top brand costumes are all the rage.

At

Nordstrom

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, where the branded infant costumes are sold, the favored Le Top outfit is the baby dragon, according to the store's online sales. The designer vendor also sells baby giraffes, baby bunnies and baby Dalmatians from Le Top for $42 each.

Let Them Eat Candy Corn

For the older demographic, Marie Antoinette has been crowned this year's favored Halloween icon, says Paul Blum, owner of

Abracadabra Magic and Costumes in New York City.

The Marie Antoinette dress, modeled after the trendsetting queen of France, goes for the rental price of about $250 or for the purchase price of $500 (that distinctive eau de Versailles not included). The matching wig, to truly complete the costume, will set you back an additional $95.

Cleopatra, a perennial favorite, sells for around $900 and rents for $450, says Blum. But you'll collect more candy than anyone else in this intricately designed gold and black dress, complete with glittering headpiece.

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Abracadabra, which specializes in period costumes, also rents classic Roman soldier and King Henry embroidered costumes for about $450 each, or one could be yours to keep for just $1,950.

And of course, no costume is complete without the accessories to go with it. Tiaras and crowns here range from $12 to $250, while jewelry can cost up to $350 per piece.

"Our best stuff always goes out the earliest," Blum points out. And "most people rent, but sometimes they won't bring it back," which is why his store requires a security deposit beforehand.

For the kids,

Star Wars

characters have been a hit this season. Overall, Clone Trooper is the most sought after, Blum notes. "I must have gotten 50 calls for this costume," he says.

And if you don't want to go to all that trouble of dressing in a Victorian, Roman or Renaissance gown or superhero getup, Abracadabra also rents and sells animated props for Halloween parties, costing up to $12,000 for the night.

More Devilish Delights

Gothic Renaissance, also in Manhattan, is another store brimming with costume goodies.

On one side of the store, rows of Venetian Italian masks line the wall. Painted in silver, gold, pink and blue, and encrusted with rhinestones and sequins, these masks range from $150 to $2,000 each.

In a glass case next to the register, a Cirque Du Soleil leather mask sports a $350 price tag, while an Egyptian pharaoh necklace is priced at $450.

On another wall hang two massive sets of turkey feather wings. One pair white and the other black, you can fly away with these beauties for a mere $400 a pair.

In the back, customers rummaged through leather corsets, ruffled shirts, zipper vests, fur capes and top hats, while up front people glanced at display cases filled with theatrical makeup and flashy gold and rhinestone jewelry.

"It's been packed in here all day," says Stitch Azintime, the store's manager. And it's no small business: "Customers typically spend anywhere between $300 and $1,000," he continues.

Vinyl costumes have been popular this year, Azintime notes, in particular the vinyl nurse, which is priced at $130.

Customers often come into Gothic Renaissance looking for costumes befitting Halloween parties that can run upwards of $1,000 a ticket, Azintime explains, so "they're looking for the best."

Toto, Too

At the chain stores, prices may run a bit lower, but demand is still strong.

Wal-Mart's

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online store best-sellers include the boy's Mystic Forces red Power Ranger costume, the girl's prestige Cinderella costume and, for adults, the men's

South Park

Cartman costume and women's midnight priestess gown.

And skeletons, motorcycle dogs and Darth Vaders are just a few of the pet costumes shoppers are snapping up at Party City, the store also filled from top to bottom with human accessories, masks and makeup galore.

The hot-dog and doggie princess costumes were the first to go at the Party City in Yonkers, N.Y.

Just make sure to keep all your precious pooch's Halloween candy haul for yourself, and everyone will have a very happy Halloween.

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