The best 'Disguise': The secrets of Austin's Halloween costume mecca
“Okay. You need a 2XL mermaid dress, cat ears and a tail? Yeah, we can definitely do that, sir.”
This Halloween season, I had the good fortune to work alongside the good folks at an Austin Halloween institution: Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds. After spending more than a casual amount of time learning the ins and outs of this awesomely overwhelming establishment, I can confidently say there’s more to this store than relentlessly assaults the eye.
The store, which is named for the owner's former dog that loved dressing up, is far bigger than you think from just the outside storefront. After originally opening as two separate stores—Lucy in Disguise and Electric Ladyland—in 1984, the owners combined the two party stores and continued to expand further behind the store and in to the surrounding storefronts.
Legend is, the current residence of Lucy in Disguise was a former South Congress brothel, and the store is just a little bit haunted by the sexy ghosts of years gone by. South Congress neighbor Uncommon Objects has more of a spooky feel to it, but there are definitely hidden nooks in Lucy’s that radiate the fun, scandalous vibe.
The current store is divided into the Party Room (wigs, masks, makeup), Vintage Counter (authentic and replicated pieces from the 60s, 70s and 80s), Jewelry (costume and character), and the largest section of the store, Costumes.
Unbelievably, the Costumes section is carefully organized so that every square inch of rack space is accounted for. General categories of costumes include: Storybook, Comics, Entertainers, Period Pieces, Mascots and Sexy.
The “Sexy Wall” is, of course, everything you’d hope it would be, with hysterical offerings of sexy animals, foods, inanimate objects, monsters and alcoholic beverages. The Sexy Shower was maybe my favorite of this year’s available offerings.
Every corner of the store has been packed with merchandise available for sale or rental. Look up and you may notice a plethora of hats, mascot heads, tutus and oversized costumes hanging from the ceiling. Part of the fun as an employee was getting these prized oversized offerings down from the ceiling so customers could try them on and high five one another.
There are additional rooms past the dressing rooms called the West and South Annexes where children’s costumes, period pieces, fur mascot suits and some of the craziest shoes in town live. You would likely never find these rooms without the help of the staff, and even then, finding your way out is another challenge altogether.
With a dramatic spike in sales during the spookiest season, Lucy’s hires about 35 temporary staff members to add to the regular pool of 25 year-round employees. It takes this many dedicated, caffeinated workers to accommodate the huge increase in customers that are looking to dazzle the Halloween hordes with their creativity.
The most important thing I learned from working here is the value of advanced planning. About 50 percent of the store’s customers I helped had literally no idea what they wanted to be and ended up wandering the store in a Halloween wormhole for hours. There really is THAT MUCH stuff in the store.
So while this year’s holiday may have snuck up on you, next year you should try to make it into the store weeks ahead of time and beat the rush. This guarantees you’ll get the best selection of costumes, which are stocked fullest just prior to Halloween.
Starting the first weekend of October, Lucy’s offers a Halloween Special, which allows you to pay 1½ times the regular rental price of a costume and keep it until November 2nd. Then you can use the same costume for all the parties you’re attending instead of just one night. All of Lucy’s costumes are also available for outright purchase as well if you know this is the costume you’ll use for years to come.
Alright. A mermaid dress, cat ears, a tail and facepaint. You’re going to be best looking catfish at the party, guaranteed.
Early shopping also means you can avoid the wall-to-wall customers that line up in front of the registers and wind throughout the store on Halloween weekend. It’s a sweaty, claustrophobic jamboree ‘round about noon the Saturday before the big night. Two weeks prior, you’ll get all the attention you need and not have to square off against anyone else who’s also eyeing the last Mario Brothers costume on the rack.
Finally, trust the friendly and knowledgeable staff. Because the store is so big and literally packed from ceiling to floor, there are too many gems in this one store to find on your own. Plus, it’s likely they’re carrying miniature candy bars on them to give out.
Come with an idea in mind and, nine times out of ten, the staff will know exactly how to materialize it. The weirder the better, in fact. Creative challenges are their forte, and even the 20-plus newbies brought on temporarily during the Halloween rush will be able to find the parts you need in the various store departments.
Carefully selected wigs and makeup from the Party Room, tights from the Vintage Counter and accessories from the Jewelry Counter will make any costume transcend the generic store-brought brands of gypsies, Madonnas or Tinkerbells.
Lucy’s also has far more to offer than just traditional Halloween costumes. It’s an impressive vintage store and costume jewelry store that can benefit your wardrobe year-round.
The authentic and the extravagant vintage discoveries here are unlike the general offerings you’ll find at nearby New Bohemia. They work great for creative decade-based costumes as well as for everyday life outfits.
The best part about working at Lucy’s is the vibe of the store. It’s always energized and fun, especially with a million people congesting the aisles and the hours ticking down until Halloween parties commence.
This goodwill is partly due to the creative folks working here, who are always quick to meet you with a smile and a clever idea. Everyone I worked with had a great sense of humor, and most of the customers were genuinely excited by everything they encountered.
That sense of wonder comes from being transported to another version of reality where storybook characters, scary monsters and giant mascot heads share a space. Everyone embraces the most ridiculous possibilities here, and that makes for a pretty excellent work environment.
“Alright. A mermaid dress, cat ears, a tail and facepaint. You’re going to be best looking catfish at the party, guaranteed. Happy Halloween.”