A queen on a budget, please…..


‘I need an Anne  Boleyn dress… my budget is £300.  Can you provide the fabrics? ‘

‘I need a complete posh 15th century outfit ( hose, doublet, gown, hat),  historically accurate, silk and linen, hose in wool.  I can spend £250.’

‘Can you do a posh Victorian for £320? can add another £40 if you make a corset too.’

‘ I want a duchess gown, stays and underpinnings for a ball – how much would it be? I have about £280 to spend on the project’

‘ I found this steampunk coat on ebay,  I want one just like that, but in different wool, with silk lining, and made bespoke – can pay £100. ( the picture of the coat was attached – and I found it online too…. it was a Karen Miller , offered for £200.

The newest one: ‘I cannot afford this gown in silk, because I have sick relatives and the medicines cost a lot, plus I have a lowly paid job and my car needs repairs – but since it is my birthday soon, maybe you can sell it to me at half a price?’

These quotes  are direct lines from many of the inquires  I get – and many similar ones abound too, and I suspect there are a lot of other costumiers who get them. And it doesn’t really matter that the price guide is on my website and facebook page, plainly visible to anyone,  stating plainly how much labour is for a specific item. And if you look, you will see that the labour for, let us say, doublet, gown and hose will amount to more that £250 and that’s not even including the fabrics. People look, add, decide it is too much and go and find a hire service or make things themselves. And that is fine – if you need a fancy dress for a night, you wouldn’t be spending hundreds on it –  but get something cheap  on ebay, make stuff for yourself and have some fun with it, or ask a sewing friend a favour ( backed by gin and chocolate, usually… :-))

But some people, knowing the labour prices still email me asking if I can make the same things  at a quarter ( or less) of their usual value… why? I had no idea, until 2 ‘prospective clients’ answered that question  for me.

‘ I know it is much less that you usually charge, but at least you will have some work from me’

Well…. at least it was straightforward… Needless to say that sometimes their offer would not even cover the cost of the materials – and so I would be actually spending time working at a loss.   Also, needless to say, it assumes I am sitting here twiddling my thumbs, desperate for anything to do, whereas I am usually booked for 9-12months in advance….

It would be an equivalent to me saying to a baker: ‘Here are 3 eggs and some icing sugar, you provide the rest and I want you to make me a 3 tier wedding cake, please’. Nobody does that, so why people assume costumiers ( or jewellers,  corsetieres or generally small businesses) are any different?

I had a good think and I  think there are a few reasons for it….

1. People simply apply the ‘fancy dress’ label  to all unusual clothing, and think the prices are the same as the Chinese mass produced medieval/victorian/edwardian/lotr  garb. Very often it is not badly meant –  nowadays very few of us have things made bespoke as we can get good quality clothing  from the local store.  Occasion wear items are exceptions  (wedding dresses etc), but otherwise, we are no longer used to  commissioning gear to be made for us.

2. Also, cheap, easily available clothing leads us into the illusion that all clothing is cheap.  The wool coat in M&S is £50 –  but if I am to make it, the £50 will cover maybe the fabrics. The time used to research, communicate with the client,  measuring and fitting sessions, patterning and making the garment would be all on top of that… But we are simply used to mass produced items ready to wear and have no idea ow much individual raw materials cost. May also have no knowledge of how much work, expertise, research and experience actually go into the item.   Not really surprising since we are no longer taught specific crafts at school. Also, we don’t know how much quality fabrics cost…

3. People forget that  they are also paying for the years of research, training, experience – and the uniqueness of the item. There are thousands of costumiers – but only very few specializing in historical  items. To boot, the garments will be one of a kind –  so a rarity value should also be considered.

4. For some reason people are convinced that small businesses are forever tittering on the verge of collapse and are desperate for any work at all. And although running a small business successfully means a lot of work and commitment, and it is not all plain sailing,  I don’t think I know of any quality artisans ( and I do know quite a few) who would not be busy. Yes, sometimes the business gets slack, but that’s when many guys work on the basic stock –  things that will sell at some point, whether at markets or on etsy, ebay or self hosted online shop. Those who do take commissions that don’t cover the materials, in hope of a bit of cash usually learn that in most cases, it is much more profitable to decline – and spend the time on a stock items or a showpiece that will be far more beneficial to the business in the long term. And if  cash is desperately needed, well, then we do flashsales:-)

5.  Small businesses are ‘more personal’ – so people  ask for, sometimes outrageous’ discounts because they know the person running the business is responsible for the pricing – and have no doubt put a huge margin on the product.  And so the ‘ pity me’ emails from complete strangers. The fact that  a lot of us do not put much ‘on top’, but charge exactly what the product is worth is so unusual in the corporate world many people do not get it. You do not go to the BMW salon asking them to give you a 20% discount on the new model because  your father is sick ( what on earth are you doing buying luxury products instead of medication and specialist care for the daddy then? ), husband unemployed and your salary is low – you go and buy a 10 year old Ford instead ( mine is 15 year old now and  works great!). But the salesperson in a salon may not have the power to amend the pricing – whereas the individual might just be persuaded to do just that if they pity our situation.

