Job-Hunting in Frock Flicks


Not sure if you realize, but Editor-in-Chief of Frock Flicks is not my full-time job, as much as I wish it could be. Nope, your donations and Patreon subscriptions are fabulous, but they go 100% to paying our site expenses and don’t give us any kind of salary or kick-backs (we even have to buy our own T-shirts!).

In order to keep a roof over my and my husband’s and my cats’ heads, I spend 40+ hours a week slaving away in Silicon Valley at a giant tech company. It could be worse, I could be digging ditches or flipping burgers for a living, but still, when I’m watching costume dramas, I dream of all the other fabulous things I wish were my workday occupation. Obviously, I would love a life of leisure. Who wouldn’t?!? But if I had to earn a living in some capacity, these would be my first choices…


Queen of Everything

Or England or France or whatever they’ll give me. Elizabeth I had it pretty good, except for that whole “virgin” bit (if you believe it — helloooooo Dudley, come to mama!). Victoria had a decent run, although I’m not a fan of all those kids or dogs (I’m a cat person). How about Marie-Antoinette instead? Because I’m definitely a party girl, even if it turns out bad in the end. For pure power, you can’t beat Catherine the Great, who ruled completely and had plenty of hot lovers. Where do I send my resume? Note: I’ll settle for Princess of Somethings, Duchess of Stuff, or Countess of Bits and Pieces. It’s all about the tiaras.



Another Period

I come from poor Southern farmers and Chinese immigrants, and there’s no money to be handed down, so please to be sending any job openings for heiress my way since it won’t happen directly. With some arrangements, I could be any of the American heiresses who married landed British aristocracy, such as the fictional Cora Grantham on Downton Abbey and all the gals in The Buccaneers. They were based on real-life stories like that of Consuela Vanderbilt and her Gilded Age set. But there better be a hefty settlement if there’s a marriage to an egotistical loser involved (or a sudden death, can that be managed too?). Even better, how about one of those “surprise! you’re an heiress!” positions, like Jane Eyre. Surely there’s a mysterious relative in my past willing to pass down the bucks.


Kept Women

Gigi (1958)

OK, this does go totally against my feminist principles, but the fringe benefits are could be appealing. A decent courtesan or mistress should have a decent wardrobe — something by Adrien, like Garbo sported in Camille, or something more subtle, like Cecil Beaton’s designs for Gigi? If you’re lucky, you’ll hook up with a hottie like Jeremy Irons in Swann in Love, and later retire with a fabulous Art Nouveau setup as in Cheri. Yeah, no, it’d probably end up psycho like The Last Mistress, not to mention all the syphilis. Cross that one off the list.


Tortured Artist

I mean, I feel like I already am but without the recognition. Maybe that only comes after you’re dead? Hmm… I’m not saying I want the physical torture like Frida Kahlo or the family drama like Elizabeth Barrett Browning or the whole dying young from tuberculosis like my beloved Brontë Sisters. And when you think about, they only got fame but no money … well, maybe that’s enough? I dunno, it’s a tough call!



Marie Antoinette

Now this is a job I would never in a million years take in real life. I’ve sewed historical costumes for other people because I really like them or when I was really hurting for cash, but it’s always a herculean effort (admittedly, I’ve been doing it on top of my office job, which adds to the stress). The fittings, sourcing materials, the client miscommunications, the deadlines, UGH, it’s a hell of a lot of hassle. However, in the movies or TV, a seamstress has a much easier job! Sira in A Time Between takes about 10 minutes from concept to final garment — maybe it takes her a day in elapsed time, and she never breaks a sweat or so much as furrows her brow. She sews while wearing beautiful clothes and in a gorgeous atelier that’s so tidy and bright. She even whips up a faux-Fortuny gown in an afternoon! Likewise, in The Dressmaker (2016), Kate Winslet’s character glams up a desolate Outback town with ease, and even the rogue court fashion designer in The Royal Tailor (2014) sews elaborate 18th-century Korean gowns at the drop of a crazy-looking hat. If it were that easy, sure, I’d sew for money and glory!


I don’t know how they do it, those fictional characters. They somehow manage to make ends meet and keep a roof over their head, either in fabulous castles or in elegantly genteel poverty (Longbourn in Pride and Prejudice still looks a lot fancier than my itty-bitty modern bungalow). But I guess their job options aren’t exactly open to me, so back to the office grind I go.


How does your work compare with jobs in costume dramas?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

14 Responses

  1. Donnalee

    I would have to vote for heiress or doing something lucrative that I loved, because the rest of it is just too much work for very little return, especially being a ruler or kept woman/marrying for money, or doing other thankless jobs–good luck to you winning that lottery though!

  2. Saraquill

    The Heiress section’s reminding me of the book “To Marry an English Lord.” It has such a gossip column feel to it, but nice for breezy entertainment. Can’t say it tempts me into the lifestyle portrayed. Dang that’s a lot of effort and cash sacrificed for a husband shaped status symbol.

