How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing

How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing

by Alison Freer


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Costume designer Alison Freer’s styling kit is a magical bag of tricks, built to solve every single wardrobe malfunction on earth. TV and film productions wait for nothing, so her solutions have to work fast. In How to Get Dressed, Alison distills her secrets into a fun, comprehensive style guide focused on rethinking your wardrobe like a fashion expert and making what’s in your closet work for you. She provides real-world advice about everything style-related, including:

   • Making every garment you own fit better
   • Mastering closet organization
   • The undergarments you actually need
   • The scoop on tailors and which alterations are worth it
   • Shopping thrift and vintage like a rockstar

Instead of repeating boring style “rules,” Alison breaks the rules and gets real about everything from bras to how to deal with inevitable fashion disasters. Including helpful information such as how to skip ironing and the dry cleaners, remove every stain under the sun, and help clueless men get their sartorial acts together, How to Get Dressed has hundreds of insider tips from Alison’s arsenal of tools and expertise.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781607747062
Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed
Publication date: 04/14/2015
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 162,952
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

ALISON FREER is a costume designer from Texas living and working in Hollywood. With more than 150 TV shows, films, commercials, and music videos under her belt, she has reams of hard-won, practical wardrobe expertise at her fingertips. Alison is also the clothes editor at, where her unique take on how to solve common fashion and style conundrums has won her a dedicated following. Alison is also a contributing editor to, in addition to hosting TLC's A Makeover Story during its fifth season. She also appeared on Melissa River's TV Candy on the TV Guide network as the show's resident style expert.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: Good Clothes Open All Doors 
I am a costume designer living and working in Hollywood, California. You might be wondering what a costume designer even does, which makes sense—I wondered the same thing, even as I was agreeing to be one! If you’ve ever thought that your favorite character’s wardrobe on that really great show was the bee’s knees, you have a costume designer to thank for it. Because that character didn’t just wake up that way—a clever costume designer created the look you love so much. 

Being a costume designer means I’m the one responsible for the designing, fabricating, shopping, fitting, accessorizing, altering, repairing, and customizing of every single piece of clothing that actors wear while on camera—right down to their underwear and socks. Whether I’m working on a film, TV show, or commercial, I’m pounding the pavement at fabric stores, boutiques, flea markets, shopping malls, and costume houses twelve to fourteen hours a day, every day. The jobs I take are particularly unglam—because there is a world of difference between a professional costume designer who dresses actors as the characters they play and a celebrity stylist who exclusively outfits stars for red carpet appearances.

One of us (the celebrity stylist) has every top clothing and jewelry designer in the world on speed dial, while the other (the costume designer, that’s me!) usually has only five hundred bucks and a pocket full of ingenuity to get the job done. You’re not likely to find me delivering ball gowns to hotel suites in glamorous locales or being name-checked in an actor’s Oscar acceptance speech. More often than not, I’m standing on a ladder in a dusty costume house looking for showgirl outfits or hunched over a folding table in my basement office on a studio lot, trying to figure out how to sew soda cans onto a furry seal costume in time for the afternoon’s shoot. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because the thousands of hours I’ve spent in the trenches figuring out what works for my actors’ wardrobes has made me an authority on anything and everything having to do with clothes—from determining what constitutes proper fit to what to do when a wardrobe crisis strikes. I’ve also made a ton of mistakes along the way, so whatever your particular problem, I can guarantee it’s happened to me—and that I probably have the solution.

I actually lied my way into becoming a costume designer. (That’s some hot career advice right there, by the way: fake it ’til you make it!) I’ve been a rabid collector of clothes, shoes, handbags, and accessories my entire life—so much so that my first apartment in Los Angeles really just functioned as one giant closet. There were rhinestone cowboy boots lining the walls of my living room, a dozen cut-up vintage prom dresses hanging in the bathroom, and nothing in my bedroom but racks of clothes and a mattress on the floor. One day my neighbor (who also happened to be a commercial director) came over to borrow something, took one look at this total mania, and asked, “Whoa, are you a costume designer?”

He didn’t even notice the white polyester dress I had bubbling away in a pot on the stove, which was an unsuccessful attempt to dye it black using India ink. (There aren’t enough words to explain how badly that experiment failed, by the way—so save yourself a headache and skip to chapter 10 for some pro-style dyeing tips if you’re interested in making the things you own change colors.) I froze for all of three seconds before I decided to answer that yes, of course, I was indeed a costume designer. I suspected that whatever a costume designer actually was, I could probably be one. I innately knew that what I already loved doing could probably become my career and that I likely could be just as good at it as anybody else. That director called to hire me for a small commercial the very next week. And just like that, my career was born. It wasn’t fate, it was just an incredible opportunity that I smartly grabbed—and then held on to for dear life.

