At Hollywood's Western Costume, Some Outfits Are Too Real to Rent

Halloween Cosutmes Steam Punk Vampire - H 2012
Elizabeth Snead

Halloween Cosutmes Steam Punk Vampire - H 2012

The 100-year-old costume house won't allow rentals of its police or military uniforms, but revelers can rent wardrobes for productions including "True Grit," "Mad Men," "The Artist" and Broadway's "Spamalot."

Halloween revelers looking for a realistic police or military getup this year should stay away from Western Costume, the century-old costume house known for its massive collection of authentic costumes previously worn in movies, on TV and on Broadway.

“I can’t rent military, fireman or policeman or postal workers," says Christina Munoz, who has run the Western Costume rental department for eight years.  "Our costumes look too real. That's just asking for trouble and then we’re liable. We have special permission from the military to use their uniforms in movies such as The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty."  Both films featured Western's authentic military garb

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Eddie Marks, the president of Western, is very proud of the company's annual Halloween costume rental department, located around the back of the 120,000 sq ft. San Fernando Valley warehouse, with over eight miles of clothing racks -- larger than any movie studio's collection.

This where the real costumes -- worn by stars and extras -- in such films as Titanic, True Grit,  GladiatorRobin HoodThe Assassination of Jesse James, The Artist, Dangerous Liaisons and hundreds more, are made and housed. Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant works ouf of Western. The period costumes designed by Julie Weiss for the upcoming Hitchcock, starring Helen MIrren, Scarlett Johansson and Sir Anthony Hopkins, were made and stored here.  

"Movies definitely inspire Halloween costumes," Munoz said. "All of our stuff has been and is still being used in movies, and they look so real. Sometimes the costumes are aged so they have that authentic look. It's not like a costume from a plastic package.”

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Western is now renting the couture costumes worn in Broadway's Dance of the Vampires, a musical version of Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers, as well as original costumes from thMonty Python musical comedy Spamalot and the Viking costumes from those memorable Capital One commercials.

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Original costumes from The Mummy 3 are still available, as well as flight attendant uniforms worn on the TV show, Pan Am. Western even has Game of Thrones-inspired costumes, complete with hemp chain mail, that were originally worn in several medieval films including Robin Hood -- that look ready for the royal court at King's Landing or the battlefelds around Winterfeld. 

The Hunger Games costumes were all designed, fitted and made at Western. The second film's wardrobe is also being made there. And Western has an impressive  selection of steam punk,  the retro-future combination of Victorian finery and early Industrial Revolution ornamentation seen in films such as The Prestige, Hugo, The Golden Compass, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Hellboy.

It's not uncommon to see stars shopping for costumes there too. "Last year [we had] Sylvester Stallone and his whole family here for four hours trying on vampire couture. The guy from Doogie Howser, Neil Patrick Harris, is a regular." And former Dancing with the Stars contestant Mario Lopez also frequents Western.

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There's always a big last minute rush the weekend before the actual holiday, which is when most of the costume parties are.

“People come in and get dressed here and then go right out to parties,” says Munoz, who, ironically, celebrates her birthday on Oct 31. 

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But apart from the armed forces, are there any other Western Costume taboos?

“We don’t do religious. We don’t want to offend people," Munoz said. "We have monks’ costumes but we can’t do the Pope. You just have to be careful.”