The Costumer to help witches, zombies suit up for Halloween

“You get behind a mask and you can be totally different than what people expect you to be,” said Kat
The Costumer owner and president Kathe Sheehan holds some colorful costumes in the shop on Barrett Street in Schenectady.
The Costumer owner and president Kathe Sheehan holds some colorful costumes in the shop on Barrett Street in Schenectady.

Kathe Sheehan understands the “permission of the mask.”

“You get behind a mask and you can be totally different than what people expect you to be,” said Sheehan, president of The Costumer in Schenectady and Albany. “And Halloween is the one day you can do anything you want and get away with it.”

Permission is now granted for kids and adults who want to shock and surprise friends this week and weekend. On Friday, Halloween fans will disguise themselves as zombies, princesses, witches, werewolves and comic book champions who sport shields, web shooters, capes and claws. Sheehan expects bunches of shoppers at her houses of illusion — one on Schenectady’s Barrett Street and the other on Central Avenue in Albany — as they prepare for the annual October games.

Sheehan, who bought the longtime Schenectady business with her late husband, Jack, in 1974, said Halloween was her favorite holiday even before she began selling shrouds and scepters. It’s the only holiday, she said, where people aren’t shopping, baking and cooking for others — designing a disguise is a personal and private project.

Sheehan has other things to say about suiting up for Halloween:

Q: What’s business like at The Costumer this time of year?

A: Halloween is typically a very last-minute holiday. It’s not a holiday people plan for, except for children. Children are coming now and they’re pretty much planning their costumes. And people who are real Halloween lovers, they’re planning their costumes. But the majority of people get dressed about five minutes before they’re due at the party. As each day gets closer, it gets crazier and we are usually here right up until 9 o’clock on Halloween night.

Q: How much does a good rental costume cost these days?

A: I would say in the $50 range. Rentals are still a fabulous way to get a costume if you want to be something original. Most of the costumes that come pre-packaged are the same costumes that are sold everywhere — the ones in all the stores, we’re pretty much buying from the same vendors. So the rental costumes, if you really want to be original, are the best. They are locally made and they’re more unique.

Q: Any idea about the percentages of people who buy and rent?

A: I don’t really know the percentage, but the majority buy them.

Q: Here’s the perennial question — what are this year’s popular costumes?

A: We have already sold out pretty much of our “Frozen” costumes, at least for Elsa, which was the most sought-after little girl costume this year. She’s both good and evil in the Disney movie. It’s an incredible phenomenon. There’s also a little snowman, Olaf, who’s very popular. Some of the other things that were popular this year were Godzilla and Maleficent.

Q: How about adults? Every year we hear that Halloween is becoming more and more an adult party night.

A: Zombies are huge. It’s blood and gore and cut off body parts and “zombifying” themselves.

Q: Can you understand the zombie culture? I mean, with vampires, you can look elegant. A wolfman will be scary. But dressing up as a zombie, you’re just going to look like hell.

A: We did some zombies for TV commercials, we did the make-up and costumes. I specifically started watching “The Walking Dead” [AMC’s hit series about survivors in zombie America] because the commercial aired on the premiere and I had to ask myself, “What is it about the TV show that has such mass appeal?” I think everyone likes to get scared a little bit.

Q: What are other adults wearing?

A: Superheroes have been pretty big and the horror movies are always big — Michael Myers, Freddy, Jason. I think if you liked them once, you liked them always. The “Gatsby” era is still big, I think “The Great Gatsby” movie was last year.

Q: The Costumer is traditionally busy with school plays during the fall. How about this year?

A: Most every school does a show in the fall and a show in the spring. So really our busiest time is the last week in October and the first two weeks in November, so the periods overlap. Over last year, we did over 1,000 schools and we did over 30,000 costumes for that 1,000 schools. That’s shipping them all over the United States.

Q: What was it like for you and Jack being inducted into the Capital Region Entertainment Hall of Fame at Proctors in 2011? [Jack Sheehan passed away in 2006.]

A: That was a lovely honor, but I don’t really take it for myself, I take it for The Costumer because we’re coming up on our 100th anniversary in two years and we have been supplying costumes to Proctors that whole time.

The Costumer was there in the vaudeville days and minstrel show days and all the different eras of the costume and stage world. We’ve been a part of it, and it’s really exciting.

Q: Do you have any tributes or memorials to Jack around The Costumer?

A: I have a little Jack remembrance wall, I have some of the iconic, funny things he liked. We have a shelf of Jack memorabilia, it’s upstairs in our conference room. We have an old seltzer bottle the clowns used to spray themselves with. We have a skull that he particularly liked and a little fuzzy gorilla he particularly liked, a Gaslight Village hat, a Daffy Duck costume.

Q: Do you have any particularly odd costumes or accessories available this fall?

A: There’s no such thing as odd here. Everything here is odd.

Q: How about you? What will dress up for on Halloween?

A: I really don’t get to dress up. I’m usually here until 9 o’clock on Halloween.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts

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