Eric Propp is making chain mail. By hand. For a knight costume. “I’m definitely just a dude.” He says. “I like the military stuff.”
Propp started as an actor and then switched to costume design, making mythical pieces since 2006.
He feels for guys looking for costumes. At Boston Costume male customers outnumber the women 6 to 1 in some categories. He always stocks gear for pirates and masked bandits, saying that clients are relieved when they see them, “ok, it’s black, I get to wear a mask, and I kind of feel cool enough, Ok, great. I’ll be that.”
But Propp has more than a layman’s grasp on costuming, he has a graduate degree in Costume Design from Boston University, where he spent 3 sleepless weeks building an elaborate Odin, (the Norse god of war, who traded his eyeball for wisdom), complete with animal skulls and fangs sewn into leather. The program taught him to be “very anal, detail-oriented,” when it comes to historical accuracy. He spends a lot of money on colonial socks and says if he could organize a flash mob he’d dress everyone in Revolutionary War uniforms.
The rental house has been around since 1965, moving from their old home on Kneeland to their new home at the Garment District in Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass. The old shop had a larger build-team to make unique costumes. Their oddest / most awesome request came from a guy who sent over an MS Paint mock-up of the costume he wanted to create—a Chicumber. Half-chicken, half-cucumber. They politely declined.
Since then Propp says he gets requests for everything. When people call Boston Costume they usually start with, “This is the weirdest question,” the costume they’re looking for, and Propp usually answers, “Yup. We have that.”
Their basement is stuffed with 4800 complete costumes as well as boxes of accessories carefully hung and labeled with Propp’s sketches of showgirl headpieces and mad hatter hats, knickerbockers and bloomers.
Propp has a healthy sense of the market, making sure that Boston Costume isn’t just period pieces. When it comes to Xena and Christmas elves, Propp says, “they’re silly, ridiculous costumes and that’s the point.” Other costumes in their arsenal: Valkyries, grape bunches, robots, Chinese dragons, Royal Guard uniforms, matadors, leisure suits, at least 10 varieties of Greco-Roman women and 6 for Greco-Roman men.
And even before the Bruins staged their great return, black bears and grizzly bears were wildly popular. One black bear costume went out 27 times in 2011. (And of course is well-cleaned between rentals.) As we’re talking a woman with platinum blonde hair half shaved pops in to ask for elastic, “for the grizzly bear head,” she says.
But don’t ask Propp about Elmo costumes.
In the early days on Kneeland, a young woman came in and asked about the Sesame Street parade costumes, “Oh these are cool, where did you get these from?” Boston Costume replied, “We made ‘em!” Turned out she was a student at Harvard and the daughter of puppet-master Jim Hensen. The store got a call from lawyers a few weeks later.
So, they stay away from licensed characters, “The Elmo—we don’t want to deal with.” Propp says. So while you can’t rent copyright characters at Boston Costume, you can check out their impressive array of “Raspberry Dinosaurs,” a “Creature” costume that a French Disney candlestick might serenade, and a mean, green Christmas character called, “Mr. Nasty.”
Eric Propp’s brushes with fame included nearly smashing into Liza Minelli and chatting with Connie Chung when he was working at SNL. At Boston Costume, he’s dressed Steve Austin like a king, Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka as a Teletubby, and rented out elephant and gorilla
suits to hug Paris Hilton.
But with the advent of packaged costumes, there’s less need for rentals. Propp sees a lot of Mom and Pop places going out of business, especially if they’re not online. Propp pushed for online photos, though Boston Costume is still working to get their vast collection on the website. (Call to ask for that special Boba Fett costume). And rentals are still cost-effective. After all, not everyone needs to own Zombie Amy Winehouse. He sees the photographs as a way of giving customers confidence, so they know exactly what they’re renting. Customers can send in their measurements for an accurate fit, or even better, come into the store for a fitting.
And if the invasion of 2-3,000 pirates this summer sends rentals through the roof, Propp says his dream addition to their collection would be a full Apollo suit, complete with helmet. And what
amazing tool would he buy to help the business? “ A human.” He says. “An awesome assistant. I would buy a human.” Not that he doesn’t love the humans he works with now, “everyone here wants to push above and beyond. Ideally, we could pull any costume and say you can see that in a museum display—we’re not there yet.” But they’ve got a great collection for you to check out.