I am in Williamsburg, Virginia, attending what will probably be my last Costume Society of America national symposium, at least for a while. (It’s a wonderful group of colleagues, and always an interesting conference, but also very expensive.) My husband is attending with me for the first time ever. We were delighted to discover a familiar name on the program: Susan Hilferty, who is being honored for her costume designs for Salome at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. We knew her as Sue Hilferty, a fellow “stitchkin” in the Syracuse drama department costume shop back in 1970-1971. We were both work-study employees; I was completing my degree in apparel design in the college of Home Economics; she was beginning the fashion design program in the Art School. Neither of us had any idea where our paths would lead us once we left that windowless basement workshop.
Susan followed her heart into theater design — not just costume, but entire productions — winning awards for her creative vision, including a Tony for “Wicked”. I started off doing some theater work, but found my calling in cultural history. We still speak the same language, with our own distinctive accents and dialects.
I often meet young people who adore historic costume or fashion design, but they aren’t sure how to apply that passion. Here’s the thing. The only way to figure it out is the same way you find the perfect pair of jeans. Try them on. Keep trying until you find the one that fits.