The weird, wild collection at Guthrie's Costume Rentals

Photo by Tony Nelson

Photo by Tony Nelson

Click here to view a photo slideshow of the Guthrie's costume rental vault 

"We invite you to enter our 17,000-square-foot dress-up closet," says Alicia Wold as she opens a door and steps into a vast warehouse of costumes, ready to outfit almost any character the American stage has devised.

The Costume Rentals storage facility, located at 855 E. Hennepin Ave. in northeast Minneapolis, contains over 70,000 costume items created by the Guthrie Theater and the Children's Theatre Company (CTC). Most are available for public rental, meaning that Wold and her colleagues can make some incredibly elaborate Halloween dreams come true.

"Here's that crocodile," she says, producing a scaly green leather jacket she's paired with glam accessories to help someone dress as "Crocodile Rock." Then there are the wearable foam vehicles (from CTC's production of Busytown) that can match with '70s duds if a group wants to be a "Soul Train."

Halloween rentals are just a sliver of the costume facility's annual business, though. Wold estimates that about three-quarters of the approximately 12,000 costumes they rent over the course of a year end up right back onstage. She names some of the regular renters: "Park Square, Mixed Blood, the Jungle Theater, Artistry, Theatre in the Round, all the colleges."

Since almost all of the costumes were created for stage shows (exceptions include authentic military uniforms donated by vets, and a rack of Santa costumes that Wold acknowledges were assembled to meet rental demands), there are some popular costume options the Guthrie/CTC archive can't help you with.

Photo by Tony Nelson

Photo by Tony Nelson

"We don't have licensed characters," says Wold, meaning that you won't find SpongeBob or Elmo in their inventory. They also don't cater to the crowd seeking stereotypical Halloween looks. That includes zombies, werewolves, or sexy whatever... unless, maybe, your idea of a sexy doctor is someone in authentic-looking Victorian surgical garb who's not afraid to open a couple of buttons or show a little ankle.

The archive's strength is in looks from the past, and they're willing to ship costumes by mail, which not all comparable facilities (of which there aren't many) do. That means that if Saturday Night Live decides to whip up a Renaissance skit, Wold and her staff might end up overnighting a set of costumes to New York. "We put together a lot of barbarians for Capitol One commercials," adds Wold.

The Costume Rentals lobby has a stack of historical novels, all with covers featuring models wearing costumes from the Guthrie/CTC collection. Above a row of seats from the original Guthrie, framed pictures spotlight teens who wanted a little costume drama for their senior photos.

Some of the costumes aren't just historical, but historic in their own right. The archive includes costumes dating back to the Guthrie's 1960s origins. (Ticketed public tours are offered monthly, for those who want to see the costumes but don't need to walk out the door with one.)

There are costumes designed by Tony winners — including Paul Tazewell, who won for Hamilton and has designed costumes for several shows at the Guthrie. There are outfits worn by Jessica Tandy, Kristin Chenoweth, T.R. Knight, and even Joseph Haj, decades before he became the theater's current artistic director.

Except for A Christmas Carol, says Wold, it's rare that people will come in seeking particular costumes from specific productions. More common are schoolchildren wanting to dress as historical figures for school presentations ("We have a little line of pee-wee presidents," says Wold), or adults wanting to dress up for a Game of Thrones season-premiere party.

They don't have the exact costumes to match specific characters or scenes in that series, says Wold, but they can put you in the same world. "You could be the neighbor of the main character."

Renting a costume from the Guthrie/CTC collection is not, as Wold puts it, "the low-cost option." For a personal Halloween rental you can generally expect to pay about $150, or over $200 for the most elaborate looks. Still, that's a bargain for people who appreciate the costumes' high level of intricate detail.

"We do pirates of all classes," says Wold, "from your lowly deck swab to your Captain Hook type character." A full-fledged pirate captain costume, estimated Wold, might have cost over $5,000 to construct.

The rental facility generates income to support the theaters' operations, but more importantly, says Wold, it keeps the costumes in circulation as a resource for the community. "If this wasn't here, all the little theaters and Kickstarter projects wouldn't have a place to go for the same kind of authentic costumes."