Judy Koen said her business is like a hobby that got out of control.
The 63-year-old has been making one-of-a-kind costumes for nearly half her life — 32 years. At first, those costumes were just for her and friends. But Koen’s mom suggested she try making some money by renting her creations, which she continues to do today at 344 S. Fillmore St. in Edwardsville.
The business is called Judy’s Costumes.
It moved around to different storefronts a fair amount over the years, but Koen said she’s been called “an institution” in Edwardsville. Just displaying her signs across town is an indication for some that fall has arrived.
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“I would have folks say, ‘When we saw that sign, our kids would say we can go get our pumpkin now because it’s that time of year,’” Koen said.
But the business isn’t as profitable as it once was, Koen said, because of all the other ways people can buy Halloween costumes.
“I make about 50 percent less every year I’m open,” she said. “I think the satellite stores, things that are at the mall, the Internet — in this busy day and age, they can just drop it off on your door step ... that’s affected me tremendously. It’s been a struggle. It’s not really a moneymaker anymore.”
Judy’s Costumes is still around because Koen enjoys the work.
“It’s just more of a passion,” Koen said. “... It’s fun, you know? I enjoy it.”
I really love the art of masquerade.
Judy Koen, owner of Judy’s Costumes
Beyond costumes, Koen makes her own hats and masks as well. Some new costumes this year — which are still available to rent — include ancient Egyptian rulers pharaoh and Cleopatra, pirates, and a “Little Red Riding Hood” dress and Big Bad Wolf masks.
The price range to rent is from $20 up to $75. A variety of sizes are available, but Koen said she doesn’t alter the costumes.
“They either fit you or they don’t,” she said. “I can do some modifications, but it ruins the costumes if you keep taking them in and out all the time.”
Koen said a benefit of renting one of the 240 costumes she offers is that they come with accessories.
“So if you get a flapper, it’s not just the dress. You get the boa, you get the tiara thing and beads and gloves and stuff, so you don’t have to run all around. And my stuff matches,” Koen said.
Judy’s Costumes is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The shop opens for the season on Oct. 13 each year, but Koen can be reached year-round for custom orders or to reserve costumes at 618-656-8188.
Q: How did you get started?
A: “When I was younger, I always liked Halloween and costumes anyway, but when I was in college, I was in song and dance troupes and things of that nature and we had a lot of costumes. My mom, before she passed away, she suggested I try and rent them, see if I could get some of the money back because it’s expensive making costumes. And I did. This was back in like 1984. Made enough money to buy a microwave when they first came out, so that was a big thrill. And I just started adding to it over the years. Most of them started out being for me or my girlfriends, then I started adding the guy counterpart for couples to go to parties and stuff. I really love the art of masquerade. I really love making masks. I like the Mardi Gras season a lot.”
Q: Were you in other work before you started making costumes?
A: “I’ve been a musician all my life. I’ve had a trio (the Judy Koen Trio) for many, many years (and) different jobs: landscaping, gardening business for many years. ... Did a little bit of this and that.”
Q: How have your designs or your technique changed over the 32 years that you’ve been doing this?
A: “I think I’ve learned some new tricks. I try to stay away from things that are super trendy or just for one year, like I won’t have any presidential candidate masks because next year, what would you do with them? And you can find those most anywhere.”
Q: You have more than 200 costumes now. Is that what you’ve created in 32 years? Does that mean some of your early work is still available for people to rent?
A: “Yes. In fact...some of the outfits that have held up really well are well over 25 years old. Well, they’re vintage now.”
Q: Where do you get your materials?
A: “All over. There’s a fabric store in downtown Wood River that I go to quite often. Sometimes even Walmart out here will have something. Just in my travels. I call it hunting and gathering.”
Q: What was the first costume you ever made?
A: “I would think a black flapper (dress) because I remember the fringe on it. This was back in the ’80s. It was $32.50 just for the fringe. So I was a very young woman trying to scrap together the (money) to get the fringe and I remember my mom telling me if I would come over and help her clean house that she’d help me out on the fringe. I still have that dress, too. It has worn like iron. Made it really good and solid. It’s out of a double-knit polyester. They can say what they want about polyester, but this particular product is really strong — it doesn’t fall apart.”
“... That was actually before I even started having a costume business. (But it’s available for rent today.)”
Q: What goes into creating a costume?
A: “I’ve always just run into material that I thought was pretty or found some item or something that sparred some kind of creative juices in me and then I would take it from there and try to make something in some human form. And through the years, there’s always somebody that will slide into it. I don’t really have any rules that I follow.”
Q: Will you dress up this year?
A: “Oh, sure. We’re all going to be pirates this year: my husband and me and a couple of other couples.”
- Job: Owner of Judy’s Costumes
- Why she does it: “It’s just more of a passion. ... It’s fun, you know? I enjoy it.”