The hazmat suits sold out days ago. The gas masks, too.
An apocalyptic nightmare? A zombie uprising?
It’s just another October day in Total Party, a costume and party store at Ballston Common Mall, where Halloween revelers searched for a certain costume that was sure to be noticed.
“This year it’s Ebola,” Lorenzo Caltagirone, the owner of the shop in Arlington County, Va., said, his voice dropping to a whisper. “Our hazmat suits and masks are gone. Someone came in the other day and asked for ‘Ebola eyes.’ I told them that I didn’t really know what that looks like.”
Total Party is open year-round but records 50 percent of its annual sales in October. Almost all of those sales come in the week leading up to Halloween, Caltagirone said, as people prepare for parties, especially with the 31st falling on a Friday this year. In recent days, would-be revelers have been busy seeking out the scary, the sexy, the sweet — and the edgy.
“In 2009, everyone wanted to be Michael Jackson,” says Johnathon Weeks, the vice president of Brands On Sale, an online costume retailer that has gained popularity this week for marketing a “sexy” Ebola-themed costume. “Every year is something new.”
In 2014, the overwhelming favorite is Ebola.
Ibrahim Ereikat, 18, of Omaha tweeted a photo of himself in his Ebola containment costume on Wednesday. He is going to wear it to parties Friday and Saturday nights.
“I know people are going to find it offensive, but I just think it’s funny how quick people are to panic,” he said, laughing. “It’s not anything serious, it’s just a joke.”
Phyllis Galembo, an arts professor at the University at Albany who specializes in ritual costumes and masquerade, said that the holiday appeals to people looking for spontaneity.
“In general, people have their moment of ‘anything goes’ for a change,” she said. “You sometimes find the straightest-type people dressing up on Halloween.”
Costumes that arguably push the boundaries come with that territory, she said Thursday on the phone as she boarded a plane to Haiti. She was headed to the island nation to take in the Day of the Dead festivities.
“There are always people who totally lack taste,” Galembo added. “People go crazy.”
Ginger Ager, president of Gene’s Costumes in Kensington, Md., remembers a few years back when swine flu was a hot topic. Her store on Connecticut Avenue couldn’t keep pig noses in stock.
“They all think they’re original,” she said. “And they all think they’re hilarious.”
On the offensive Halloween costume scale, Ebola-related costumes have set social media ablaze but opinions have varied from mostly disgust to pleas for good humor.
At the other end of the costume spectrum, the most sought-after children’s costumes this year have come from Disney’s “Frozen.”
“Everybody and their mother wants to be Elsa,” said Total Party’s Caltagirone, referencing the film’s heroine.
The princess costume requires two main pieces: a sparkly blue dress and a long blond braid.
Men have come into Gene’s looking to dress up as Elsa, Ager said.
Her store was buzzing at lunchtime Thursday, people mulling their decisions, carefully weaving past a giant Winnie the Pooh head, a bright green leprechaun’s hat, toward medieval garb. The phone rang every few minutes.
“Hello, this is Gene’s,” Ager said. “No. . . . We don’t have a costume left for Elsa. . . . Yes. . . . We have got a wig, still.”
She said Elsa isn’t the only sought-after costume inspired by the big screen. Captain America has been a popular superhero this year, along with characters from Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Really, any superheroes from current movies are usually big sellers, Ager said.
Julio Cesar Tovar, of Greenbelt, Md., was holding a Jesus costume but wasn’t set on it. He was planning to go to house parties this weekend. When asked about how offensive a costume he would ever don, he tilted his head back and pondered.
“You mean, like dressing up like Ebola?” he asked. “Nah, that’s the line. You never know what people are going to look at you like.”
For people who want a tamer look, the classics are always in demand: characters from “Gilligan’s Island” and clowns.
James Russo, 26, recently walked the aisles at Total Party in a checkered blue and powder-pink shirt carrying a three-foot plastic sword.
Russo was transforming into Jaime Lannister from HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” The knight is a far cry from the subtle man standing less than six feet tall in the costume shop.
“I guess we celebrate a little less and less as we get older,” he said, adding that he still dresses up every year. “But it’s still fun. We have a good time.”
Thousands of District residents will don disguises Friday, just like Russo.
“Halloween is one day out of the year,” Weeks said. “You can dress up as a zombie, you can be a doctor, you can be an Ebola containment officer.
“You can be whatever you want to be.”