    I still recommend the book. It’s amusing how much the writers gush over Worth dresses while doing into scant detail about why they’re special. And the trainwreck surrounding Consuelo Vanderbilt’s wedding.

  3. Sarah Faltesek

    My family and friends are CONSTANTLY asking me when I’m going to turn sewing into a ‘serious side job’.
    I made an 1860s prairie dress for a friend who works at a museum site- it was fun, she was appreciative, I got paid. She started giving out my info to people who needed sewing done- which was great at first. Someone needed pants hemmed? Sure! Bring me a hoagie. Make you a pencil skirt? Ok! $20 and a hoagie.
    Then it changed.
    Now it’s “Hey, I bought a $300 dress with a sheer bodice covered in beading that I’m now too big for, and I need it for a wedding in 5 days. It’s the weekend before Christmas- can you fix it?”

    • Heidi Cochran

      EXACTLY why I won’t sew for a living. I once made glorious wedding gowns for a friend who was a couture-esque genius, and I saw the constant stress she was under to keep her little shop going, and I said NOPE to that. The last custom job I did was adding scarf-like drapes to and embiggening cheap “Roman” Halloween costumes for a local corporation. I charged them extra for the rush and the time it took away from my life, and they paid it, and I cashed their check, and never again will I do that. I sew for my nieces and nephews and friends’ kids, but I don’t even do alterations for anyone else anymore. Not even hems.

  4. Susan Pola Staples

    Heiress. Although I would probably combine it with Art History Geek.

  5. Sara

    I sew custom for little girls and I assure you, the only way to turn a profit is to work and ignore everything else. Including dishes, laundry, etc. I do however get to watch historical dramas while I work so really, it’s an even trade. I would prefer to have a fabric benefactor so I can just sew for me lol. But I do enjoy seeing little girls smiles when they receive a princess dress. On a side note, I do need to re-watch The Dresser bc I can’t recall how she afforded such lovely fabric and hats….

  6. Fran

    Hmm wasn’t Madame le Pompadour a kept Woman with power ? Alas my history knowledge is somewhat fragmented

  7. Mishka Gora

    I’m all of the above, plus governess (and quite a few servile positions which need not be mentioned). My realm is small – three acres – and being an only child I can technically claim heiress status. [lol] I am kept by my husband, write books that few people know exist, and am constantly making historical costumes for my children (for whom I am also governess) – the latest ones were a 1917 tea dress for my eldest and a late-eighteenth century suit for my son.

  8. Danielle Fredrickson

    ‘Duchess of Stuff’ and ‘Countess of Bits and Pieces’ are the most awesome titles. May I please steal one for when I make a sewing instagram??

  9. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    As a lowly government worker, I would unleash my inner Pirate Queen. Ride the seven seas, have torrid affairs with handsome sailors, then use my ill gotten gains to buy a killer wardrobe. Instead I sew my own garb, watch costume porn and have a comfortable relationship with my John Goodman like hunny bunny.

  10. Janette

    My dream job, when I was a teenager, was to be a costume designer. The Careers office people told me not to be stupid. I followed their advice and considered more sensible options, like librarian or teacher, was told that unemployment in both was huge so I gave up then I think on career and decided to stick with what I wanted to do, write. I have had numerous unimportant paid jobs, and many more purposeful unpaid ones, and failed business ventures and now, I am back to writing. Not making any money but not giving up hope on one day being able to contribute to the family income, and yes, most of my novels are set in the past. (Currently working on my first non-fiction, 19th century history, not much in way of interesting fashion to comment on though as I am writing about early settlers in Oz.

  11. Janette

    so to conclude I have opted for the poor artist and am not sorry at all.

  12. Kate D

    I’m an electrical engineer who sews Disney princess dresses and the occasional historical dress at home. It’s not a bad gig. :)

  13. Marilyn

    “How does your work compare with jobs in costume dramas?”

    Similar, actually. I’m a Tech Designer in the apparel industry, and make patterns for clothes that are sold all over the world. I work with mostly women, and we all are very brilliant, with diverse backgrounds & stories that get interwoven over the years as we work together in an ever-evolving profession & business. Almost all of us are the breadwinners. Many are mothers & grandmothers, and top in their fields. We support each other in our ups & downs, because that is key to successfully working as a group, as a team, as a family, to get sh*t done.
    It’s drama alright, but that’s life! I think Jane Austen would be proud.

    Queen, heiress, kept woman, F*CK NO would I choose to be a bird in a gilded cage!!
    What I make is my own, from talent and HARD WORK. It is the ticket to my freedom, to the money and ‘free’ time to research & make more costumes :) I do whatever I want on my own dime.

    ps: one of my fave “movie magic” sewing moments is in Coco Before Chanel, when she selects the black fabric & marks out the dress using the french curves, then is magically dancing in said dress a few min later…oui, Hollywood!