The summer beach bag was still in the car trunk when I finally gave in to every mother’s annual shopping spree for kids’ school clothes.

With every intention of buying jeans and sensible shoes for my two children, I found myself wandering through racks of Halloween costumes in late August. (In an aside: Shop for kids’ stuff without the kids. Saves time and money, and prevents premature graying.)

And yes, it did occur to me that Halloween was a full two months away while the first day of school loomed imminently. But you can never start too early to get ideas if you’re going to make your own or if you want to buy the good ones before they run out.

Shoving my painstakingly complete back-to-school list into my purse, I found conducting reconnaissance on obnoxious-orange and ominous-black plastic accessories much more compelling than anticipating what size feet my kids would have by next week. (Downside to earlier tip: Chances are only fifty-fifty that you’ll get the right size or right color without the actual kid.)

Black capes, Grim Reaper masks and superhero costumes took up most of the shelf space for boys as they do every year. But I’ve yet to meet a male child who’d actually go to a school Halloween party dressed in Superman tights. Cape and big S maybe, but never the full costume once they hit that 6-year-old birthday milestone.

Too much like going out in public in your underwear. And we all know that the mere mention of underwear elicits an obligatory snicker followed by the emphatic, “Gross!”

Harry Potter and Johnny Depp as a sun-baked pirate are still popular. Scooby-Doo and Shaggy are making a repeat appearance. But the Bionicle costumes caught my eye.

They come in good and evil characters, although I honestly can’t tell which is which because there’s no perfectly sculpted hair or a strip of white paint representing teeth after years of polish and braces and synonymous with virtue.

The volume of stuff appealing to the female shopping instinct far exceeded the meager offering for boys. Sparkles, glitter and everything Disney. If little girls haven’t gotten the message by now that they’re supposed to look eternally beautiful and marry a handsome prince who has an impeccable credit history, then Michael Eisner deserves the boot.

But beyond the thousand and one variations of the storybook princess, a few costumes surprised me.

Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake have become the latest, recycled “in” things. It wasn’t that long ago when my friends were selling those costumes at yard sales because their daughters had moved on to Lisa Frank and Hello Kitty.

The most annoying thing for girls I saw will probably reveal that I am not a cool mom. I should have expected rows of Bratz costumes, and there they were. Those big-headed fashion models that promote a teen attitude (even if you’re only 5) are everywhere! Clothes, bags, shoes, dolls, backpacks. So of course, Bratz are huge.

Any and all of these costumes can be yours for nothing less than $15 and for as much as $45. That, of course, does not include props, trick-or-treat buckets and makeup, which are sold separately but at nearly any retail store near you.

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