Dallas Costume Shoppe owner Michael Robinson says no one trend has emerged this Halloween — but that only means it’s easier to stand out
It’s a common refrain among Halloqweens — gays who love to dress up in time for All Hallow’s Eve and its associated block party — that the great joy of the holiday is getting to be someone else, if just for a night.
The question is, who else do you want to be?
For some, there’s an anxiety that comes along with Halloween costuming: How can you be clever, unique, inventive … and still show off your body (or disguise that recent ice cream binge)?
Michael Robinson — a designer, actor, puppeteer (he’s currently starring in Avenue Q) and most notably, owner of Dallas Costume Shoppe — can help take some of the uncertainty out of that decision.
The first question Robinson is likely to ask clients is whether they have their own ideas about what they want to do; then he and his staff can assist in realizing that vision.
“My favorite costume in all the years I’ve done this was a couple who came in at the last minute — like, we closed at 6 and they came in at 5:30. They said,
‘We want to be dead prom dates;’ I said, ‘OK, we can do that.’”
They pulled together a prom dress and tux, appropriately shredded. They bloodied up the clothes (something Robinson has, with surprising frequency, done to wedding dresses) and sent the couple to an auto parts store for a steering wheel and broken parts. Voila! Car-wreck prom victims Carrie would have envied.
The next inquiry Robinson likes to make of clients is the context in which they will be wearing the costume: Will they be going out trick-or-treating, or an indoor cocktail soiree? A formal masquerade or the Cedar Springs block party?
Those decisions can — and should — inform a sensible costume choice.
“We monitor the weather, so I can usually tell 10 days out what the weather will do, and I can switch [clients appropriately]. If you’re gonna go to the block party if it’s cold, you want the heavier, opera stuff,” he counsels. “It provides more warmth than an Egyptian or a centurions because they show a lot of skin.
Show off your body, but don’t come back blue.” (Of course, if that’s your point, he can help out.) But bulky costumes can also make it difficult to navigate the crowds.
If you’re planning on an indoor party, “you probably want fewer layers — not as much in the way of jackets and wigs, capes. But you’ll also want better quality, since people will be seeing it up-close.”
Quality is a bugaboo for Robinson. Many of his last-minute customers come in frantic when the prefab costume they ordered online arrives and it’s made of those acetate fabrics that don’t look nearly as good as they did in the catalog.
“When they do the photos [for those catalogs], it’s with the samples, so they are made out of better finish. They don’t even start building them until the orders come in. People spend $100, $150 on something they throw out without wearing because it’s see-through,” he says.
Indeed, it’s the details that make a costume memorable. “It’s all about the finishing touches,” he says. “You can got to a lot of shops and get the costume and that’s it, but you need to accessorize. We do the head-to-toe look. The little things finish the looks.”
Those details can even be profitable. When he creates looks for clients, Robinson will often suggest his clients attend bars that have costume contests. His customers frequently end up winning.
“Wear your costume and win some cash — we’ve had people win round the world trips and hundreds of dollars!”
Robinson also has his own preferences about what can win prizes — and what looks good on folks.
“I tend to like the more elaborate costumes, if they can carry it off,” he says. One of his favorites for men is the Restoration/Medieval look (Henry
VIII for instance, or a knight errant); for women it’s the long trains and elaborate Scarlett O’Hara looks.
“And I love it when the straight guys come in with their wives to do drag. The women get such a kick out of it. We had one where she went as Frida
Kahlo and he went as the portrait of Frida Kahlo. He carried a frame all night with her painting him.”
That was a great costume, though he admits not every idea is a hit. Robinson has helped people realize what he considers terrible concepts.
“I remember the year Roy [Horn] of Siegfried and Roy got mauled by a tiger, a lot of people wanted to go as Roy. I thought, ‘Really?’ But we did some amazing Siegfried and Roys that year.”
As with that tragedy, a lot of times the culture dictates trends, though Robinson says that’s less apparent this year.
“The big one this year has been Day of the Dead costumes — Victorian clothing or mariachi suits ‘skeletonized.’ The national trend has been superheroes but it’s not something I really carry. Other than that, nothing that has jumped out this year like it has in the past, nothing that really we’re getting a ton of calls for,” says Robinson. “It also hasn’t hit [as of mid-October]. It used to be that people planned weeks in advance.” He suspects the five-week month, and also the lack of a signature cultural event (a movie or TV that captured the attention of folks) may be to blame.”
But there’s always time.
Dallas Costume Shoppe, 2905 Main St.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 25, 2013.