Fashion Bytes

Image via Theatre Mania

After the Tonys, the New York Times featured an article about the important role dressers play in Broadway actors’ lives both in and out of the theatre. “Dressers are essential to, and share in, their stars’ success”, the article said.  The one thing the article does not mention is the actual skill it must take to hem or mend a costume in the dark in the mere seconds between scene changes.  Perhaps this is due to assuming that if you’re working on Broadway you had better be good.  Or perhaps it is the simple ignorance indicated at the beginning of the article when discussing Sutton Foster’s tearful thanks to her dresser in her award acceptance speech: “Tears of joy for an encouraging parent or beloved teacher is one thing. But for the guy who stuffs bras and cinches girdles?”

The quote seems to indicate a complete unawareness of what is involved in the creation of a Tony-award winning production, and disrespect for the abilities and talents of the usually anonymous individuals behind the scenes who make them happen.

This brought to mind, for me, the ending to the controversial Fall 2011 Dior show in March.  Speculation had been rampant as to what would happen, since John Galliano, we all knew, would not be there. But a standing ovation and near-universal approval were given when the atelier staff came out onto the stage to take the final bow.

That the New York Times should be somewhat derisive of an actor thanking their dresser is rather shocking. At least to me. Particularly when contrasted with the appreciation of similarly-unknown individuals exhibited by the fashion community when the ateliers were brought out in place of an absent designer.

What do you think causes the difference in understanding?  Was Ms Foster’s tearful speech of gratitude truly ridiculous? Or is it that those who study or work with clothing know in at least a basic way how it is made, and that it takes a definite skill — once common, but now rare as previously discussed by Tove — to create the garments we appreciate, where the “lay person” is ignorant?  Or is it that fashion, not (technically) requiring a willing suspension of disbelief, does not really have a “backstage” for people to be ignorant of? In any production — be it a fashion show, a stage musical or a movie or television production — requires many, many unseen people to help create it. What is it that causes us to focus only on the “star” actor, director, or designer?  Is this attention misplaced, or deserved?

Please share your thoughts.

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2 Comments

  • EmilyKennedy July 19, 2011 07.43 am

    I think the statement you quoted, “But for the guy who stuffs bras…” is a rhetorical device to draw the reader into the article by creating a mystery. The mystery of why a Tony-winning cast member would feel so emotional about her dresser is a reasonable question for the average reader, and the journalist can now spend the remainder of the article attempting to answer it while explaining the profession of dressing.

    There might be even another reason the relationship is so emotional for some performers. It’s not just, as you said, that the dresser does several superhuman feats a show, such as sewing in the dark. Also many performers have body issues, and the dresser must know and support a performer’s body, quite literally. For some women in particular, this must feel like such an intimate exchange. Piepenburg didn’t mention that either, so I’m with you: the article could have done more.

     
  • Brenna July 21, 2011 12.29 pm

    Thank you for your insight! The body image issue gives even more depth to the dresser-actor relationship, and highlights just how ignorant we are of what goes on backstage.

     

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