SUPER SALE: Norma McConnell of Fancy Dress Hire is preparing to sell off 50 years worth of costumes.
SUPER SALE: Norma McConnell of Fancy Dress Hire is preparing to sell off 50 years worth of costumes. Trevor Veale

Fancy sale 50 years in the making

AN UNUSUAL concept became a thriving business for Norma O'Connell for more than 50 years.

With its familiar bright pink sign on the highway, visiting the Fancy Dress Hire is almost like taking a walk through history.

The opportunities are endless, with vintage Gatsby-style dresses from the 1920s to a modern-day Donald Trump mask.

But Norma, who has sewn almost all the costumes herself, says due to changing times and increased competition, she now has to be more selective in what costumes she has available for hire, and is now holding a sale.

"I can't really compete against Woolworths, Big W, Spotlight and the internet, so I'm going to be more selective in what I have," Norma said.

"I'm overstocked with the kids' clothes because kids don't want now what they used to have. I've been doing this for 50 years. Kids now want cartoon and space things, they don't think about nursery rhymes anymore unfortunately."

Born and raised in Coffs Harbour, Norma's colourful business began as a bid to steer away from more mundane circumstances.

"Because I had five children, I couldn't go to work and I had to stay at home. I just had to do something - so I started sewing."

From there, Norma decided to join what is now known as CHATS. She began directing annual pantomimes and sewed all the children's costumes, visiting local op-shops every Tuesday to find material to work with.

"We decided to try a pantomime, which I directed, and it was Old King Cole. It was a great success and the birth of Fancy Dress Hire. It changed my life.

"I loved it. I loved the kids and the kids got a lot out of it, too.

"Some of them couldn't even read to my astonishment at eight and nine years old. Once you got them in there though they gained confidence."

Two racks of costumes eventually became the 22 racks at Fancy Dress Hire today, which includes more than 3000 costumes.

The Fancy Dress Hire has been sitting in its modest location behind Norma's house since it opened in the 1960s, extending in time as the business grew.

At this stage, Norma is selling children's costumes for $10 each and plans to have another sale of vintage clothes afterwards.

But she said it wasn't going to be easy to see her costumes go.

"I made them and I love them all."



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