Did you ever wonder who makes those fantastic costumes you see up on the silver screen? And did you ever wish that you could get your hands on some of those Hollywood costumes at Halloween time? Well, you can. If you know about Western Costume, that is...
Western Costume Company is the largest costume maker in the world, and the chief provider of costumes for most of the major Hollywood movie studios. (The wardrobe department at the nearby NBC Studios comes in a distant second.)
Western Costume has created original costumes for countless classic films, from "Gone With the Wind" to "Broken Arrow," and the company also rents out used costumes to smaller studios with a lower budget. Western Costume Company is as much a part of the Hollywood tradition as Grauman's Chinese Theatre or the Hollywood Sign (although not nearly as well-known by the general public).
Ironically, when the giant Western Costume Company began in 1912, it didn't start out making costumes. Instead, they sold American Indian goods. The company's owner happened to mention to cowboy star William S. Hart that the costumes worn by the "Indians" in Hollywood Westerns looked phony. Soon, the company was asked by the studios to supply authentic Indian costumes, and the rest is history. Beginning with "The Squaw Man" (Hollywood's first hit movie), Western Costume has been the premiere costume supplier in Hollywood. The company now takes in over $5 million per year. (By the way, you can visit William Hart's original ranch - click here for details.)
Western Costume was originally located at 5335 Melrose Avenue, near Paramount Studios in Hollywood. But a few years ago, they moved over the hill into the Valley, along with most of the major movie studios. They are now just two miles north of such famous studios as Universal, Walt Disney, NBC, and Warner Bros. For years, the business was jointly owned by Universal, Warner Bros., Fox, and Columbia studios, but in 1989, Paramount and novelist Sidney Sheldon bought the company.
As you might expect, Western Costume has a vast collection of used costumes and movie wardrobes from days gone by - over 5 million in stock. Most of the year, they don't rent costumes to the public - just to those in the movie industry. And they don't give public tours.
For the month of October, Western Costume Company opens its doors to the general public, as a place to rent Halloween costumes. And what Halloween costumes! You get to pick from a stock of famous outfits, which includes everything from authentic civil war uniforms & Southern Belle dresses worn in "Gone With the Wind," to horned helmets from "Conan the Barbarian."
But even during October's
Halloween rush, you don't get to walk in through the front door. Instead,
members of the public must go around to the back, to a small rear entrance.
Inside, you'll discover that only a tiny portion of the huge 120,000-square-foot
building has been sectioned off for public access, and at first it doesn't
seem to offer much - only about a dozen racks full of costumes. But slow
down and take a look at what they have on those racks...
If you prefer the thrills and chills of Hollywood horror movies, you can enjoy wearing clothes from the original "Friday the 13th" or "Halloween" films. Or rent sword & sorcery costumes from "Legend" or "Highlander." You can be one of the merry men from Mel Brooks' "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," or one of the orphans from the musical "Annie." If you're a "Wizard of Oz" fan, you can dress up like Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, or even the Cowardly Lion.
Exploring these costumes can be like a trip back in time. If you enjoy the 1950's look, you can rent period poodle skirts or chinos worn in "Bye Bye Birdie," "Grease" or "Happy Days" ? If you prefer the 1920's/Prohibition look, try on stylish gangster duds from Kevin Costner's "The Untouchables" or Robert Redford's "The Great Gatsby."
Is Ancient Rome more your style? Then choose costumes from Charlton Heston's "Ben-Hur" or Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra." Interested in the Civil War era? Then you can be a confederate soldier from "Gone With the Wind," or instead choose the velvet jacket of a Southern gentleman. (But be careful about sizes. Some of those southern belle costumes have 21-inch waists!)
And there are basic party costumes as well: a princess, a gorilla, Bigfoot, Elvis, Snow White, clowns, a ringmaster, a show girl, a cowboy or Indian, even a saloon girl.
You can have a ball trying a host of wild hats, from feathered turbans (ala "Aladdin"), to dapper top hats that seem to come from The Mad Hatter's shop.
The most expensive rental is a gigantic grizzly bear costume which stands about eight feet tall, complete with sharp teeth and claws. It will set you back $500. But most costume rental prices range from a low of $45 (for an "adult baby" or "Suzy Wong") to a high of around $100 (for some of the classier "Gone With the Wind" stuff). You can be a harem girl for $85, a cowboy for $60, or the Cowardly Lion for $90.
I wouldn't drive a long way to come here, but if you're in the neighborhood, Western Costume is well worth a visit in October. Bring along a friend and let yourself go. Even if you don't actually rent anything, it can be a lot of fun rummaging around through the racks, looking at the various historic movie clothes & props, trying on the costumes...
(Be careful with any costumes you do rent. A fan emailed me to say that they rented a vest from Western Costume for $75 (for a shoot, not at Halloween) and when they brought it back the company spotted a tear in the inner lining of the vest and charged them $300 for damage/replacement fees. The fan believed the tear was already there when they rented it and that Western just hadn't spotted it before. So to be on the safe side, if you rent a costume for Halloween, you might want to inspect it first, and make sure that any damage is mentioned on the rental receipt, so there won't be any misunderstandings later.)
Western Costume Company accepts cash, checks, & credits cards (with a photo ID). All costumes are rented "as is," and all rentals and sales are final, so be sure to inspect the costumes and try them on before you rent them. All Halloween costumes must be returned before November 3rd.
Hours: Western Costume is only open to the public only during the month of October - 10 AM to 6 PM, including Halloween.
Getting there: Western Costume is located in a large building near the northwest corner of Vineland Street and Vanowen Avenue, in North Hollywood (in the San Fernando Valley), near the Burbank Airport. / From Universal Studios, take Lankershim Boulevard northwest (about one mile) to Vineland Avenue. Turn right (north) on Vineland, and go two miles north to Vanowen Street. Turn left (west) on Vanowen, and the costume company will be on your right (north) side. / From the Hollywood (101) Freeway, take the Victory Boulevard exit. Go east on Victory Boulevard (about two miles) to Vineland Avenue. Turn left (north) on Vineland, and go a half mile north to Vanowen Street. Turn left (west) on Vanowen.
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