“THE OLD, TRADITIONAL SANTAS always wear a beard and wig of yak hair,” says Anne Bauer. “We don’t get many requests for it now, but there are always one or two a year.” Bauer is a consultant at The Costumer in Schenectady, where Santas have been obtaining their garb for nearly 70 years. And that beard-and-wig set is listed at the top of the Costumer’s catalogue for a few bucks shy of $200.
It’s a dedicated Santa who would drop so many bucks for a just-right beard; add to that the best of the Santa suits, deluxe Santa eyebrows and a pair of real leather boot tops and you’ve topped $1,000.
What do you get for that kind of money?
For a little under $40 you can get the same outfit at the same place. Bauer explained the differences:
“First of all, our best Santa suit is the best there is. It’s a wool suit with a high-quality satin lining. The $640 model is trimmed with real rabbit fur; you can get it trimmed with imitation rabbit for $180 less. This is the Cadillac of Santa outfits.”
It certainly offers a luxury ride. The fur trim surrounds the coat and provides a plush shawl collar, and a 6-inch band of fur complements the tasseled cap.
The color is a deep, handsome crimson. Color is a vital characteristic of a Santa suit; the better the red, the more you pay.
“We have three of these in rental stock,” adds Bauer. “They go for $85 a day. Again, this is for people who really want to be Santa Claus.
“Then there’s the Super-Deluxe Santa. That’s made of velvet lined with satin.” Super-Deluxe was on a display rack alongside both Super and Deluxe; super is made of upholstery-type velveteen with an imitation rabbit fur trim, Deluxe has a trim of acrylic. Again, the color difference is most striking at first sight, the red getting softer and softer as the price goes down.
“Deluxe is our most popular sale suit. At $150 it’s not a whole lot of money, and it’s durable enough for the guy who plays Santa for the kids once a year.
“Here’s one that’s new on the market.” She indicated a fluffy outfit labeled, appropriately, Plush. “This is only $130, and it’s very soft. The kids like to pet it.”
Below $100 we go disposable. Corduroy Santa, as the name suggests, is a cotton suit trimmed in white plush. “It’s dry-cleanable and easy to deal with. Economy Santa is a polyester-cotton blend. Our least expensive is Promotional Santa, a $25 suit made of tricot. It isn’t very soft, but it’s perfect for a frat house or office party. It’s the one to spill beer all over.”
Once you’ve chosen your suit you’ll need a wig and beard. To go the yak hair route will run you $200, but the look and texture are startling. First of all, it’s not the cotton-wool white of your budget Santa: it really looks like an old guy’s beard.
You can save 40 bucks by compromising with a yak-synthetic mixture, and like the all-yak pieces, they can be washed and reset.
Going down the list from there we find the $100 Super Santa Set, featuring a separate mustache for a Santa who needs to look convincing when speaking. The wig has a skin top so that the hair can be parted convincingly, and the material is Kanekalon.
‘Tache and beard are connected on the $60 Deluxe, backed with a pre-shrunk base; the base is cloth-backed on the Cloth Backed Set. “At the bottom of the professional line is the Economy Beard and Wig Set,” says Bauer. “It can be washed and reset with curlers and rollers.
“When they get less expensive they’re harder to care for. Under $30 we move into the nylon and poly beards and wigs, and the beards aren’t as full.”
You can choose from a page of Santa accessories that offers belts, boot tops, hats, toy bags, white gloves, glasses – even a pipe.
But don’t overlook the eyebrows. Sure, you can go economy with a set of $2 stick-on brows, but the Kanekalon Deluxe ensemble, at $23, strikes the note of authenticity that being Santa is all about.
It seems that we have Clement Moore and his “Visit From St. Nicholas” to thank for our popular image of the jolly old elf, which illustrator Thomas Nast clothed in the familiar red suit in 1863.
Ask for the Costumer’s Santa catalogue, which gives a more thorough history. But visit soon: they’re already thinking about Valentine’s Day over there.
– Metroland Magazine, 18 December 1986