One of the more frustrating obstacles for folks breaking into working as a costumer is knowing what pay rates they should negotiate for themselves. Even after a costumer has joined a union, they commonly negotiate their pay rate. The union negotiates only the minimum rate: what rate people actually work for is based on what ever higher rates the market will bear.


---snip--- I'm in North Carolina ---snip--- I've designed for about 10 years, ---snip--- at non-union and small college levels. Couldn't live on that kind of work.---snip--- Last year I branched off into commercials.---snip---

My biggest question is what are normal rates for designers, stylists, wardrobe, etc.?


Many costumers break into the business doing commercials. Many good directors and crew people start out by doing commercials. This gives you the opportunity to develop friendships and a networking group that can lead to more work and moving up to feature projects. Of course the most powerful person for networking on behalf of a costumer/costume designer is the director, with production managers being a close second.

It's difficult for me to know what the going rates are in the Carolina's where you will be working.

The general cost of living is sooooo much lower than NYC, LA & SF and those are the rates I have some sense of. Keep in mind that, like all jobs, costumer rates vary by geographic area based on the cost of living.

For instance, here in Silicon Valley, people who are making less than $48,000 a year are officially below poverty level!

I remember when I used to hear what people were making per hour in LA. I would figure out what I was making teaching per hour and think I was foolish to keep teaching for that rate when I could be in LA making "all that money".  "All that money" didn't go nearly as far in LA as it would in Indiana.

You will need to do some calculations based on what you know the cost of living to be in the location you are working in. (This is why USA 829 has regional offices and the regional offices negotiate the rates for their region.)  Rates set by union negotiations are minimum rates. "Working for Scale" means that you accept the minimum rate set by the union contract currently in effect. Individuals are expected to negotiate on their own behalf if they want to get higher rates.  The advantage of having the union contracts in our midst is that they set a standard that non-union companies have to compete with if they want well qualified people on their production.

If you want to know what rates are in your region, you need to find several people who are working regularly in your region and ask them what their current rates are. This is easier to do if you approach them as a student seeking knowledge, rather than as someone who is current job competition.

I  can try to give you a sense of proportion.  At a time when a two bedroom house or apartment averaged $850 a month, the key costumer hourly minimum rate was approx. $27 an hour. Many established key costumers working as "wardrobe supervisors" (meaning that they were managing the wardrobe department for that film production) were negotiating for as high as $35 an hour, if there were no designer on the film.

The costume designer minimum weekly rate was $900 a week. At that time an average established costume designer was actually negotiating for them self $1500 a week. (To quote one: "I told them that, for that, they owned me 15 hours a day 6 days a week.") Keep in mind that the paychecks have the usual withholdings for taxes, social security etc.

As as a general rule, people who are doing commercial work charge a daily rate, rather than an hourly rate.  Because the work on commercials is very intense for a short period of time, the daily rate is usually higher than a steady job (TV series - a feature film).

Currently in LA, for a stylist, $400 a day is considered a very low rate. Need to keep in mind that a stylist is a very different breed of animal than a costumer.  Stylists are covered under USA 829, but none of the "film" unions currently claim jurisdiction over stylists. There are "super stylists" just as there are "super models" and rates vary accordingly.

  • Stylists do their "look design" based on current fad fashion instinct.

  • Costumers/costume designers do characters based on analysis of a script and discussions with the director (and preferably with the actors also).

  • If you are doing a shoot where the focus of the clothing is to look like the latest style, then you are a stylist.

  • If you are doing a shoot where the focus is on the "kind of person" (profession or personality or social group) using rented, purchased, or other pre existing garments, then you are a costumer.

  • If you are drawing pictures and having clothes made to look like the sketches, then you are a designer.

Traditionally, stylists and designers work on a daily (or weekly) fixed rate. Costumers work on an hourly rate.  Often costumers will work on a long term project with a weekly guarantee. (This is all negotiated by the individual at the time of hire.)  Most common is a  52 hour weekly guarantee. This automatically guarantees that they will be paid for at least 40 hours of straight time plus 12 hours of time and 1/2. (You go on double time after 12 hours in a day.)

It used to be that a costumer or stylist would boost their pay rate by charging a "kit rental".  A kit is a mammoth thing... a wardrobe dept. that fits into your car. (racks, ironing, dying, sewing, distressing, supplies of all sorts.....  humm... I should post a list).  I had to rent a storage space to keep mine in. 

I don't know what the current practice is, but it used to be that you could charge for car rental also, if you were using your own car to go shopping etc. for the show.  On unions shows this got to be a testy issue because the teamsters believe that you should have one of their drivers assigned to you to drive you around. There is a logistical work advantage to insisting that the production assign you a driver and a van or station wagon over billing for using your own car.  The kit rental and car rental should be paid for by a separate check from the paycheck.  For you this is reembersal of expenses, not "wages". (Well, the tax laws are fluid.... check for the current year applicable. There was a point in time where it made more financial sense for me to not use my car.)

I believe that kit rental is still standard practice for commercial shoots, but most established union productions that provide a wardrobe facility as part of their production setup were "baulking" at kit rentals the last I knew. Exceptions occur when the production manager specifically is looking for a way to "sweeten the pot" because they  specifically want that particular costumer to work with them.  The rate negotiated varies. Last I knew it was between $100 a day and $150 a day on commercials. Non-union shoots often prefer to pay for a kit rental on a weekly rate basis because it writes off as a business expense, while setting up a wardrobe  department leaves them with assets at the end of the production (not desirable). (Again, it is wise to check tax laws currently in effect, this is another situation where they have been fluid over the years.)

I know this isn't exactly the answer you were looking for. I can scrounge around in my "heaps" and find the actual current rates for NY and LA, if you insist,  but, unless you are working on productions based in those geographic  areas, they are not really pertinent to you.  Even if you were working as a "local hire" on a LA based union film production that was being shot in the Carolinas, you would most likely be paid at the "local rate" rather than the LA rate.



© 2004 Stephanie Schoelzel