Theo Dierks-Brown doesn’t want to be scary for Halloween; he wants to be heroic.

The 11-year-old from North Yarmouth will be collecting candy on Monday as Leonidas, the Spartan king whose army was outnumbered 10-to-1 at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. The Spartans fought bravely but were wiped out.

“He was really brave, if you think about it,” said Theo, who is home-schooled and recently studied Greek history. “They held off (the opposing Persians) for days.”

Creepy clowns and “Cry Baby Trump” masks might be dominating Halloween costume discussions on social media, but Theo and millions of kids like him pick costumes based on hopes and dreams, heroes and inspiration. It’s us world-weary adults who pick costumes based on fear. Who you want to be on Halloween depends largely on how old you are.

This theory is proven not only by asking children and grown-ups about their Halloween personas, but by actual hard data. A National Retail Federation survey of 6,700 people in September found that the top costume categories for children this year are superheroes, princesses, animals, and all things Star Wars.

For adults 35 and over, the top categories are witches, pirates, political candidates and vampires.

Creepy clowns, despite getting a lot of buzz this year with reports of stalking by clowns – real or imaginary – across the country, didn’t make the top 10 for any age group.

The desire of grown-ups to sweat under a rubber facial likeness of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton bears analyzing and has produced more hard data. Spirit Halloween, the 1,200-store chain, says that mask sales are a sure-fire predictor of a candidate’s success.

Each year since 1996, the candidate mask that has sold best at Spirit stores has won the presidential election, said Trisha Lombardo, marketing manager for Spirit. The company calls it the “Presidential Mask Index.” As of Wednesday, the “Cry Baby Trump” mask was outselling the “#HBIC Hillary” mask. The latter uses an acronym for the phrase “head (expletive) in charge.” Lombardo wouldn’t give sales figures.

The funny thing, or perhaps the scary thing, is that buying someone’s mask is not always a sign of support. In a survey of 2,000 people, Spirit found that the top reason people wanted to be Trump for Halloween was to be funny, with 39 percent would-be Trump impersonators giving that reason. But the top reason, given by 31 percent of respondents, for wanting to be Clinton this year was that they like her.

Children do not aspire to be political candidates, at least not at Halloween. It would be scary if they did.

Leah and Lydia Purinton, two sisters from Naples, are inspired by our solar system. So they want to go trick-or-treating as planets.

Lydia, almost 3, will go as Neptune, while 5-year-old Leah is going as Saturn. Their dad, Stewart Purinton, made the costumes out of papier-mache. For the rings of Saturn, he used coat hangers and pantyhose to fashion a somewhat see-through series of rings.

Their father says Lydia and Leah love shows about the planets on Netflix or YouTube, and they have a model of the solar system they play with a lot. They use the planets like people, walking them up the stairs of their Barbie house and pretending that they are talking to each other, planet to planet.

“I’m totally stoked that it’s not princesses this year,” said Purinton, 31. “I’ve always been a big fan of science, so I’m so glad they wanted to be planets.”

Ten-year-old Arden Mozak loves Star Wars, so she decided she’d really like to be Darth Vader this year. Of course, Darth and his Dark Side powers are pretty scary.

But she won’t be just any Darth Vader. She is going as Darth Elsa.

Arden, who lives in Bath and Boston, has a costume her Nana made her depicting Elsa, from the Disney hit “Frozen.” But she doesn’t really use it. She’s not a big fan of “Frozen” at the moment. She’s using that costume, plus some Vader accessories, to create Darth Elsa, with a black mask and a flowing, ice-blue gown. She’ll wield a light saber and throw cotton-ball snow.

“I might throw snow and do magic, then do the Darth Vader choke,” said Arden, referring to a classic Vader technique.

Nick Stinson, 12, of South Portland peeks out from his unicorn mask.

Nick Stinson, 12, of South Portland peeks out from his unicorn mask.

While kids dress up as action heroes and ancient heroes, and adults mock politics, clowns have somehow crept into the Halloween discussion this year.

Clowns have always been scary, but this year the scare took on new power because of a perceived connection to crime. A clown hysteria began in August, in South Carolina, when two clowns were reported trying to lure a small boy into the woods. Then there were sightings in a half-dozen other states, and it’s unclear how many of these were real or hoaxes. Still, many schools around the nation banned clown costumes and some police departments are recommending people not dress as clowns for Halloween, to avoid problems. Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey made such a plea last week. He said officers responded to at least three reported clown sightings in town between Oct. 6 and 13. In each case, no clowns could be found.

So whether or not there are legions of scary clowns out there, it’s probably not a good idea to dress up as one. Several shoppers at the Spirit Halloween store in South Portland last week confirmed they had no intention of clowning around on Halloween.

Katie Laracy, 6, of North Conway holds onto her mom, Victoria, as they visit Spirit Halloween.

Katie Laracy, 6, of North Conway holds onto her mom, Victoria, as they visit Spirit Halloween.

Ella Johnson, 9, of Buxton and her grandmother Bonnie Larrabee of Limington looked for anything but a scary clown.

“She had commented to me that it took her nine years to get over clowns. Now they are here again,” said Larrabee.

Ella chose a hooded sorceress costume.

Two adults who came to the store looking for scary stuff were John Call, 27, and his girlfriend, Chelsea Tibbetts, 23, both of Portland. But they decided to go a slightly different route for Call, and bought him a giant baby mask. They thought they could use a sheet for his diaper.

“We came in looking for creepy or funny, but funny is way more fun,” said Call. Of course, a 6-foot-tall baby could be considered creepy.

Anthony Muchie, 13, of Scarborough was strolling through the displays throwing together an eclectic look that included Cat in the Hat and “Finding Dory” hats, biker aviators, gold chains and an ax.

“He’s a deranged Cat in the Hat, Nemo, rapper, biker dude,” said his mother, Hope Muchie.

Heroes, aspirations and horsepower, all rolled into one neat Halloween package.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby contributed to this story.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.