I recently ran into a costume designer I hadn’t seen in years; I woke up the next day remembering a wonderful story he once told:
He was visiting a costume construction shop in Los Angeles — the owner was an old friend — and he overhead her on the phone with a client. It was obvious that the client was arguing over her estimate for the job. After a discussion that didn’t seem to be going anywhere, she finally sighed and said, “Good…. Fast…. Cheap…. Pick Two!”
Every shop manager I’ve known loves this saying — not because you want negotiations to reach the stage where you have to spell it out like this, but because it’s true.
If it takes 60 hours of skilled labor to tailor a suit from high quality fabrics, the cost will reflect that. There is no “good and fast and cheap” custom work: “Pick Two.”
Good + Fast:
If you want it good and you want it fast, the shop will have to hire more skilled labor, including the time it takes to locate last-minute overhire workers in addition to the usual staff; or it will have to pay overtime; and it may have to put aside other work to fit your rush order into the schedule (which means overtime on that job, too.) The material will have to be ordered immediately, at full price, from someone who ships overnight — not at discount.
So it won’t be Cheap.
Fast + Cheap:
If you want it fast and you want it cheap, the shop has to take shortcuts in labor and materials. Real, quality custom tailoring needs natural fibers — real wool, real horsehair — not cheaper polyester blends. There won’t be time for much hand sewing, so fusible interfacings and prefab padding may be used. The front of your cheap suit may bubble after one dry cleaning. You won’t have a final fitting in which the tailor adds a quarter inch to one shoulder pad to hide your low shoulder — or makes other subtle modifications to fit and flatter as only a custom suit can. The material will look cheap.
So it won’t be Good.
Good + Cheap
Almost impossible. However, if you’re not in a hurry, there are times when the shop may not have enough work to keep its permanent staff busy, so it may be willing to build “at cost” or close to it. Or, if there’s no hurry, the shop may be able to work on your project in between other orders, as time permits. But they won’t be able to commit to a firm delivery date; your order may be put on hold if a rush order comes in. If there’s no hurry, the shop manager may be able to locate a really high quality material at a much lower cost than usual. However, shopping takes time, and costs money — unless it can be combined with shopping for another client or project — who will have priority.
So “Good + Cheap” is not impossible, but it won’t be Fast.
Good…. Fast…. Cheap…. Pick Two.
I used a custom-tailored suit as an example, because turning a costume design into a fully realized costume to fit a specific actor is custom work.
Although mass-produced Halloween costumes can be cheap, theatrical costumes are usually custom made. When a TV show needs costumes for people on another planet; or an opera designer needs a full set of Renaissance costumes for Rigoletto in a limited palette of black, gold, and red; or a movie needs six copies of a year-old white Armani suit made in 48 hours — that is custom work. Building a one-of-a-kind costume has all the costs of developing any prototype, without the prospect of eventually sending it into mass production and recouping the development costs. The “Pick Two” rule applies.
If you’re a costumer, you may get a smile from this 1934 ad:
“Mingle with the elite, win financial independence….” The ad is for a “home-study course in costume designing.”
Woodbury University is still offering a fashion design program. It is located in Southern California. Click here for more information. [This is not an endorsement – I have no personal knowledge of the program, except that it’s still there after 130 years!]