I think the above are the most  common reasons why we get so many request  for the ‘royalty on budget’. People see The Tudors or White Queen and want a dress for their Halloween party –  not realizing I am not the person who caters for such items.

It is slightly better in the established re-enactment ( though  even there  it seems there is an alarming number of wannabe queens, duchesses, princes and kings wanting  royal kit for a few quid… ) as people realise that  if you want to re-enact nobility, there will be a suitable price tag  attached. In the past, a good quality, showy outfit to impress your peers at court would often cost several months of middle class salary, and although  times changed, they haven’t changed that much – silk and cloth of gold may be more accessible and cheaper – but still beyond the means of most people.  And to be honest, you can make a good quality kit middle class  in decent wool and linen or cotton – it will look lovely and though it is not the cheapest thing ever, it will serve its purpose while you save up for the brocaded cloth…..

There are a lot of arguments floating about, how a polyester silk will look quite as good – and they cannot afford silk/handmade etc, so it will have to suffice.   Well, it may be harsh – but if you cannot afford the king’s outfit ( with all the trappings it needs, jewelry, fur etc), than maybe  start with a simple soldier’s kit instead and climb the social ladder – many people do exactly that and  it takes years of saving to get higher class kit – but many stay at the middle class too, for a variety of reasons – and, to be honest, portraying a medieval farrier or an Elizabethan gardener is just as interesting and complex as a queen…

Obviously, lots depends on the purpose of the garment – if you need it for living history, educational displays and events, it simply needs to be correct fabrics, cut, finish etc, no matter what class you re-enact.  If you participate in battles and nobody is likely poking at the seams of your doublet and fingering your collar, you may be able to get some money saving short cuts. And if you  need a gown for a fancy ball, a social gathering, a photoshoot  – simply an item you’ll love to wear  – well, you can use whatever is suitable and you can afford – and produce stunning results with minimal costs:-)

There are a few shortcuts if you need/want a flashy outfit though, even if you want it made correctly and in correct fabrics:

*Save up! obvious, really, but there it is…. designate one  source of savings a month or a week and it will happen –  go our to dinner once less,   buy less modern stuff you don’t actually need all that badly – or even simpler – set up a separate saving account and put an deposit there every month, deducted from your salary straight away – you won’t notice this much, and whether it is a £20 a month, £10 a week or £100 a fortnight, it will soon amount to a neat little sum.

*take small steps…   you can often add on things to enrich your stature ( and clothing) in time.   Opt for a woolen doublet and gown, add handmade braid on it or embroidered cuffs a few months later…. Also – buy bodice, but apply lace, braid decoration yourself

* Sell the items you don’t use any more….

* sell your products – and have one sale a month that goes straight into the new kit fund…

*barter – either skills or products. You make wooden pattens but a doublet is beyond you – talk to the costumiers who re-enact, many are happy to barter  things like that.  Your shoemaker needs driving tuition? a plumber? you’d be surprised how many  things can be arranged this way….

*pay in installments – most businesses welcome the solution.

*learn to sew….. yes, may take time and investment in machinery or courses – but will pay off in the long run.  Even if your skills won’t go beyond a simple chemise or a cap – you are already saving some money

* buy ready made items – stock items are cheaper,  often quite a lot cheaper than bespoke items. If you find an item at a market or in an online shop that you know is of good quality and it fits you – grab it, will  be much cheaper  than ordering the same items bespoke ( then you pay for the time, fittings, individual patterning etc too ). Our stock items in the shop are often about half the price of  bespoke ones – especially if i happen on a sale silk in a local silk mill…

* Hunt bargains! go to markets to look out for bargain  quality fabrics – you can often save up to 50%  on the fabric – and usually this is the factor that drives the price of the costume up.

And as  I was often asked at how much different outfits cost – let us have a little display of different pieces and their prices…. more info on how much to charge can be read in the blog on running a costuming business

*please note that I do not subscribe to the idea of charging the retail price of fabrics if I get them cheaper at trader’s rates. If   the silk from James Hare costs me £40 per metre, the client will pay  exactly that, and not the inflated retail price.

12/13 century gown, middle class:


Gown in  wool, lined with linen, all handstitched and hand embroidered – value £500


gown for a queen – in silk, with silk bands and girdle, lined in silk –  with a kirtle in silk too. Labour (machine and hand finish) and materials  £600 – £700. Together with   the accessories – shoes, jewellery, crown etc, = well over £2000


Middle class kirtle and gown in wool – £300


Wealthy merchnat’s wife kit – kirtle and gown in wool, gown lined in linen with fur trim – £400


Lady/high status gown in brocade, lined with silk, all handstitched – the brocade itself  ( needed 8 metres is now retailing at £140 per metre… the dress value is  around  £2000, plus the kirtle, shoes,  pattens, jewellery – another £400

reversible burgundian gown in silk, with silk lining –  – stock item – £350

Copie de DSCF0748

early 15th gown in wool, with linen – commission – value – £300


robe and chaperon in silk brocade, commission – £ 400. the same items in wool would cost £260

untitled -  November 15, 2015 - 20

silk brocade robe, lined with silk – stock item – £220. Normally just the fabric would be that much, plus another £200 for labour – but this particular silk was hunted down at a silk sales, hence the affordable  price!

