The World Doesn’t Need Any More Costume Designers.

“The world doesn’t need any more costume designers. Grow up.”

That’s what the comment said.

I mean, sure. I wrote an essay about being a millennial, so I expected a fair amount of backlash. It comes with the territory. I went to college and essentially have a degree in playing dress-up, so I see your point. I have no business feeling burdened by student loans when I’m the one who chose to attend a 4-year private college and pursue an expensive degree in make-believe. That’s fair.

After all, it’s hard to talk about being a white lady in America without sounding like a narcissistic asshole. I’m not living in fear of being chemically gassed by the Syrian government. I’m not going to be shot in the face by the Taliban. I’m typing this from a MacBook Pro that some underpaid worker halfway around the world assembled for me. When you think about it from a broader perspective, everyone in America should probably just shut the hell up about everything.

The world doesn’t need any more costume designers.

You’re probably right about that.

But, okay, look. We’re incredibly comfortable and secure here in America, but it’s not perfect. Not by any means. Our government is in the midst of a shutdown with no foreseeable end in sight. Analysts are worried about another large-scale economic collapse. There are troops in foreign countries wondering when they’ll get to come home. There are people here starving on the streets. There are people dying because they are afraid to go to the hospital, who wait until it is too late and who are still stuck with the bill.

And we need help with that. We need economists. We need doctors. We need social workers. We need soldiers, and firefighters, and police officers. We need politicians, the good kind, the ones who value compromise, the ones with even the tiniest shred of idealism left. I have to believe there are a few of them still out there. 

So no. You’re right. The world is kind of a mess right now. We don’t need any more costume designers.

We need people with Real Jobs. Serious Jobs. We need scientists. We need lawyers. We need engineers. We need bankers.

Except that once we’ve found the cure for cancer and figured out how to bring the troops home and employed the unemployed and solved the poverty problem and developed new inventions and figured out how to turn a profit, I can’t help but wonder what happens next. What we do with all that money we’ve made, or what it is that we should look at and think about in our hours off the clock. Once we’ve figured out how to cure the sick, tell me what it is that is worth staying alive for.

Because the truth is, you’re probably right. The world doesn’t need any more theatre majors.

But the world does need to laugh. We need to laugh desperately. And I’m glad we have Tina Fey and Will Ferrell and Chevy Chase and Kristen Wiig and Amy Poehler and Bill Murray to help us do so.

(And I’m glad we have Tom Broecker, who has designed the costumes for every SNL sketch since 1994).

My other degree is in English Literature, widely regarded as a hilarious punchline in this economic climate. Look at the decline of newspapers! You can’t make money as a writer. Good luck out there, kid. The world doesn’t need any more English majors.

But the world needs to be informed of the news, with what’s happening at home and abroad, and I’m glad there are people reporting from those places. The world needs to sharpen its collective critical thinking skills. And the world needs to feel feelings, to understand human emotion as it relates to others and to themselves. Literature teaches us empathy. The world needs to be transported, through words, to other places and other times, to other realities outside of themselves. So I’m glad we have Steven King and Haruki Murakami and Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Franzen and J.K. Rowling.

(And incidentally, I’m glad we have Jany Temime, the costume designer of the Harry Potter films. While spending your days creating a magical universe might seem like a frivolous waste of time, I can’t help but think that this particular magical universe has the power to inspire, to embolden, to teach important truths to kids of all ages about what it means to be brave).

And we certainly don’t need any more dance majors. We probably don’t need any more photography majors, either. (Not to hammer the point home too hard, but Marion Cito designed the costumes for Pina Bausch for years, and I think we can all agree that Mamika owes her success to her spandex and her cape).

We probably don’t need any more puppeteers. We probably don’t need any more cartoonists. We probably don’t need any more nerds with their heads in the clouds.

There’s some truth to the idea that certain careers will fall by the wayside. We simply don’t need switchboard operators anymore, or travel agents, or the guy who plays the keytar at awesome 80’s concerts.