People always ask me what special skills I learned to become a successful costume designer and are consistently shocked when I tell them that the answer is “Pretty much none!” Not only did I not attend fashion school, I barely attended college. I struck out on my own early in life, taking on a number of jobs that depended solely on my ability to communicate well and get people excited about things. I was a shopgirl in clothing and jewelry stores, and the experience I gained while working with the general public is what most effectively prepared me to be a costume designer—because dressing people is really all about sales. I can paint a picture with words and images that allows people to believe in me and see what the end result will be—and give them the confidence to let me spend rather large amounts of their money!

Long before I worked retail, I was a scrappy eighteen-year-old DJ at my local alternative radio station. I started out as the receptionist but eventually badgered them until they broke down and gave me an overnight on-air shift, provided it didn’t interfere with my daytime responsibilities.

I slept in my office (which was also the station’s front lobby) from the time my shift ended at 5:00 a.m. until my daytime receptionist gig began at 9:00 a.m. I learned how to talk, communicate, schmooze, and how to “figure it out” at all costs—skills I’m still utilizing to this very day.

That’s not to say that I don’t still wake up almost every single morning wondering, “Why do these people trust me? What’s wrong with them? And what if I screw everything up?” I’ve learned the hard way not to psych myself out too much—to just push through and focus solely on the task at hand. This single-minded, eyes-on-the prize, dogged determination is what makes me uniquely qualified to solve any wardrobe problem the universe manages to come up with. (It’s also the reason I can’t ever attend a wedding without being grabbed out of the congregation at the last minute to tie the bride’s French bustle or repair a flapping bra strap.) 
Looking back, I’d really been preparing to become a costume designer my entire life—I just never realized it. As a teen in Texas, I’d be dropped off at the mall by my parents each and every Saturday with my five best buds and $30 of babysitting money in my pocket. While my pals were busy blowing their allowance on CDs and Slurpees, I was hunting for cool clothes I could actually afford that fit the vision of myself I had in my head. (Figuring out what image I wanted to project to the world via my wardrobe makes me the very first character I ever dressed!) This was a valuable lesson—because while having great style is an essential part of being a costume designer, good budgeting skills are really at the heart of the job description. Designers who go over budget don’t tend to get rehired, so knowing your way around a clearance rack is a very valuable skill.

Being a costume designer means that when things go wrong, I’m the one who takes the heat. You haven’t really lived until you’ve gotten a shocking amount of red lipstick out of a white Gucci blouse in front of a live studio audience because someone hugged an actor too forcefully in the middle of a taping. It costs about $1,000 per minute while the camera is held and everyone waits for me to fix it. Situations like that are why I’ve had to come up with a stable of solutions to disasters that really work—and work incredibly fast. Wardrobe disasters are a way of life when you’re a costume designer, and I’ve had every single one possible happen to me at some point in my career. So the next time you find yourself suffering from a terrible clothing malfunction, you can take heart in knowing that what you are experiencing has likely happened to your favorite star as well. But you can also rest easy—because now that you’re holding this book, you’ve got the solution to almost any dastardly wardrobe disaster that could occur.

In the coming pages, I’m going to pull back the curtain and show you what really goes on behind the scenes at a wardrobe fitting. We’ll figure out together who the heck you really are and what your clothes are saying about you, and I’ll let you in on all the style secrets my actors probably wish I wouldn’t—while teaching you how to keep the clothes you’ve already got in your closet in tip-top shape. (Because, yes, wardrobes need tune-ups and maintenance, too.) I’ll also open up my costume designer’s tool kit and share all the gadgets I use to make those stars look like stars. Because the old saying really is true: Good clothes open all doors. But I’m of the belief that it’s not so much what you wear that makes people sit up and take notice—it’s how you wear it. By the time you’re done reading here, there won’t be a single one of my secrets you won’t know. Everyone’s wardrobe could benefit from having a professional costume designer (and her secret bag of tricks) in their back pocket—and that’s just what this book is: Me, Alison Freer, at your service.

Table of Contents

ntroduction: Good Clothes Open All Doors ix

Movie Magic: Or, Why Movie 1
Stars Look Like Movie Stars

First, You Have To Prepare | It’s Time to Shop | Let’s Have a Fitting 
| How Do They Make a TV Show, Anyway?

