Costume Stores Can Help You Dress for Halloween Success

Karen Newell Young is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

If you’re the creative type, you’re probably digging through a box of old clothes and rethreading the sewing machine about now. If you’re the well-organized creative type, you have your Halloween costume already made. The rest of you wait for the last minute to run to the nearest costume shop and dig through the leftovers. Shame on you.

Well, don’t panic. We did the legwork for you. This glimpse at some of the county’s largest costume shops should save a little time and may eliminate a few hit-or-miss shopping trips.

There are two ways to go: rent or buy. Costume shops with large rental departments usually stock mass-assembled outfits in polyester and cotton for such characters as Li’l Abner, Big Bird and Betsy Ross. With huge inventories, dressing rooms, wig departments and accessory counters, these stores can outfit most alter egos.

On average, machine-made new costumes for adults run about $40 to $60. Renting costs about $15 less. Costume shops usually go one way or the other: They either rent and sell new costumes or they sell primarily used costumes but do not rent.


Renting has several advantages: It’s easier to pick up the entire costume in one package rather than scouting around used clothing shops; costumes available for rent are usually new or almost new and sealed in plastic bags so you know they are clean and unworn, and it’s sometimes cheaper to rent than to buy (but not always).

On the other hand, while these rented costumes do get the message across, they cannot be considered works of art. Sewn in inexpensive fabrics, they are like maternity clothes used to be: made to be worn a few times and tossed out rather than handed down to the next generation.

Costume shops that carry new and used outfits for purchase allow for a little more creativity. Often, costumes found in these shops have been made by hand rather than machine. While they may be slightly worn, they are usually of better quality and fabric, decorated with such distinctive touches as brocade or real feathers. They have been unearthed at yard sales or antique shops and may have had several owners and colorful histories. And many times these costumes are cheaper than renting new outfits.

One of Southern California’s largest costume shops is Fantasy Costumes in Brea. With 7,000 outfits available to rent and about 2,000 for sale, Fantasy Costumes is a sure bet for one-stop shoppers. You will not find velvet-turbaned genies or a real cheerleading costume from the 1950s, but you will find machine-made cavemen, Keystone Kops, tomatoes and pirates to rent or buy.


About 75 masks--including Freddy from “Nightmare on Elm Street,” a demon gargoyle and a mummy--line an entire wall of Fantasy Costumes. Bins are filled with badges, jewelry, feathers, body parts, animal tails, crowns, wands and leather whips. A makeup section carries paints and goos of all descriptions and wigs come in nearly every style known to mankind and some previously unknown to that species.

Fantasy Costumes carries “like-new” outfits for rent and new costumes for purchase. Aside from the rentals, all the merchandise in the store is new.

On the other end of the pole is a quaint little shop in Orange called Gasoline Alley. Stocking new and used costumes, 15-year-old Gasoline Alley is a vintage clothing store during most of the year, only revealing its costume shop character during October. The store has provided wardrobes for several Hollywood movies, including “La Bamba,” and, with its selection of lederhosen, is a popular spot for Oktoberfest revelers.

You’d never know it wasn’t peddling costumes year-round. Racks and racks are filled with eye-catching ensembles, many put together from assorted garments by owner Dawna Saucedo.

“It’s like a big salad bar,” Saucedo says. “You put the things together. We try to help, but all the makings are here for you to work with.”

Saucedo says her business really heats up after the rental stores run out.

“I get the people who just don’t have time to sew or hunt around and are in a hurry for something. Everybody waits until the last minute.”

Amid “Rocky Horror Picture Show” banners and Marilyn Monroe posters are boxes of used hats, gloves, belts and shoes. The shop’s seamstresses have been busily sewing up Snow White, Roger Rabbit, Crocodile Dundee, clown and ballerina costumes to sell along with the used medieval princess outfits, ball gowns and German folk dancer costumes. A large children’s section sells clowns, pirates, California Raisins, and Raggedy Ann and Andy get-ups. The store carries no rentals.


In between Fantasy Costumes and Gasoline Alley are a few stores that have good selections to either rent or buy.

Style Leader and Costumes Galore are practically next-door neighbors in Orange. Both have large selections of rental costumes and small selections of outfits for sale. But for your standard witches, trolls, skeletons and buccaneers, these stores have all the accouterments. Costumes Galore has huge dressing rooms and a large line of wigs. Style Leader stocks up on dance wear and can special order or custom make “just about anything.” Style Leader does not sell or rent children’s costumes, however.

If you still can’t find anything to wear, two more stores might help. Although not costume shops, these two Costa Mesa businesses carry masks and accessories.

Newport Party Center has nearly 50 masks (from around $5 and up) and an impressive array of accessories like animal feet, Freddy’s razor glove and plastic body parts. The store does not rent costumes but has a small selection of outfits to buy, including a few well-made garments by a Los Angeles company called Kids in Costume ($32.99 and up).

Hollywood Magic carries only a few standard costumes but loads up on masks during Halloween. From $2.98 to $59.95, the masks take up two walls of the store and include nearly every face from mimes to fanged wolves. Hollywood does not rent costumes.

Then again, you can always cut two holes in an old sheet and hope nobody remembers you were a ghost last year.


FANTASY COSTUMES: 2818 E. Imperial Highway, Brea. (714) 528-3350.


Huge inventory available for rent or purchase. Wigs, masks, accessories and makeup. Large children’s section.

Price range: $10 to $100 for rentals; $15 to $60 for purchases.

Hours for October: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

GASOLINE ALLEY: 3744 E. Chapman Ave., Orange. (714) 639-6550.

Large selection of new and used outfits for sale; hats, belts, shoes and jewelry. Good children’s selection. No rentals.

Price range: $15 to $120.

Hours for October: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.

Costumes Galore: 1070-E N. Batavia St., Orange. (714) 639-1010

Extensive rental department and small selection of costumes for sale. Wide range of wigs, makeup and accessories.

Price range: $27.50 to $85 for rentals; $14.95 to $45 to buy.

Hours for October: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

STYLE LEADER: 326 W. Katella Ave., Orange. (714) 639-1010.

Large rental department and small selection of costumes to buy, hats, accessories and makeup. Lots of dance wear. No children’s costumes.

Price range: $35 to $45 for rentals; $12 to $50 to buy.

Hours for October: 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.