Dozens of rubbery faces gawk at you from above, their faces frozen in an array of grotesque contortions. There’s a gray man with three eyes, three mouths, and three noses; a classic, but particularly uncomely witch; an extraterrestrial creature vaguely reminiscent of a sea monkey; and the pitiful visage of an oaf who appears to have had too close an encounter with a hand blender.
Lower your gaze and it will come to rest on the bright and kindly countenance of Brenda Wright, welcoming you to the Costume & Bridal Barn in Hudson, Michigan, about a 25-minute drive from Hillsdale. Elegance meets fantasy at the one-stop shop, which offers costume rentals, wedding gown sales and rentals, tuxedo rentals, alteration services, and more.
Wright learned to sew in school and never stopped. She taught herself to sew just about anything, never relying on patterns to execute her projects.
“It just made sense. I started thinking about what the results would be if I did this or that, and then I just took it and ran with it,” she said. “I can do just about anything. I do alterations, I’ve made clothes from scratch.”
As her children grew up, she created costumes for them to wear on holidays and to school events, and soon friends and community members began requesting pieces. When she lost her job as a factory secretary, she decided to start her own business, launching the Costume Barn in 1988. Four years later she added a bridal section, and the Costume & Bridal Barn was born.
Wright originally worked out of her husband’s pole barn.
“I would hang stuff on his tractors, and he would say ‘What are you doing?’ and I would say, ‘I don’t have enough room so I’m using yours!’” she said.
Once she had saved enough money to erect a space of her own, her husband Dan Wright built her a shop at the edge of their property in Hudson.
“I took the square footage she was using in the barn and doubled it, and then added 30 percent, and shortly after she moved in, she had it full!” he said.
Wright estimates she now has over 8,000 handmade or carefully curated costumes available for rent. Her costume room is filled wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-floor with a vast array of getups, astounding in both variety and quantity. From Disney characters to vintage ensembles, each costume is made of quality material and includes the complete suite of accessories needed to produce an authentic and impressive effect.
Wright derives inspiration from current movies, but also enjoys fashioning creations of her own imagination. Sometimes she’ll stumble upon a piece — a hat or a mask — and design a costume to accompany it. Savvy and innovative, she often uses materials from unexpected sources. When her husband managed a factory that produced convertible tops, she incorporated the leftover scraps of cloth into her costumes.
“Whatever material I’ve got, I will make something out of it,” she said.
A shelf full of lookbooks showcases her work, her children and grandchildren modeling her masterpieces. Her favorite, a peacock, is striking even in photograph. A lush cascade of plumage descends from a waistband to the ground, each brilliant feather hand-sewn into the tail. Wright rents out four iterations of the Santa suit: velvet, cotton, corduroy, and plush. In the costume room she stores a knight’s suit of armor, which she estimates 50 men have donned to propose marriage.
The bridal portion of Wright’s shop is yet another trove of quality and unique attire, offering a selection of elegant wedding gowns in all styles. Vintage, consignment, and new, Wright’s dresses are available at every price point. Costume & Bridal Barn is a convenient shopping outlet for prospective brides, offering custom porcelain, silk, and fresh floral arrangements and a bevy of decoration rentals including card boxes, candelabras, pillars, lace and netting, lattice walls, and free-standing curtains.
County resident Fred Eisenhower recently rented a tuxedo from the Costume & Bridal Barn, and was astounded by the variety of its offerings.
“It just looks like a simple pole barn from the outside, but it’s quite a unique place,” he said. “If you want to dress up in a costume, she’s got it there. I don’t know any other place like it.”
Wright says prudent business decisions are the reason for the longevity of her enterprise. Because she owns her building and its contents, Costume & Bridal Barn was able to weather the 2008 recession with aplomb and remains one of the few permanent costume shops in the area. Wright relishes the freedom of self-employment, explaining that if she ever finds herself weary of stitching, she simply sets it aside for a time.
Dan Wright said it’s been “amazing” watching the growth of his wife’s business.
“I’ve seen her go from working out of a garage to now having 2,100 square feet of wall-to-wall costumes and dresses. I see her put in so many hours.”
But her hard work is not without reward.
“Every costume has a story,” she said.