Costume designer Jeanne McPartland Keenan of Watertown operated the Costume Company in various towns for 15 years before moving to its current location in Arlington in 2000. While it's busiest around Halloween, the shop rents and sells costumes, accessories, and vintage clothing year-round for theme parties, historical reenactments, parades, theater productions, trade shows, and advertising, television, and film projects. The creative and sales staff includes seamstresses, costume designers, and theater craftsmen.
Q. How did you begin amassing a collection of nearly 5,000 costume pieces?
A. Through my experience in theater, film, and styling, I fell in love with the fabrics, the craftsmanship, and the intersection of history, society, and fashion. I became so passionate that I wouldn’t fix up my house, I wouldn’t get a new sofa; instead, I’d get a dress that I thought was really amazing, or something like a bustle from the 1800s. I’ve gone to flea markets, bought things from different vendors, and built many pieces over the years. I’m always on the lookout for unusual pieces.
Q. Do the Halloween pop-up stores make you crazy?
A. It used to, but I’m over it now. I can’t fight big industry, and I know what we do is special and unique. I mean, how many sexy nurses can you have at one party? We have so many unusual things that people can’t find anywhere else, or we’ll make it.
Q. What are some of your more memorable customer requests?
A. We just made a king and queen costume for the father and mother of a bride who is having a medieval wedding. Last year, a woman from Nigeria wanted an Americanized birthday party for her 6-year-old twins, so we made them outrageous outfits with a country-and-western theme. People dress up as princesses, superheroes, and different mascots to visit kids in the hospital. We’ve also had several knights go out to propose.
Q. What's the best part of being in the costuming business?
A. It's a happy place. In a way, the shop is also like a museum because a lot of parents bring in their children to educate them about history and the way people dressed in Egyptian times, or the 18th century, or the Colonial days. There is a wonderful elegance to the past. I'm trying to preserve that.
The Costume Company is at 489 Massachusetts Ave. in Arlington. For more information, visit www.costumecompany.com.
Cindy Cantrell may be e-mailed at cindycantrell20@ gmail.com.