dont dillydally

The Best Halloween Decorations to Buy Before They Sell Out

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

Every Halloween, it happens: A certain circle of pumpkinheads decides on the hot-ticket spooky-season merch before the beginning of September. Their favorites become highly sought-after I remember setting an alarm for the overnight launch of the John Derian x Target collaboration to buy a sittable stuffed skeleton in 2020. In 2021, resale vultures couldn’t wait to get their claws on a witch-handed candleholder from Bath and Body Works. Last year, there was a fuss over a set of floating candles from At Home.

The hunting begins in July, which is also when the “100 days” countdown begins. Obsessives have their own lingo for hauls and “look what I found” reveals — the most famous being “Code Orange.” This Halloween is no different; I’ve lost count of how many black-cat mugs I’ve seen (and Starbucks’ slime-topped cups). So as our resident Halloweenhead, I asked around to find 2023’s most covetable Halloween goods, talking to chains like Home Depot and Party City, consulting with a trend forecaster, and scoping out the Halloween-decoration scene (a.k.a. stalking diehard decorating communities on social media). The result is this special Halloween edition of “Don’t Dillydally,” full of things we’re sure will set out, including a towering Jack Skellington and Anthropologie’s first-ever Halloween collection.

Almost as soon as the Home Depot introduced “Skelly” back in 2020, the now-famous 12-foot-tall skeleton became a much-coveted collectible and the centerpiece of many a suburban lawn. Obsession around the bony brute is still going strong: Facebook groups like the “Halloween Haunters Club” are devoted to searching for Skelly and many of his “friends” in Home Depot’s line of Home Accents animatronics and other Halloween décor. These include Skelly’s impossible-to-find pumpkin-headed brother named “Inferno” and a sold-out poseable posse of three five-foot skeletons, each with a threatening, battery-operated glare. Rumors have started swirling that Home Depot will stop selling Skelly after this year, but the company’s “decorative-holiday merchant,” Lance Allen, tells me the decision hasn’t been settled yet (a company spokesperson says there isn’t currently a plan for the skeleton to return, but that’s “subject to change”). At the moment, Skelly’s stock is largely location dependent; Allen’s advice is to keep an eye on Home Depot’s official Facebook page and Instagram posts for news of restocks online.

Another of the Home Depot’s hits for 2023 is a figurine of Jack Skellingon from the cult-classic Nightmare Before Christmas. It was made in collaboration with Disney for the film’s thirtieth anniversary. The Pumpkin King stands even taller than Skelly, at 13 feet, and is equipped with motors in its head for “lifelike movements,” with a slightly sinister molded brow, according to Allen.

A collection of “Dead Water” decorations is the company’s newest launch, inspired by mythological creatures and movie monsters. The “Lethal Lily Witch” has a light-up frog in a basket. Allen describes the antlered “Marsh Monster” as a “fearsome reptilian.” But the most beloved beast might be the “Predator of the Night,” with wings that went through the wringer in weather testing to make sure they could withstand wind, Allen explains.

Anthropologie debuted its first-ever “Halloween Shop” (alongside a separate “Pumpkin Shop,” including collaborations with ceramicist Francesca Kaye and artist Lauren McIntosh of Tail of the Yak fame, with the more standard fare the store carries for fall like rattan bats, crow candleholders, and glass gourds. The collaboration with Kaye is “inspired by childhood storybooks” with star-collared cats and bats with silver moons while McIntosh’s line leans a little more occult with tarot hands.

Kristen Moonjian, director of home and lifestyle at trend-forecasting firm Fashion Snoops, says the “mystic” edition of the company’s popular juice glasses — featuring ghosts, pumpkins, and cats — are the hottest Halloween item she’s been following this Halloween. There’s a small but committed group of TikTok accounts dedicated to finding dupes. The glasses are currently sold out online — though the matching, mouth-blown pumpkin pitcher is still in stock, as well as a serving bowl if you’re on candy duty.

According to Moonjian, if there’s a singular icon for this Halloween, it’s the sheet ghost (again). She’s seen a trend toward Halloween decorations following “year-round design aesthetics” to go with the home décor consumers already have, as opposed to items being so obviously seasonal — and “ghosts are an easy way to do that,” because of their neutral color scheme. Pottery Barn has gone all-in on the spooky spectres, with a “Scary Squad” and a spirited wreath. And Moonjian pointed out the return of a “Gus the Ghost” throw pillow — this year PB introduced a version of the pillow holding a pumpkin. (The pumpkin Gus is carrying is a miniature of the company’s perennial favorite teddy-bear-textured pumpkin pillows.)

Moonjian highlighted these Pottery Barn drinking glasses, sold in sets of four and also available in a skull version, as eerily similar to the aforementioned Anthropologie glasses.

Moonjian mentions you can expect to see a number of natural materials this Halloween, including wood, earthen ceramics, and stone like marble and travertine. This is especially apparent at Pottery Barn’s sister retailer West Elm, where there’s lots of terra-cotta, including its skull candelabra, which has made a comeback, and a new dangling skeleton with bones literally hanging from a wire. A Yorick-like ceramic head is another highlight — and is going fast.

A big draw at Target for Halloween is the “Bullseye’s Playground” section, full of cheap thrills that are almost exclusively found in stores — there’s been buzz around a $5 ghost pillow. But you can find hidden gems within its seasonal Hyde and EEK!Boutique and its in-house homewares brand Threshold. This smiling ghost mug and booing ghoul pitcher (its mouth is the spout) have left TikTok spellbound.

