Costume collection outfits community in fun
By Sue Tiffin
Published May 8, 2018
Downstairs in a basement in Wilberforce, something magical is happening.
It’s a space where people of all ages can go to transform into anything they can imagine or anything their hearts desire.
Gowns, mascot costumes, animal costumes, ‘50s/’60s wear, army uniforms, tuxedos – even a costume made entirely of ties – Leanna Wright’s Costumes for All Occasions rental wardrobe has it all. About 100 people a year from the county as well as neighbouring towns knock on her door to prepare for everything from Halloween to murder mystery dinner parties, weddings, house parties and a gala at the Pinestone. They win best costume awards, feel comfortable and confident, and share photos and stories upon their return.
The growing popularity of Costumes for All Occasions makes it all worth it for Wright, who is devoted to her massive collection of polyester and cotton.
“When we moved from Oshawa 10 years ago, my husband was cursing me the whole time moving all these costumes, because in a little town like Wilberforce, what did I expect to do with them?,” she said. “I said, ‘I expect to rent them.’ I needed the excuse. They take up half of my basement which is 2,000 square feet, and I’ve got half of it covered with costumes. So yeah, it takes up a lot of room.”
But it’s room well-used to Wright, who first started making costumes as a cafeteria worker in a school. Wanting to get into the spirit of holidays and special occasions, Wright got to work creating costumes for herself and her coworkers, who couldn’t sew.
“My first costume was a fairy godmother,” she said. “I made it for myself. I looked like a little yellow blimp, but that was my very first costume. It could easily have been for Halloween, but for me, it could have been anything. I dress up at whim.”
That passion led to more costumes, some that were donated to Wright and many that she made herself.
“My mother couldn’t sew on a button, but my grandmother was a seamstress, my mother’s mom,” said Wright, who grew up in Peterborough. “She taught the older sister and then of course I had to learn to sew because that was my older sister and I envied her something awful. I just learned how to sew out of jealousy.”
Soon, Wright had accumulated hundreds of costumes from infant size to adult’s extra extra large – she estimates she has more than 1,000 now. But her worry that something would happen to them prevented her from renting them until a custodian at the school she worked at told her there was money to be made in sharing them.
“I’ve had hundreds of these costumes for years, before I ever rented them,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone to steal them or take them from me. All I could think of was that they’d be stolen or I wouldn’t get them home. That used to worry me to death. It still does but I’ve only been stolen from twice.”
Costume rentals cost $20 for adults and $10 for children, but Wright doesn’t believe anyone should be without a costume, and generously helps those in need to ensure they can be outfitted for special occasions and events. She has even returned money to those who ended up not being able to use their costume due to sickness.
“I was never out to make a fortune,” she said. “I just wanted to have my costumes and have some fun. I wouldn’t see a kid go without when I have a basement full of them.”
And it’s not just costumes, but everything that goes with them to make for a complete look.
“Wigs, shoes, God, we have shoes,” she said. “I don’t charge with accessories. It’s just $20, and you wear the bracelets, earrings, beads, whatever it is that makes this costume complete. That’s all part of the $20. A lot of people like to design their own costumes, using a little of this and a little of that.”
Wright does insist that renters not alter, wash or repair the costume at any point during the rental.
“If it rips, that’s on me,” she said. “If it’s dirty, I’ll take care of it. All you have to do is wear it and have fun.”
Part of the fun that Wright provides is in allowing renters the time to pore over the collection and choose what they’re planning to wear, if they don’t come with an idea of what they’re looking to rent.
“Very seldom do they know what they’re looking for,” she said. “And some adults, and children, get so overwhelmed that they have to go home and think about it and come back another day. It’s a lot to take in in one visit.”
On one occasion, some women came to Wright’s basement with a bottle of wine, and some wine glasses.
“They made a night out of it,” she laughs. “They tried on costumes and they just had a ball. It’s just relaxed. It’s in my home. It’s good. But it is overwhelming. When you don’t know what it is you want to be, and even if you do, when you come in and see so many choices, it makes you rethink.”
Over the years, Wright has seen trends in costume choices change but though popularity of some themes wanes, nothing is so dated that it’s no longer needed in the collection.
“You’ve got your superheroes that are always going to be around,” she said. “The Wizard of Oz people. Flappers, all kinds of those I have. And every year so many get rented out. So I can’t say I have to go through them and sort of weed out the old ones, because they never go out of style. There was a big run on medieval. I even did a medieval wedding. I still rent them every year but not to the extreme that I did.”
Wright even found use for an early 1900s bathing suit with bloomers and hat that she had felt compelled to make, when it was worn in a Wilberforce dunk tank.
“They could have just worn a bathing suit, but where’s the fun in that?” she laughed. “I’m into fun. I like fun.”
Special requests come frequently, with people looking for something so specific that sometimes Wright doesn’t have it. Despite having an extensive Christmas line, she had to get creative when someone called looking to be the Grinch.
“‘I want to be the Grinch,’ this woman said to me,” recalled Wright, laughing at the memory. “So I found a mask, cut green hair, made the Grinch, got an outfit and the hands, she came over, put it on, just about died of claustrophobia and took it off. That’s as far as my Grinch costume got. That was too funny.”
Wright laughs a lot – it’s clear the costumes and the joy they’ve brought to others have brought happiness to her life – and to her grandson, too, who knows the rules around using the plastic swords in stock when he plays in the basement. But as she runs out of room to hold her treasures, Wright finds she doesn’t make as many costumes as she used to, maybe four or five in the past few years.
“I’ve really run out of hanging space,” she said. “If something really gets under my craw, I will sit down and make it. But it has to be something that’s really eaten at me before I do that, because I really don’t have room.”
Wright does get called out for hoarding by her children, but said she’s aware of the space she has.
“I never go to a yard sale or a thrift shop where I don’t see accessories, or something to buy,” she said. “Mine is a space issue. When I run out of it I stop bringing it home. But things wear out, as they will, and they have to be replaced. There’s no hoarding issues. I just have a lot of stuff.”
Losing some of her basement to the collection has been worth it, to Wright.
“We’ve got a good selection, we really do,” she said. “It’s been years in the making and it’s been just so much fun.”
For more information or to visit Costumes for All Occasions, Leanna’s costume emporium in Wilberforce, contact her at 705-488-1313 or via email at 1246Leanna@gmail.com.