Costumes for all seasons
In a ramshackle building off Rough and Ready Highway, one woman’s finesse with a sewing machine has produced a plethora of costumes for every taste from King Henry the VIII to Austin Powers.
“Everything’s my favorite,” said Bonnie McNeely, but she has her preferences for others: “Men look the very best in colonial outfits,” she confided.
McNeeley – with help from her sister, Norma Chandler – has churned out hand-sewn costumes for 27 years. Her collection can be found in the old red barn formerly used as a junk and antique shop known as Farmer Brown’s.
“My sister and I just make ’em and make ’em. We can’t seem to quit, it’s so much fun,” McNeely said.
Her husband, Donald McNeely (everyone calls him Farmer Brown), retired from the washer and dryer repair shop in the main part of the building several months ago because of health problems. But those who need a Halloween costume can still visit her shop by appointment.
McNeely began her business when she ran a classified advertisement announcing costume rentals from a collection left over from her days as a performer in the group “Sweet Adelines,” in Southern California.
“They came to my house like I had some kind of gold,” McNeely said.
Her costumes still are popular well beyond Halloween. Every year she dresses the presidents for the Constitution Day parade.
As a child, McNeely didn’t dress up in her mother’s clothes because there wasn’t much to choose from.
“We were poor. We didn’t have anything to dress up in,” she said.
She learned to sew in junior high. Even today, she swears she doesn’t dress up, but loves to watch others transform themselves into another character.
McNeely finds strips of velvet, satin, lace and leopard print fur at rummage sales, thrift shops and specialty markets. She turns them into formal, Colonial-period suits and cave-man togas.
When people can’t make up their minds, McNeely directs them to she thinks would be the perfect match, whether it’s Cleopatra or Alice from Wonderland.
“When you see someone look entirely different than when they walked in off the street, it’s fun. It’s just like an entertainment center,” McNeely said.
This year, gangsters in zoot suits (without the switchblades) and dance hall girls are most popular, McNeely said.
McNeely has raised the prices only once in 27 years. Costumes range in price from $15 to $50. Full animal suits, such as a one- or two-person horse costs, $75.
McNeely has no plans of retiring anytime soon.
“I do not want to get rid of this shop. This is like being in a clothes closet at home. This is personal,” she said.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4231.
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