Disguise the Limit has the perfect costumes for Halloween and beyond

Brittney Bailey, Staff Writer
October 28, 2010

Walk up the gold glitter-sprayed stairs of Disguise the Limit in downtown Santa Rosa and set foot in a dark wonderland full of alter egos, desired identities and fantastic secret lives. The ambiance is that of a super-closet, of organized chaos with the opportunity for fun and mischief.

Pastel, confection-colored petticoats hang from the ceiling, like Marie Antoinette’s ladies in waiting. Costumes, feathers, fishnets, hosiery, accessories, face paint, moustaches and wigs. Oh, the wigs. Literally every color of the rainbow is represented in the wig collection, from chartreuse to platinum blonde to cotton candy pink. Long, shiny locks or sleek bobs are available. But if you’re looking for something a little more, well, specific, the store also offers wigs with dreads and cornrows, and ones with the sky-high curls popularized in the 18th century.

Upstairs, costumes are available for purchase, and there is a costume for virtually every sense of humor and every self-respecting eccentric. The costume selection runs the gamut from stereotypical ready-made “sexy-fill-in-the-blank” costumes, i.e. “sexy librarian,” or “sexy cavewoman” to the mostly hilarious, sometimes bizarre, but always unique. For instance, one can find a costume for a fuzzy cockroach, a big frog, “Brian” from The Family Guy, or a slot machine. Barbarians, gangsters, flappers, police officers, and some pretty suggestive looking ladies all live in bizarre harmony in their clear plastic bags hanging from the packed partitions, which create a narrow maze within the costume shop.

Downstairs, an equally vast array of costumes is available for rental. Employees estimate that somewhere between 600 and 800 costumes are housed in the space. Racks and racks are packed full of costumes, slightly more elaborate than those found upstairs. It’s like a library of costumes, that people come to from all over the county. One can become a Renaissance lady with velvet, brocade and corseting, or a high-class gentlemen in a traditional smoking jacket, a la Hugh Hefner.

Disguise the Limit has been open for 30 years, making it a well-known Santa Rosa landmark. Employee Beth Coconas said she immensely enjoys her work, and feels like everyday holds the chance for new discoveries. She feels particularly strongly about the chance to express yourself inside the shop. “It’s fun. You can be you. Let the inner you come out.”

Brandon Wilson, another employee, enjoys the wholesome, goofy side of the shop. “We don’t focus so much on scariness or gore,” he said. He finds that this shop is better suited and friendly towards families and kids. unlike other Halloween specialty costume shops, where demons and street-walkers lurk around every figurative dark corner, jumping out, flashing lights, howls and shrill shrieks don’t play a part at Disguise the Limit. The competitors may tend to carry only gory, frightening costumes or pop culture costumes. “We carry everything else,” Wilson said.

Wilson loves to help people create costumes. “I’ve seen people come up with marvelous ideas,” he said. But it’s also a struggle to survive in the era of what he calls “Wal-Mart” style costume stores, which mysteriously pop up in once-empty storefronts, and disappear as suddenly as they came. “It’s a weird business, you know?” Wilson said. Being local and on a smaller scale, compared to large, corporate “Spirit” style Halloween stores makes it harder for them to thrive.


The Origin of Halloween

The fascinating origins of Halloween begin about two thousand years ago, in the traditions of the Celtic people. Originally called “Samhain,” pronounced “sow-in,” the 31st of October was the day when harvest season, the season of life, met winter, the season of death. The Celtic people believed that malevolent spirits of the dead would walk among the living. Villagers lit great bonfires and danced around them, disguised typically in animal skins and skulls. These first “costumes” were designed to repel and confuse the spirits. This is reminiscent of how a modern-day “sexy Sarah Palin” costume repels and confuses the people who are unfortunate enough to be around the person wearing it.

Around the year 800, as Christian influence spread into Celtic lands, Pope Boniface IV deigned November 1 “All Saint’s Day,” a time to honor saints and martyrs, in an attempt to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a church-sanctioned holiday.

Halloween was unpopular in the early days of the United States, as the Puritans rejected most European-rooted traditions. That is, until the mid-19th century when the potato famine drove over a million starving Irish, bringing their folklore across the Atlantic, into America’s welcoming ports. By the early part of the 20th century, Halloween had become a full-blown American tradition.

Today, the Halloween industry is booming, with retailers and costume suppliers raking in billions of dollars each year. According to History.com, Americans spend around $6.9 billion per year, making Halloween the second most profitable holiday commercially, after Christmas.

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