So when you were in Calgary, were you working at something else? Was this always the dream? Or how did this fascination or business evolve?
It only came about in the last year, really. This is pretty much my one-year anniversary — I’ve done things very, very slowly. But when I worked in Calgary, I worked in an office, so that didn’t inspire me much. I guess it inspired me enough to get me out of the office! But my collecting began back then as just a part-time hobby — mostly ’50s dresses because I love the pouf of them — the tulle. And after that, I guess it just became a hoarding issue! (laughs)
A fascination with the ’50s stuff, but you’ve got pieces from the ’20s right through now, yes? Just about any era anybody wants?
Well, it started with the ’50s and then as I said, it just became a hoarding issue because I liked everything! And then once I decided I was going to go into business, I started to go through my tickle trunk and find things that we’d done — we always used to do girlfriends’ bridal showers and stagettes. And these were always costume-themed. So we collected all our things together, and my girlfriends and I ended up having this giant amount of clothing that we could all use for these things. And I guess that’s where the brainstorming started.
But I think what I really noticed about costume rentals is that often you walk in and you don’t know where to start. Someone says, ‘OK, I want to dress like I’m from 1950.’ They kind of have a visual, but they don’t really know what to look for. So I’m more of a service than anything else. You can come in and we’ll have a consultation, we’ll go through what you want to represent, and down to the details — we’ll do hair, we’ll do makeup, we’ll do accessories, shoes, purses, garments. So it goes beyond just costume. And then, of course, there are all the other services we offer with the whole vintage feel to it.
What are those?
We do the photo booths, which are very popular. We have several of those that we rent out, and we’ll come and take pictures in the photo booths with costumes, so you can have props. We can do themes for it. I kind of consider myself all-things-vintage right now because I’m renting out a lot of props for weddings — things like the wooden back doors. We have lots of those going out for weddings this summer, along with all the old suitcases and things like that.
So these are props for the wedding photos, then?
Exactly — backdrops for weddings, things like that — parties, socials. I also work in conjunction with several photographers in town where we can do themed photo shoots — get yourself all dolled up in whatever era you want, and you’ll get amazing, beautiful pictures.
So you’re saying ‘we’ do you have a partner in this or just have people who work for you occasionally?
I have several friends who are assistants in a sense — they always seem to be by my side for every event. And then my husband is my No. 1 supporter. I say ‘we’ because he’s always there by my side. He gets to do all the dirty work, unfortunately.
He’s your roadie?
He is my roadie — he’s very helpful.
But this is your business.
I have to admit when I’m sitting here with all these beautiful dresses around me, I feel like a kid in a candy shop, because — and I’m sure a lot of people would be the same way when they get in here — I always love to play dressup. Were you that way when you were a kid?
Oh, of course — I loved to play dressup. I think most kids have some kind of tickle trunk. I think that’s part of what’s so much fun about this type of job — it’s something that almost everybody wants to do, because you can let yourself be whimsical again. You can let yourself enjoy something that you wouldn’t normally do.
And I guess we get to be not ourselves for an evening or something, too.
That’s right. And more so than just the costume is the attitude. Everyone kind of takes on their own attitude when they have the costume and the makeup and the hair — going to an event, they’re free to be who they want to be for a night. It’s quite exciting.
Do you have particular favourites? Because this dress you’re wearing for our Brandon Sun photo shoot is fantastic.
This is one of my favourites, yes.
Are you a glitter girl or do you like lace or do you just like it all?
Like I said, I like pouf! (laughs) So yes, I do have some favourites that I don’t think I could ever part with — they’ve just become part of me now. But I do let people use them because I think they should still retain their beauty and people should be able to see and use them. I love them all and I know where they come from and that sort of thing — I can remember the history of each of them.
Where do you find this stuff? Is it estate sales or do people just know that you do this and ask you if you want them? The business is so young yet, I’m surprised by what an extensive collection you have.
The vintage stuff comes from thrift shops and there’s been 15 years worth of shopping. But also people do donate. A lot of the time, people just don’t know where to send these articles that have been saved for 50 or 60 years. And they don’t want to see it go somewhere that it won’t be taken care of. So I do take a lot of things in and they’re very well taken care of. But you know, you have to be constantly looking for things. The 1920s, obviously — there isn’t a lot that has made it this long that we can use as a costume that’s authentically vintage, so I find things that would look the part. And then sometimes we have to adapt them — take them in, take the sleeves off — things like that. But the whole look is, in the end, achieved.
You obviously sew or are a seamstress if you can do these sorts of things.
I wouldn’t call myself a seamstress. But yes, I know how to use a sewing machine and I can make alterations to things. And I have made a few garments for the shop, costume-wise. They’re not by any means formal dress kinds of things. They’re costumes — they’re fun, and vintage pieces are typically very small, so that’s part of my goal, is to make things fit everyone. So I will make a garment that looks vintage that will fit the modern size.
And it’s mostly women’s clothing that you have?
Mostly women. Most of my men’s stuff is downstairs, because it’s not as popular.
Most guys don’t seem to relish the idea of dressing up like most women do.
And I mean really, throughout all the eras, a suit is a staple. So we can change a suit if we have to. But yes, I have men’s clothing, too.
The setting here in your home is really lovely. It’s like a shop. You’ve got a dressing room — everything is beautifully displayed. You’ve got Frank Sinatra playing in the background, which is perfect. I could spend days going through all the things you have!
I call it my studio because I don’t really know what else to call it. But it works. And we often have little gatherings in here — little group parties. We play dressup and everybody picks out an outfit and gets dolled up and pictures taken. And I’m still able to be at home and still help out where I can.
And obviously it’s a converted garage.
It is. It was a garage at one time, then it was a family room, and now it’s a studio.
If people had good-quality items that they didn’t know what to do with, are you interested in taking a look at them?
Definitely! That would be wonderful. I think preserving them is a great way to have these things around for a long time to come.
And not to just have them sit, either. It’s no good to have great jewelry that stays in a safety deposit box, or have a fantastic dress that never sees the light of day.
Exactly, I love to see the dresses go out for an evening. And they deserve it — they’ve been in storage for 60 years. The same thing with furs and things — the higher-quality things are nice to keep on hand because they don’t last forever — they do wear. But it’s all very well taken care of, and all of my clients are wonderful — they appreciate everything I have as well, so they take very good care of it.
So donations are always welcome. They can call me at 204-761-5988, or email firstname.lastname@example.org And you can also find it on my website, which is www.vintagecostumes.ca Or you can contact me through Facebook.
So what do you usually charge to rent a costume?
The basic costume rate is $45, and that includes your main garment, which is a costume garment, as well as shoes, accessories — hats, wigs, whatever you want to put together. If it’s a vintage item, then it tends to be a little higher. It’s more like $65 depending on the item because of the care that goes into it. They are all hand-washed. And that’s the same thing with the $65 — it includes all your accessories. I also do the hair and makeup as well, if that’s something you want to do for an event. It really adds to it, and it starts at $35 for each session.
The business has been going well, though? People are finding out about you and you’ve been happy with your first year?
Yes. Like I said, I did things very slowly because it was just something that was in my mind, and I thought, ‘Oh, I can play with that.’ The response has been wonderful, and I think there are a lot more vintage lovers out there than I knew about. So I’m quite busy, and I’m loving it!