Illustration by Kelsey Zuberbuehler

The art of bespoke Halloween costumes

Custom-tailoring isn’t just for classy dress wear

Imagine a Halloween costume that you’ve always wanted. But not just any costume that can easily be bought with disposable fabric, or is merely a one-time use—a costume that is made with a vision and with longevity in mind. A movie set costume designer might come to mind, because they have the ability to create a costume with the exact design in mind. But what if you actually had to wear the costume? Perhaps a bespoke suitmaker might actually be the service that you are looking for.


While primarily known for making bespoke suits—garments that are made specially for a single client that are meant to perfectly fit their body—Portland-based business Wildwood & Company has done a few costume projects based on the design of the suit.


Bespoke is a term meant to describe the craft of creating something perfectly fitted to a client. Bespoke shoes, for example, are designed after measuring the client’s feet and individually made to not only perfectly fit their feet, but also to suit the vision the client had in mind for the shoe. The exact same principles apply to bespoke suitmaking, where the tailor will measure the client’s body and produce a suit to the request of the client’s desires.


However, bespoke creation is an extremely laborious process with a long turnaround to finish, and it commands a premium price. Most importantly, however, is that bespoke garments are always meant to have an air of practicality, in that the object being made must still have a functional purpose. A bespoke costume must still be able to be worn, and more importantly be able to move correctly and comfortably.


Joe Mueller, the founder of Wildwood & Company, created the company with the desire to provide a high quality service. Wildwood & Company does not advertise heavily into the costume design aspect of bespoke creation, but has completed a few commissioned pieces of bespoke costumes, such as a Santa Claus costume.


“I think people who are interested in bespoke anything such as a bespoke costume should first ask themselves ‘why?’” Mueller said. “If you have an interest in the fit, the high quality and the learning experience of how bespoke clothing is made then that is a great reason that we are happy to pursue with you.”


Mueller also pointed out that there are some important considerations that people take when talking to a bespoke tailor, such as what they hope to accomplish. “The first thing that we would discuss with the client is even if such a vision can be accomplished within the realm of bespoke suiting,” he said. “We work with many talented artisans in the Portland area from shoemakers in Spain and we are well connected. If we cannot accommodate the garment that you want then we can refer you to another who could help you.”


“A client, for example, might be seeking to recreate the costume of a villain and that villain’s costume may have comically pointed shoulders,” Mueller continued. “That is something that us bespoke tailors would not really be a great choice for. However, we can discuss how close we can get to that vision and what detail is really sought after. For example, perhaps we cannot match the shoulders exactly to what that villain had, but maybe it is the belt or the color that the client is looking for, then that is something we can do.”


This doesn’t mean that bespoke is merely about the look and fit. Bespoke tailoring, like any specialized profession, is also a job of problem solving for the client. Mueller recalled a past client who required a unique solution for a vision that they had in mind. The client had requested a white outfit, which in and of itself is not unusual. However, what made the bespoke project a memorable challenge was that the client was also dressing as a blue alien with heavy makeup on the neck and the hands, which would make direct contact with the white fabric and may stain them. Mueller’s team suggested that an effective solution to deal with this unique problem would be to make multiple replaceable collars and cuffs and switch them out as needed while the stained collars and cuffs are cleaned.


In addition to problem solving, Mueller said that Wildwood & Company also takes great pride in working on the little details. “We did commission work for a bespoke leather jacket once and we meticulously picked out the best zipper for it,” he said. “It would be a shame to complement a leather jacket that costs thousands of dollars to only pair it with a cheap zipper.”


Mueller noted how important these details are. “Think about the trousers and whether it uses buttons or zippers to close the trouser when you put it on,” he said. “That’s the one part of the trouser that you are going to be interacting with the most. Most outside onlookers will only see the beautiful fabric or the fit, but aim to think about the inside and the inner functions of our products as well as the client does.”


“Really, the key consideration that all clients should remember is to just be open-minded,” Mueller said. “The most expensive fabric isn’t always the one that is best for you or the best for your budget. We command a premium price and a long turnaround for our bespoke garments. A client that is open to our suggestions and ideas is the best for everyone.”