Quote Unquote: Here’s the Secret to Winning “Best Costume” This Halloween

Since 1979, Kharolina Lampe has built a business out of masks, feather boas, sexy nurse bustiers and billowing pirate blouses—not to mention enough bling to outfit a whole Mardi Gras parade. Kharolina Costumes features more than 40,000 costumes, many of them authentic pieces from around the world, including masks she creates herself.
Kharolina Costumes
Photo: Aaron Yoshino

MY MOM WAS IN VAUDEVILLE. She was a professional tap dancer in Chicago. She let me play dress-up in her outfits, so I was always in costumes, so to speak.


I USED TO do my own costumes for parties. Friends would say, could you do that for me? At the time, I was traveling back and forth between different countries and bringing back stuff to sell. I’d go to Asia, Europe; I’ve been to 29 countries. 


I HAVE SOME PRETTY AMAZING COSTUMES. In Mexico City, I found a headdress that’s an authentic replica of an Aztec one. I made a costume to go with it. I’ve got hand-crocheted tops from Chiapas, embroidered blouses from Mexican folk-dance troupes, the full skirts they wear dancing.


FOR HALLOWEEN, most of my clients come early. You can reserve, as early as September. I work by appointment year-round except October, when we’re open from 2 to 7 p.m. daily. We’re at 12th Avenue and Harding.


BECAUSE MOST of my stuff is real, authentic clothing, we get to play with items and pull looks together. To do a pirate, you start with a shirt you want, then some pants; there are wigs, swords, guns, sashes, a parrot if you want one on your shoulder. 


MY COSTUMES WIN PRIZES. If you go to a costume event of any kind, mine generally win. In Las Vegas, at the Beaux Arts Ball, my costume that won was a glitzed-up Hawaiiana look that had a long, pā‘ū rider cape and a handmade hula skirt. There was a wig involved. It was a gay thing, of course. 


I DONATE all the costumes for the MDA Ball, for muscular dystrophy. That was a lot. Probably 100 costumes.


“My costumes win prizes. If you go to a costume event, mine generally win.”


MOST OF THE COSTUMES are $50 to $100, although some go down to $35 and some up to $500—like the Elton John number. That one’s a headdress that is a horse attached to a huge cape with a naked man riding horseback on it. We put fancy eyeglasses on the horse and found some
disco platform shoes. 


THE INTERNET IS KILLING ME. The thing is, costumes cost more to buy online, and you get what everybody else is wearing. I’m the only costume shop around. If people don’t start renting more costumes, I’m going to go out of business. I work three jobs just to pay the rent: I declutter people’s homes, I do catering and after Halloween I’m going to be working at Macy’s. 


PEOPLE GOTTA LEARN that they gotta shop local. All the money that goes online goes out of Hawai‘i and all the jobs in Hawai‘i are going away.


Lampe combined costume-shopping with riding elephants in Nepal. Check out her Kaimukī store at kharolinacostumerentals.com; 732-3423.