But we do still need interpersonal connection. We still need explorers and musicians.

We still need innovators and dreamers. We still need artists and scientists, musicians and storytellers. We need choreographers and sound designers and lighting engineers and computer animators and fashion stylists and filmmakers and radio personalities. We need people who can uplift, and inspire. Who can make us laugh, can make us feel. We need the interior designer who can figure out the low-cost way to brighten the dreariness of the office cubicle, and we need the street artist who changes your morning commute overnight, an unexpected new creation waiting to be discovered on the corner. 

Without those folks, I can’t help but imagine that life would be relentlessly dull.  Without anyone to write new songs, or create vibrant postcards and murals, to decide what colors the trains and the buses should be painted and why. Without filmmakers and writers and actors and playwrights and technical staff and, yes, designers, to help transport us to new, imagined frontiers – I think the world we live in would seem unyieldingly dull, indeed.  

So no, you’re right. The world doesn’t need any more costume designers. 

But then again, I think I’ll stick around for a bit. Just in case you change your mind. 

 

 

 

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61 thoughts on “The World Doesn’t Need Any More Costume Designers.

  1. There is much about humanity that the world would be better off without, but costume designery falls far short of that bar. Even without any industrial technology at all, we would still be inventing cultures, how could we not?

  2. what the world really needs is people who follow their bliss. yay for designing costumes and dipping into a great book and writing beautifully here. wonderful point about empathy. we need a little more of that too. wait, a lot more.

    bliss. and empathy – that would be like double-bliss.

  3. “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive” (Howard Thurman). I would not be me (or at least, not a sane version of me) if it weren’t for my favourite books, plays, movies, television shows, paintings, and music. So thank you, for designing costumes for plays that make people feel and writing blog posts for strangers that need a laugh. Blog posts which are motivating me to finish my medical school application, actually.

  4. I love this, Katherine! And “E” beat me to that quote by Howard Thruman. Its the first thing I thought of and something I remind myself of often when I have doubts about what kind of difference I’m making in this world. All I know is that I’m a better person when I feel alive and happy and inspired. Hopefully thats enough. And congrats by the way! You deserve every bit of attention you get from this wonderful blog. 🙂

  5. When I was in college, and having a rough time of things, I took Theatre Tech because it was the only prerequisite that sounded like an interesting time. I helped build sets, I painted trees on plywood that I thought looked ridiculous, and in those times, I didn’t really see the point of it all. Maybe it’s like being backstage at a magic show, watching the magician shove two women into the “saw a woman in half” box. You don’t really see what all the fuss is about when showtime comes around.

    And then opening night came.

    I went because the professor that was directing the play offered a raise in our grade if we attended. This was my first time seeing a play. While I have been a lifelong devotee to literature, the stage seemed like something I would never get into. I liked short stories and novels for all the verbose descriptions of the setting, the characters, their innermost thoughts…I could really get a sense of them, as opposed to the few times I had read a play and only seen dialogue and stage direction. Then the lights dimmed, and they took their marks. I saw them wearing the costumes I had only seen on racks backstage. At that moment, though, it wasn’t the students I knew wearing clothes I had seen before. They were those characters. I remember being bored for all of a minute, then leaning forward in my chair and thinking, “Oh, fuck…this is beautiful.” It seemed so real to me then that, even though I knew the play they were putting on, every word hit me as profoundly as a first kiss, a realization of truth. It was the costumes and the lighting, it was the way they threw themselves into it. I remember clapping more fervently than anyone else once it was over. I had completely forgotten about the shit time I was having in life. Watching that play made me hopeful that things could only get better.

    So, I would say that, yeah, we need people like you. I know this was the point of what you wrote, but the idea of a world without illusion irks me to no end. I want you out there, designing costumes because you’re going to make a cynic like me believe in beauty. And the writers out there, they make life worth living. It is a terrible place sometimes, but I’m grateful for the people that spend their lives making new stories that we can lose ourselves in. My life can be an absolute shambles, but if I have a good blog, a short story, or a novel to read, I’m able to believe in something a little more beautiful than the world as it is around me.

