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NOVEL BEATS NAUGHTY

Sophisticated creativity wins more costume contests than your obvious sexy standards.

All you sexy devils can forget it. Likewise for the sexy nurses, sexy angels, sexy schoolgirls and sexy French maids.

Barely-there Halloween costumes may get you noticed, but they won't earn you much cash in Halloween contests.

"They're never going to win," says Karrie Bates, 37, of St. Petersburg. "Costume contests are looking for something really cool, not slutty, just because they look beautiful. Have one of those kinds of parties if that's what you want to be."

In 2006, Bates won the $1,000 first prize at Jackson's Bistro for her portrayal of Mystique from the 2000 movie X-Men. Wearing a bikini bottom, Bates had a friend spray paint her blue with nontoxic paint from Features Costumes in Tampa and added fabric paint for a scaly look. Bates estimates she spent about $90 on the costume.

The key to winning, she says, is to pick a costume that can't be bought in a shop. And avoid anything too trendy.

This Halloween, Bates will revive the Van Helsing vampire costume she wore to parties last year. She didn't enter any contests in 2007, so she's hoping to win big at several venues this year. She'll paint herself gray using an airbrush machine from Harbor Freight Tools.

"I have to be something nobody else is going to be now," says Bates, who's also been the Grinch, Cindy Lou Who and Catwoman in off years.

Jeremy Gaffrey also subscribes to this theory. Last year, Gaffrey parlayed his $90 Edward Scissorhands costume into prize money in three contests: a few hundred dollars at Guavascream, $1,000 at Bricktown 54 in Clearwater and $650 at the Chic-a-Boom Room in Dunedin.

Gaffrey, 34, who moved from Clearwater to Seattle in August, got the idea while watching a DVD preview for Edward Scissorhands. He and Bates agree it's crucial to work from a good picture of the character.

Gaffrey found his gray pants at a thrift store, the white shirt from Ross Dress for Less and the rest from Lowe's. He took work gloves, cut off the fingers and used nuts and bolts to attach scissors, covering the sharp ends with duct tape. He fashioned the longer blades from sheets of hard plastic and spent four months growing out his dark brown hair, which he darkened with black hair paint. His girlfriend, a former makeup artist, did his face. To make fake scars, she rolled toilet tissue between her fingers, attached it to Gaffrey's skin with spirit gum and covered it with makeup.

His strategy was simple: "I went for the places that had the most money." He found that he had better luck at contests that were determined by crowd applause rather than a panel of judges.

"Every contest I went to, I really felt like I was some sort of celebrity - almost like I was Johnny Depp," Gaffrey says. "The girls love Johnny Depp. Of course they fell in love with the cuteness and the character and the Johnny. ... If the girls are into it, then the guys pretty much follow."

Cash in on your costume

Find a full list of events and costume contests at entertainment.tampabay.com.

Skipper's Smokehouse's 29th Annual Freaker's Ball:Today, 8 p.m. to 1 .a.m. First prize is $500 cash plus a $500 AAA travel voucher. Tickets are $15. Must be over 21 or accompanied by a parent. 910 Skipper Road, Tampa, (813) 971-0666; skipperssmokehouse.com

Guavaween's the Features Costume Contest:Saturday, 10-11 p.m. Best costume gets $2,000 and a Blu-ray player. First runnerup gets a digital camera. Winners will be determined by applause. Admission is $15 and includes access to all nighttime Guavaween events. All ages. Judging will be at entertainment stage at the southwest corner of Seventh Avenue and 15th Street. (813) 248-0721; cc-events.org/gw.

13 Ugly Men's 11th Annual Halloween Freakshow:Oct. 31, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cash prizes. Ages 21 and up. Admission is $10-$30. Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel, 200 N Ashley Drive, Tampa, (727) 744-6496; www.13uglymen.com/home.php

The Florida Aquarium's Nauti-Night 2008:Oct. 31, 8 p.m. to midnight. There will be one $2,500 prize. Admission is $50 in advance or $60 day of. Includes beer, wine, food and live music. Ages 21 and up. 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, (813) 273-4568; flaquarium.org.

Jackson's Bistro's Helloween: Oct. 31, 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. $1,000 first prize, $600 second prize and $400 third prize. Ages 21 and up. $15 general admission; $25 VIP. 601 S Harbour Island Blvd., Tampa, (813) 265-1234; whatshappeningtampa.com.

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