The opportunity to become someone else is just a quick drive down Main Street. The Costume Trunk, located at 710 W. Main Street, rents and sells theatrical, masquerade and mascot costumes as well as makeup, wigs and accessories.
“We’ve been here since 1981,” owner Steve Spain said. “It started out as a small magic and novelty shop, but eventually we shifted our focus to costumes exclusively. We were going to do [costumes] until something better came along, but something better never came along.”
Although Spain hadn’t intended to go into the costume business, he said he quickly found a passion for it.
“I was at a National Costumers Association convention in Cincinnati,” Spain said. “I had just gotten into the business, and I went there to learn as much as I could. As I walked around, I wandered into this little annex, and I found these beautiful, museum-quality costumes. Once I saw them I thought, ‘Geeze, this is what I want to do if I can.’”
Famed costumer Benjamin Morelli made the costumes. Morelli has made costumes for actors such as Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in the first two ‘Harry Potter’ films, and frock coats for the opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. After that convention, Morelli mentored Spain in the art of costume making.
“From him I learned about quality, real historical patterns and proper construction techniques,” Spain said. “I have a lot of his costumes in my shop. For example, I have a French policeman costume he made for the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ when it toured in the United States.”
The Costume Trunk is divided between retail party costumes and more elaborate, theatrical costumes.
“The costume industry is made up of a bunch of tiny markets,” Spain said. “We get Halloween people, Easter Bunny people, leprechauns, Santa Clauses, musical people, people doing birthday parties for their kids and historical reenactors.”
According to Spain, the store’s biggest corporate customer is State Farm Insurance in Bloomington.
“We make these bear mascot costumes called the ‘Good Neighbors,’” Spain said. “Get it? Good Neigh-Bears.”
Spain said during his 35 years at the Costume Trunk he has had some strange customers and encounters.
“A while back, when the pope was visiting St. Louis, a secret service agent came in,” Spain said. “He wanted to know if anybody had recently rented any priest or nun costumes. Apparently, they were checking all the costume shops near St. Louis in case somebody had bought a disguise in order to get close to the pope and do him harm.”
This would not be the last time Spain had an encounter with law enforcement.
“Five or six years ago, a guy with a couple of ladies came in and said, ‘I always wanted to know what I’d look like with a beard and mustache,’” Spain said. “I let him try on some of our fakes, and he joked around with the ladies, asked how he looked and decided to buy the mustache and beard. He was a nice guy, really friendly and bubbly. He had a zest for life.”
Spain said two months later, an FBI agent came into his shop.
“She pulled out this fuzzy photo of the guy with a mustache and beard,” Spain said. “The guy had robbed a bank, and she wanted to know if the guy got the beard and mustache from here. I told her, ‘Yes,’ and she asked to see what he bought. So I showed her the merchandise, and then she bought a second set as evidence. So, I made two sales as a result of this robbery.”
Other than these criminal instances, Spain said most of his customers come to his shop for happy occasions.
“Sometimes people come here because they’re reconnecting with someone they haven’t seen in a long time and want to dress up to prank them at the airport,” Spain said. “One guy got a Winnie-the-Pooh costume and proposed to his girlfriend in it. That’s the nice thing about this business: most of the people who come here are celebrating something or putting on a show or doing something happy, which is why I love what I do.”