Shopping List

Shopping List

Feeling the pressure to pull a great Halloween costume together? We scouted some local shops to help lighten the load.

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At Fashionista Vintage and Variety, “It’s always been our biggest time of year—our Christmas,” co-owner Todd Lyon says. She’s referring to Halloweentime, when people are drawn like vampires seeking necks to the shop’s 100% rentable, 80% buyable collection of vintage, costume and upcycled apparel and accessories. So it was “spooky,” she says, these past couple of years, when the pandemic effectively cancelled Halloween. Meanwhile, Fashionista moved, from the base of Whitney Avenue to the Marlinworks building in East Rock, and Lyon is scared, so to speak, that some customers have assumed the shop met its doom.

But Fashionista is very much alive. In fact it’s even livelier, with high airy ceilings and large windows across the back. The racks bloom as ever with the promised vintage and variety: flapper dresses, gangster suits and a violin case (supply your own Tommy gun or, as Lyon suggests, carry your date’s purse); disco shirts, key party frocks and glam rock bodysuits; Rick Astley suits and a Pretty in Pink dress. The shop is strong with period pieces and accessories, but it’s also got growing racks of costume costumes: for a cave couple (complete with femur bone prop), a Renaissance noble, a grog-filled pirate, a frilly monarch.

When Fashionista changed locations, it also changed to an appointment-driven model, providing a more personalized and private shopping experience for most of the week, though it still keeps walk-in hours from noon to 5 on Fridays and Saturdays (and, this month, on Thursday the 27th and Sunday the 30th). Lyon says she’s generally the one to meet with these customers, who might come alone or with friends. Either way, they effectively have the shop to themselves, with Lyon or her co-owner, Nancy Shea, to guide them and even, when possible, make basic alterations.

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Among the places we checked, Spirit of Halloween, a nationwide concern seasonally occupying an otherwise vacant Post Road big-box, is not just the best option for horror costumes and decorations, it’s darn near the only one. The variety of scary masks, bloody stumps and evil-eyed creeps, some motion-activated, is impressive, and many of them seem to meet a pretty decent standard of quality.

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Quality seems likely to be spottier among the store’s packaged costumes, though the quantity is unrivaled. An enormous selection of licensed and generic characters for both adults and kids ranges from Harry Potter to The Wizard of Oz, Scream to Squid Game, Beetlejuice to Ghostbusters, Stranger Things to Hocus Pocus, Top Gun to Ted Lasso, DC to Marvel, Disney to Naruto, ’80s horror to Roaring ’20s, ancient Rome to high fantasy, Victorian steampunk to post-apocalyptic, the Wild West to outer space. Visibility through the back of the plastic packaging lets you assess, to some extent, the work and materials and the degree to which the reality matches the advertising.

Sex, for one thing, sells on Halloween, so it also sells in Spirit Halloween, from a Sultry SWAT Officer package ($39.99) with “dress, gloves, armband and garter”—fishnet stockings not included, officer?—to a skimpy boxer robe ($24.99) showing off the male model’s eight-pack. A Sergeant Short Pants ($39.99) outfit, the pants only slightly longer than Lieutenant Dangle’s, probably rates closer to the humor category, which—from a blow-up Party Pooper costume that has you sitting on a toilet to a boxy Breathalyzer option with a “blow here” crotch nozzle—often aims quite low. Still, I found a few that might survive polite company: an avocado toast couples costume ($49.99); a “Sauvignon Blech” boxed wine costume ($39.99; never mind, this one has a crotch spigot); both Bob Ross and Bob Ross Painting costumes ($39.99 and $29.99); and, speaking of art, an absurdly huge inflatable balloon animal costume ($59.99) in the style of Koontz.

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After entering the Orange Savers with low expectations, I left impressed.

Not far inside the entrance, a series of displays has everything you might need for a respectable build-your-own costume. Modular apparel and accessories cluster into classic orbits—vampires, pirates, clowns, cowpokes, animals, retro. Between and around them are mashups of monster masks, witch and Wonka hats, wizard and fairy wands, blades and pistols, wigs and wings. A display of makeup and fake blood offered just the right amount of choice. Some combination of elements here could surely work for most of us.

Past that area, which seems tailored mostly to adults, is a long double rack holding a color riot of costumes for both adults and kids. These items, I suspect, have all been donated, which is great if you’re hoping to reduce and reuse while saving money.

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At hypercurated Westville vintage shop Vintanthromodern, “costume” is something of a dirty word, implying ephemerality and disposability. But “we don’t want an item to just be used for one day or night and be gotten rid of,” owner Melissa Gonzales says. Manager Victoria Armentrout puts it another way: “We want you to love it.”

As Armentrout showed me around, I began to understand. A vintage ruby red sequin piece Armentrout describes as a 1970s evening dress—Gonzales calls it a lounge singer dress, eliciting nods—was clearly made to be loved. Immaculate-looking and super slinky, the price is just $95. From the same rack, a “’60s op scooter dress” swirling with marigold and tangerine is priced at $40, and a gray dress Armentrout pegs to the 1940s, “with the peplum and the oversized buttons and cap sleeves,” is $68. These are just some of the first items we looked at, yet it’s easy to imagine incorporating each of them, along with wearing them to dress-up dates or dinner parties throughout the rest of the year, into an incredible Halloween costume.

Just don’t use that word when you’re inside the shop.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims. Images 1 and 2 feature Fashionista Vintage and Variety, with the latter also featuring Todd Lyon. Images 3 and 4 feature Spirit Halloween in Milford. Images 5 and 6 feature Savers in Orange. Images 7 and 8 feature Vintanthromodern.

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