Halloween is becoming a holiday for young adults as well as young kids.

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Searching for Indiana Jones amid pimp suits and pirate shirts, Travis Fretwell, 23, paused at a display, pondering the coolness of a costume.

The plastic-armored Roman gladiator costume, complete with a leather-looking vinyl skirt and helmet, could be just the thing, said the Kirkland resident.

“I love the gladiator costumes,” said shop owner Kyra Stewart, as she showed Fretwell to a dressing room. “It’s a tough guy, but sexy and cute.”

Bingo! That’s exactly what Fretwell was after. Ultimately, making himself over as a Roman gladiator was worth the $130 he plunked down, he said.

Fretwell is part of a growing trend of Halloween becoming a holiday for young adults as well as young kids.

According to a recent survey done by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation (NRF), Halloween is celebrated the most by young adults, with more than 69 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds planning to take part in festivities. The survey found that consumers are expected to spend about $3.3 billion on Halloween this year, up 5.4 percent from 2004, with much of the increase expected to come from young adults.

Retailers can expect to see a Halloween spending surge from 18- to 24-year-olds who will spend 30 percent more this year over last; 25- to 34-year-olds are expected to spend 14 percent more. NRF, the world’s largest retail trade association, has seen the trend go from nearly all children’s costumes 20 years ago to much of the merchandise geared now toward young adults, said Scott Krugman, spokesman for NRF.

Local costume shops also have noticed the trend and have shifted their stock to cater to those customers. Some costume shops say they noticed that the inclination of adults wanting to play dress-up seemed to increase after the 9/11 attacks, and each year the trend has grown.

Halloween has become a good excuse for adults to party as their favorite alter ego — a way to blow off steam and stress in the face of ever-growing bad news and disasters.

In the 10 years since Lori Hillard started working at Display & Costume in Seattle, she has watched as the store’s stock of children and adult costumes swapped places. The majority of the store’s costume aisles now are devoted to adults — the sexier, zanier or more distinctive the get-up, the better, Hillard said. She also said the store has seen the trend steadily progress, particularly since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“There are a lot of things in this world that really bite,” Hillard said, noting this year has been rife with news of disasters. “Other holidays, like Christmas, there’s a lot of expectation about gift-giving. Halloween is about having fun. Escapism has a lot to do with it.”

Krugman said they have seen similar trends on a national level. The trend of adults participating in Halloween seems to increase each year.

“The big question after 9/11 was, would anyone want to celebrate Halloween?” Krugman said. “And we found out, yeah, people do want to celebrate Halloween. We’ve definitely seen a lot more merchandise catering toward young adults than ever before.”

Erik Warren, a costume makeup artist who works at Champion Party Supply in Seattle, said he has noticed people are more willing to drop a larger chunk of change on costumes this year. Warren himself spent $500 to be Wonder Woman, including $200 for platform boots.

“Last year, the average seemed to be about $50; this year it’s about $80,” Warren said. “For guys this year, superhero outfits, with the padded fake muscles, are really big. Last year, Playboy was big for girls, but this year it seems to be sexy pirates. Anything shiny, clubby and sexy looking.”

More adults also have begun donning costumes year-round, shop owners say. Some have noticed an increase in theme parties, often based on a time period, such as the 1970s or ’80s.

Kyra Stewart said she has noticed the trend toward theme-costume parties for several years. Stewart herself enjoys dressing up and began A Masquerade, a Bellevue costume-rental shop, six years ago with a personal collection of 500 costumes.

Stewart said wearing a costume gives people a chance to become someone they’d never be otherwise. It allows people to live, for a night, as someone funnier, sexier or goofier than themselves.

“I’m serious about the psychological benefits of costumes,” Stewart said. “It allows people to escape and discover an alter ego.”

For some, such as Heather Currie, 22, of Bellevue, it was a chance to reclaim a fun, youthful tradition she thought she had lost. Dressing up makes going out more exciting, Currie said as she shopped for the first costume she had bought since she was a kid.

“I want to dress up and get pretty and sparkly,” she said, fingering fairy costumes at a Halloween store in Bellevue. “We do it at prom, and then we never do it again.”

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com