Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

Working Class Costumes: Let the Debate Begin

Is it still "Blue Collar" if it's fur?

Is it still "Blue Collar" if it's fur?

Eagle-Eyed Frocktalk tipster Lisa pointed this article out to me today.  It’s from our friends over at Jezebel, who put their spin on this article from Slate.  The Slate article complains about beautiful Hollywood stars trying (and failing) to look working class in movies.  I must warn you, not all the content in the articles is particularly nice or flattering to costume designers, but I think it’s important that we read these articles and think about these issues.  Slate went so far as to post a slideshow about the subject HERE.  Clearly no one at Slate has designed costumes for a movie, because if they had, they certainly would know what it feels like to receive five pages of notes from studio executives asking to make the actress look “less schlumpy” and “more attractive”, even though she is working class, blue collar, to’ up from the flo’ up, and dirt poor.  Of particular interest (to me anyway), are the comments on these articles.  Check it out, and let the discussion begin!

** UPDATE!!! – I wrote a letter to Sadie Stein, the author of the Jezebel article!  Read it after the jump! **

Dear Sadie,

I have been a Jezebel fan for quite some time, but am dismayed by today’s article, On Playing (And Dressing) Working-Class In Hollywood.

Your article demonstrates very little comprehension of what costume design for film is all about.  Film is a collaborative medium, and decisions about costumes are not made solely by the costume designer.  To blame a costume designer for a costume one deems “inappropriate” is to misunderstand the design process.  A costume designer’s job is to realize the director’s vision, period.  We strive to bring the director’s version of the movie to the screen, not our own.

Not surprisingly perhaps, we are often faced with input from other production team members (producers, actors) who have desires of their own.  Many times, actors will request specific designer garments, costume pieces, shoes, etc., and will stop production if their demands are not met.  Many times (after seeing fitting photos), producers and studio executives will fire off lengthy memos detailing their “notes” about their costume desires for the characters.  If costume designers do not capitulate to these demands, we are terminated.

You must realize that ours is a delicate balancing act.  Our job is to create characters whom the audience can judge, understand, and identify before the actor even utters a word.  Our tools: fabric and thread.  Our canvas: the actor.  It seems simple, but it is not.  We have to balance the demands of the director, the studio, the producers, the actor, the schedule and our budget with what is written in the script.  Are there many stunts?  Will we need multiples?  Does the film take place over many years?  What season is it?  How much money do these characters realistically have?  Where would they source their clothing?  If you consider this, you might begin to understand the number of plates we are required to spin.

If it’s not too presumptuous of me, I would like to send you a copy of my book, Costuming for Film: the Art and the Craft.  You might develop a greater sensitivity and appreciation for our art form.  If you could kindly send me your mailing address, I will see to it that you get a copy.  Perhaps then we won’t get another CD of lullabies from an opera singer.

Sincerely,
Kristin M. Burke
http://frocktalk.com

If YOU would like to write a letter to Sadie Stein, here’s her email address: Sadie@jezebel.com

Let the letter-writing campaign begin!

— KMB

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