Explore Behind-the-Scenes of a Honolulu Costume Shop
Take the insider tour of Diamond Head Theatre’s costume rentals.
This story was originally published on October 1, 2018. The new special rental hours for Diamond Head Theatre were updated on Sept. 16, 2019.
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind outfit, Diamond Head Theatre’s costume shop may be the place to go to rent something special to wear for Halloween or another swanky event.
Photos: David Croxford
The costume shop opens year-round three days a week and three hours each of those days but opens for expanded hours the week before Halloween—which falls on a Thursday in 2019—anticipating higher demand for deluxe dress-up. That means the shop will open from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. daily from Oct. 26 to Nov. 2.
Costume director Karen Wolfe has been creating costumes fulltime since 1985—33 seasons—and estimates the shop holds more than 2,000 outfits from a century of theater.
Wolfe, along with costume assistants Brenda Chee and Andrea Lopes, assisted by about 20 regular volunteers, can help party-goers find a unique look for a rental fee of about $25 to $75 depending how elaborate the outfit. There’s a $15 minimum charge.
You might even have seen the play where these costumes debuted and now it’s your turn to star. “I have great volunteers. We have a lot of fun,” Wolfe says.
In recent years, the shop also has rented to other theaters. “We have the biggest stock in the state. Even UH comes here to rent. I have a whole rack of mens’ winter coats and ladies’ winter coats,” she says, and credits her predecessors who started the collection: “It’s pretty cool that somebody had the foresight to start keeping these things together.”
We asked the staff to give us pro tips on the best costume rental possible:
Bring your inspiration: photos, descriptions of the costume you loved from a show, maybe two or three ideas for the kind of costume you’re seeking—style, theme, color, etc.
“Bring your imagination and a credit card,” Wolfe says, with just a hint of an evil laugh. And be flexible since you know they won’t have every size, color and style.
Know your sizes, but the shop will measure folks who don’t.
Be prepared to add your own makeup, shoes and/or wigs.
Want something very special? Start early! The first Halloween rental this year was booked in July. There’s no computerized inventory so the staff keeps track by memory.
“If somebody wants to be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, I’ve got the costume in three different sizes and three different colors but getting the wig together is a challenge.” Wolfe explains: “We’re not a masquerade house so I don’t have the makeup, I don’t have the hair stuff, I don’t have the wigs. We have a ton of wigs but they’re not dressed.”
Some rare costumes that don’t leave the building. Wolfe says the oldest is probably from the 1800s. “And it’s in a box in the safe room and I’ll probably never take it out unless I want to make a pattern off of it.”
The staff won’t rent items that are difficult to find and/or replace. “As the years go by I get more protective of our stock,” she says. “Because shipping costs are so high, I won’t rent some hats. I might have a beautiful hat and it might be perfect for your event but it’s not going out. I don’t rent shoes because they’re so hard to fit and get.”
The theater also owns some older pieces donated by wealthy patrons made from pricey materials. “The fabrics are weird and wonderful,” Wolfe says. And some clothes that were worn by famous performers. “I have things that actress Georgia Engel [of The Mary Tyler Moore Show fame] wore in Annie Get Your Gun.”
She says pirates, princesses and mermaids remain popular and the peak of rentals in her time probably happened around 1990, when about 400 pieces were rented for Halloween.
For Halloween season, the costume rental is a one-day rental, picked up one day and returned the next. Wolfe points out that the off-season rentals offer more potential drama for your dollar: “You can have it for the entire week and wear it every day.”