Confronting Elitism in the Costume Industry

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A costume designer has told The Stage about the difficulty faced by working class people trying to break into the industry. Having written extensively on the fight for better recognition of the costume profession Catherine Kodicek and has “come out” about her modest background.

Savings and Family Money

“Let’s be clear: without the cushion of family money to support you, the path into backstage theatre is hard,” she said. “I relied largely on the savings I’d built up through six years working in a bank. Many working-class costume professionals I meet now started their professional lives years ago when degrees were free, rents were reasonable and pay was actually rather good. A generation of costume professionals have lived through the ‘good times’ and are dismayed to see the ladder being pulled up behind them.”

Kodicek warned that working class costume professionals are not being replenished as older generations retire. Meanwhile it is deemed inappropriate to complain about pay in a deeply middle class industry.


“A costume supervisor who wants to work with successful costume designers cannot complain about the fee, cannot speak about student debts, cannot speak of the stress of impossible rent payments while making less than the minimum wage on a ludicrous buyout fee, for fear of looking unprofessional,” she said.

While the entertainment trade union BECTU has approved minimum standards of pay these are being sidestepped with ‘buyout’ contracts for set fees regardless of how many hours are actually worked. Kodicek fears that with fewer working class costume professionals in the industry and supporting unions the power to press for change will be weakened, with a quieter voice for the people who make the loudest visual statements in film and theatre.