Culture  Giving consumerism a fright

Eva B's costume rental challenges Halloween's capitalist spirit

Even though Halloween remains a few days away, the holiday spirit is already in full swing at Montreal’s stalwart friperie Eva B. Jack-o’-lanterns and cobwebs adorn the front of the popular used-clothing shop, and the employees have already donned their costumes. “Welcome!” exclaims a cheery bell-bottomed hippie at the shop’s entrance, “Have fun exploring the store!”

Exploring is right. That’s the only way to shop at Eva B. Upon entering, it becomes obvious that the shop and its staff belong to a different world. The main floor is hardly recognizable as a store, but rather resembles the backstage of an old, cluttered theatre. Tangled hoards of multicoloured scarves spill out from aging wooden chests that line the labyrinthine corridors of clothing racks, all of which are stuffed full with vintage jackets, knit sweaters, faded bell bottoms, and cocktail dresses. Piles of combat boots, ballet flats and leather belts lie strewn on the floor, while paisley ties and lace bras hang from the ceiling. Even the staff seems to fit in with the store’s festive atmosphere, excitedly offering fashion advice and complementary espresso with a “Happy Halloween!”

But while Eva B is best known for its second-hand clothes, its most unique feature by far is its vast collection of costumes available for rent. Upstairs, the costumes are organized according to gender and theme. From long medieval robes to authentic doctor’s scrubs to furry moccasins in a range of styles and colors, there is little that Eva B doesn’t have. Simply ask one of the flappers behind the counter for any item, and no matter how specific or obscure, she’ll return with an armful of options to choose from. I proposed a challenge to the assistant: “I was wondering if you had any of those leather medieval wristband things.” The clerk replied, unfazed, pointing with a latex-gloved finger, “Oh yeah, those are over there.”

“You get to know all the costumes, working here,” she continued, adjusting her miner’s headlamp. In fact, many of the costumes and props have lived in the store for over a decade, surviving countless loans and usages over the years.

Eva B provides an economical alternative to the consumer-driven attitude that surrounds Halloween. With the care that has gone into the creation of each of the costumes – most were originally designed, sewn, and then used by professionals – they have a far greater value than the disposable synthetic fabrics of shrink-wrapped dollar-store costumes, while simultaneously costing less to rent. This encourages their preservation and re-use – instead of languishing in old chests, they continue to bring pleasure to Halloween-goers.

Gabriel, the jolly owner who bares an uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus and smells faintly of cigars, has dedicated himself to expanding his costume collection. “Most of them are bought used from theaters, but a lot of them we also made ourselves,” he said. The diverse origins of individual pieces add to the quality of discovery and creativity that Eva B creates for its customers. Julie, a kind woman sporting a massive feathered headdress at the rentals register, explained that the store promotes this philosophy for the benefit of its customers. “When you shop here, you’re not just picking up an entire costume in a plastic package,” she said, while checking out a shopper with a feathered pen, “you really have to look hard and create an entirely original costume for yourself.”

In the end, Eva B is hardly just a thrift store or a costume rental shop. It is a place of exploration and imagination that fits right in with the essence of Halloween. “It’s the only place of its kind in Montreal,” stated Gabriel firmly, as he set down a silver tray of espressos and cookies in front of two customers. “Just try and take it all in. Are you feeling it yet?”