If you know me in IRL you know that I am about the hustle 24/7.
I work at a local fashion brand running their operations and logistics, I write for Vita Daily, I write for my own blog (albeit sporadically) and occasionally book the occasioning wardrobing gig. All while attempting to workout daily, eat three(ish) meals per day and prioritizing time with my friends. It’s probably the millennial in me that needs to do all the things at once. It’s also the living in Vancouver aspect of me that needs to have multiple jobs to fill my time with things that make me money and not cost me money.
Out of all my jobs, all of which I think are interesting in their own way, the one I get the most questions about is wardrobing. So here is my best attempt to answer some of those questions. If you have any additional questions feel free to leave a comment. The only questions pertaining to wardrobing I will not be answering will have to do with compensation and sharing contact info of my employer… if I am being honest it’s surprising how many people I don’t know who think it’s okay to ask me those things.
What even is wardrobing? Like what do you?
My role when I am on a wardrobe call is work for the load-in, show, and load-out of various concerts. Each gig varies and there has been times where I only do show, or only do load-in and show, etc. The tasks while I’m working are more or less the same however some gigs have more prep required than others but none of it is ever as glamorous as people think it is.
Every show has a traveling wardrobe person or team that actually goes on tour with them. As part of the local crew my job is to assist them so that they can focus on the big picture that is the production of the show. Load-in tasks include; doing inventory, steaming (so much steaming), light repair work (if you know how to sew and have a machine you’ll book more gigs), laundry, prepping garments in show order. Show tasks are usually assisting in quick change and running clothes back to the dressing room to be prepped for load out. Load-out is spot cleaning, inventory, sorting out and packing up trunks. This last part is usually a whirlwind because often times they show is on the road to their next show the very same night so a big part of what I do is making sure that everything is as prepped as possible for the next show which may be within a 24 hour window of my show ending.
There is a good chance that when I take a wardrobe call I will be there all day. Like 7 AM until the show load out is done well after midnight. It’s not like I’m there sitting in box seats rubbing elbows with famous people. I show up dressed in all black with as little personal stuff on me as possible because I bounce from dressing room to wardrobe room to backstage so much.
Like I said, it’s not glamorous.
How did you get into wardrobing?
When I was in fashion school the one sentiment echoed by every instructor was that the industry was small and it boiled down to “it’s who you know” and that advice scared me a lot. I moved to Vancouver in 2013 not knowing anyone so if my professional life is going to be based off of who I know I was fucked.
When I got offered my first wardrobing job I was working a full-time retail job at a department store that paid minimum wage or commission (whichever worked out to be higher) but I treated that job like it was a dream job. While working this retail job I met a lot of other people who had similar career aspirations that I did however they treated our job as just another shitty retail job. They hated dealing with customers, did the bare minimum and just overall had a very “fuck this” attitude. A lot of stylists came to the shop and bought for their projects and my coworkers avoided them like the plague. The issue they had with stylists is while they buy a lot they also return a lot and anytime a large return was made under your sales code you lose commission. They would actually take money out of your paycheque.
Me, being the eager beaver that I am, would follow stylists around the store offering to help. I looked for multiples for them, special ordered clothes, essentially trying to learn as much about what they do as I could just being in a retail store. I even gave out my phone number to them telling them I would come in on my day off just to help them with their buys. I gave out my number to probably a dozen stylists and ever had one of them actually call me.
I made enough of an impression on that one stylist that was hired on to work the Taylor Swift 1989 tour that when she was asked “we need more people, do you know anyone that you think would be suitable?” she thought of me first. Getting my first gig enabled me to continue booking more because I was able to make the connections needed to turn this into one of my side hustles. My wardrobing gig had nothing to do with me attending fashion school, it was not a job I applied for, it wasn’t even a job I ever really knew existed. It was a job that was offered to me while I was working for minimum wage at a retail job just because I used it as an opportunity to network and make connections with every single person I encountered.
The best advice I could give anyone who wants to grow in any industry is that it’s a bit more than just who you know. It’s also how you treat people and how hard you work. That department store had over 50 people that worked in the same department as I did. They all had the exact same opportunity that I did to land this job.
What is the craziest thing that you’ve witnessed happening backstage?
I have been extremely lucky that the shows I have worked on have always run smoothly even though everything backstage is a mad dash up until showtime. It truly takes a village to put on a show and it’s incredible how many moving pieces there are. While I might be in the wardrobe room steaming my entire day there are people who are setting up lighting, sound, cameras, building an entire freaking stage, working in catering, etc. If you have ever worked behind the scenes of a concert show you really understand why it tickets cost so much money. There are so many people behind the scenes, with the travelling tour and as local crew.
A common misconception is that it’s a party backstage. That it’s free flowing booze and lots of hard drugs but honestly the entire process is very professional. The talent usually isn’t at the venue all day while everything is being set up and at the end of the day this is a job to them. They show up, go on stage and perform and get shit done. There are detection dogs on site that go through the entire venue several times so sorry to disappoint, no mountains of cocaine here.
What qualifications do you have to have to work in wardrobe?
Honestly I think any able bodied person could work wardrobe. If you know how to sew that’s a handy skill to have but I do not sew and I have gotten by just fine. It’s more or less based on your work ethic and professionalism that determines how suitable you are for wardrobing. Are you going to fan out and be weird around celebrities? Are you going to feel some kind of way of you don’t even get to be backstage during the show? Sometimes wardrobe is being in a room far from the stage just steaming all day, all night – it’s possible that you might not even see any part of the show whatsoever. Can you work an 18 hour shift without your phone on you? Do you smoke? Because other than our allotted coffee and meal breaks you don’t get to zip out for a quick puff.
What was your favourite show to work on?
I love this question because I have so many favourites and all for different reasons but there is one show that always wins out because I am a sentimental bish.
The Taylor Swift 1989 tour (2015) was my first wardrobing gig so it holds a very special place in my heart. She was performing at BC Place which has the capacity to seat over 50,000 and the show was packed. Something to know about me is that prior to working wardrobe I had only ever been to one concert ever and it was when I was in my early twenties (I went to go see Miranda Lambert with my best friend and her mom). I come from a small city from a single income family of four kids and concerts were not a thing we could spend money on. Being under the stage at BC place looking out into that crowd was one of those moments I will carry with me forever because I have never seen that many people at once in my entire life.
Secondly I remember being 16 years old, sitting on my bed and listening to T Swizzle’s “Picture to Burn” off of a cassette tape that I recorded off of my local radio station (shoutout to Lethbridge’s The River’s Top 8 at 8 – I lived for that). If you told the 16 year old version of me that was painfully insecure, unsure of who she wanted to be when she grew up and in the midst of her parents going through an extremely messy divorce that one day she would get to work for Taylor Swift if only for a night she would never have believed you.
Have whatever opinion you want on Taylor Swift, there is no denying that her fans are some of the most devoted fans in the world. To see all the people dressed up and with signs was really something else. Also you know when you’re at a show for someone with so many young fans you’re a part of the experience of some kids’ first show ever. If that’s not special I don’t know what is.
Also this is also going to make me sound like a grandma, but Shawn Mendes was opening that show and at the time he wasn’t well known and he was just a kid on stage with his guitar. Everyone travelling with the tour expressed how Shawn was so humble and so sweet. He was literally a 16 year old kid opening for one of the biggest tours at the time and whenever I hear about him doing his own arena shows I can’t help but think, “oh that Mendes boy is a nice kid. Good for him.”