Fantasy Costumes
Fantasy Costumes Credit: Eileen Meslar

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is on his way out of office, but if you’re headed to any Iranian inauguration parties rest assured you can find an Ahmadinejad mask at Fantasy Costumes in Portage Park (4065 N. Milwaukee). Because people will always find excuses to buy and rent costumes, even aside from Halloween. (On a recent visit, a Spanish-speaking woman was trying on a nun costume, and I hoped so hard that her reason for doing so would in some way allude to the plot of Sister Act.)

General manager Chuck Giovenco, a 25-year veteran of the enormous costume depot—which spans the length of an entire block along Milwaukee (not counting the 8,000-square-foot warehouse down the street)—rattles off other occasions for which people dress up: Christmas, New Year’s (think top hats and fat guys in diapers), Mardi Gras, Purim, Easter, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July. There are also birthday parties that require full-body Dora the Explorer costumes and restaurants that need chicken and hot dog suits to humiliate flyer guys.

Over the phone last week Giovenco explained, “I just sold a thousand sheep masks to a company in New Jersey. Another lady needed 300 elastic noses.” Forty eight years ago Fantasy got its start as a regular wig store, but expanded its mission when it became evident people weren’t just buying the wigs for everyday wear. (Though they do still have a selection of high-quality everyday wigs.)

They’ve supplied Oprah with elf costumes for Christmas shows (they have 1,500 Santa suits in their inventory) and The Jerry Springer Show with God knows what, not to mention makeup, costumes, and odds and ends for Chicago Fire, Steppenwolf productions, and the Roseanne and Jenny Jones talk shows.

And there’s Halloween, the store’s bread and butter—it stays open 24 hours a day the last week of October. Giovenco’s favorite part: seeing people who came in as kids come in with their kids. “It’s kind of like a tradition,” he says.