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Playing Make-Believe: Bellevue’s A Masquerade offers high-quality costumes all year round

By Keegan Prosser on October 11, 2013 – No Comment

Kyra Steward and Kelsey Rowe show some of the masks for sale at A Masquerade. - Photo by Keegan Prosser

BY KEEGAN PROSSER

It all started with a single Alice in Wonderland dress. Well, it actually started with boxes and boxes of dresses. And shirts. And hats. And masks. Rather, a costume collection Kyra Stewart had been building since she was a little girl – and just couldn’t bear to part with.

“I just liked to play dress up with my friends – and never grew out of that, like most kids,” says Stewart, who lives in Bellevue.

At the time, Stewart was moving into a home with her new husband and the storage unit full of boxes labeled “costumes” became a major point of discussion. When it became apparent the boxes were coming with them, her husband suggested Stewart start a business.

And so A Masquerade was born.

Building a business

For Stewart, the transition from collecting costumes to owning a costume shop just made since – mainly because she’d wanted to own a costume shop since she was a little girl.

“The wording has changed a bit since then,” Stewart says. “When I was younger I always said, ‘Someday I’m going to live in a costume shop.’”

When she launched the costume rental shop, out of her home in 1999, that’s exactly what she did.

Stewart started by taking pictures of all her costumes, posting them online and renting to people in the Greater Seattle area. Within three years, the demand – and her growing inventory – outgrew the space. During the summer of 2002, Stewart moved her business to a warehouse in Bellevue.

Since then, A Masquerade has inhabited eight different locations in Bellevue (never more than two locations at a time) – and one in Seattle. Stewart recently closed down the Seattle location in order to bring all the costumes to one location.

Behind the mask

The store’s name came about because of Stewart’s love for masquerade masks. It’s what prompted her to collect originally and it’s what kept her inspired over the years. Even the business’ logo is a mask – the Civetta Re or “King of Flirts”; it’s Stewart’s favorite because, despite being a masculine mask, she says it best represents her personality.

The masks also are the reason General Manager Kelsey Rowe decided to get involved with the company in the first place.

“It’s the masks that drew me in the first time,” Rowe says, “And it’s the masks that keep me here.”

Rowe first encountered the masks – on display against a wall of mirrors at the store’s previous Crossroads location in 2006. She’s been one of Stewart’s right hand women, on and off, since then.

A bigger closet.

While Stewart’s original costume collection
started with one version of a variety of popular costumes for rent, she’s since collected a variety of versions – both for rent and for sale. That’s where Angie Glasser, who Stewart hired in 2003, comes in. She’s the one who first encouraged Stewart to expand A Masquerade to include items for sale.

A make-up artist and costume enthusiast, Glasser saw the importance in offering some items that customers could keep – like jewelry, makeup, shoes and wigs.

“Sometimes people fall in love with a thing and they want to keep it,” Stewart says.

That’s especially the case for the store’s specially ordered steel-boned corsets (for women) and disco shirts (for men). Stewart says more often than not, customers choose to purchase these items after they’ve worn them.

The original Alice costume – a high quality reproduction made for a Wonderland-themed wedding – now can be found alongside a rack of other takes on the famed fairy tale trouble maker. “Now 20 girls can be Alice,” Stewart says.

Just across the aisle you’ll find a rack of Queen of Hearts costumes. And if you traverse a little further down the Rabbit Hole, you’ll find an extensive collection of Mad Hatter looks. Stewart says that costume continues to be a Halloween favorite among men – and it’s easy to see why. It’s so easy to mix and match.

Stewarts says sometimes people come back to the store and want to rent the same thing they wore last time, but it’s since been purchased.

“But that’s OK, because they’ll find something similar,” she says.

Halloween rush

“Halloween is really high stakes for people,” Stewart says. “For the people who only dress up once a year, it’s their time to be THE funniest. THE scariest. THE sexiest. THE something.”

Stewart says her shop is great for Halloween because there are so many options – so many ways to mix and match.

“Put on one fabulous piece,” says Stewart, “And you can put on accessories to become what you want to become.”

A good example of this would be the classic zoot suit. Stewart says this piece can be used as the focal point for a number of costumes: a gangster, Dick Tracy, The Mask, The Joker or The Devil.

Other popular costumes include pirate get-ups and superheroes.

“A lot of people have been coming in and asking for pieces to create their own superhero,” Stewart says. “Everyone needs a hero right now – or wants to be one.”

Stewart says customers looking to piece together a cheaper costume can get a head-to-toe look for an average rental cost of $65. Those hoping to look like a million bucks can find an all-out look for $250-300.

But that’s not all. At the urging of Glasser and other employees, Stewart now has implemented a full-service makeup counter where people can go for all their spooky Halloween needs. The store is booking appointments for airbrushing, face painting, theatrical makeup and special effects.

Stewart says she doesn’t consider other places as competition, because A Masquerade is known for it’s high quality products and is all year long.

“We try to have theatrical quality, upscale, durable goods that are better to use more than once,” Stewart says.

As such, she has seen a growth of customers from the fashion industry looking to outfit style shoots throughout the year. This idea couldn’t be more perfectly explained than by the store’s trademarks item: the masquerade mask.

Stewart says people often come into the store and ask what goes with a mask.

The answer?

“Everything else in the store.”

A Masquerade Costume is located at 13310 Bel-Red Road, Suite 102, Bellevue. Regular store hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. Learn more at amasquerade.com.