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Shopped: Lili Bizarre

Liz Lacey investigates our new love affair with fancy dress on Hardman Street

Published on August 26th 2009.

Shopped: Lili Bizarre

Why do sensible grown-ups leap at any opportunity to don a bee costume, slip into a Superman outfit, or run about the streets of Liverpool dressed as a cowgirl with 27 similarly bedecked mates?
Because we are in grim times; and need to party, to escape from the “Dear Bastard” letters from the bank, and the shadow of the valley of redundancy. This is best while pretending to be someone and somewhere else, which is why costume hiring has never been more popular. And where in Liverpool do we go to have our fancy dress requirements met? If we have any sense, we trot up Hardman Street to Lily Bizarre.

We had a huge run on Michael Jackson recently, could have sold out here times over...and every time Amy Winehouse is in the news, there’s a lot of demand for her costumes

Where is it again?
It is at Number 12 Hardman Street, and is visibly pink.

History, please
Lili used to live in the Quiggin’s indoor alternative retail space, but moved to its present site six years ago. The building may be known to some of us in one or all of its previous incarnations as “Chaucer’s”, “O’Connor’s, or “Bonkers”. The building has a firm footing in the history of Liverpool’s beau monde. Roger McGough used to preside over poetry readings upstairs, and the frontage is used on the cover of the cult 1969 album “The Amazing Adventures of the Liverpool Scene”, produced by John Peel. It features a venerable O’Connor’s barman in a leather apron.

However, between both world wars, it was used as a morgue. Lots of shelf space.

Who's in charge then?
Gary’s mum is the eponymous Lili Bizarre. She started the business as an offshoot from vintage clothing and bric-a-brac business. Gary showed LC the dress that started the whole costume hire enterprise. It was a profoundly horrible 70s acrylic number, in an eye - searing swirly pattern in yuck-green and black. Lili hired it out for a “Bad Taste” party, and then other people started to ask for clothes for a special or themed occasion.

What other marvels does Lili hold?
Over 3,000 costumes. Many are originals, beautifully made by a now-retired theatrical costumier in Covent Garden. They are kept in a good state by the nimble sewing of Sharon, one of the shop’s long-serving assistants. Outfits include classic fairytale characters, pirates, medieval queens, vampires, saloon girls, Victorian gentlemen and ladies, as well as current characters and TV favourites. I fancy a bit of glitter actually...

Lili’s also sell party accessories, masks, and all manner of wigs and eyelashes. They cater to a large student market, and try to keep their prices down, a fact appreciated by the grateful customers on their website. Also on their website are photographs sent in by costumed revellers, an extraordinarily cheering sight.

And do fashions in fancy dress change, as they do on the high street?
“Oh yes”, says Gary, the charming manager. “They reflect what’s going on. For instance, we had a huge run on Michael Jackson recently, could have sold out here times over...and every time Amy Winehouse is in the news, there’s a lot of demand for her costumes. 70’s and 80’s costumes are very popular at the moment.

“Women like to look pretty, and we go to great lengths to make sure that they are in a costume that suits them. Sometimes a lady might want to go to a party as a bunny girl, but then when she tries the costume on, and realise how revealing it is...

“More Bummy than Bunny” we suggest
“Exactly..so we help her to find something that she will feel more comfortable in. but still be glamorous. The showgirl and saloon girl costumes are very good for that.”

And indeed, they are very flattering, in delicious brocades, with boning, basques, and feathered headdresses.

“Men” says Gary “like the superhero costumes, they enjoy being pirates and cowboys. Austin Powers is still very popular, and so is Zorro..”

Are these costumes treated with the respect they deserve?
“Not always,” says Gary. Liverpool Confidential learns that a certain celebrity hired a gorgeous brand new costume, a year or so ago, in which she was photographed in the pages of a celeb-spotting magazine. They are still waiting for it to come back.

One customer was so abashed by what he had done to (in?) his costume that he stood at the door and threw it in, rather than face the wrath of Lili.

“It looked.. “reminisced Linda, another long-time member of staff “as if he had had a fight in it..and lost”.

Who gets the roughest treatment?
Some costumes undergo particular abuse. “Marilyn Monroe” often gets a rough time. And the deposit had to be doubled on “Freddy Mercury”, after a run of destructive mishaps. “Dolly Parton”, however, always comes back with lipstick kiss marks on her embonpoint.

As for the staff?
“We get some cranks” admits Carol, an elegant blonde assistant. “One man called to ask if he could hire a big bra..and then started to ask me about MY size” They have had the odd flasher. Then there was the memorable Sunday before Christmas when a customer asked the team if they knew there was a “Dead Body” in “the medieval area”.

This turned out to be an over-refreshed and under-fragrant man who had curled up amongst the velvets and furs to sleep off about 30 years worth of boozing. “We had to have a lot of costumes cleaned,“ remarked Gary ruefully.

Why Shop There?
It is a fascinating place; a dressing up box beyond the dreams of any child of any age. The costumes are cleaned and repaired lovingly, and the staff are dedicated to ensuring that their customers have a fabulous time.

Gary clearly loves the place, and is dedicated to a fair price policy, and to keeping standards and quality high. His staff is knowledgeable and interested in what they do. It is a treasure house for escapism, and Liverpool should flock there whenever the urge to parade as a mermaid or a puffin strikes them.

Lili Bizarre welcomes us with open arms and a dazzling choice of disguises in which to act out our more harmless fantasies. It is dedicated to the great cause of cheering us all up. Just keep your lips off the “Dolly Parton”, if you please.

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nickyAugust 26th 2009.

You must be joking, home made, not a bit. I regularly go there, 2-3 x a year. great gear, stuff for sale is a bit naff but they are the same as you see on the net and everywhere else. hire stuff is fab i felt like i was cruella when i went last month, bit too lifelike!

AnonymousAugust 26th 2009.

costumes look a bit too home made for my liking!

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