Cloaks and daggers.

Costumers discuss Reno’s love affair with dressing up

Alice Engelmore receives assistance with her costume from Junkee employee Christina Solis.

Alice Engelmore receives assistance with her costume from Junkee employee Christina Solis.


If you were looking for an occasion for adults to dress up in fun and outrageous costumes in Reno, you’d have to be a little more specific. Between Burning Man and a yearly calendar of bar crawls and themed parties, Reno is a town that loves to dress up and go all out. Still, with Halloween fast approaching, those who haven’t kept up with Reno’s costume culture in years past or who want to dial up the effort for this year’s festivities might be at a loss. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of experts in this town to help you get glammed—or ghouled—in time for the big night.

“Hands down, this town loves its costumes,” said Nichole Paul, manager at Junkee Clothing Exchange in midtown. “It’s such a social activity here. People get together with their friends, and they all want to be different and look cool. And there’s a lot of costume contests here, and in order to win those, you’ve got to go over the top.”

From its racks of second-hand items and seasonal accessories, Junkee’s personal shoppers specialize in putting together specific costumes with a personal flair that can’t be found in generic Halloween store costumes.

“We try to find out exactly what they’re trying to do,” Paul said. “Are they trying to go scary, or are they trying to go sexy, or are they trying to do a cool couple’s costume? And then we go from there and find out what they’re into. You’ve just got to keep an open mind. That’s the one thing with Halloween, is that a lot of people get it in their mind that they have to look exactly like the character, but if you can get the general idea of the character and then accessorize it, everyone’s going to know who you are.”

Investing in and assembling individual elements means having pieces to build off of for future getups as well. A flimsy, premade costume may have all the right details—but would-be Wonder Women and Spider Men might well end up paying more for the studio licensing associated with their costumes, than for the quality with which they were made.

Speaking of capitalizing on yearly trends, it’s fine to get specific about your chosen character, but being an adult on Halloween also means knowing where the line is when it comes to good taste.

“Last year, a bunch of people wanted to be Bill Cosby, and so they wanted to go in blackface and, of course, did not understand why that would probably not be encouraged,” Paul said. “It’s a huge problem. I would say I have to tell at least a dozen people a year, personally, not to do it, and they just don’t understand why. You can be anybody you want; don’t paint your face another color.”

The same sentiment can extend to ultra-realistic weaponry in public as well. Aside from creating some potentially stressful situations with your fellow partygoers, many bars and venues will probably stop John Rambo at the door.

“We’d highly, highly, highly recommend that any weaponry be obviously fake,” Paul said. “A lot of places are not allowing certain weaponry in, like faux guns and stuff, but you can still get away with like a scepter or the reaper scythe.”

Crawlers should also eschew masks for the same reasons, as many casinos will refuse entrance to people whose faces aren’t visible. Assuming you’re following all the rules and do make it into the club, however, don’t let bulky accessories weigh you down only to lose them later.

“If you’re going out, make sure you can attach all your accessories to your body, either with a strap or a hook or something, because you’re going to put it down,” Paul said.

Creature comforts

The logistical problems of finding a perfect, comfortable costume aren’t something the general public deals with regularly, and it can be too easy to overlook a detail that might ruin your night later. However, members of Reno’s robust cosplay and steampunk communities spend a decent amount of time in elaborate costumes throughout the year—and they have a few ideas on how to make them more comfortable.

Suzanne McMann became interested in Steampunk six years ago. Today, with the members of High Desert Steam, she designs and models her own retro/sci-fi garb in the tradition of Victorian era clothing—a period not exactly known for cozy clothing. The challenges presented by extravagant clothing should always be considered before the first few drinks of the night, however.

“For ladies, especially—and this I learned from my first big Steampunk event … keep in mind how difficult or easy it’s going to be to use the bathroom, McMann said. “You want to think, ’Can I do this on my own?’”

Corsetry, codpieces and capes might be a fairly specific look for Halloween, but they definitely have their places in the classic landscape of vampires, pirates and the odd Victorian spectre. And if things start to go awry, don’t be afraid to call in some support.

“Safety pins, carry lots of safety pins,” McMann said. “Things kind of drift on a regular basis in costume, and if you have the time and the space to carry one, a little sewing kit is great.”

While Steampunk and cosplay are all about going the extra mile for the sake of the character, casual costumers might feel like the time—and financial—investment is beyond their means. However, small details done correctly can be just as effective in creating a specific look.

“One of the trends that I have seen over the past few years is that makeup is a huge detail that people are coming to recognize,” McMann said. “What you wear can be very simple, very basic, with just a few details on it. But forget about masks. If you can make up your face, that will make the character.”

Be on the makeup

YouTube and Instagram are inundated with impossibly detailed makeup tutorials that can leave even seasoned costumers scratching their heads. But, since 2008, Reno’s niche costume culture has had a flagship in PolyEsther’s Costume Boutique in midtown, which caters to the many facets of a convincing getup.

“Reno has a magic to it, and costuming is just another form of art,” said Esther Dunaway, owner of PolyEsther’s. “It’s sort of limitless, and yet you have to temper it with reality and budget consciousness. I can’t make a magical pumpkin carriage, but I can make your gown.”

PolyEsther’s makes hundreds of custom costumes every year for everything from Burning Man to Mardi Gras but offers unique services for its Halloween clientele, including alteration services, a full-service wig bar, and personalized makeup classes using Ben Nye theatrical grade makeup.

“People like the group classes, but we’ve been offering solo classes for the same price, honestly,” Dunaway said. “People want to know, and they want to learn, and YouTube has really inspired that makeup revolution.”

DIYers can also come to PolyEsther’s with loose materials for a custom collaboration, or to find a selection of new and upcycled costume pieces with rental options available for pricier purchases. But those looking for a quick option can also find bag costumes tailored to fit.

“When we get them, we steam them out, all the accessories, and we make them look like they look on the bag,” said Dunaway. “And we also offer alteration services between free and a couple bucks to make it fit you just right, and that’s something no one else does.”

A full list of PolyEsther’s services and Halloween makeup bookings is available online, and class schedules can be found on the shop’s Facebook page.

While there’s no shortage of local businesses and expertise to get you dressed in time for Halloween, the right costume really comes down to one final detail, said Dunaway, and you probably won’t find it in a store.

“Confidence,” she said. “Confidence and execution. Let’s get real. The ice has already been broken when you show up at a costume party, and you’ve all taken the risk to dress up.”