The Clothes Make the Woman

I assume many of you know that this CEO did not go to Business School, but instead went to Drama School. Two years at Circle in the Square in New York, then another year at Webber Douglas Academy in London, where little or no time was spent on analyzing Profit and Loss Statements, distinguishing between gross profit margin and operating profit margin or assessing market penetration. Instead my days and nights were filled with analysis of Shakespeare’s meter, voice and dialect class, sense memory exercises, Language of the Fan in Restoration Drama and plenty of body work: Alexander Technique and Feldenkreis, with a dash of sword fighting. 

So, did my training and subsequent twenty-five years working in show biz provide me with any transferable insights for the schmatta biz? Good question. I’ll start with a gross generalization of America acting technique vs British training, as I was fortunate to have experienced both. Typically, in the US the direction starts with the inside and works outwards: what is she feeling, thinking, what is the psychology that explains her behavior? The British method is the reverse: how does she speak, how does she stand, what are the signals and sounds of her class, how does she dress? Each attempts to harness the mind/body connection that enables the artist to create a plausible person. One way is not better than another–actors will use anything that works– but I have my preferences.

My American teachers emphasized substitution and sense memory. They taught me to concentrate on a time when I felt an equivalent emotion, then carry that feeling over to the performance. I struggled as if trying to catch a bird. My personal inclination was to let the outside inform my gut. Hunch my shoulders and look down, I’d feel depressed. Fake a laugh and soon the real giggles emerge. When I moved to London I found my true school: “Start with the shoes, darling,” one of my Webber Douglas teachers would say. 

Which leads me to the power of undergarments. Playing a period piece, every actor wants to be given the authentic underwear, even if it will never show. It shows in the performance. On ‘Titanic,’ the production wardrobe budget, like all other departments, was enormous and their attention to detail legendary. As the doomed Irish Mother in Third Class, I was given not only a woolen skirt and shawl, a high-neck buttoned blouse and a petticoat, but also bloomers, a chemise, and a corset. Of course the women of First Class wore corsets, beautiful ones meant to be shown, but you might not have thought it necessary to have me in one. I was ecstatic. The feeling of compression and weight was the perfect foundation (in both senses of the word) for my performance.

The way the corset changed the shape of my breathing altered my consciousness and took me back in time. Confinement and breath control were the keys to making me feel both her general social position and her immediate predicament.

If you are reading this, you already know how a properly fitted, beautifully crafted piece of lingerie makes you feel, how it informs your mood and your attitude. Clothes make the woman, and when you dress yourself you invent yourself. Choose well!