    In short, to hell with anyone that says what you’re doing isn’t a worthwhile endeavor. When things are as bad as they are now, you’re needed more than ever.

    And how great is it that Alice Munro got the Nobel Prize? I never thought a short story writer would get the honor…

  6. if the world had no more of those things…we would live in a sad dull world! and possibly one where all theater was naked and this would not make the world better…in most cases!

    the world needs the creative people we would be nowhere good without you all…speaking as an engineer who writes technical documents who really really wishes she noticed earlier that photography was the thing she should be doing!

  7. That comment wasn’t about you; it was about its author. Would be interesting to know what triggered it. While I appreciate your answer, I hope you didn’t lose sleep over it.

  8. Your posts are always spot on… Make me laugh… Think… Wonder. But this one REALLY was AWESOME!! You are a gifted writer… And your work is EXACTLY what is needed… Right now!! Keep it up!

  9. I too think we need more artists in general for all the reasons you mention but we need to be less focused on celebrity and more on actual, creative art. We have far too many media outlets churning out so much crap to the point that it is impossible to see any of the good stuff. We, as the public, need to support and promote creative arts and start actively ignoring celebrities. Life is hard and we all need distraction but can we not make it good distraction?

  10. I sponsor a lot of women in a 12 step program and we frequently talk about things that hurt – and especially about what people say – through sponsoring them, I’ve found my answers and the one that helps me significantly is this – What other people say and do truly is about them. How you FEEL about it is about you. I love your response to this sad person (and to us) and think that it didn’t take you 71 years to become wise. Lucky! love and hugs, h

  11. So I assume the person who wrote that comment is a neurosurgeon or something in which case how can he/she possibly have the time or interest to read blogs…?

    The mere fact that this person is here commenting prices that the world needs

  12. Bravo! I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said above. The arts make us better human beings and the world would be a much lousier place if we didn’t create. Also, hats off to you for following your heart in your career, even though it may not be the most lucrative option for you.

    If you don’t know about it, I highly recommend looking into Mr. John Scalzi’s (sci-fi author) take on blog commenters and his general policy on comments from his blog. I think it’s a brilliant strategy for weeding out trolls (which, if you become popular in any way online, trolls seem to naturally appear like nasty, unwanted teenage acne). You can find it here: http://whatever.scalzi.com/about/site-disclaimer-and-comment-policy/
    and here:
    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2008/07/25/another-entry-in-the-annals-of-people-who-havent-the-slightest-idea-what-theyre-saying/
    You may or may not agree with it. And you may or may not choose to adopt it. Regardless, this blog is your space, and it’s a nice reminder that some people and comments on the internet should just be ignored or blocked.

  13. Your time is coming, my sweet darling Fritz. Please hang in there. Remember : the costume designers currently in their 60s and 70s will want to retire soon and your phone will ring off the hook.

  14. Once again, you’ve made my day! I love your blog – please ignore the bring-down crew and keep writing! As a musician, I especially appreciated today’s entry.

  15. I had an amazing conversation with one very special student about how fear can keep one from following one’s dreams. He asked me why I decided to be a designer. My was that every person put on this earth is called to do a specific thing. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have shown up. And I just knew, somehow, that I was put here to MAKE THINGS. Who knows what things? But things that don’t yet exist, and need to be made. And if I’m lucky, somewhere in the process, the world gets just a tiny bit prettier, for someone. If I’m lucky, I make something and someone sees it and feels even just slightly better. So I guess it might be possible that the world doesn’t need any more costume designers (or for singers or painters or actors… or social workers or nurses or…) but if that is true, it seems awfully odd that the world just keeps calling us to work.

