Currently celebrating its 60th year in the costume business, Rubie’s was started as a retail novelty shop in 1951 by Mr. Beige’s parents, Ruben and Tillie. The young crowd who brought their business to the store began to ask for dress-up accessories—masks, hats, wigs, and makeup. Ruben heard their requests and started to add those items to his inventory. But it didn’t stop there—customers started asking for products that weren’t readily available. Luckily, Ruben had been a furrier before WWII and he started to sew costumes from scratch that he couldn’t locate elsewhere. Eventually other costume shops took notice of his original costumes, asked to buy from him, and Rubie’s wholesale business began in earnest.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, Rubie’s saw a chance to improve upon the licensed costumes available at the time. If you wanted to dress as Jem (from Jem and the Holograms) or even Batman, your options were usually a kind of loudly logo-decorated plastic jumpsuit and an uncomfortable flimsy plastic mask. Rubie’s was able to corner the market by letting movie and television studios know that people would be more likely to buy (and were looking for!) higher quality costume replicas, not just a plastic outfit with a logo. In this way, Rubie’s cornered the market on licensed costumes.
Today Rubie’s is the world’s largest costume supplier, designer, and manufacturer, operating in 16 different countries. They have deals with just about every major studio and sell everything from mass price points (available at an affordable price to just about anyone) to $1,000 collectible Stormtrooper outfits. They outsource some of their production depending on the material of the costume piece (for example, latex masks, hands and feet are made in their latex factory in Tijuana, Mexico). But garments are manufactured in South Carolina and the New York Area, and they operate a massive 120,000 square-foot cosmetic manufacturing facility in Phoenix, Arizona.
These days, Rubie’s is taking notice of the vast popularity of cosplay, as is especially evident at conventions like the San Diego Comic-Con. With cosplay, the name of the game is authenticity and accuracy for a lot of people. What Rubie’s has done is to create authentic replicas of accessories for major fan-based properties—masks, wigs, makeup, props (think magic wands and lightsabers). They sell these types of individual items that allow people to complete an outfit they created on their own.
Can’t find the particular version of the costume you’re looking for? Rubie’s is always adding variations to their costumes based on customer requests. Costumes that previously only consisted of a few props may be turned into entire costume sets based on popularity and demand (i.e. World of Warcraft). Their currently most requested licensed costumes range from classics such as Darth Vader and Batman (in many variations), to Halo, Green Lantern, and Sucker Punch. To decide what their next big licensed costume should be, they look at similarities to other properties that have been very successful in the past, and begin the license shopping process with the studios about a year and a half before they actually go on sale. If a property already has a fanbase built in, it’s almost a sure thing that the costume will be a big seller. If it’s new to the market, like Sucker Punch, it’s not quite as easy to tell before it goes on sale (fortunately Sucker Punch costumes have been very popular, despite the movie’s low box-office performance).
Mr. Beige said he couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of this amazingly successful family business. He told me, “I’d much rather be in something that brings happiness and joy to people than to do something much more mundane. I find it a very happy business, a good business to be in and it’s something that I’m very happy to bring my children into as well.” The next time you walk into your local costume shop or browse online, look for the little red and yellow logo with the happy Pierrot clown and the “Rubie’s” at the top. You’ll know you’re getting a fun product with a lot of history and dedication behind it.