Dec 19, 2017
How costume king Courtland Hickey reigns over Chicago
Sam Ujvary

Chicago CostumeDressing up is awesome. In our industry, it’s life. There are annual shows that showcase the exquisiteness of costuming, and we have a publication devoted entirely to it. Every year, we continue to be surprised by the uniqueness and popularity of costumes. Retro pop culture brings a plethora of revamped costumes to the scene, while new movies and television shows give us so many options for new favorites. In Chicago, there’s a place where residents go that’s considered somewhat of a mecca for costumes and masquerades.

Courtland Hickey, the Costume King of Chicago, operates a family business that’s been a Chicago staple since it opened in the ’70s. For adults and children alike, Chicago Costume is a go-to for popular packaged costumes as well as high-end, handmade rentals, masquerade masks, makeup and accessories galore. While strolling the aisles of this DePaul University campus-based shop, Hickey shared some insights on how he remains so successful after 41 years in business.

“Chicago Costume came into being in the year 1976, and was started by my mother – who is still involved every day,” said Hickey. She’s the seamstress behind the rental costumes housed in the basement aisles of Chicago Costume. These intricate costumes range from Greek and renaissance dress to pinstripe suits, flapper dresses and even a one-of-a-kind deep plum-colored Lobby Boy costume from the famed Grand Budapest Hotel.

When you first walk into the shop, you’re welcomed by a most expansive wall of masks, featuring hundreds of masquerade masks from classically simple to the most elegant accented with glitter and designs. They even have a customization service where customers are able to design their own masks. Chicago Costume is the only “full service” costume shop in Chicago, said Hickey, and mask customization is a great, easy way to craft a unique product and make the customer feel special. “Everyone who works here, myself included, is pretty crafty,” he said. “Hot glue is our best friend, and can do almost any simple job.”

Aside from the massive mask wall, the services here are aplenty. “We have a whole custom costume and mascot division that is helmed exclusively by my mother, Mary,” said Hickey. “We provide wig styling and professional makeup advice and application (as well).” This is the kind of customer service that goes a long way.

Chicago Costume takes community involvement a step further. “We (participate in) a multitude of local events, comic cons and other conventions; (as well as) special events like pride festivals, Christmas pub crawls and even an event called the Lagunitas Beer Circus,” he said. “Special events are great. They are often a mix of revenue and marketing, and are a great way to connect with our customers.” These events are a great way for Hickey and his crew to get in front of people, talk to them and turn them into customers.

One of Chicago Costume’s social facets includes a blog that features topics such as Top 50 costumes of 2017, Halloween makeup DIY, and How to use liquid latex. “My wife and I, as well as all of our employees, generally contribute with inspired pictures and content,” said Hickey of its blog. “Social media is a ton of work with no measurable return, so it’s best to spread all the effort out to a bunch of people to keep the content flowing.”

What Chicago Costume offers

  • In-store events for private shopping parties, promotional events or bachelorette parties
  • Costuming for an entire theme party
  • Kid-friendly mascots and costumes for birthday parties (actors also available)
  • Holiday characters and costumes for corporate or private events
  • Costume rental for theater productions, birthday parties, Halloween, etc.

Costumes expected to be big sellers this year

  • Rick and Morty
  • Pennywise/It
  • Wonder Woman
  • Overwatch characters
  • Characters from Handmaids Tale

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