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Here comes Santa's fashion guru

Seneca grad dresses 1,500 for annual parade

samantha twiss

Samantha Twiss has worked at Santa's secret workshop for 10 years. She has dressed everyone from a 10-foot-tall Barbie to Mrs. Claus.


Samantha Twiss has been asked many times if she’s an elf. “Around this time of the year, kids would call my office and ask to speak to Santa. Some of them don’t even say anything and all you hear is giggling on the other end,” she says.

For the record, Samantha is not a Christmas elf. However, the Fashion Arts grad is one of Santa’s helpers working full time at his secret workshop.

Even though Jolly Old St. Nick is usually at the North Pole, his helpers work all year round to prepare for the annual Santa Claus Parade, which takes place this Sunday, Nov. 19. As the parade’s Costume Supervisor, Samantha is in charge of outfitting 1,500 people, ages eight and up.

“The Skunk Crew is a popular one every year,” she says. “They wear this big, furry hoop costume and people fight over it because it’s warm and fun to wear. These are six-foot-tall men we’re talking about.”

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Samantha checks out a costume with her staff, Brennan Emon (left) and Samantha Spendiff.

For weeks now, Samantha and her staff have been working alongside builders, painters, decorators and Styrofoam sculptors in the float department. On any given day, students from Seneca’s Fashion Arts and Visual Merchandising Arts programs can be spotted in the workshop doing their placements. Ten years ago, Samantha was one of them. She was hired to work for Santa immediately after graduating from Seneca.

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Samantha works with Mika Chen, third-year Fashion Arts student, to repair a costume.

“We are really big on our Seneca students,” she says. “So much of what I learned about design and creativity as well as working with sponsors and making practical garments was done at Seneca.”

Samantha’s love for both fashion and Christmas began at a young age. She used to hand-stitch Santa hats for everyone in her family back when her grandparents had a float in their local annual Santa Claus parade.

Now a mother of two young daughters, Samantha admits she’s one of those people who puts on Home Alone while putting up the Christmas tree the first weekend after Halloween.

“I like to enjoy the quiet time with my family before the crazy begins,” she says.

Each year, after all the fuss is over, Samantha and her staff spend about three months washing and sorting through each costume worn in the parade, pulling aside the ones that require repairs. They start creating new costumes in April, making at least 50 a year and basing many on the patterns Samantha creates.

“I love pattern-making, it was one of the things I learned at Seneca,” she says. “It’s the best thing, really. It’s a piece of flat paper and you can turn it into a costume, which turns you into a character.”

While she has dressed everyone from a 10-foot-tall Barbie to Mrs. Claus, Samantha has never dressed Santa.

“No,” she says, “he brings his own outfit.”