  16. Since the dawn of time man has been creating art alongside science and sometimes in conjunction with it! The shamans who made the first cave drawings were regarded as some of the most important members of those ancient tribes – as much so as the ones who built the first fires! 🙂 Culture makes us human – storytelling moves us forward and draws us together – art cements our time and our place and screams across the future years WE WERE HERE! Don’t ever doubt your importance in the web of history!

  17. All we know about human history is thanks to what artists have left behind. The poets and scholars who wrote it down, the dramatists who helped us hear the way people spoke, and the sculptors and painters who showed us their lives. Everything we have is based on the foundation left behind by the creative endeavors of others. Even mathematics and the sciences are considered arts – never forget that.
    There is a man that I greatly admire who is often dismissed as a shabby hack, but he said this: “I believe that the whole history of man is best represented by his creative ability.” – Vincent Price. I think it’s a pretty profound thing to say.

  18. I can’t add anything to your post, it’s wonderful! The comments too say what I was thinking. But I add my voice to the chorus anyway. We would be missing out without you, and those like you who strive to create for the benefit of others. Thank you for doing what you do.

  19. Inarticulate rage time.

    No, fuck that comment, because what they’re really saying? “The world doesn’t need any more humanity.” And that’s so far from the goddamn truth that it boggles the mind (and the heart).

    So fuck that comment and fuck that opinion. Now, I love science and I love talking policy and politics and “real” shit, but if we had more actively creating dreamers and poets and artists and dancers and people fucking expressing some goddamn humanity, maybe? Maybe there would be fewer wars, maybe there’d be more funding for social welfare, maybe there’d be a hell of a lot more empathy for people whose lived experiences are different. Maybe we’d all listen more (not like me, who’s just yelling a whole lot).

    I make my living directly supporting someone else’s art, and that’s the best place for me. I really believe in it, turns out.

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  21. I love this post!
    I’m in a conundrum of sorts, stuck between the world of needed and the artistic world. I’m a senior science major at a tiny private college, but I work in the costume shop of the on campus theater. People in the theater are constantly surprised that I’m a science major, and those in the science world are constantly surprised that I can make clothing. In this current world where we need the science and business, but still love our media, why is it surprising that I can be creative and science-y at once? Isn’t that how we got the physical laws of motion? Or science fiction?
    I’m glad other people are noticing the disparity between the our world as it is perceived now and the world as it is.
    P.S. Go costuming!

  22. I’m just so glad you’re out in the world, and writing. I applaud you. Your posts lift my spirits and make me fall a little bit more in love with you, and the world, each time I read your work. It feels like you’re a friend. I’m in your corner. Keep going. xo

  23. I’ve just discovered your work here. What you write, and the voice you write it in change me. Just a little, maybe, but still. And I’m 50. What you say gives me hope for those coming after me.

    For my kids.

    For the world.

    Thanks for that.

  24. Until our beloved (ha!) Prime Minister went and changed everything, our $20 bill used to read:

    “Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts? [Gabriel Roy (1909-1983)”

    I was sad to see it go, both as a musician and a human being.

    So many people these days seem to confuse “value to the world” with “money in my pocket”. I can only console myself that they’re going to wake up one day and realize their wallet hasn’t done much for them or the world, and while they’re busy taking all they can from the world, I’ve been busy making it a better place. (OK, and maybe they’ll die lonely and miserable, and shout from their deathbeds that the artists were right… but I probably shouldn’t say that out loud if I want to retain my karma points!)

  25. I understand the point of your post is that we need artists as well as pragmatists. But allow me to be a bit literal for a moment because I think there’s an additional illustrative point to be made.

    I work in the costume department of a major regional theatre. I have an MFA in costume design (though I gave up designing years ago). I’ve been working in costume shops for probably as long as some of your readers have been alive.

