Costumers Share Artistry and Advice for Halloween

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

This is the weekend that kids and costume-lovers alike have been waiting for, but for Mark Happel and Robert Jacobson, dressing people up is a year-round business. They run Scaramouche Costumes in Chester.

“We’re a theatrical costumer, and we’re a little different, I think, than the normal costumer because we like to think we want to go the extra step to make something special,” says co-owner Happel.

How many costumes do they think have? “I don’t know,” says Jacobson. “Thousands and thousands. Tens of thousands.”

Happel and Jacobson bought the company over 10 years ago. Since then, they’ve tripled their business, costuming about 75 shows a year ranging from high school productions to national tours. They acquire new costumes all the time from theater and opera company sales and vintage clothing stores. If there’s an item they don’t have, they make it.

“If it’s a simple costume, it can be $100. If it’s an involved costume, it can be $500,” says Jacobson. “If we can rent something four or five times, we’ve recouped. And then anything beyond five rentals, you start to make some money on it.”

But adding to the inventory creates storage problems.

“We now have to make some real tough decisions when we accept a costume,” Jacobson explains. “We’ll have to start going through our stock and culling some things that we haven’t rented.”

Especially because Jacobson and Happel keep inventory of everything in the collection in their heads.

“A lost costume can be like the bane of your existence because we had something put away in the wrong place, and it was gone for two years until we found it,” Happel says.

Before he designed costumes, Happel designed Mack Trucks. He thinks it’s that background that gives him a different perspective. “I kind of understand how to build things by looking at it. I can look at a garment and figure out the order it has to be built in,” he says. “My advantage is I don’t know the right way to do it, so I just come up with a way.”

Scaramouche doesn’t rent for Halloween, but they do have suggestions on how to create a character with your costume.

“You have to be in the period. But then, within that period, is she a vivacious character?” asks Jacobson. “Or is she straight-laced and very uptight?”

“If you do some research,” says Happel, “and you see a picture of the piece you want, and you step back and just look at the shape of it, you can all of the sudden see, ‘Well, that’s a jacket, and this is this.’ And you can really alter something and spray paint things.”

He suggests a light spray paint used for painting flowers. And to make seams and edges pop? Permanent markers will work in a pinch. But Happel’s biggest advice is don’t do the obvious. “The obvious choice isn’t always what’s going to set you apart. You want to put your own spin on it,” he says.

And maybe the best way to do that is to get started now for next Halloween.