Dressing the part
Frank Sinatra once sang that in his lifetime he’d been “a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king.” If Ol’ Blue Eyes had known Christy Sullivan, he could’ve been all those things in just one day. Sullivan, owner of Alter Ego costumes in Chico, has been outfitting pirates, poets and paupers for something like 20 years now. With over 20,000 costumes spread out over 5,000 square feet of warehouse space, Sullivan can turn just about anybody into just about anything.
What got you started in the costume business?
I was briefly married to a man who was in the theater—this is back in the ‘80s, when they were doing theater in the garden at LaSalles. … They were doing The Taming of the Shrew and needed help with the costumes.
What was your experience before that?
I’ve always been in art. I’ve always sewn—I started sewing when I was like 10. I have a double degree in liberal arts and library science, so I know how to do research. When I do my research for plays, I know what to look for.
Has there ever been a request for a costume that you couldn’t pull off?
I will custom-make costumes. I don’t do Barney because it’s copyrighted and you can get in trouble. There are a few costumes that are copyrighted. … I can have mouse costumes; I just can’t have Mickey Mouse.
You do most of the plays around here?
Yeah. I don’t do the university because they have their own costume shop.
Can you think of one play in particular that is a real challenge?
I like doing the period pieces. I’ve done three Molière plays, which are in the 1660s. They are way fun to do. That’s a time period when men actually wore more ribbons and bows and frills than the women. So I get to make the boys look foo-foo. Then I do my research, so I know exactly what they’re supposed to look like. When men wear knickers and they have little ruffles down here, that’s called a cannon.
Are there days when it’s kind of slow around here so you can put on a costume and run around and act crazy?
There are, but I don’t. I’ve been doing this 20 years, so. … Nobody believes me when I say I have nothing to wear. But depending on the people, I have no problem with anybody trying on stuff and playing dress-up. I had a girl work here one winter—and it is cold in here—she used to dress up in the animal suits and work in the animal suits because they’re furry.