Peterborough Heritage

Royal Tudor gown – over £3400 ( detailed pricing here );  high born lady gown in silk velvet, lined with silk – £550. same gown in wool would cost £350;

Henrician Outfit-5

Upper class Tudor set in wool, silk and fur – around £1000.  same outfit in quality, royal silks would probably double the price

off the peg  high quality Tudor gown and kirtle form the shop –  £400 and £240 respectively


High status lady outfit, in silk satin, with silver lace – with  2 petticoats – £850


middle class outfit in wool – £450


Courtier  outfit in silk, lined with silk, silver lace, wrapped buttons – £800


Middle class kit in wool  – £400

210412 Allan Burnett as james watt at kinniel house, boness.

18th century set in wool and linen, with lots of handfinish –  £ 600


similar set but in silk, though machine finish  and blend fibre waistcoat lowers the price – £700


Day dress in cotton, £300 ( including petticoat and bonnet)

St Audries Shoot-21

day dress in wool, stock item – £ 400


Visiting dress in silk, heavily decorated – £ 1000

Hereford WWI July 2014-19

WWI dress in silk with lace, £ 350

Edwardian Outfits July 2014-17

WWI dress in cotton, with a silk sash – £ 270


Victorian corset, stock item, part of our Bare basic range  – £125

Late Victorian Corset-2

Victorian corset, bespoke work, with exterior channels and extensive flossing – from £300


replicas of 1885 riding habit in quality wool, with handmade ( the blue habit) and hand applied braiding,  made bespoke, with a safety tailored skirt and riding trousers – coat  around £1000

Also replicas ( but not exact) made as stock items, generic sizing, machine finish – pricing from £350 (these ones are actually in our shop equestrian section, here)


As you can see, it is often the price of fabric that makes the outfit expensive – or the fact that it is  a commission and not a stock item.

Having said all that – I must stress that  despite a few of the messages like that, the majority of people do appreciate the fact that their items are unique, made lovingly, and  individually fitted. And it is those lovely people that  make businesses like mine thrive – I used to teach in a college before, and the job, though rewarding, was nowhere near as rewarding ( both in hard cash and job satisfaction). I  may be working longer hours, but I love my job, and would not be doing it if i didn’t – or if it didn’t pay my keep:-) 🙂

More on running a costuming business can be read about here: https://adamselindisdress.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/running-a-costuming-business/

Hope the post has been useful to you, if you are new to costuming.  For those of you who are running businesses – have you come across similar experiences? if yes, do you have any other theories  that would explain them? Feedback welcome!


54 thoughts on “A queen on a budget, please…..

  1. I used to do a little re-enacting and demonstrating/modeling of Victorian outfits at a local museum (very small scale affair). I made the clothes myself – underwear was usually fairly accurate (corset purchased and the most expensive item) but the outer garments were modern fabrics – the cost was just too much to use authentic material. I think you are right, most people have no understanding of the cost of the fabric – or the quantity required and no one knows how to value a craft persons time. There is an upsurge in interest in sewing, knitting etc… and I think this may raise awareness of just how much work it takes to produce ‘an outfit’ of any kind.

  2. Wow – you really said it all. Pricing and valuing our own work is so very important to our ability to continue in this very specialized craft. I love my work…and sometimes I donate my skills to the charities that I choose…..but everybody else Must Pay. Thanks for the post.

  3. When I demo embroidery and people ask if I sell, I ask them what they’d want to pay, a quick mental calculation often allows me to ask, ” so would you be prepared to work for 5p an hour, then?” And yet some still take offence. ( I do sell embroidery, but you’re talking hundreds for an eight by eight framed piece, if you don’t realise it’s worth that you don’t deserve to have it)

    And yet very often the self same muppet who balks at the price of even the wool fir a decent doublet won’t blink about paying hundreds for a sword.

    The outfit I wear as queen cost £500 just for the fabric, I make my own jewellery, so the sterling silver crown and accessories were only the same again, but my jewellery teacher at the time quoted several thousand in labour if she were to make the same.

  4. I work in the arts and some of your clients’ queries strongly remind me of the kind of comment a lot of people in creative businesses are confronted with (for instance: a band that charges 2000 € for a gig. Considering they’re five people, have to get their own kit there, hire instruments or venues for rehearsals, choose and practice the lineup etc… that isn’t much to ask for. But most people are so naive, they divide the cost by performance hours! Many’s the time I have heard this kind of lunatic “rationale” along the lines of “I’d like to earn 200 per hour too”, as though any artist were working a regular (paid) 40-hour week!). One more reason why everyone should have some creative pursuit in their lives, no matter what it is – it reminds us that not everything in life just appears at pushing a button.

    • It happens in just about every creative industry. People are simply not good at estimating how much time goes into something,or how much that often highly skilled time is actually worth. For services- I happen to know about Photography and historical dance, the number of requests for services for free, on the basis ‘it’s for charity’ or ‘it will be good publicity’ are beyond belief…..

