Get us in your inbox


3 things we learned from Chicago’s year-round costume shop

Written by
Sara Freund

RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Halloween in Chicago

When a customer walks through the door at Chicago Costume, Courtland Hickey never knows what to expect. He grew up in the shop after his mom, Mary Hickey Panayotou, started it in 1976, and now he’s the general manager. Over the years he has heard it all, so a customer’s request is never as weird as they think it is. A group of men looking for green Elvis wigs? No problem.

We recently caught up with the pros at one of the city's best Halloween stores to learn more of the tricks—and treats—of the business.

Photograph: Sara Freund

1. Bagged costumes are out, faux mustaches are in

Most people these days are interested in accessorizing with funny hats, fake mustaches, makeup or wigs. No one really wants a costume in a bag anymore. Hickey spends a ton of time researching what’s popular—checking out what's up at C2E2, Wizard World and in comic books and movies. This year he’s prepared for Suicide Squad requests. The movie may not have done so well at the box office, but it’s filled with a gold mine of characters like Harley Quinn, Deadshot and Captain Boomerang. The store has a huge selection of Game of Thrones and Star Wars costumes, too, including a serious Stormtrooper getup that you can rent. Hickey's own mother makes many of the custom costumes, including niche ideas like a costume based on Dave Chappell’s Prince basketball sketch. 

Photograph: Sara Freund

2. This shop has tons of tricks up its sleeves

Working at a costume shop means your day is filled with surprises. One of Hickey’s favorite things about his job is when someone who is normally reserved stops by, throws on a pair of fake boobs and can't stop laughing. “Seeing people let loose like that, to see that transformation, never gets old,” he says. No matter who you are, Hickey is ready to help you find something that makes you happy. Be prepared for a few tricks while you're in the shop—that black cat in the window isn’t a prop. It’s Hickey’s feline friend Licorice, who is known to take naps in the window display and between boxes. Keep an eye out for whiskers hiding behind the feather boas.

Photograph: Sara Freund

3. Coming up with a one-of-a-kind getup is easy

The shop’s best seller is easily any of its shimmering Venetian-style masks that line the front wall. The array of feathers, glitter and gems on the masks grabs most people's attention as they walk in. Hickey remembers a customer who came in to request two ornate masks to match full 17th-century costumes for a proposal he was planning. When she said yes, he whisked his new fiancé to a festival in Venice where they wore the masks and costumes.

It’s the busy season now, and as Halloween approaches, more and more costume hunters walk through the doors. Hickey himself never knows what he’ll be for Halloween until the night before. Once the shop has closed up he sifts through the leftovers to come up with his own masterpiece. What was he last year? He-Man.

Photograph: Sara Freund

Latest news