Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus outfit for you.

Tis the season when everybody wants to get into the ho-ho-ho act. And many Virginians are capturing the spirit - and the shape - of the North Pole visitor by suiting up at one of two nearby costume rental shops.

The open season for buying or renting Santa outfits started about the late October, the theatrical costumers report. And the Santa surge goes on - until Christmas eve this Saturday, they say.

If you've got the seasonal will, they'll pull out all their props to provide the way.

"Christmas is not our big, number one season like Halloween ," according to Nancy Dunton, new owner of Arlington's long-established Stein's Theatrical and Dacne Centre, a complete store for professional theatherand dance companies. "I'd say it runs third, after Halloween and the September opening season for the theater, ballet and dance school productions."

"The basic idea is not to rent a costume, but to 'costume' people, "says Joy Nelson of Alxandria's Fantasy Costumes, which specializes in outfitting complete theatrical productions throughoutthe year.

"The basic idethe year,

Although the jingle bell season is only a small part of their costuming trade, both stores report a brisk business right up to Santa's Christmas sleigh'day.

For anyone who wants to play the part of Santa, the best costume to rent is an outdoor suit of plush velvet or velour with either real or imitation fur trim, going for $35 to $75, plus returnable cash deposit. This fee usually includes "the works" - wig, beard, cap, fake boot tops (it's illegal to rent shoes in Virginia, Fantasy reports) jingle bells and toy bag.

One can also buy a professional Santa suit for $111 (fake fur trim) or $350 (fur trim), depending on where you rent and how realistic or expensive one feels he or she must look.

But an inexpensive cotton felt suit with cotton beard, hat, belt and boot covers at Stein's is available for only $19.25. "The less expensive costumes are an experiment this year and they've gone beautifully," Dunton says.

Each store rents suits of different materials and designs at a variety of prices. In addition to rental fees, all stores require a sizeable cash deposit - from $50 to $100 - which is returned when the suit is brought back. Rentals at Stein's range from $35 to $50, usually for one day's use. Fantasy's fees range from $50 to $75 for up to five days.

Fantasy is the only store that rents false cardboard and fake pillow stomachs. "But most Santas prefer to do their own stuffing," Nelson Says. "We also have as many requests for elves' and helpers' outfits as we do for Santas. These only rent for about $15 to $25, plus deposit."

Fantasy can also rent you an impressive reindeer's suit, complete with oversize Rudolph head and red nose, or a Snoopy outfit with a jumbo cartoon head for satisfying your "Charlie Brown's Christmas" urge ($40 each, plus deposit).

Unlike the customers, Santa suits usually come in basic BIG - size 44 to 46. Fantasy has a few average (male medium) and super large (50 to 52). "We had two calls one week for six foot seven inch Santa suits. One was a sale, the very next one a rental," Nelson said.

But usually, as Stein's Dunton reports, "Some one will call up and say, 'what sizes do you have' and when I say 44 to 46, they'll reply, 'but I'm only a 38.' We usually tell them humorously to 'stuff it,'" she says, laughing.

And many aspiring Santas apparently do. Especially the growing number of women now stepping into the role of the once male-only figure.

"I recently helped one woman size 8 to 10 who was doing a Mr. Santa Claus, complete with cardboard fake front padding, wig, beard, spats and white gloves," Fantasy's Nelson said. "Most women who are dressing up as the real Santa Claus don't mind if they look fat."

Stein's offers a stylish Mrs. or Ms. Santa with feminine mid-calf culottes or full-length skirt instead of pants, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] about size 16 to 18. Dunton says the women "usually wear white streaks or sprinkle snow in their hair, and use white eyeliner and eyebrow pencil. Or they'll rent white wigs or buy white hair spray to quickly change hair color."

Stein's reports that its costuming challenges include outfitting some mysterious figures, "who come in during the year with a photo and ask for disguises to look like that person." Salesman Stephen McManus, who has waited on them, says, "I knew who they were because when they flipped through their wallet for IDs to pay by check, I saw their Secret Service identification cards."