Purim season draws big bucks for kids costumes and props

With the last of the Chanukah doughnuts scarcely out of the shops, Israel's manufacturers, importers and retailers are gearing up for Purim.

"More and more, the media are influencing Purim fashions," says Dorit, who works at Happening, an upmarket store in Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall.

"Last year, the younger kids couldn't get enough of the Lion King, Pocahontas and Power Rangers costumes," she went on. "The year before, it was Aladdin. But there are also the standard outfits that don't change. Year after year, children come in wanting animal costumes — dogs and cats, birds and lions, butterflies and ladybugs.

"Year after year, we sell Queen Esther, Mordechai and Ahasuerus outfits. And year after year we sell costumes for clowns and policemen, brides and princesses, cowboys or Chinese girls."

Kids love to dress up for Purim, agree both Dorit and another retailer, Motti. At Happening, parents spend anywhere from $25 to $75 on a costume. At Motti's shop, where prices begin at $5, customers are more frugal. Among his less-affluent clientele, a family of six or seven children is considered on the small side.

"My customers often buy only the accessories," he says. "They'll take a sword or a wig or a mask, and improvise the rest of the outfit at home."

But even among Motti's customers, fewer and fewer people are making their own costumes. "Twenty years ago, that was the norm," he says. "Today, not many people bother. It's so much easier to buy."

Happening cashes in on that trend by trying to create a constant demand for new and different costumes. Every year, the store introduces one or two new outfits. Last year, it offered the elaborate Spanish Dancer and Sun Queen: Both sold very well, despite a hefty price tag.

Some parents try to make better use of their money by buying clothes that will last longer than just Purim week.

"I bought my 4-year-old son Superman pajamas," says Ellen Cohen of Jerusalem. "We added a cape and a mask, and that was that.

"Unfortunately, the outfit was a little too successful," she adds. "He insisted on wearing it day and night for months afterward!"

Barbara Merin bought her 5-year-old daughter a Pocahontas nightie and added a wig. But in her case, the costume was a failure.

"When my daughter got to kindergarten and saw her friends in `real' $70 Pocahontas outfits, she was devastated. I felt terrible! This year, I'm going to get her a real costume — she wants Esmeralda — no matter what it costs."

For Israel's costume manufacturers, January marks the beginning of the Purim season.

"We have a frantic two months of preparation," says Itzik of Siesta Costumes in Tel Aviv. "We update the traditional favorites and we let the kids decide which are going to be the new big sellers. We do surveys, look at what the shops have sold during the past year and go with that. Our season is very short but very intensive."

Dressing in cute costumes for Purim is most popular among the under-12s. After that, says Dorit, youngsters are no longer interested in dressing like animals or Disney or Bible characters.

"What the teens want is to go punk," she says. "They want crazy hair and torn clothes."

On the other hand, adults tend not to dress up at all, unless they're invited to costume parties.

"They usually only wear a gorilla mask," says Dorit.