  5. Hi all
    to be honest, I’m happy I came across this page… because though loving the period outfits, I didn’t know exactly about how much it costs, and now I understand totally the prices. So I cannot complain about them, it’s totally fair and right and it’s a very good thing that you explained it to people like me. And congratulations on being so good – all of you – in these things, it’s a total pleasure seeing your creations! And I hope to be able to buy one (well, several of them) in the future! Starting saving…..

  6. Ha, I was *just* beginning to write a post on the exact same topic earlier today! Some very good points here, I’ll pass it on 🙂

  7. People do, indeed, ask self employed caterers and cake bakers to do £1000 jobs for £250. Or for a pittance but they provide the groceries, which won’t do either.

    People are woefully under informed in many areas.

  8. Oh my, yes!

    I’ll disagree about jewellers not having to deal with this — I’m a jewelry artist as well as a needleworker, and I’m constantly having to explain about cost of materials, how much time it takes to make things, etc. It’s ridiculously frustrating. Leatherworkers go through it too.

    I made a blackwork shirt, and it took a year to do all the embroidery. Someone offered me $150 for it. I also owed a friend money from an order that didn’t come in and offered to make something to pay them back. What they wanted would have taken weeks to make, for owing less than $75. Ummm…better to refund.

    Time is valuable. Why is this so difficult to understand?

    • i think you misunderstood me – I meant that jewellers, leather workers, shoemakers etc
      are all subject to the same predicament. My friend is a jeweller and she is often asked to make items in precious metals etc for a quarter of a price – ridiculous!

  9. *Holds fist aloft in solidarity* Right on! Back during my college/university years, I used to volunteer at Manchester Royal Exchange Costume Hire. We stored, repaired and rented out the costumes we got from productions (My favourite days were when the Oscar Wilde summer season was over and we got all the gowns brought over from main wardrobe), and the amount of daft requests we got from people was sometimes quite mind-boggling….

    “Can’t you make it bigger?” Asked about a size 6 costume that would barely fit on my arm. No dear, not unless there’s another few metres of fabric and matching trim hidden somewhere in the seams…

    “Could you make a Titanic dress for me for £30 quid?” – and this was about one of the beaded, intricate ones too.
    “Why not? Sewing’s not that hard, is it?” (I slightly gaped at this one, I have to admit)

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about bespoke costuming – people have got so used to high-street prices they’re not quite used to the idea of real labour and exactly what time is worth. And good fabrics are generally a heavy investment!

    • If someone’s foolish enough to say to me “sewing’s not hard” then I always reply, well if that’s true then you can make it quickly yourself.

      • I get a similar sort of behaviour about knitted shawls – ‘my grandmother can do it.’ Oh really, then ask your grandmother to do it especially if you think the cost of the wool is too expensive before I even start. I actually had one woman ask me to knit a shawl for her to match the one I was wearing. I told her the yarn was £30 and she immediately so ‘oh nonono, that’s far too expensive’.

  10. Blame China! 😀 If seriously, nobody does anything these days, there are not even basic craft skills left, so most people simply do not understand the difference between polyester party costume for 30 quid and your creations. If the handbag at Primark costs 20, why this one cost 10 times more? Oh, I want this, not from Primark, but for the Primark’s £20! Handbag is a handbag!
    I am historian and can sew among other things, but not a professional. I made myself a period party costume. By using charity shop’s curtains and bedsheets, the fabric only cost me 15 quid (it was a reasonable compromise for my needs), but I spent full 2 months, 10 h a day, making everything from the corset up to the hat (and I was using sewing machine, not hand stiching).
    If people haven’t learned to sew a loose button themselves… well, what you expect? I learned to ignore all this thinking years ago, simply recomending them going online and getting something for £30 or even a tenner. Saves a lot of mental work for both sides – maybe I’m too much of a pessimist 😀 .

  11. I’m a former costumer, now quilter & I sew clothes for myself & my sons. Also, I work full time, as a trauma nurse. There has been a near-identical movement through the quilting world for recognition of the time, skill & work involved. And it applies to all handwork/craftwork. Our skills & time do deserve adequate payment.
    Recently, a friend of my oldest son said something like “I want a queen-size quilt in half a dozen fabrics, with appliqué & embroidery”. I looked at her & replied with “good quilting fabrics cost $24 dollars per metre (in Australia), there’d be a minimum of 8metres. I charge $35/hour for sewing & $50/hour for hand embroidery. What you want will take somewhere between one and two hundred hours.” She boggled at me & decided she’d buy a doona cover instead.
    This is the link to the first article I read about the push for recognition, including monetary recognition, of craftworkers’ skill, time & costs: http://huntersdesignstudio.com/ew-worth-it-2/
    I think it applies here too.
    Your work is beautiful. I’ve loved looking at the pictures here. I feel very inspired to sew today 🙂 Thank you.