Chapter 2 
Fit: The True Enemy of Great Style 11
The Right Pants | A Better Skirt | A Brilliant Blouse | A Jacket Fit for a Queen
| The Perfect Dress

Chapter 3
Alter Your Clothes, Alter Your Life 29
The Totally Worth-It Alterations You Really Need to Know About 
| But Sometimes, It’s Just Not Worth It | How to Find a Great Tailor |
Basic Tailoring Terms

Chapter 4
Be Your Own Costume Designer 49
Your Style is Your Signature | How to Search Out Pieces That Are So
Totally You

Chapter 5 
Dumb Fashion Rules 59
That Were Made For Breaking

Dumb Rule Number One: Always Fear Wearing Stripes—Horizontal or Otherwise | Dumb Rule Number Two: Don’t Wear White after Labor Day | Dumb Rule Number Three: Don’t Wear Black with Brown or Navy | Dumb Rule Number Four: Don’t Mix Your Metals | Dumb Rule Number Five: Don’t Wear Leggings as Pants | Dumb Rule Number Six: Don’t Wear Boots in the Summer | Dumb Rule Number Seven: Short Boots Make Your Legs Look Stumpy | Dumb Rule Number Eight: Don’t Mix Your Patterns | Dumb Rule Number Nine: Don’t Double Up Your Denim | Dumb Rule Number Ten: Redheads Can’t Wear Red—and Blondes Shouldn’t Be Wearing Yellow, Either

Chapter 6 
Wardrobe Tools 73
To Keep Your Look Together

The Holy Trinity: Safety Pins, Topstick, and Moleskin | Even More Tools to Keep Your Look Together | But What about a Busted Zipper? | Ironing is for Suckers

Chapter 7 
Dressing for Success Is Dead 91
Are My Clothes Dirty? | Are My Clothes Wrinkled? | Am I Showing Something I Wish I Wasn’t? | Are My Clothes Covered in Lint, Pills, or
Stray Threads? | Are My Shoes Scuffed, Dirty, or Worn? | Does This Fit
Me Properly?

Chapter 8 
Closet Hacks: Store Your 101
Clothes Like Wardrobe Girls Do 

When in Doubt, Just Hang it Up! | But What if I Don’t Have
Enough Rail Space?
Chapter 9 
Underthings: You Really Only Need a Few 117
First Things First: Throw Your Shapewear in the Trash | Don’t Fear the Panty Line | Your Grandma Was Right: Slips Rule | Don’t Burn Your Bra Just Yet... | How to Frankenstein a Bra That Works for You | Hand Washing Your Bras and Undies

Chapter 10
Laundry: You’re Doing It Wrong 143
Get the Most out of Your Washing Machine | Is Dry-Cleaning Really Necessary? | To Skip the Dry Cleaner, You’d Better Learn How to
Hand Wash | Stains: Or, Spit Removes Blood Like Whoa
Chapter 11
Shoe Care For All Your Footwear 167
Help Your Shoes Keep Their Shape | Spring for Protective Rubber Soles—and Replace Your Heel Caps Often | Remove Salt and Slush Residue Immediately | Avoid Heat and Other Drying Conditions | Rotate Your Footwear | Don’t Forget to Waterproof | Maintain, Maintain, Maintain | Bring Your Shoes Back from the Dead | Keep Your Shoes from Killing Your Feet 

Chapter 12
Old Stuff: A Guide to 185
Shopping Vintage and Thrift 

Thrift Stores and Charity Shops | Vintage Stores | Consignment or
Resale Shops | Used Clothing Stores | To Start the Hunt, Prepare and
Plan | Then, Know What to Look For | Also, Have a Plan of Attack | Be Sure to Try It All On (and Check It Twice!) | Finally, Get Ready to Wear It

Chapter 13
Dudes, This One’s for You 201
If the Jacket’s Not Right, the Whole Thing Is Wrong | This Is How Pants Should Fit | Let’s Talk about Shirts | How to Measure Yourself Properly |
You Can Thank the Duke for the Suit | With Buttons, it’s Sometimes, Always, Never | Can I Take My Jacket Off Now? | Whoops, This Suit
Doesn’t Fit! | How to Fix Your See-Through Shirt | How a Tie Should Look
| How to Wear a Tuxedo

go ahead, sit on the grass: Stain Glossary 219
take care of what you’ve got: Fabric Care Glossary 225

Acknowledgments 235
About the Author 237
Index 239

Customer Reviews