    A week ago my theatre hosted a Career Day for some of the theatre students at local high schools. I had arranged a display of the kinds of things we produce in my department and talked to them about all the different opportunities available to them. The skills required to make costumes at our level include the usual draping and stitching, but also ventilating and styling wigs, re-creating period millinery, mask making, armor, period underwear, beading, painting and dyeing fabric, just to mention a few. I made a point of showing the students that for every one costume designer it takes multitude of talented people to make their designs come alive. It’s something I always stress when I talk to students because they live in a world in which people don’t make anything anymore. As a society we’re becoming less and less comforable working with our hands. The concept of making something you want instead of just going online and buying it has become quaint. And if one did want to make a dress, how would you learn to sew? Really, if you were a teenager, who would teach you? I had an intern once who thought she knew how to make wigs because she’d been told how to do it. The idea that she’d have to sit and spend hours and hours tying knots seemed like a giant waste of time to her.
    .

    The statement “The world doesn’t need any more costume designers” is, for me, true. What we need are stitchers and milliners and tailors and dyers and puppeters and historians and wig makers and fabric stores. We need scenic artists and furniture builders and swordsmiths and riggers. We need electricians and programmers and board ops. We need all the folks whose names fill the 15 minutes of film credits after the director and actors names have passed. After the one costume designer’s name has passed.

    • Bravo fellow theater artist! I have built mostly props but also puppets, costumes and even some scenery for over 20 years on regional theater, film and TV! Creativity comes in many forms. Spending a lifetime perfecting a trade and the ability to problem solve others’ creative ideas is severly under valued. I currently work with undergraduate theater design students, many of whom graduate without ever learning to make anything despite the fact that these are the positions available to them upon graduation. Teaching hands on skills gives students the tools (literally) to express their creativity and in turn allows creativity to flow into what might otherwise be a tedious task such as hand tying an entire wig. I am all for art and design and theater because of how it teaches empathy and appreciation for others and the world around us, but what is being lost is that there are actual jobs in the arts industry that demand a high level of skill. Yes, arts industry, because there are real and true jobs and careers to be developed in all facets of the arts.

    • I also would add that many of us who trained in some aesthetic field and then had to go into something that fed the family, but which we had never thought of as a “creative” field, (in my case steel construction work) eventually discovered that creativity takes many forms. Getting a group of people to work together in any field can take huge amounts of innovative thought.

  26. Love this post. 1st, as a lawyer I can emphatically say the world does not need any more lawyers. Otherwise I agree wholeheartedly with the rest of your post. Good stuff. Thanks for writing and making us all think about bigger things. Really enjoying your posts.

  27. I’m a costume designer and a millennial as well and you hit the nail on the head for me. I wish I could write as eloquently as you do. Thanks for the post. I’m totally sharing it!

  28. I love this.

    And we aren’t waiting till all those other people solve all of the problems you list – you are an essential part of that solution. Because performance is the medium that does more than any other to help create empathy, to help us understand the “other.” Through theater, all of the different people in this world get a chance to experience lives that are foreign. And that, more than almost anything else, is what will help us to bridge the gaps that create the tensions in our world.

  29. “Medicine, law, business, engineering… these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” – Tom Schulman, Dead Poets Society

  30. If all the world’s a stage, surely we need help in making it look its best?

    Yes, it could be argued that there are “more important” things than theatre in this life, but then there would be a little less magic, a little less wonder and probably, a little less humanity in all of us. Having read most of the comments on here I know most people have said roughly the same thing in support of the theatre so I’d like to take a slightly different tack and talk about science fiction. Yep, that’s right, sci-fi.

    There is a saying “If it can be conceived, it can be achieved”. Science fiction writers have conceived of more ideas that have gone on to become reality than practically any other field. Submarines, mobile phones, computers, spaceships, all thought of by sci-fi writers and as for concepts, well, the list is endless. Travelling to the stars, communications, medicine, food production, the end of the world, robotics, philosophy, almost every field has felt the sci-fi touch at some point and had an advancement made because of some dreamer sitting in a chair somewhere else and writing a story. Without sci-fi and its freedom to imagine what you can, fly anywhere and anywhen and touch every corner of the human experience, we wouldn’t have MRI machines, mobile phones, robots or a whole host of other things (look at all the things NASA have come up with for a start).