  12. I don’t have a business, but blog readers see my 18th century sewing that my children and I wear to Colonial Williamsburg. As a result I receive e-mails: “Oh we love your work! We are going to make a trip to CW and I’d like us to look as great as your family! There are 5 of us (2 teen boys, a teen girl, mom and dad). Could you sew complete outfits for us (shift, stays, petticoats and gown for the girls; shirt, waistcoat, breeches and frock coat for the guys) in 3 weeks? I’ll pay you anything you want!”
    Um, I was busy homeschooling my own children, while sewing 18th century clothing for us and researching and sewing other eras for us to wear in history presentations every nine weeks. She was really nice, but even if I had all of my free time, I don’t think I could have sewed all that. Then when she learned the pricetag, she decided she couldn’t afford historically accurate. I spent all that time in e-mails trying to explain the difference between historically accurate and costumes and cost…and in the end the business went to someone else.
    This happens at least once a year. I get a quick e-mail about my sewing a historically accurate colonial gown for them…but the price is always too much. All that time explaining in a brand new lengthy e-mail (because I can’t remember where I stored the old one).
    My husband has encouraged me to put it all in writing in a document ready to go for the next e-mail, so my time would be more efficiently used.
    I think the reason we get these requests from prospective clients who are surprised by sticker shock (and the time it takes) is because they probably don’t dabble in the artistic pursuits. If they don’t sew, craft, paint, or otherwise spend time in the arts, they don’t realize supplies and classes are expensive, research is time consuming, and the work itself is fatiguing and can not simply be whipped up in speedy fashion. I think most people mean well, but don’t understand.
    There are exceptions though. One person, whom I barely knew, thought she had “befriended” me and that entitled her to free labor from me so she could have historically accurate clothing. I only sew for free for my immediate family and that is pure joy. The ones I confess I become inpatient with are those who expect free labor. And since I don’t have prices posted anywhere on my blog, I understand the high hopes that come my way, yet 99% of my prospective clients, never became clients because of the price tag. One couple told me, “Your time is valuable. We’d really like you to sew this garment for us in a historically accurate way. But we want you to research a fair price for your labor and time.” It was a joy to sew for them! A close friend asked me to sew swing flags for her daughter who is on the high school drill team. She told me to log my time and provided me with fabric and instructions. I was happy to do this for this good friend, but frustrated with trying to work with polyester and lame on the bias. My work was not perfect, so I told my friend I was working for free for her. She is actually my Mary Kay lady (I buy makeup and skin care from her and she already spoils me so I love to brag about her) so I just felt I was returning the favor, but sad my work wasn’t perfect. She surpised me with pay anyway. Aww…

  13. Oh dear, this is spot on. I also encourage people to look at their modern wardrobe in the same way, as I see the environment and conditions for the workers in the production line as important areas of improvement. We can make clothes ourselves and buy less and it’s a lot easier to do if you’re aware of the costs for a start.
    This post surely makes it clear that if you invest in a nice, well made dress, it’s something to take care of instead of just buying another next month. Modern or historical doesn’t matter. And hopefully you will use it over many years and love it until the end 😊
    Thanks for your all covering post and keep up the good work.

  14. Recently quoted for a skin-out Tudor court level rush job (£1500 including materials, to be completed in 3 weeks from first measurements to filming), and was undercut by, apparently, £600!
    I try to give some idea to potential clients by the example of a shirt: 20 hours for entirely hand stitched with felled seams throughout (and if I’m seling it, there will be felled seams unless the date and garment documentably used selvage edges). Even at only £5/hour that is £100 plus materials. I may lose business but I don’t get stressed on loss making projects.
    With the skills to make and research most of my own kit, it has taken me 20 years to reach the point where I am attempting my first royal persona

  15. Lots of people gladly pay like 100-200 euro or more for a pair of jeans from a “fashionable” brand. That is a pair of jeans that most probably is made in a factory in Cambodia by underpaid workers that can hardly live a deacent life on their salary. The same people buys a new iphone every year and pays like 500 euro for that. It is rather intresting from my own experience that this is very often the same people that think the same sums for historical clothing ( often hand made) made to their own measurements are insanely expensive. Imho its one thing to make something for a low price to a friend that maybe often give you all kind of support and help your need. Like babysitting your kids och take care of your dog when you go on vacation, but intirely another to have to cope with people that think you shall work for free. I make mostly my own stuff ( and yes I am rather good at it making for example napoleonic uniforms and 16th century doublets) since I am on a low budget, but sometines friends with greater ocr lower skills give for example a tunic as a birthday gift in exchange for stuff I made for them. .

  16. Sadly, I understand perfectly. I worked for a very high end RenFaire clothing maker in the US (who has since retired).
    Typical comments we heard while selling were “I can make that myself” (no, you can’t) and “I can buy that same thing from Walmart” (if you think you can then you’re too ignorant to purchase anything from us).
    The general public has no idea of the difference between bespoke quality and mass manufacture, either in cost and quality of raw materials, design, quality of manufacture, or the resulting final product.
    We however did have a small, dedicated following who did understand the difference and provided a modest living for a while.
    Good luck!
    P.S. Do you know of the US-based “Damsel in this Dress” costumer? https://www.facebook.com/damseldress

  17. Sadly, you are all correct. Clothes made for a pittance made in the Third World have skewed the reasoning of most people. I worked in the bridal trade for many years, but the cheap imports from China have helped to wipe out so many small UK based companies.

