FAQ: What Do You Actually Do?
With any field of work, there may come many questions. “How do you spend your days? Whom do you work with? How do you get paid?” These are all questions I’ve fielded. One of my most frequently asked questions – on set, with a client, my family, friends, and people I meet outside of the industry – is, “But, like, what do you actually do, do?”
It’s been asked so many times that perhaps I should give a more in depth answer. Simply put, I help to tell stories through the garments worn on the people I work with. In more basic terms: I help to cloth people... on purpose.
There are two man sub-sets of my work. The first is dressing a character. I call this “commercial styling.” It’s managing all that is a costume. This could mean a character on a TV show or film. Commercials you see in-between your favourite shows from brands you know also need costumes for all their characters. I can help clothe for that spot. The books, magazines, and articles you read featuring people, models, or other characters warrant clothing choices too. Basically, if a character needs clothing, I can help provide, maintain, and launder that for as long as the project requires. To get the stuff I’ll source from stores, borrow, rent, or pull from my own collection. Sometimes wardrobe is required over multiple weeks of filming and sometimes it’s just for a couple hours on any given day. My job is to help ensure that the person wearing it “passes.” Passes means that it’s character accurate: it’s not too bold or not too weak. There’s a sweet spot somewhere in the middle where a person should look the part but not stand out (unless that character is a bold or sloppy dresser. That would be developed together with the director). What’s that somewhere-in-the-middle-sweet-spot you may ask? That’s why someone would hire me.
The second sub-set of my practice is dressing real humans for their real life. I call it “personal styling.” These are clothing and accessories that fill a persons actual wardrobe. The work is a varied as the person. There is no one wardrobe I prescribe or pre-determined amount of items. For instance, what an emergency room nurse requires from his/her/their clothing can be very different than a 9-to-5 downtown office worker. I have taken a thirty-something-year-old man shopping for summer weddings he was attending. I’ve helped edit, purge, and re-organize a closet for a just retired professional women who no longer needed the vast majority of her weekday clothes. I’ve helped post-university grads consign and donate her varsity gear and make a plan for professional clothing she’ll need for her bright future. I work with both individuals and with groups. “How to wear…” is a frequent group session that I host. I’ve even helped sort other rooms outside the closet in homes where clients want my eye. My life’s work is to simplify and stylize. A colleague of mine shared that she thought that I helped people, “Move forward with less resistance,” with their wardrobe. I shall buy her a lot of wine.
My hope is that when my work is done – and done right – the viewer will look at the person and quickly start to know more about them. They’ll start to create a backstory in their brain. I know I have succeeded when the image that is projected out is close to the desired image of the wearer. For some people that mean blending in and looking nice. Fo other people that’s allowing their clothes to scream aloud for them. And, of course, there’s everywhere in between. It’s nuanced and deliberate. It can make a person shine, persuade, or sadly, fade into the background. It helps tell a story without uttering a word. It’s powerful and most effective when it’s deliberate.
I know it’s not everything, but it’s my everything.