Oh, Frocktalkers. There is an article in the Wall Street Journal about costume design, and (while it is a lovely article) we are once again called “wardrobe” and “wardrobe supervisors” as opposed to the correct “costume department” and “costume designers”. Here is the article, and after the jump, my letter to the article’s author!
Dear Mr. Jurgensen:
It was with great interest that I read your WSJ article today. I am a costume designer for feature films, and I run a website called Frocktalk.com. My goal is to improve the public’s understanding of what we do as a costume team to bring characters in films and television to life.
I appreciate your efforts to this end, as well. However, I feel strongly that I need to clarify two things regarding your article.
1) We are the COSTUME department, not the “wardrobe” department. It may seem like a persnickety exercise in semantics, but it is not. “Wardrobe” is what Michelle Obama wears on the campaign trail. Costumes are what actors and performers wear on stage, on camera, or while performing. We are not “Wardrobe” designers. We are costume designers. Wardrobe implies clothing devoid of narrative meaning or consequence. Costumes imply character. Unfortunately, when the public reads articles titled Get Me Wardrobe, like yours and one earlier this year from the National Post (http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/wardrobe/6208358/story.html), this misunderstanding is proliferated, and as such readers are getting bad information. It may seem like a petty distinction, but for us it is very important. We are not stylists. We create characters, archetypes, and indelible personae for film and television through the use of fabric and thread. We create characters, and those characters wear costumes, NOT wardrobe.
2) A costume designer is not a costume supervisor. These are two jobs with very different job descriptions. A costume designer is responsible for creating the “look” of characters in a film or television show based on the vision of the director. The costume designer is responsible for costume ideas, interaction with actors and creative department heads, and for the execution and realization of the costume until it is established on film. A costume supervisor is responsible for all paperwork and day-to-day running of the department. The costume supervisor generates the costume breakdowns, budgets, handles all scheduling, hiring, inventory and operations for the department. The two job descriptions could not be more different, and the job titles are not interchangeable.
Costume designers have long struggled for the respect we deserve. Our compensation is a mere fraction of what the other male-dominated department heads (Directors of Photography, Editors, Production Designers) command. Historically, we have been regarded as a group of “women and homosexual men”, employees who will endure inferior treatment and disproportionate remuneration for our efforts. This patronizing mistreatment has become part of the institution of filmmaking here in Hollywood. As a group, we have been egregiously undervalued for too long. Part of my goal with Frocktalk.com is to enlighten not only the public, but also those who employ us. Many people in positions to hire us do not have a clear idea of what we actually do, and therefore do not regard us with the respect they should. It is only through raising our profile – through our own excellent work, and through exposure in the media – that we will ever achieve the level of (hitherto absent) understanding and esteem for our art form, on the job and in public perception.
Thank you sincerely for your article. You have demonstrated interest in our field and written a piece that will be read far and wide. I hope that I have been able to give you some insight into the costume department mindset, so that your understanding of our art form (and its attendant issues) is further enhanced. Next time: COSTUMES, not wardrobe. 🙂
Kristin M. Burke
The Warren Files: The Conjuring
celebrating the art of motion picture costume design
Hope you have a wonderful weekend, everyone!!!