We first published an article about Tipping in August 2019 - 'It's a Tipping Minefield'. [Click here to read it] We have had some great responses to the article; some agreeing and some disagreeing and so we’ve collated them into this next piece.
An experienced Dresser, currently dressing on a West End Musical, spoke to The Wardrobe Chronicles about their opinion on TIPPING.
I treat it as an extra money thing. Not expected. I like it, however it’s often unexpected who will tip you. For instance currently I dress female ensemble and female leads. The ensemble tips me weekly and are really apologetic if they forget or don’t have the money. When I’ve been off sick they’ve made sure to hunt down who covered me to tip them instead. Which I think is lovely and the right thing to do. I really appreciated when they hunted down the deputy wardrobe who covered me. She tried to refuse the money and pass it to me. They snuck it into her bag instead. Currently my leads haven’t. But I don’t expect them to.
How is it given to you?
Presentation is in many forms. Sometimes they like to hand it over as cash. Sometimes in a reused envelope. Sometimes they get a batch of envelopes to organise themselves. Sometimes it’s in a roll with an elastic band. And treated like dodgy dealings. I’m happy with whatever. I always make sure to say Thank you and often say I appreciate it but it’s not necessary. One of my girls once never had any cash and asked if she could have my bank details. The previous dresser hadn’t wanted to do this and said no. I don’t mind so passed them along. However it’s raised the question of do you have to declare tips in your tax return if they are paid via bank transfer as another of the girls heard and immediately said “then we can claim the tax back” original girl said she hadn’t even thought about that and that wasn’t at all why she wanted to do that. It made me feel a bit sad that that’s what someone’s brain immediately went to. A tax relief rather than an appreciate for my work.
[NB: TWC would like to clarify that all tips should be declared as income - don’t commit tax fraud folks]
If they do tip how much should they give?
I don’t think there’s a good or bad amount and even if someone doesn’t tip it doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate you and what you’re doing. I dressed a dancer who said she appreciated me but money was ok but a bit tight and instead made me cards which was cute. But we had a conversation about it. Which wasn’t at all awkward. She brought it up. I was fine with it. We got on great.
When you do get tipped how much do you get?
In terms of amounts I normally get a fiver per person per week. Previous jobs I’ve had additional money from separate members of the ensemble that’s been handed over separately from the amount given from the room. Or a bulk amount at the end. If it’s a shorter run then a small amount of say £20 in a card.
But for you tipping isn’t compulsory for actors?
I don’t think it should be expected. I know we don’t get paid as much as other departments. But I don’t see why that then necessarily means that performers top up our pay. As some of them aren’t paid that much and it’s not their responsibility to do it.
So in an ideal world you’d just be paid enough in the first place?
Yes of course but Tipping is also linked to what is and what isn’t on your job description. For example if you’re doing more than just laundry collecting and dressing you should be paid. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m actually doing anything more than that. And actors tip and seem really pleased. And I’m actually slightly confused. Are they tipping me for my personality and that I listen?!
CITA – Costume in Theatre Association got in touch with us on Twitter:
Interesting article on tipping. Our general view is that any form of tipping suggests a *service* & a relationship that is inherently unequal. Dressers are not providing a service, they are professionals assisting actors with their costume. We believe in fair pay for Dressers.
Where Dressers are fulfilling extra duties, their pay should reflect this. Certain high profile actors have PA or personal dressers who; collect dry cleaning, look after personal errands, do alterations to their costumes and they are paid a premium for this. This is entirely fair.
Bullying backstage is a well known problem. The relationship between actor and dresser can be a delicate negotiation. Tipping is an unregulated contract where both parties may not be agreeing to the same terms. Where are the Dressers rights should they wish to stop the extras?
We cannot eradicate tipping in a climate where pay is low. And we give no shade to any Dresser accepting tips or successfully negotiating for tips. So we campaign for fairer pay and clear terms of employment in order to eradicate the need for tipping.
A Set and Costume Designer that works as a Dresser part time sent in this opinion;
I’m torn on this one, as I know a lot of dressers actually rely on the extra money they get through tips. And when you end up getting food, filling up water bottles, taking family to dressing rooms etc then you’re going beyond your job description of a dresser so why shouldn’t you get tipped. But from personal experience, when I became friends with the people I dressed and they then tipped me, it didn’t sit well with me. I no longer felt their equal. When you tip in the outside world it’s for a service – for a waiter bringing you food etc. I don’t see dressing as a service. In the same way, I don’t see someone passing a prop or adjusting a mic, as a service. I understand there’s an increase in intimacy and you do end up playing agony aunt a fair bit. But I think the role of a dresser is simply underpaid. It’s a ‘soft skill’ so not easy to quantify in money terms. But as soon as I’m tipped it changes the relationship from “I’m here to work with you” to “I’m here to work for you”. And that dynamic doesn’t sit well with me. I’d rather lose the concept of tipping and just be paid what I’m worth from the start.
We want to carry on this conversation about Tipping so please get in touch with your opinion!