To celebrate the New Year, I’d like to share some glamourous gowns from the 1920s, and also something that gave me hope whenever the news from 2020 seemed too bleak.
Most people realize that it’s hard to make a living in the performing arts under the best of circumstances. Here’s an old joke.
Q: An actor graduates from a top drama school and gets his first job. What are the first words he will speak in public?
A: “Would you like fries with that?”
Once, I was working in the costume shop at Stanford University. A student came in for a costume fitting, and mentioned that he had changed his major from Economics to Drama. “But my parents wanted me to have something to fall back on,” he said, “so I’m minoring in Art.” After he left, the theatre professionals agreed that he wouldn’t have much of a future in Economics….
For costume designers and technicians, the first months of the year are traditionally difficult. After the Nutcrackers and Velveteen Rabbits and Christmas Carols at the end of the year, there’s not much work for wardrobe, part-timers and overhires until March or April. But in 2020, theatres and performing arts companies shut down in March, and with COVID-19 still spreading they have not reopened. Suddenly, all the theatre workers I know were facing months of uncertainty and unemployment just when they were already at the end of their “off season savings.”
Immediately, the Costumers’ Alliance yahoo group I subscribed to began exchanging information about what organizations and hospitals needed facemasks, where you could find patterns online, who was willing to share elastic and other sewing supplies, and where you could donate masks. Hundreds of people who had just lost their income set to work as volunteers, using their skills and supplies. It was the same in most theatre communities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York…. (And those are only the ones I’m in touch with.) Home stitchers and quilters were also pitching in by donating thousands of hours of labor to supply communities in need.
Whenever I began to lose hope in our democracy, I thought of all those people who pitched in, and kept at it, during the darkest months of our lives. The instinct that says, “Let me help” is still alive.
And now, since we’re not going to any New Year’s parties this year, we can fantasize about wearing this couture from the past:
For more detailed images and information about these and other Chanel gowns from the same issue of Delineator, click here. Wishing you a Happy and Healthy 2021!