    So if science needs fiction to advance, to come up with the next crazy idea that one day becomes the new normal (the internet in your pocket, contact anyone anywhere on the planet at the touch of a button, sound familiar Star Trek fans?) then it also needs art to do the same. New ideas, crossovers, solutions, fresh thinking, inspiration, none of us can say where an idea may come from so surely we need to embrace the possibility that they may come from anywhere and get out, try new things and bring back a little magic into our everyday, hum-drum lives.

    Keep making those costumes, this sci-fi fan will be cheering on theatre and its incredible ability to transport me to any time and place with the swish of a curtain….

  31. I have a degree in Marketing which I use to sell very expensive merchandise to people who all ready have enough stuff. Don’t you ( or anyone else) give up on your dream. Dreams are what keep the rest of us alive.

  32. “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Picasso

    I did a complete career shift in my thirties- from a corporate drone to raising money for an arts organization. Even with the doubters and the crazy looks I received from my previous co-workers, it was worth it. I have never wanted to look back.

  33. Thank you so very much for such an eloquent response to such an in-the-box comment. I am a professional costume technician and sometime designer and my father has often grumbled about my choice to go to an expensive private liberal arts college to “learn how to sew.” One day he saw a preview on television for “The Lion King” which was coming to town. Even his finance-driven brain could appreciate the wonder of those costumes and he pointed at the screen and said, “That’s what YOU should do.” I paused, stunned at the incomprehension of his daughter’s life this remark displayed, and replied “Dad, that IS WHAT I DO.” The good news is he hasn’t grumbled again about my career choice. And I think he has learned even to be proud. We have one convert to the Temple of Artistic Pursuits. Let’s hope for some more. And for the government to get its head out of its collective ass.

  34. I loved this. You like teared whoever wrote that comments to shreds with your words. I was thinking “Wow, for a costume designer she’s pretty good with her writing, and expressing her ideas.” Hmmm… If we didn’t have English Majors, then how would we be able to clearly express and idea, thought, problem, or I don’t know – gain independence from a country? Great post, chica.

  35. “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
    -Howard Thurman

    I’m a Theatre Artist, too. Break a leg.

  36. I love this! My major was apparel and textile design and I worked as a costume designer for years. All I know is that the world would be lost without costume designers. Who wouldn’t want more quick thinking people who understand how clothes fit and have an unexplained love of rhinestones and feathers? And when you spend your days trying to figure out how to make bras pointier you tend to not be a pompous asshole who takes themselves too seriously. In fact my years as a costume designer has really given me the advantage I need as a stay at home mom. I can whip up a Pinterest perfect party with ease, style a family photo shoot like a freaking pro, and when it comes to Halloween costumes- I can knock that shit out of the park!

  37. Amen.

    And technically, the world doesn’t *need* anything.

    It doesn’t *need* more singers. Artists. Engineers. Sales clerks. Men. Women. Whatever. Whatever “job” or “career” or “label” the person wrote you gives themselves… the same can be shot right back at ’em, if you cared to. *THEY* are not needed either.

    But foruntately for me, and song-adoring, art-adoring, sales-clerk-adoring… the world keeps creating more of all of the above awesomeness.

    And costumers, theatres, and cosplayers too.

    Amen.

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  39. Our generation wants to marry passion to work. We get made fun of for it a lot.

    But I don’t know… I think the countless generations of miserable people before us deserve to be pitied. My father who worked a rote, boring job for thirty years to make his money. Who after college slowly stopped going to concerts and reading books and traveling whenever he got the chance in favor of early nights home and television shows and saving money. I think he deserves pity. Not us. We might not get rich doing what we love, but we’re still doing what we love.

    Keep it up. 🙂

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