Friday, 18 January 2013

The Point of No Return

I've finished up working on a film project and I now have to sort and return lots of clothing. The project was a contemporary short film with a particularly short pre-production and low budget so I ended up buying more options than I needed with a view to returning any unused items at the end of the shoot. This is absolutely fair enough and almost all high st shops have a good returns policy (although in practice some are more generous than others).

But what about returning clothes that have been worn?

This is an issue which I am sure every costume designer has faced at some point or other, especially when working on low budget projects and I think ulitmately it comes down to personal ethics.

To return....?

  • I only ever use and return clothing to high street chain shops, partly from a vaguely held view that to them I am a dollar sign, and they are happy to manipulate me to get my money, so it works both ways. But also because they have the most generous returns policys.
  • When I do return clothes I use, I plan this in advance, and will only do it with clothes that i know will be worn for a short period of time, that it's ok for me to leave the label in for the shot, and that I can keep a very careful eye on for the entire time the costume is away from the shop. If a label can be easiely taken out and put back in so much the better, but take a photo of it first so that you remember how it goes.
  • Never buy anything that you cannot afford to cover in the event it gets dirty or torn whilst being worn by an actor. Unless you have had very specific conversations with your director and producer first, I would only ever buy things that I think my contigency can cover in the event of damage. You don't want to be left trying to explain why you've doubled the costume budget because of a damaged Vivian Westwood dress.
  • 'But Mum, everyone else is doing it!' I know its not an excuse, but some shops dress their staff in clothes off the rail during their shift, girls buy a dress to wear for a night out and return it the next day. Why shouldn't I do it too?

Or not to return....?

  • When my mother goes shopping, she'll buy 4 or 5 different items of clothing and take them home without entering the change room. She'll then try them on at home with items from her wardrobe, get a second opinion from her daughters, then return anything she doesn't like. This is a very sensible and useful way to shop. It properly enters into the spirit of a returns policy. Wearing and returning does not.
  • Small retailers and franchise owners are just trying to make a living. They are not living in Chelsea mansions on the markups from their sales. I give them the respect of not trying to take advantage of them. 
  • Suits are an obvious choice for using and returning because they cost so much. A lot of shops now put a cord label through the buttonhole at the centre front that can only be removed with scissors. This makes it practically impossible to wear and then return these suit jackets.
  • I understand budgeting is hard. But it's not the producers and directors who trawl the shops looking for items that fit the budget. In many low budget projects, which are the worst offenders of this, the budget overspend goes on the costume buyers personal credit card, not the production companies. I know as a costume designer you have to care passionately about getting the look of the clothes perfect. Noone ever says 'the costumes look great considering the budget' they just judge on a good or bad scale. So you go to extreme lengths to make the costumes look as good as possible. Very few directors or producers understand just how much one outfit costs on the high street, let alone several story days per character. They need to budget accordingly, or at least they should be prepared to suffer the fallout, not the costume designer.

Hints for low quibble returns

  • You've spent the past weeks, months looking rubbish, sacrificing all vanity to make sure other people look perfect. Returns day is the one day its important to look good. Dress nicely and spend time on your hair and makeup. Smile brightly and say hello as you approach the desk. Look like a responsible member of society who is honest, friendly and open, not a tired drug dealer trying to make a dodgy deal.
  • Sort everything thoroughly beforehand. Fold items and put them in the correct store bag where possible. Have the receipt ready.
  • I always return to the largest most central store in the city centre that I can find. You are more likely to be served  by some teenager who's paid £6.50 an hour if they are lucky and who is unlikely to ask questions. They also deal with stylists and costume crew on a fairly regular basis and understand why these people are returning huge piles of clothing.

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