Don't believe the hype about Ebola Halloween costumes flying off the shelves. Halloween-store owners are on the front lines of the costume business, and they say that despite projections in many news outlets that this All Hallow's Eve will bring out gaggles of people dressed as Ebola emergency responders and victims, the truth is that such costumes simply aren't that popular.
Tony Bianchi, manager of Halloween Adventure New York Costumes in Manhattan, has been stocking hazmat suits at his popular East Village shop for years. He says that the outfits flew off the shelves when the AMC show "Breaking Bad" was all the rage, and they sold well in 2001 because of that year's Anthrax scare. But Ebola just isn't moving units. He's only sold "three or four" hazmat suits so far this year.
"We’ve been selling hazmat suits for years that have nothing to do with Ebola but more with the zombie apocalypse and 'Breaking Bad.' What we did when we couldn't get 'Breaking Bad' stuff was we got hazmat suits from a manufacturer," he said Friday. "I still have them here, so they can't be that popular. But I've sold out of 'Frozen' costumes three or four times."
Reports that the costumes aren't selling well go against the narrative pushed in a slew of news stories claiming that they will be this Halloween's hot-ticket item. The Atlantic ran a story earlier this month about the popularity of the suits. Johnathon Weeks, the CEO of BrandsOnSale, told the magazine that it had sold "over a dozen" hazmat suits -- not exactly a massive haul for a national retailer described as a "mega-costume company."
"So what's the costume flap of the year? It might just be Ebola, as in Ebola zombies, bloody Ebola patients and faux protective gear," the New York Daily News reported. "Twitter and other social media were abuzz leading into the holiday with talk of hazmat suits and respirators."
There may be talk of Ebola costumes, but it's not translating into actual sales or even interest, according to Linda Carcaci, partner and co-owner at Creative Costume Company in Midtown Manhattan. She said Friday that she hasn't had a single request from someone who wants an Ebola-inspired costume.
"We have PVC suits if people want them. In the past people have rented them, but we haven’t received any calls this year," she said. "At this point, halfway through the month, it looks like it may not be all that popular. I think it may just blow over."
One reason for the lack of interest in Ebola-related Halloween costumes may be the perception that they are in poor taste. Many people, including physician's assistant Maria McKenna, feel that hazmat suits are beyond the pale. The Philadelphia woman said that playing on Ebola fears for Halloween "definitely rubs me the wrong way," according to the Associated Press.
"Normally I think that irony and humor is funny, but this thing with the costumes, is it really that funny? I mean, Ebola's not even under control yet," she told AP.
Bianchi and Carcaci, however, say people shouldn't be dissuaded from wearing the costumes if they feel so moved. Bianchi pointed out that news stories often inspire costume items -- like Monica Lewinsky masks and trapped Chilean coal miner get-ups -- and Carcaci offered a similar sentiment.
"Halloween is just very nonsensical. I don't think you can offend anyone in that sense," she said. "Every year we get inquiries for things that aren’t very tasteful. That’s what Halloween is: It’s the only time every year when you can do whatever you want without getting judged."