  18. I see this issue coming up endlessly on various FB sewing pages which I follow. And as I’m starting to dabble in sewing for people, I’m learning from the experience of you all. Currently in the middle of a project which the client had me redesign half way through. Oh well, chalk it up to experience

  19. I see that running a costuming business is in some ways, very like running a writing business.
    “I need first class blog content that will get a lot of attention for my company. You come up with all the topics, do all the research and the writing, and give me the posts to approve. I can pay you $20 a post.”
    “We can’t pay, but think of the exposure!”
    An artist friend has the identical problem; he is extremely successful and well known, sells his canvases for thousands each, and gets requests all the time for stuff like, “Can you design me a full color dragon tattoo to cover my whole back? I can pay $25”
    We do have to spend a lot of time educating people, don’t we? Also, this gallery of costumes is absolutely gorgeous!

  20. What a good read! I get people regularly who ask me to make items they see on my website for less than the listed price. Various reasons, the latest was because she couldn’t afford the brooch, but it would be perfect for her best friend, so could she please have it for 40% off the price. Mass production has taken over our lives and become how we measure the cost of everything. I like that you give lots of solutions in your post, and show examples with prices, what gorgeous work! Your post should be required reading before buying handmade or custom made goods.

  21. Oh, my Lord! You speak for so many of us on the other side of the Pond as well! I will simply send this to the folks who ask for the Moon, but want to only pay a pittance. Thank you for your writings.

  22. I think there’s also an underlying assumption that sewing, crafting, or any kind of creative work is ‘just a hobby’, and that we shouldn’t need decent pay because ‘we do it for fun’. There’s always that person who says, “Oh, my mom could just make it for me for free. She loves sewing,” without comprehending the difference between her mother’s act of love (and possible lack of ability to make what she wants) and my business.

  23. Their logic is, “I can’t/won’t pay that much, therefore no ‘reasonable’ person does, so obviously she doesn’t actually get many commissions and will do it cheaply to make a few quid.”

    I also get the person who wants something very complex, to which I say, “There’s going to be a lot of work and research in that, and a lot of trial and error.”

    What I’m saying: “It’s going to be bloody expensive, and honestly, I’m not that interested unless you’re showing cash.”

    What they hear: “I’ll do it cheap for the experience of learning something new!”

  24. Very well said, as a long time seamstress of modest ability when I do make stuff for other folks many of them are shocked at how expensive fabric on its own can be! And as a dancer and now retired seamstress for a Cancan dance troupe the many many hours spent sewing our petticoats alone is nearly $1,000 to 2,000 of labor!

  25. I’m late to this discussion – but such a useful post, thank you so much. I’ve recently started making some historical costumes in a semi-professional capacity (for a local museum and a theatre company) and I’m conscious of not underestimating the amount I ought to be paid! It’s a tricky thing to gauge, especially when you are just starting out. Also, I totally agree about the point that most professional people really don’t need to work for free – I’ve already been offered as much work as I can take on, even at this early stage. The work I’ve done so far is not totally accurate, although it suited the needs of my clients – but I hope one day I can work on something like the beautiful pieces pictured in this article! Thanks again.

  26. Yes, Thank you! I’ve been a milliner for 12 years now, and it is the EBay sold hats done with a hot glue gun and dollar store lace that makes people think that my 100% hand sewn, all silk, historically accurate hat should sell for the same $15 as the above mentioned. No, that hat takes me 20-40 hours to make, plus materials- be glad the price is what it is and not more like I should really be charging.

    I personally love selling to serious historians, because they know what it means to have a real accurate outfit, and will happily pay for it.

    That requested price for a corset made me choke, BTW- last time I looked at having one made for me- nearly 10 years ago – they cost $200 at the low end.

  27. Reblogged this on Past and Present Millinery and commented:
    An accurate assessment of the current state of costuming and millinery; please understand that this work is well researched, painstakingly done, and usually completely by hand. You are paying for the education and fine workmanship as well as the historical accuracy.

  28. Very good article. One of my friends sent it to me on facebook.

    I studied Fashion Design in college, which covered designing garments, drafting patterns, selecting appropriate fabrics, and then making and finishing each garment. I graduated about a year and a half ago, and now work as the designer/seamstress at a costume hire store. I also do theatre costume work, as well as help out with some stuff for a couple of LARPs and conventions. Quite a lot to start doing in the relatively short space of time since I graduated, but it’s lots of fun.

    My design style is definitely historically focused, and I’m learning more and more actual historic techniques wherever I can, as well as experimenting with things like beading, embroidery, dyeing fabrics, etc. My final student fashion collection was inspired by Anglo-Saxon and Scottish Celtic history, and involved a lot of research into the accurate materials and methods. Part of the coursework also involved making spec sheets and costing sheets for all of the individual garments we designed and made, which is very useful in figuring out how a tiny difference in the cost of base materials can drastically change the end price.

