THE HIDDEN ARTIST A Day in the Life of a Wardrobe Supervisor

It’s pilot season in LA. And no, it’s not a smorgasbord of eligible bachelors with private jets parked at the ten-minute-walk-to Van Nuys Airport I live near.

It’s the time of year when all the studios and screen writers get together to produce fast and furious could-be TV shows all at the same time.

The vast amount of energy and resources used to produce this phenomenon is conducive to everyone watering their lawns simultaneously at the same time and day of the week causing potential and actual pipe bursts (hmm…haven’t we heard that one before). In the costume world of television, it’s when a costumer or assistant designer goes to pull at Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s and all the 0’s, 2’s, and 4’s have disappeared because some other shows have pulled for the exact same sized actresses before you. It’s when you’re in a costume house like FOX and someone has roped off all the classic designer men’s shirts leaving behind the fashion has-beens hanging limply in the aisle. It’s an explosion of Internet ordering—opening boxes, hanging the crap up, and wondering if you’ll be able to return them in time before you wrap in two weeks, or worse, wondering if the orders will make it in at all.

I’m a wardrobe supervisor in the TV industry. Back in the day, that used to be the person who ran the costume department and held the hands of icons like Edith Head and Orry-Kelly to get their beautiful costume designs onto the screen. Today, especially for modern day television, the designer is somewhat of a glorified shopper because of time and budgetary constraints. The supervisor, sadly, is kind of a bean counter for all the purchases and rentals incurred by the designer and the shoppers. But hey—sometimes we get to order a uniform or two or three hundred that will need to be camera ready in a half hour. Needless to say, each situation varies to the next, but the common denominator in all of them is a Louis Vuitton pistol held to your head (using that as some on-topic designer-y visual). And situations get particularly gnarly when a production decides to cast a 350- pound actress to play a specific role. Of course, she’s to be in uniform—specifically, a pink housekeeping one. That’s when the real shit happens.

Turns out the only order I placed for that pink dress was with one uniform company and it decided not to arrive in time for the actress’s fitting because someone generated it with the wrong shipping address (let’s just say both that company and I are still pointing our index fingers at each other). Now this wouldn’t be so bad if it hadn’t happened on a Friday with only the weekend ahead to find something—ANYTHING—in a handful of stores that MIGHT be open and MIGHT carry XXXL pink housekeeping dresses. Needless to say, after a great amount of effort, I had to accept the fact that I’d been foiled by a simple mistake—no matter who’s it was—of changing one number for another. And for the record, I’d like to say UPS SUCKS. They wouldn’t help me get my package to the office because of a set of unbudgeable rules. I was left to lick my wounds while my pink XXXL housekeeping dress lay folded in a box only some 12 miles away at the UPS hub and me unable to personally retrieve it.

Admitting mistakes to a costume designer is short of laying your head on a platter and offering it up to her for her half-hour union lunch.

This is when something called humility is truly put to the test in our industry. You hope you will be forgiven for the fact that you are only human, but alas, TV Network execs, their producers, and directors rule. The costume designer and her subjects are expected to be the miracle workers they were hired to be. I’ve always called that “pulling it out of one’s ass,” but what to do with unexpected constipation? You pray the designer will compromise her—well, design and still look good in the eyes of the Royal Family. You pray she and the higher ups will accept the rental options you pulled before she told you they really wanted pink and after you were so confident it would be delivered to your door. Needless to say, the stress level at every level in the TV industry is extremely high. It’s like being hooked up to an adrenaline generator everyday and subjecting yourself to endurance tests all the time.

In the end, we’ll have clothes on that actress, although it may not be what the doctor ordered. The uncertainty in all of this is will the designer and I be remembered for all the chewed nails we left in the production office and what we delivered at lightening speed to the Network’s fast and furious schedule? Or will we both be wear scarlet hashtags for the rest of our careers—mine saying #Imessedup and hers #shemessedup?