Walking inside Costumes Etc is guaranteed sensory overload: a disco ball glimmering overhead, chainmail-clad mannequins mounted behind the weaponry counter, a tinny soundtrack of ’80s hits, enough sequins and feathers for every showgirl in Vegas. But to visit this sprawling store, just off Cheshire Bridge Road, in the days leading up to Halloween is another experience entirely, as throngs of customers pack the store to assemble their costumes. Need a wig? More than a hundred hang from one wall in every hue of the rainbow, from a mint-green, frizzed-out ’do to a blood-red, horned Poison Ivy. Buxom busts model dozens of corsets. Over at the makeup counter, local drag star Jaye Lish works wonders with theatrical-grade Ben Nye products to create special effects makeup.
Despite several relocations, the ascendance of Amazon, and the yearly pop-up Halloween superstores, Costumes Etc has been an Atlanta mainstay for more than 25 years. Its formula? A massive inventory (55,000 items) and customer service.
Adam Darby, a web developer and avid cosplayer, first wandered into Costumes Etc about six years ago and was immediately struck by the abundance of merchandise. “There is just stuff . . . everywhere,” he says. Since then, he’s turned to the store and its staff for assistance composing offbeat ensembles like his “Lil Jon/Doctor Who mash-up,” which he wore to Dragon Con last year. Being shepherded through the store’s array of gear “makes you feel like you’re being outfitted for a secret mission,” says Darby—like Q presenting James Bond with his arsenal of gadgets.
“We have almost what anybody would need in the costume world,” says Jane Powell, the store’s co-founder. “We try to bring an element of creativity so you don’t just buy a bagged costume; you can buy pieces and create your own so that you don’t look like everybody else.”
Powell and her sister, Alice Gough, opened the original Costumes Etc in 1992. Previously Jane worked at Rich’s in the sewing department, where she stitched sample garments to demonstrate the next season’s popular cuts for home seamstresses. When Rich’s shuttered that department, Powell became a costume maker for Savoyards, now the Atlanta Lyric Theatre company. She dreamed of opening her own store. “Costuming is such an individual thing, so of course you’ll always think your version will be better,” she says.
Because the store has changed locations so many times, Powell jokingly calls Costumes Etc “the nomad costume shop.” In 2007, after real estate development forced them from their Buckhead space, they relocated to Cheshire Bridge Road, expanding from 7,000 square feet to 17,000. Today the small staff is known for helping customers piece together ensembles and taking custom orders; a seamstress works on-site three days a week. “They help you create whatever image you have in your mind and pull that together into a more realistic look, rather than cheesy . . . not that we don’t have cheesy, because we do,” Powell says.
The die-hard costume-lovers—those who turn their noses up at predictable, preassembled Halloween get-ups—keep Costumes Etc around. “We have a lot of regulars who just love to dress up, thank goodness,” says Powell, who adds that with the horror scene, the film industry, and the cosplay conventions, Atlanta has come into its own as “a dress-up town.” Besides, people who wear costumes have more fun. “Your character changes. You do things and say things you might not otherwise do or say. It’s sort of freeing.”
This article originally appeared in our October 2017 issue.