In the course of researching Western’s 100 years in the costume business, we came away with what felt like 200 years’ worth of interesting anecdotes, fun facts and little-known aspects of the company. Among them:
Military Might: On occasion, Western’s expertise in military uniforms has been called into action beyond the front lines of a movie set. The costume house lent thousands of its uniforms to an unprepared California National Guard in the wake of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, according to reports in the Los Angeles Times. And in 1980, the government chose Western to design the prototype for a new U.S. Air Force Academy cadet uniform, company President Eddie Marks says.
Cloned Clothes: In addition to manufacturing clothing, shoes and hats for the entertainment industry, Western offers the same services to the general public — provided there’s a design in hand. “We don’t have in-house designers to be able to design something for you,” Marks says. “But if you bring us a photo or a sketch of something — period or modern — we can manufacture it. A lot of people don’t know we do that.”
But replicating your grandmother’s favorite dress or that powder blue prom tuxedo comes with a price: cobbled-to-order shoes start at around $800 plus the cost of materials, a men’s suit begins at $1,600 (plus materials) and the most basic of women’s dresses starts at $400 (plus materials.)
Fashion Forward: Fashion designers have been known to rent from the stock for research and inspiration purposes, Marks says, and on more than one occasion a garment has been returned with a swatch of fabric cut out of it. When that happens, the renter is charged for damages.
Serious Dirt: Eddie Marks’ brother Jeff, who runs Western’s on-site supply store, is also the creator of Schmere, a line of aging crayons in shades such as “Burnt Umber,” “Sweat Stains” and “Grass Stains” that are used to artificially soil costumes.
Tailor Turnaround: The men’s tailor shop at Western can create a suit from scratch in about three days, “depending on how much work we have,” Eddie Marks says. Tailor Jack Kasbarian can recount a harrowing 90-hour “day” that put the company’s manufacturing skills to the test after a fire at Universal Studios incinerated a wardrobe trailer’s worth of costumes for the 1991 period gangster film “Oscar” (which starred Sylvester Stallone). Since filming was only partially complete, Western had to work around the clock to replicate every piece that had been lost.
Happy Halloween: Western has an annual spring cleaning sale to make room for new stock (among the things up for grabs at this year’s sale, held in May, were costumes from “Waterworld”). It also opens the doors to a dedicated Halloween department each October where costumes from its extensive holdings are available to the public for month-long rentals.
A dress Vivien Leigh wore in “Gone With the Wind” shows that most of the stock is not put on a pedestal to be revered from afar. “If you look closely,” research librarian and archivist Bobi Garland says, “you can see it’s been hemmed, it’s been mended, it went out for Halloween. It’s been rented a million times because we don’t make money archiving clothes.... You have to understand that these clothes work for a living.”