Meet Yon, the Owner of Yonkers’ Quirky Costume Drama

At this Westchester costume shop, spending time with Elvis and Marie Antoinette is all in a day’s work

 

Once upon a time, in a far-off land, there lived a girl named Yon. She lived in a big, beautiful house in Seoul, a home constantly bustling with maids, workmen, and her parents’ guests. Her father was a well-to-do executive, a progressive man who often took Yon and her siblings to the opera and the ballet. Her mother was a traditional Korean housewife—disciplined, poised, well kept. 

Yon was not like her mother. She cringed when she received compliments for her exceptional beauty because she hadn’t earned it. Oftentimes, when her parents threw fancy parties, Yon would get bored and go upstairs. She’d rather spend her time with the maids and with her live-in aunt.

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Yon spent lots of time in her aunt’s room. There, she often gravitated towards the bottom drawer of a large chest. In it were hole-punchers, nuts, bolts, needles, thread, safety pins—all the misfit instruments that didn’t quite belong in any other drawer. For Yon, they became props for her imagination. She punched holes into scrap pieces of paper, pretending they were railway-passenger tickets, among other things—anything that could satisfy her creative visions.

Yon is now 57 years old, and her imagination is still alive and well. Except now she makes her visions a reality. Her full name is Yon Zweibon, and she is a costumer and the owner of Beyond Costumes, a 22,000-square-foot industrial warehouse of organized chaos based in Yonkers.

Beyond Costumes is on the second floor of an industrial block on Nepperhan Avenue. It can easily go unnoticed. But, once buzzed in, customers are exposed to a large space that stretches as far back as the eye can see. The first section of the store is a retail space full of wigs, masks, makeup, accessories, and all-in-one costumes—mass-produced items one can easily grab, wear to a party, and either keep or discard. Deeper in the warehouse, as steam travels to the ceiling over two women working diligently over their sewing stations, you’ll find the real collection, which includes everything from vintage designer clothing to this year’s hottest Halloween costumes.

 

 

On a rainy afternoon, Zweibon is bustling around the shop, a large cup of coffee in hand, directing her staff and taking phone calls from customers. She weaves between racks of more than 20,000 categorized getups. Just last year, Zweibon acquired a collection of quality Broadway costumes, making hers the largest privately owned costume shop in the New York metro area. This also makes Zweibon the go-to woman for high-profile costuming gigs for magazines like Rolling Stone and television shows like The View and the Late Show with David Letterman. “I created this,” says Zweibon of her business. “However I created it, with the help of whoever—it’s a kick-ass place.”

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Some of the more elaborate costumes at the shop include decked-out, glittery showgirl outfits finished off with two- to three-foot headpieces and still larger shoulder pieces. There’s even a vibrant Chinese dragon costume available, one that can fit four people. Lady Gaga’s meat dress? Yep, she has a replica available for rent. And probably the most popular costume would be Marie Antoinette, an elaborate 18th-century gown complete with a corset and a wig. 

“There are certain characters people seem to be drawn to,” says Zweibon. Those include Marie Antoinette and Cleopatra for women and Elvis and Roman soldiers for men. “In general,” says Zweibon, “guys do love uniforms and military items.”

Zweibon is petite and wears simple, functional clothing. Her black bob is peppered with gray, but she seems to have the energy of someone half her age. Her 23-year-old daughter, Danielle, a grad student studying elementary education, describes her as a “tiny woman with the spirit of a dragon.” When Zweibon laughs, she throws her head back and releases a staccato of raspy giggles. Her accent carries a trace of her past life in Korea, before she moved to the States as a teenager.

Zweibon’s former life was far removed from the world of rubber masks and plastic severed limbs. She earned an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, worked as a CPA, and structured deals for her former husband’s family’s real estate business. It was precisely because of these skills that a friend (who was putting on a show) asked Zweibon to negotiate prices with the owner of what was then called Westchester Costumes. Zweibon recalls, “When I saw [the store], something caught me and I said, ‘Wouldn’t that be interesting to own something like this?’” 

 

In the middle of a divorce and looking for something to do on her own, Zweibon borrowed money from family members to buy Westchester Costumes. “Are you crazy?” Zweibon remembers them asking. “You know nothing about costuming, you know nothing about drama. You’re a financial person.” She bought the business anyway in March 2000. 

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To Zweibon, her former life and the one she’s living now are not as different as one might assume. “If I didn’t have my financial background, [the store would have lasted] two years, maybe,” says Zweibon. “It’s all there. I’m utilizing all my skills.” 

On a chilly evening, Zweibon and her team are fitting children for Young at Arts productions of The Wizard of Oz/The Wiz. It’s a project that requires 300 costumes. The staff is calm despite the glut of incoming questions from the young actors. Zweibon is hunched beside a little girl, pulling safety pins out of her pocket and folding a sequined gown into a tighter fit. After she finishes up, another girl walks into the room drowning in a green guard costume. Zweibon shifts her weight to one leg, puts her hand on her hip, and tilts her head. “It’s slightly big, isn’t it?,” she asks, an understatement that makes the girl giggle. 

Solving problems is fun for Zweibon. A couple of years back, a summer camp needed a Patrick Star costume to ac-
company Spongebob for “Best Friends Day.” When she couldn’t get her hands on the laminated fabric she needed, she took the edges of a flamingo costume and restructured it into a starfish, complete with green and purple pants. “The flamingo had pointy parts and the color was right,” she said. “It was the perfect thing to use.”

Zweibon’s sense of humor is one that leaves an impression. “She’s very focused, but then when things get a little lighter she will try on costumes and run around the shop,” says daughter Danielle. “There was one time when she was wearing some ’70s costume with a wig on and just riding scooters back and forth across the shop.”

Samantha Irons, a costumer at Beyond Costumes, says Zweibon is “really strong as far as running a great company, but she’s more than just an employer. She’s a friend.” For Irons, the shop is “like another home, another place to go and play and try things out.”

Regarding the future of the store, Zweibon hopes to keep refining the business—to continue organizing the costumes and put her imagination to work in hopes of delivering whatever her customers (or she) can dream up. And to live happily ever after.
The end.

Zweibon Predicts This Year’s Hottest Halloween Costumes

â–    Zombies, inspired by World War Z

â–   Roaring ’20s-era costumes, inspired by The Great Gatsby

â–   Regency/Edwardian-era costumes, inspired by Downton Abbey

â–   Superman, inspired by Man of Steel

â–   Iron Man, inspired by Iron Man 3


Georgette Yacoub is a freelance writer and a recent graduate of NYU’s graduate journalism program. She’s been known to take on the identity of nerds, pirates, and professional boxing champs on Halloween.

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