Costume shop offers custom experience, needs volunteers

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The Riverwalk Theatre's "walk-in closet," The Costume Shop, offers a custom experience.

Kelsi Kroll

The Riverwalk Theatre's "walk-in closet," The Costume Shop, offers a custom experience.

Lansing’s rental boutique, The Costume Shop, is looking for volunteers.

The “walk-in closet” of the Riverwalk Theatre, The Costume Shop’s first home was on 2300 E. Michigan Ave. It occupied a red brick building that was once a fire station, said current manager and freelance costume designer Kate Koskinen.

“There was a pole and everything,” Koskinen said. “The actual shop was where the dorms were, and the garages where the fire trucks were kept became the scene shop, where they painted scenery for plays.”

The Costume Shop hasn’t lost that vintage charm since its 2014 relocation to 1131 May St. Thousands of shimmering dresses, coats, shoes and hats — some of which are more than 80 years old — crowd the warehouse building. There, Koskinen works with her patrons through every step of the costume selection process, taking hip, bust and waist measurements to be certain everything fits just right. The shop outfits community theatre shows and the public alike.

Nothing at The Costume Shop is for sale.

All of the shop’s merchandise is available for rent only, an approach that combats the wastefulness of fast fashion, Koskinen said. Fast fashion is a term for clothing that moves rapidly from the catwalk to the current trend – and then just as rapidly into the garbage once the style has lost its luster.

Koskinen says fast fashion is the prodigal plague of most Halloween stores, which stock their shelves with pricey yet poorly constructed costumes that many will wear only once. The Costume Shop offers an alternative that bolsters the Lansing community and reduces waste.

“The Costume Shop is local and offers a tailor-made experience without cluttering your closets,” Koskinen said.

But the unique boutique needs the help of the greater Lansing community to stay afloat.

“We’re playing catch-up a lot here,” Koskinen said. “We need wigs washed, clothing folded and sorted.”

The shop now offers volunteer and social hours on Wednesdays between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. On these evenings, The Costume Shop is open to the public for Designer’s Nights, where volunteers, seamstresses and designers can connect, share and create together.

Betsie Branch, a librarian, regularly volunteers for The Costume Shop. 

“It’s kind of a new endeavor,” Branch said of Designer’s Nights. “We get a chance to talk to each other, bounce some ideas off each other or volunteer to help on each other’s plays.”

Branch works what she calls a “librarian dream job” for the state of Michigan’s Braille and Talking Book Library, which provides reading materials for dyslexic, visually challenged and other disabled readers. Like Koskinen, community is important to her — and The Costume Shop provides a unique resource for the Lansing community, she said.

Melody Stratton, the shop’s “No. 1, tried-and-true” volunteer, says the Riverwalk Theatre pays the shop’s light bill — but it’s costume rentals to the public that pay the shop’s rent and keeps it running. Those without the time to invest in volunteer work can still help by simply paying a visit.

“We’re here for the community,” Stratton said. “People come here for outfits for the Renaissance Festival, for cosplays, for themed parties.

“Bring your friends — there’s something here for everything.”