Why Television Costume Designers Need to be Recognized

Sonu Mishra styling on the set of the show ‘Genius’. Photo: Courtesy National Geographic

Elsa Einstein (played by Emily Watson) in ‘Genius’. Photo: Courtesy of National Geographic

Television programming is enjoying a surge of popularity, sophistication, and support of highly-visible film actors. No question. Film was always considered more glamorous and fashion designers were quick to recognize the impact of film on an audience. So, too, was costume design in film considered more glamorous, and well simply, more considered. Fashionista brought this issue to light: “By the 1930s, 75 million Americans went to the movies weekly, film becoming a primary source of fashion for many. Costume is understood to be critically important to a film’s success, and is honored as such; at the Oscars, the prestigiously singular costume design award is presented at the main ceremony. Film and the fashion industry mutually inform and benefit from each other.”

But where does leave costume designers in the television industry? There were no academic books on television and fashion until Helen Warner’s Fashion on Television: Identity and Celebrity Culture in 2014. Fashion on Television provides a comprehensive critical examination of the intersection between fashion, television and celebrity culture. Warner uses case studies on “fashion-forward” shows that captured audiences like – Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, Ugly Betty and Mad Men. Says Warner, “For a long time I’ve been troubled by the ways in which the work of not only costume designers, but assistant costume designers, illustrators, costumers — basically anyone in the wardrobe department — is overlooked …They contribute a huge amount (creatively) to the final product but are rarely recognized as doing so.” Costume designers on television often earn less than hair and makeup artists, and are expected to work in increasingly difficult conditions, like faster production schedules and tighter budgets.

This feature gave me a lot to think about! 

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