Customer Barbara Kiesling tries on clothing at Vintage Costumers in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Customer Barbara Kiesling tries on clothing at Vintage Costumers in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

‘We love Everett!’ A former Seattle business finds a new home

Displaced by big-city progress, Vintage Costumers brought its 40-year legacy north to Snohomish County.

This is one of a series of Herald Business Journal stories about the people and companies behind locally made products.

EVERETT — A 40-year Seattle business that can help channel your inner Henry VIII or Sansa Stark has found new life in Snohomish County.

Vintage Costumers, which rents historical costumes (including “Game of Thrones”-inspired garb), spent its first 40 years in Seattle’s Roosevelt district.

When the storefront it leased was sold to make way for a five-story apartment building in 2013, owners Arnie Grossinger and Cyd Hand began a trek north.

Their first stop was Shoreline, where they bought a fixer-upper. About to open, the city seized their property through eminent domain.

“They needed it for a fire station. After settling with the city, we had two months to find a place,” Hand said.

Seeking retail space, work room and living quarters, they found a building that fit the bill on the corner of Colby Avenue and 21st Street in Everett.

Vintage Costumers, an independent business, is one of a growing number of King County firms that have found new digs in or near Snohomish County.

DeLorean Service Northwest, which repairs DeLoreans and other vintage sports cars, relocated to the Woodinville area last year after being priced out of Bellevue.

Black Lab Gallery shuttered its Fremont location and reopened in 2016 at 1618 Hewitt Ave. in Everett.

“We love Everett, and we don’t want to move again!” said Hand at Vintage Costumers.

Vintage footwear is on display at Vintage Costumers in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Vintage footwear is on display at Vintage Costumers in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Hand designs and sews about half of the store’s costumes, offering a range of sizes. The remainder, mostly 20th century items, are originals.

“I make them from scratch,” said Hand, who admits to washing out of home economics sewing class because she was “too ambitious.”

“My first project was a pair of low-rise bell-bottom pants made out of lilac corduroy. Pants are still tricky, zippers too,” she laughed.

Grossinger’s specialty is crafting for rent gladiator-inspired leather breastplates and steel body armor.

The racks of Vintage Costumers brim with lady-in-waiting gowns, Victorian frocks and beaded flapper dresses. Henry VIII-style tunics, chain mail and military uniforms, as well as top hats and black-and-white spats, round out the collection. You might even find a baby-blue tuxedo on the rack — like the one your mom wouldn’t let you wear in 1977 — in your size.

You won’t find superhero or character costumes or price tags, however.

Vintage Costumers doesn’t sell clothing. “We just rent,” Hand said.

There’s no money in sales, Grossinger said.

Dodi Rose Zooropa repairs a recently returned rental at Vintage Costumers in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Dodi Rose Zooropa repairs a recently returned rental at Vintage Costumers in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A custom-made garment might cost thousands of dollars, out of reach for most shoppers.

Plus, it’s more fun to dream up something to rent than to try and please a buyer with a custom garment, Hand said.

“They may have one idea and I have another,” she said.

Complete costumes rent for about $130 a day.

On a recent afternoon, Hand was cutting out strips of blue tulle, a fine-mesh fabric, to plump up a can-can dress that was on a dress form.

A mannequin was cinched into a brilliant blue corset. Hand was transforming the thrift store find into the bodice of a Victorian gown.

The garments she and Grossinger create are “historically inspired,” which is distinct from true reproductions.

Hats, clothing and a handmade leather suit of armor on display at Vintage Costumers in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Hats, clothing and a handmade leather suit of armor on display at Vintage Costumers in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Appealing to customers requires some creative license and “a nod to Hollywood,” Hand said.

In fall and winter, Halloween, holiday parties and charity events keep the owners and a part-time employee busy.

Summer draws the medieval and renaissance fair crowd. If you’re going to one, “consider renting a peasant costume,” Hand said. It’s cooler than strutting about as an overheated royal in 10 pounds of velvet, she explained.

The vintage clothing trade isn’t a big moneymaker, said Grossinger, who started the business in 1976.

“Up until 30 years ago, you could make a living buying and selling used clothes,” he said.

When the used-clothing market waned in the 1990s, the popularity of murder-mystery parties presented an opportunity: rentals.

“People weren’t into vintage clothing, but they had to be a character,” Hand said.

Since then, they’ve outfitted rapper Macklemore and, last month, shipped a men’s Edwardian-era bathing suit to the TV program “Saturday Night Live.”

What’s in vogue varies from year to year.

Owner Cyd Hand helps customer Barbara Kiesling try on a hat at Vintage Costumers in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Owner Cyd Hand helps customer Barbara Kiesling try on a hat at Vintage Costumers in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Not surprisingly, “Game of Thrones” apparel is big right now.

And 1980s prom dresses — think puffy sleeves and peplum skirts — are swirling out the door. Meanwhile, the “1950s are in the doldrums,” Hand said.

There was a spike a few years ago when the AMC series “Mad Men” aired — “not for the poodle skirts, but the sophisticated cocktail dresses,” she said.

Barbara Kiesling, a returning customer, discovered the store last summer when she was looking for a dress for her gothic-themed wedding.

“I wanted a black wedding dress and black veil, and that’s hard to find,” said the Marysville resident.

Hand found a black evening gown from the 1920s that was “perfect.”

Kiesling’s groom rented a black-and-white pinstripe suit, hat, pocket watch and wingtips.

On a recent afternoon, Kiesling was perusing the racks to put together an outfit for a steam-punk-themed birthday party in Anacortes.

“It’s nice to have the quality and variety up north,” Kiesling said. “For those of us who don’t want to go into the Seattle area, there’s a place for us here.”

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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