Sunday, October 2, 2022

Local Costume Shop and the Icon Behind It

Jo's_1
The Halloween rush at Jo’s Costume Shop brings in college students and locals alike. The crowds that flock to Jo’s often lead to an over-crowded parking lot and cars can be seen parked on both sides of East University Avenue.

Jo’s Costume Shop has long been a local staple that has fed the rage of themed swaps for Greek life, haunted trails, local theater and, of course, Halloween. An initial impression of Jo’s from the outside can leave a customer curious as to the real value of the riches that might be found inside a building that stands as part costume shop and part body shop. Once inside, however, one can immediately see that Jo’s holds the key to a treasure trove of endless costume induced good times.

For over three decades, the costume shop, that now boasts over 5,500 outfits, has served the Oxford community and the university.

“Jo says that her shop is like playing in grandma’s attic,” said Norma Prewitt, daughter-in-law of owner Jo Prewitt. “You can come in and dress up in anything you want to and enjoy yourself.”

Over the years, Jo’s has bought out four other costume stores across the southeast. While it now stands as the powerhouse of anything and everything in Oxford that’s even remotely dress-up related, the stores origins were humble.

The selection of over 5,500 costumes at Jo's Costume Shop claims food items, scary outfits, full mascot uniforms, historical figures and much more.  This years popular items have included Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, and Mexican sombreros and ponchos.
The selection of over 5,500 costumes at Jo’s Costume Shop claims food items, scary outfits, full mascot uniforms, historical figures and much more. This years popular items have included Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, and Mexican sombreros and ponchos.

Jo Prewitt began her career by making outfits for her children when they were younger. Now her boys are 53 and 56, but the joy of costumes has never left her. As her kids grew older, her hobby turned to trade and she began making costumes for others.

In the years that her business come to life, it was Jo’s own personal love for Halloween that fueled her success.

“(Jo) would throw huge parties at her house and invite everyone in the neighborhood,” said Connie Prewitt, another daughter-in-law of Jo. “Back in the woods they had a trail cut out and old timey cars were back down in the woods. They would pull out all of these scary things, like arms and legs, and run through and scare people to death.”

Repeatedly making Halloween enjoyable for others only bolstered Jo’s own collection of costumes. “I used to love scaring the crap out of ’em,” said Jo Prewitt.

Jo’s connection with the items she’s made and bought, and now rents and sells, has become more than just business, but something she’s become emotionally bound to.

“There’s only one costume I ever cried over,” said Jo. “That was an Elvis that I’d made. It had gone to Las Vegas in an Elvis contest and won, and somebody took it.”

It’s been nearly nine years since then, and Jo swore after that, she’d never cry over another one.

Although Halloween is the store’s busiest season, the business is open year round and has costumes that can be paired with a variety of seasons and any number of events. Christmas and Easter generally provide the shop with a fair amount of business. Class presentations, local theater and parties keep the store running for the rest of the year.

University of Mississippi students wait in line to rent costumes for Halloween.  The bulk of Jo's clientele are students from Ole Miss, however, the local community still makes up a significant part of those whom Jo provides costumes to.
University of Mississippi students wait in line to rent costumes for Halloween. The bulk of Jo’s clientele are students from Ole Miss, however, the local community still makes up a significant part of those whom Jo provides costumes to.

This season’s most popular theme, per Jo’s most demanded costumes, seems to be a Peter Pan and Tinker Bell duo. Other high demand items have included border patrol, Scooby Doo groups, bottles of Tequila and sombreros with accompanying ponchos.

“You can have anything from a character to scary to funny to sexy to pimps to anything thoughtful,” Norma Prewitt said. “Things that no one has ever thought of before. Miss Jo has a good imagination.”

For the indecisive costume shopper, Jo’s has a fix for finding the right outfit. “I’m the idea person,” said Norma Prewitt. “When they don’t know what to wear, I tell them. I tell them what kind of people they are and what they should be. That’s my talent.”

With the growth seen in Oxford and at the university over the past several years, business at Jo’s Costume Shop has been steadily increasing and the future looks bright. There is a hope at Jo’s that over the next several years a building expansion will take place.

For those in a last minute rush to find a getup for this year’s spook season, Jo’s Costume Shop and its endless selection is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., including Halloween day. Adult costume rentals are $28.99, children’s costumes are purchase only. Jo’s is located at 2524 East University Avenue.


Tanner Marquis is a senior print journalism major in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. He can be reached at tannerleemarquis@gmail.com.

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