    For my work at the costume store, most of the time my job is to do alterations and repairs to existing costumes. Every now and then, I’ll be asked to make something new. I don’t get paid extra for it, but it gives me a chance to try out new things and have a bit of fun with design without having to worry about the expenses (that’s the accounting department’s job, not mine), which is great since I’m just starting out in my career. Since it’s a hire store, I also know I’ll see it coming back to me every now and then, which is kind of cool.

    I very rarely do commissioned work for people – partly because I still need time outside of my other job to actually relax, but also because I’m not in any position to set up a registered business right now. I still get plenty of people asking me to make them stuff, they just want it for free, usually with the excuse “but we’re friends.” Except my friends know not to ask me for free stuff. Friends know to ask “How much would it be for you to make me this?”; people who just want something from me ask “Can you make me this?”. I’m already charging a lower price than what would be standard for this industry, and basically only take on commissions that I think would be a good learning experience or a good bit of fun, but that’s because its not my main job at this point – it’s more of a hobby, but that doesn’t mean it’s free. Once I’ve got a bit more experience behind me, branching out and starting my own business is always a possibility later.

    The only exception to this is a project I am working on now: my sister’s wedding dress. Designing and making her dress is my wedding gift to her, and my mother is paying for the fabrics for it as her gift. No one else will be getting something like that without paying for it.

  29. Brilliant post. I knit, crochet, sew etc as a hobby and I don’t think people have any idea/respect for the amount of time it takes to make things. This is partly why I smile politely and say “So much on right now.” to requests for items to anyone other than people I know will cherish it and only for gifts. I just discovered your website yesterday and your work is incredible, worth every single penny you charge.

  30. I use to sew for a living, now I do it for fun. I have had all of the same type questions asked of me. But the one I hate the most is the random people who see my posts on historical groups, then go and check out my facebook page. I have been asked numerous times if they an buy one of my dresses in my pictures. I get told “I can’t afford to have a custome gown made, but can I buy your ( hand sewn) Tudor gown ( made from reproduction silk brocade, lined in silk, trimmed with real pearls, garnets, and real blue fox fur sleeves) for $150?” When I explain that No it is not for sale, and that would not even pay for half a yard if then silk. So get told “but it is USED!” As if the fact that I have worn it twice somehow takes the value of the gown or materials down to nothing”

  31. I do sew and make a lot of my period garb as well as modern clothes. People in the arts are frequently under appreciated. I’m author and produce books and I can’t tell you how heart breaking it is to find the digital versions of my work on torrent sites. I’ve had people say $10-$15 USD is too much for a paperback or that $2.99-$3.99 is too much for a digital copy because they read too much to pay for all the works.

    Sure, there are New York Times Best Sellers that make millions of dollars but there are a lot of us that write quality stories that never get that sort of fame and because of it make pennies an hour for the hundreds of hours we put in. I and most authors the world over make less than a $1 per copy sold.

    A brisk selling book (not a best seller) may sell 500 to a 1000 copies over it’s lifetime.So round up and say you make a $1000. Lets say I was highly motivated and the book only took me 200 hours (Roughly a month of work) then I made $5 an hour.

    It comes down to the simple fact that many of us do this because we love it. I have friends who knit who make between $2 and $5 an hour because after the cost of materials that’s all they can sell things for.

    If people want cheap then they can buy a Chinese sweatshop made item. If they want artwork and the exclusivity of being a one of the kind then they need to pony up. Most of the people making the request would laugh if they were asked to do their jobs for $2-$5 an hour.

  32. You are overthinking it 🙂 It’s not the China thing, or the M&M thing, or any similar thing. It’s the jerk thing. A lot of people are simply jerks, who are out to get a free lunch and will react with theatrical hurt and disbelief if you dare refuse. The same thing happens to photographers, software engineers (oh, you are a developer? Can you fix my computer), creatives (can you make me a website? I’d like 5 different designs to choose from and maybe I’ll pay 2p for one if I like it). Pretty muchj every trade that has direct contact with any kind of customer gets this crap. Just learn to ignore it.

    • She is not overthinking it; you are being overly cynical. You are forgetting Hanlon’s Razor: Never ascribe to malice what can just as easily be ascribed to ignorance/stupidity. As many other comments here attest to, many people simply have no idea. They are not doing it out of malice. I’m not about to claim that none of them are jerks, because I know there are a lot of jerks out there. But to make the sweeping statement that “it’s a jerk thing” isn’t giving much credit to people who are well-meaning but ignorant.

  33. Thank you for this post! I’m one of those who thinks I can make myself the outfit for less than the asking prices. However, to do it properly is going to take more time and money than I originally thought – so I’m going for a simple lower class outfit. What a wakeup call! I understand the seemingly high prices charged for making accurate outfits, you certainly deserve it. I’m glad you take the time to educate people about pricing and what you get for the price.

