Saturday, 18 November 2017 10:48

The Costumes Rental Shop

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Helen Uffner – Vintage Clothing

There’s no place like home…

...Except for a costumes rental shop

In the last decade, nine Costume rental shops in New York have closed their doors and this is proving to be a disaster for costumers and costume designers.

Helen Uffner – Vintage Clothing

                                               Helen in her studio

Helen has had a vintage clothing shop in New York for 40 years and, for ten years, she’s been in the same showroom at Queens Plaza in Long Island City. However, a new landlord has increased the rent to more than $100,00 a year and the company has until this May to move out.

New York City’s film and TV production business is booming, but the wardrobe business isn’t. Soundstages are working at capacity and owners are investing millions to expand; equipment rental shops are buying additional inventory and, postproduction facilities are opening by the number. Even catering companies are getting into the act (sorry), by feeding all the hungry crews. The city estimates the film and TV industry pumps in $9 billion annually to the city’s economy. But, due to skyrocketing rents and declining profits, at least nine local costume shops have closed their doors including Creative Costume, Odds Costume Rental and Hero Wardrobe.

                               Helen shopping at a Collectables Fair

In 1978 Helen started and ran her vintage-clothing rental business from her apartment. She scoured flea markets and estate sales for period clothing from 1860s – 1980s and supplied costumes for films such as Out of Africa, Zelig, The good Fight, Zelda Fitzgerald, Z: The Beginning of Everything and Wonderstruck.

She fears that soon there won’t be any costume businesses left at all – “…ultimately, the emperor will have not clothes”.

Lynne Mackey – Theatrical Milliner

Lynne Mackey in her studio

Lynne Mackey owns a milliner shop and makes a habit of checking a Facebook page for a group called Costume People, only to find that every week people post pictures of small business that are closing.

Lynne tells us about herself in this video interview;

Her studio creates hats for Broadway ballets and television projects that run from $400 for a basic fedora to $2000 for a custom-made bonnet. Lynne just renewed her lease for roughly $5000 a month; and she considers herself lucky that the rent hike wasn’t even higher. But because it’s difficult to make ends meet, she’s looking to sublet part of the studio space to another designer.

Besides the rent, Mackay has found that many of her suppliers for feathers, ribbon and silk-flowers have closed, meaning she needs to order custom materials from as far away as Europe and Asia.

Creative Costume Shop - Linda Carcaci and Susan Handler

                            Linda Carcaci, Yon Zweibon and Susan Handler

Creative Costume was forced to sell its complete rental inventory in 2012 after the rent was raised to $10,000 a month. The owners Costume Designers Linda Carcaci and Susan Handler still make costumes for such high-profile clients such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade but they needed to move their studio to Pennsylvania.

According to Carcaci, rent increases make New York a difficult place for costume businesses, and the ones that remain will only have to struggle even more. Besides the rent increases, productions are also spending less on rentals.

Here’s a short video with the owners from 2013 ...

Hero Wardrobe - Melissa DesRosiers

Melissa DesRosiers used to own the now-defunct Hero Wardrobe and a few years ago, she noticed a decline in business from major clients including HBO and Marvel; when she asked them about this, they said it was to save money.

In two years, her business fell by 30%. So then, rather than continuously renting and returning costumes, film companies were ow buying and storing them for future use. Even Costumers see this makes sense, but it hurts us.

The loss of volume is bad because costume businesses earn very little from the rent of each item. The most expensive rentals at Hero Wardrobe, for example, were police uniforms which rented for $225 for two weeks. Uffner hasn’t been able to raise her prices since 2011 and now charges $100 for a dress rented for 4 months.

She noted that when productions make their budges they allot a large portion to set and props, leaving costume design the lesser amount. In other words, costume profits are down, while rent increases. 

Of course, the large major-studio costume-rental houses in California are still available, but the loss of local shops hurts local designers.

Tom Broecker - Costume Designer

                           Tom Broecker 

Tom Broecker, a costume designer for Saturday Night Live and other shows notes that as stores close, it gets harder for him to do his job. For example, a while ago, Broecker was making chicken costume SNL so, he went to one of the remaining feather suppliers and purchased the entire supply of yellow feathers. When he asked if he could get more if necessary, he was told it would take days…

I know what you’re thinking, designer need things in 5 hours, not days. He says, “the costume industry is like a food chain, and we need these places to design the costumes for our TV shows, movies and theatre pieces and, without them, it’s a real struggle”.

Value Village

Value Village has become a real boon for local costume designers in almost any town because, like a costumes rental house, they hold a large inventory of clothing, hats, shoes and accessories in a range of colours, sizes, textures and styles. However, recently designers have noticed the prices have increased. It was rumoured that Wal-Mart had purchased the company but as far as I’ve been able to find out, Value Village is still owned by Savers (headquartered in Bellingham, Washington) and is a for-profit thrift retailer. The price increase may be due to the fact that the minimum wage has increased, enabling the 20,000 employees in Canada, United States and Australia to have a better quality of life.

Academy Museum

If clicking these heels could bring them back ...

The Saban Building features six stories of dynamic spaces; more than 50,000 sq. feet of exhibition galleries, a state-or-the-art education studio, 288-seat Ted Mann /theatre, restaurant and café, a store and public and special event spaces.

Exhibitions such as this one will attract costume designers and costumers from all over the world who desire to see these precious works being curated, conserved and loved.

Thanks to Miriam Krenin Souccar, Crain's New York Business publication, November 2017, Buck Ennis Photo and The Academy Museum and thanks to you for reading this on this November Monday, Rae. 

Read 167 times
Login to post comments

The Costumer's Notebook,

The book The Costumer's Notebook is a 295 page comprehensive handbook for Costumers for stage and film including a full Glossary of stage and film industry terms. Sections include methods and tricks for laundry, dyeing, breakdown, Dresser guidelines and protocols for Stage or Film and various size charts for men and women from shoes to gloves. Other Sections include diagrams showing How to Iron A Shirt, How to Tie a Tie and How to Tie a Bow Tie. Costume fittings, costume lay out and costume storage are also discussed.