Controversial Costume

Black Swan tutu in construction
Black Swan tutu in construction

Yesterday I posted on the Costume Society’s Facebook page an article about the new Costume Construction course to be run by the Royal Opera House. My post caused quite a stir and has now reached 43,000 people and started a rather heated debate.

I am personally of the opinion that this course is a great opportunity for students to learn how to make for the specialised areas of Opera and Ballet. I myself trained as a ballet costume maker and am fully aware of how different it is to other forms of making. I did not study at a university but instead undertook a trainee-ship in the wardrobe of a Canadian ballet company. It is, however, the current fashion to make everything a degree and so this new course is to be a BA (Hons) in Costume Construction. Honestly I do not quite see the point of having a degree in something that only skill and not a piece of paper can prove you can do – but it appears to be a trend here to stay. The good thing about the course, however, is that the students will be working on real productions and as part of a working (and internationally renowned) theatre – perhaps more like the traditional apprenticeship?

The controversy about this course appears to have been sparked by the article’s statement that there is a ‘shortage’ of costumes makers. Comments flew back and forth stating how there ‘is no shortage of costume makers in the UK’ but ‘a huge shortage of jobs’ and already a range of courses. Yes, I agree but the point of this new course is to train Opera and Ballet costume makers specifically – in itself a great skill and where there is indeed a shortage. Theatrical Costume making is a huge and complex industry with makers specialising in skills as varied as men’s tailoring to re-enactment clothing and vintage lingerie – each with its own unique set of skills. Ballet and Opera  costume making are simply additional specialised areas like these.

Here is a link to my recent article on costuming for dance.

Another comment pointed out that not all graduates would get jobs at the Opera House. Yes, but the world is full of Ballet and Opera companies many of which still have in-house wardrobes and big budgets. While other companies  are counting the pennies the elite worlds of  Opera and Ballet still have the money to employ makers and keep alive techniques. These are overlooked hives of industry and employment.