  34. I have read this article many times and it makes me happy. Great post!
    I’m a weaver and experience the same thing. people want me to weave a medieval reproduction for the same price as they buy normal wool fabric. But honestly, the yarn is as expensive as a ready made fabric. They also like me to plant dye the yarn and think that is included in the price. One customer said: you can’t charge me for the time the yarn is in the dyeing pot? It’s just lying there.
    Hrm.. The time it takes me to weave 1 meter is not the time it takes me to set up the loom and weave 1m. I need to make the set up to be able to weave. If one order a 10m fabric, the meter price will be lower per meter then if I just are going to weave 1m.
    You don’t expect to get a new BMW for the price of an old wreck.
    I think it’s extra tricky in the textile business, you always get compared with low salary countries and the fact that people don’t understand the differences between a 10min t-shirt made for HM and a custom made garb made by customer measurements.
    Thank you for writing this!

  35. Pingback: The most common mistakes in historical costuming/re-enactment – and how to avoid them! | A Damsel in This Dress

  36. Pingback: Dear customer…. | A Damsel in This Dress

  37. Oh my Yes! I am a fantasy costumer who went from making costumes for people to making couture for dolls. all of my skills in hand sewing are now being used in miniature, but they still took years to master. Historically accurate costuming takes lots of study, research, commitment, and most especially Time. I started in the needle arts as a child( mom had to keep me occupied). I get comments from time to time that make me want to pull out hair..but from now on, i think I will instead sent a copy of the link to this article. Well written, and very much appreciated.

  38. After reading this post I feel sorry of all artisans out there. I remember when a few years ago I started sewing my clothes myself. I thought “Not only it’ll be my style, my exact size, but it’ll be cheaper than in store, since I’ll only pay for materials”. But after I bought the right fabric and all required passementerie it became clear to me how wrong I was about the last part The cost of materials looked strangely similar to a price of an item from a good clothing store 🙂 So I understand why people might think that artisan-made things are pricey. And I like sewing, so I don’t mint doing gifts or semi-gifts for my friends and family from time to time. But I can’t imagine sewing professionally and having to explain this matter over and over again to people.

  39. Pingback: That Bespoke Thang… | A Damsel in This Dress

  40. Because many people (Moms, grand moms, aunts) used to sew (everyday clothing from catalogue patterns) there was little value given to custom made garments. (Or alterations, restoration of vintage garments, etc) I actually had a potential customer tell me my price quote was outrageous because her daughter-in-law used to sew for her at much more resonable prices before she went back to work full time. I gently told her perhaps the daughter-in-law had to go back to work because she wasn’t making enough money sewing for others (bad pricing policy). I finally had to remind a few potential customers that family members did those things out of love, but I was running a business. Also, anything some people do for a hobby- sewing, knitting, painting, etc seem to the public should be cheaper, even though we are skilled artisans with years of training and experience.

  41. Very well said I think you are amazing so skilled . I love seeing your photos!

    I’m saving up for a riding habit .

  42. Pingback: My Top Ten Favourite Blogs – Miss Temby

  43. Here’s what I’m curious about. Many of the outfits in your photos (some of which I recognize from your wonderfully inspiring videos) are marked “middle class” and do indeed look less fancy. How did the middle class “back then” pay the equivalent of at least 200 modern British pounds (so even larger number if in USD) for a simple looking outfit like that, of which they probably owned more than one? Or is it the modern industry’s fault, raising the price per yard on 100% natural-fiber/historically accurate fabrics by flooding fabric stores with polyester satins and rayon printed with cartoon characters? That last one seems more likely, but it still confuses me as to how a middle class family in, say, the eighteenth century for example, could afford multiple pairs of silk stockings per family member while a modern family of equivalent income could barely justify ONE pair of the same stockings (if they could find them!). I have nothing against your pricing at all, and I’m glad to see that you’re being paid appropriately for what is really quite incredible work! As of now, your off the peg/stock items are out of my budget (bespoke isn’t even an option since I’m in the USA and can’t exactly drop by for a fitting) but I accept that and am working on making my own kits–first off is a late nineteenth century outfit inspired by Laura Ingalls (Wilder)’s “pink lawn summer dress” described in These Happy Golden Years, in which Laura is in her mid to late teens and has had several well-paying positions teaching school, so can afford a bit more but still nowhere near the silken luxuries *most* people seem to want from businesses like you…
    I’m so glad you can earn a living doing something you love. I have learned so much from this blog and your YouTube channel. Thank you and I hope you can continue doing this as long as you want.

    • I have a degree in clothing. At one time I used to sew for the public. (Notice “used to”.) I had many of the same comments. I can add another, possibly humorous, comment. When a potential client complained about my price quote fir the project she wanted she told me her daughter-in-law used to do similar projects for much less before she went back to work full time. I remarked that was probably why the d-i-l had to go back to full time work; she couldn’t live on what she was making sewing for other people. Also had many say that “Aunt So-‘n’-so” or “my grand mother used to do these for me free, so why are you charging so much?” After the rcost-and-time explanation didn’t convince them I would say Aunt So-‘n’-so or grandmother would do it for them out if love, I didn’t love them. I still sew lovely things for myself but make a living in a totally different career field.

  44. Good Afternoon.
    I live in the Republic of South Africa.

    I have similar experiences as in your blog. Would you mind if I shared your piece on my Facebook page?.

    Many Thanks

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