[Editor’s note: The pitcher has repeatedly sold out, but you can sign up to be notified of re-stocks.]

Lighting is another thing Hyde and EEK!Boutique is known for — there are the expected string lights that come in incandescent orange and moody purple, along with props like a telescoping phantom holding a jack-o-lantern and an inflatable reaper. But the neons are the real novelties — especially for how cheap they are (most of them are under $50). A waving skeleton and “booing” ghost are among the most eye-catching — and I’m eyeing a bat that can flap its “wings” for a window.

Swedish superstore Ikea also joined the fray this year with the launch of its inaugural Halloween line. The “Kustfyr” collection includes its shopping bag in orange and black rather than the iconic blue and yellow of its logo, a mat with jack-o’-lantern cutout faces, and a spider-legged tealight holder. Note: Much of the selection is in-store-only, or limited to large orders and dependent on your Zip Code. This (unscented) screaming specter can be shipped out, and will look especially haunting once melted.

“Rattles” has been making the rounds — on the site formerly known as Twitter, Kimberley Elizabeth, horror screenwriter and founder of podcast Nightmare on Film Street, shared a photo of a giant “groundbreaker” — a halved skeleton that looks like it’s climbing out of a grave. It was Elizabeth who revealed to me that the skeleton was from Party City when I first got in touch with her. Odette Welling, vice-president of Halloween at Party City, called it “the hot ticket” for the chain, with stores making “call me” lists for when Rattles comes back in stock and would-be buyers offering “finder’s fees” for the bones. “As soon as Rattles hits the store, he’s out of the store,” according to Welling. It’s already sold out online, but is available for scheduled delivery in some Zip Codes. Early September is when all the company’s Halloween decorations will be available on store shelves. Welling’s advice is to go to a Party City for anything you really want, as “all our inventory is going to stores,” so chances are low that you’ll be able to buy it online and have it shipped to your home.

Elizabeth told me about the movie tie-in tombstones at Spirit Halloween, as she’s spent the last few years collecting them. The selection for 2023 includes designs that celebrate Hocus Pocus, Disney’s Haunted Mansion, and Beetlejuice. “They’re really well-made and absolutely gorgeous,” Elizabeth praises. “My goal is to have the most happening cemetery on the block, one tombstone at a time.” (She also told me about the now sold-out-online Gourdo animatronic at Spirit Halloween that you might try your luck at finding in a store. The jack-o’-lantern “lifts open its mouth and has gooey, stretchy pumpkin innards,” she explains, adding that it’s “gross but wonderful.”)

Strategist senior editor Jen Trolio turned me to Lego’s annual Halloween assortment — these toy sets become sculptures on their own once the last brick is put into place. This Hocus Pocus–themed set of the Sanderson sisters’s cabin might be the one of the most involved offerings with a staggering 2,316 pieces (and six figurines of the characters from the film). There’s a water wheel that makes pink “smoke” puff from the cottage’s chimney and a cauldron of slime-green bubbles. You could also spring for the creepy storage heads in the collection (with skeleton, pumpkin, and Frankenstein’s monster heads) that each have lift-up lids to hide Legos.

A dedicated DIY crowd makes its Halloween decorations themselves, and Michaels is often a one-stop shop for materials. But the craft chain also has its own furnishings — like a moon wreath from a few years back that launched a thousand DIY-ed dupes. As it has for past Halloweens, the retailer unveiled a series of themed collections: 2023’s lineup features “Witches Lair,” “Wicked Garden,” “Electric Halloween,” and “Sweet and Spooky.” The last of these has been a fixture on TikTok for its Barbieland aesthetic. Melissa Mills, senior vice-president of seasonal merchandise at Michaels, told me that last year, a trial run of the theme in about 400 stores sold out in around four weeks — this year, it’s available in all stores, with an expanded product lineup. One of the top sellers from “Sweet and Spooky” — which Michaels is also marketing as “Pasteloween” — is a lavender-lined coffin tray. These sweet little bats are another hightlight.

[Editor’s note: These are only available for store pickup at the moment.]

The bust business is booming for Michaels, with a Bride of Frankenstein being a longtime bestseller — Mills saw resellers flipping the head, which retails for $40, for as high as $100 on eBay last year. This Halloween has seen the introduction of Frankenstein’s monster himself for the “ultimate spooky couple.” Edgar Allan Poe and the Headless Horseman are also part of the gang. Mills adds: “Those items are very signature pieces and they are all doubling their sell-through.” These can be picked up in-store only.

Lemax’s collectible “Halloween village” buildings and figurines sell out often — and usually get “retired” from one Halloween to the next. Elizabeth has been collecting them since childhood, getting them as gifts “every few years when anyone traveled around Halloweentime and found one.” This year she’s been eyeing the Gloom Room, an “old school nightclub filled with zombies.” Michaels is home to several exclusive Lemax designs that the brand’s other “official” retailers don’t get; two of 2023’s Michaels-only models are a wigs store with a sale-sign-holding Cousin Itt lookalike and a “brewhaus” serving Yeti lager. According to Mills, eight of the top 10 best-selling Halloween products at Michaels right now are pieces from Lemax. “This is a program that if you don’t buy it early, you will miss out on what you need to add to your collection,” she says.

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The Best Halloween Decorations to Buy Before They Sell Out