I started this article so many times over the last year, and couldn’t get past the first sentence. The truth is, I don’t know how to gently or diplomatically broach the subject, so I’ll just put it out there. Costume design is a very competitive field. It’s difficult to get started, it’s difficult to build a career, and it’s difficult to hold on, once your career has gathered momentum. Competition occasionally (!) creates jealousy, backstabbing, trash talking, bitter rivalries and nastiness between peers. It doesn’t have to be this way.
I figured now might be an appropriate time to open the discussion. It seems like things are picking up (ever-so-slightly) here in Los Angeles, yet there are never enough jobs for the people who seek them. Most costume designers are loathe to admit they’ve had a hard time finding work – we are a prideful bunch – but the reality is that most of us have been out of work more than we’ve had work in the last two years or so, for reasons mentioned before here on Frocktalk.
When a job opening arises, designers are now in a position where they scramble for the opportunity, large or small. Many big-named, award-winning designers are taking work on very small films these days. They need the work – we all do. What this means is that designers who would otherwise (and ordinarily) take those jobs are now finding themselves increasingly out of work. And it’s not just small films’ designers who are feeling the pinch – no one likes rejection. No one likes to be forced into unemployment. This frustration often breeds contempt, and I feel like now is the time to talk about it.
I started Frocktalk in an effort to shift the paradigm. Not all costume designers are bitter, scheming or malicious – believe me! But there is still a strong, disgraceful undercurrent in our ranks. What I am trying to do with Frocktalk is to show the world – as well as the costume community – that by celebrating one individual’s great work, everyone wins. The success of your peer does NOT mean that you fail. Success is not a finite commodity. The sooner we can all understand that, the better off we will all be. We need to support each other.
There may be those among you who think I am crazy, living in some kind of deluded Suzy Sunshine reality where we can all be friends. I am not that crazy. I realize that I am talking about, and to, a group of people who have had to claw and scrape and crawl through barbed wire to get their careers going, and are fiercely defensive of their achievements. I realize that there is always going to be a certain level of competitiveness that will never go away. We are up against other designers every time we interview for a job. Are you going to resent someone because they got the job instead of you? Are you going to simmer, seethe, make snarky remarks and give them side-eye at Costume Designers Guild events? Reevaluate! You get what you give – it’s the law of the universe.
I know that there are people out there who seek a greater level of harmony, unity and cooperation among the costume community. Working together, we can make a difference. The Guild has made efforts to put together a mentorship program for new members, which is great. Hopefully we can cut the offensive, “side-eye” stuff off at the pass by making our community a friendlier place from the get-go. It requires diligent work and a clear head, but if we make an honest effort to be welcoming and inclusive, we can affect a change. Consider the following:
If you befriend, you will be befriended. If you help, you will be helped. If you support, you will be supported. If you celebrate, you will be celebrated. It’s not rocket science. Letting go of the fear that grips at us – that we’re not as successful as we should be, that we’re not as talented as we should be, that we’re not as clever as we should be, that our profile in the industry is not as high as we’d like it to be – frees us to be better friends, better people, and better artists. It’s hard to sketch with a clenched fist. Let go of the fear.
Awards season is now upon us. In the midst of all of this job uncertainty, it takes a strong, confident person to be able to actively celebrate another person’s achievement, yet we all have this strength within us. The thing holding us back from our own strength is fear. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you admit you like someone’s work? If you give someone a sincere compliment? Seriously, what is the worst thing that could happen?! Let go of the fear.
I dealt with a part of this issue in an article from last year called Bitterness and the Costume Department. But hey, it’s a new year, and everyone is making resolutions. I am going to resolve to continue the fight against acrimony and nastiness, and work toward a better, more harmonious and helpful atmosphere for the costume community! Anyone care to join me?
Hang in there everyone – chins up. It will get better, eventually! Have a great week.