Dress you up

Leendah Muñoz-Roberts

Photo By Jonathan Mendick

Leendah Muñoz-Roberts made her first costume when she was just a child. “My parents would always get me the most unattractive clothing, so I started just cutting things up and making stuff out of it,” she says. Now 39, the Woodland native turned her passion into Leendah’s Custom Designs, her home-based seamstress-and-custom-clothing-design business. She’s also worked at Cheap Thrills (1712 L Street) since 1994, helping others suit up for Halloween, parties and even concerts at Ace of Spades. She recently found a few minutes between helping customers to speak with SN&R about local costume culture, superhero movies and zombie weddings.

How did you begin a career as a seamstress?

I couldn’t go to college because my parents wouldn’t let me go to art school. They didn’t think it was good. So, I moved out [and left Woodland], and … my very first job was here at Cheap Thrills. That’s actually what led me into full-blown costume design and everything.

How many costumes do you have at home?

I have over 100 costumes—lots of bits and pieces, too. A lot of them are handmade stuff that I make for photo shoots, because I like playing dress up with my friends. That’s my passion.

How often do you wear costumes?

Every October and whenever I’m doing a photo shoot. And they’re usually pretty spontaneous. We play dress up to go to the movies and things like that—any kind of event at the Crest Theatre, or even at the drive-in. We like to do takeovers at the drive-in: You know, like when [Pirates of the Caribbean] came out … we dressed up and acted like pirates out in the drive-in, just because it’s fun.

Is Sacramento really big into dress-up culture?

I can tell you that since 9/11, things kind of changed, and people’s attitudes changed. … People wanted something fun to do, and they embraced costumes, and they embraced the whole Zombie Walk [Sacramento] and just everything that Sacramento [people are] doing to keep their chin up. … Costumes are incorporated into just about any event you can think of—even going to shows at Ace of Spades. I have people coming in [who] want to get dressed up as the band that they’re going to go see. I’m like, “Hey, rock ’n’ roll. Let’s do this!” … You tell them when and where, and they’ll be there, and they will get geared up. It’s awesome. I’ve never seen a town like it.

What’s the go-to costume for this season?

For the last two to three years … everybody wants to be a superhero because of all the movies that [came] out. I mean, movies are what influence what Halloween [costumes] are going to be. That’s the bottom line.

Do you have a kids’ section?

We do have a kids’ section coming up. We don’t carry it year-round; it’s only for Halloween.

What are you doing for Halloween?

What am I not doing is the question, because every weekend [in October] for Halloween here [at Cheap Thrills], we have to dress up. That’s just mandatory. And, if I wanted to, I could do it every day, just to give it spice. … So, I’m thinking this weekend it’s probably going to be Day of the Dead. It’s comfortable, and I have everything at home.

What’s the coolest costume that you’ve ever seen or ever done?

The coolest costume we’ve ever done is the Headless Horseman. The reason it’s interesting and awesome is because we used our own stuff. It was something we created out of a large frock. And the way that we rigged it to make it work was incredible. And it was creepy. … It was a stage production. To me, still, that one resonated in my mind because, it was like, “Wow, we really did a number on this.”

I heard Cheap Thrills does weddings.

Yes, we’ll do whatever you tell us. If you say, “Hey, I need to do this,” we will find everything that you need. We have done wedding parties, we have done quinceañeras; we’ve done all kinds of things. If you have a theme, we’re the people you want to go to. If you’re looking to do just formal regular stuff, we don’t [do it]. We’ll try to do it, but that’s not what we specialize in.

What are some themes you’ve done?

If you want to do zoot-suit weddings, 1940s, the whole [swing-era] look, we got it. We have people who do steampunk weddings, gothic weddings, Old West weddings, ’70s weddings—basically, anything that you could do for Halloween. We’ve done zombie weddings. They do it at the cemetery: Get married at the cemetery and [dress up as] zombies. It’s hilarious.