Are you convinced that tasteful Halloween decorations are an oxymoron?

If your neighbors decorate their yards with homemade tombstones, line the walk with garbage bag pumpkins or hang ghosts made out of old white sheets from the trees, you may be convinced good taste has taken a holiday.

But South Florida designers and party planners say Halloween decor doesn't have to be a horror show. Forget the heavy chains, skeletons and creepy skulls. You can have fun with your decorating without setting off an alarm for the "style police."

"I have observed that Halloween has taken on a whole new flavor and a whole new fashion," said Cecil Hayes, the Coconut Creek designer who is best known for decorating homes of actors Wesley Snipes and Samuel L. Jackson and football stars Derek Brown and Ty Law.

"Now that adults have gotten into the holiday, it has gotten more elegant. I see it in catalogs like Gump's. They have ceramic pieces and decorations you can put away and use again. It's just like Christmas. It's no longer a throw-away holiday."

Decorated day

Next to Christmas, Halloween is the second most-decorated holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, 67 percent of us plan to purchase decorations and almost half of us plan to decorate our homes or yards, according to a survey conducted for the federation by BIGresearch. The decor tally is $1.3 billion.

Big spending means retailers, catalog and Internet companies are responding with tasteful items that can be used year after year. You can find attractive items at retailers like HomeGoods, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Target. Gump's, Ballard Designs and Grandin Road also have stylish items in their catalogs and on their Web sites.

Inspiration for the do-it-yourselfer comes from the October issue of Country Living magazine, which features pumpkins elegantly carved with a linoleum cutter and several projects on Martha Stewart's new DVD, Martha's Halloween Ideas.

But what do the design pros have to say about how to use this cool stuff?

Halloween chic

"There's always that temptation [to go tacky] with Halloween," says Bryan Rafanelli, of Rafanelli Events, party planners with offices in Palm Beach and Boston. Of course, Halloween can be chic."

Rafanelli suggests avoiding the obvious themed stuff and going with a simple palette. One option is to use everything white -- cloths, china and pumpkins. Spray the pumpkins with a white enamel paint to get a shiny finish and seal with polyurethane. Or buy chic white pumpkin soup bowls with covers and line up five to seven of them down the center of the table.

Too serene for your taste? Add black accents with napkins, glasses and votives.

"Or all black would be stunning," he said. "Stay away from cats and witches' hats. An all-black party is about as close to Halloween as you can get." (Rafanelli's only nod to traditional Halloween images is addition of black crows that you can find in gift shops and Pottery Barn.)

Ask your guests to wear black instead of a costume, he said, and give them each a white boa when they come in the door.

"It's sophisticated, costumey, but it's not a mask, not a witch's hat. It's tipping your hat in a sort of a chic way to a costume on Halloween."

Friendly scarecrow

Hayes, of Cecil's Designers Unlimited in Coconut Creek, loves to make her own decorations for Halloween.