Entrepreneurs Flourish in the Diverse Theater-Costume Business
Photo by Tovo Moreno / Courtesy of Artur Allakhverdyan
By Gregory DL Morris , Triffin I . Morris and Rachel E . Pollock
In an era when a few major corporations dominate many sectors of the economy , it is refreshing that in at least one specialized segment of light manufacture , artisans running small shops are succeeding where large , integrated companies have faltered . It is even more heartening that among those entrepreneurs are mostly women , immigrants , gay people and increasingly people of color .
Broadway , by itself , is big business . In the 2018 – 2019 season , the Broadway League , the association of the largest theaters , grossed $ 1.83 billion from attendance of 14.77 million . That was an increase of almost 20 % from the previous season gross . The league calculates that its productions contribute $ 14.7 billion to the economy of New York City on top of ticket sales , and that they support almost 100,000 jobs .
Out of those just a few hundred make the costumes . Stage clothes are haute couture that works for a living : eight to 10 shows a week for it is hoped several years . Producers fund the show and hire a director . Together they hire the lead creative team , including the costume designer . That person draws sketches and selects fabric — and wins the Tony Award .
But “ no actor goes on stage wearing a sketch ,” noted designer Jane Greenwood , who has a couple Tonys of her own . The costume maker , or draper , takes the sketch and the actor ’ s measurements and makes a pattern for the garment . The draper then leads the team that makes and fits the finished costume . Broadly speaking , the designer is like the architect , and the draper is the engineer .
Stage clothes became a business in 1919 when the six-year-old Actors ’ Equity Association went on strike . One major demand was that producers would have to provide costumes ; before that actors were responsible for providing their own stage clothes however they could — make , borrow or buy .
Many productions were vehicles for the leading ladies of the day . Some would even commission musical reviews and wear
The “ money coat ” from Hamilton : An American Musical . The original is now housed in the Smithsonian Institution .
30 FINANCIAL HISTORY | Fall 2021 | www . MoAF . org