“We have a kids’ show that we move pretty fast on,” says Matheny. “We don’t have much time and not much money, so you need a really resourceful person to make those characters come to life. I think Scorsese says that the character is the costume, and Alison can really roll with the punches and make something out of nothing very quickly.”
Improvisation and ingenuity rule the day in Freer’s world.
“It’s very much like the A-Team,” she explains. “What do we have? We have a coat hanger and some gum and this weird piece of wood. What can we make out of it? To this day, it’s still the same. Every job.”
Costume design is in her blood.
“My great-great-grandmother was a seamstress for the Ringling Bros. circus in Sarasota, Florida,” says Freer, “and my great-grandmother, a child at the time, worked in complete violation of child labor laws making bridles for show ponies and clown costumes. So they taught me certain heritage skills that I feel like have fallen by the wayside a little bit -- skills that helped me as a costumer and now are really the backbone of this book.”
With sections like “Ironing Is for Suckers,” “How to Frankenstein a Bra that Works for You,” and “Spit Removes Blood Like, Whoa,” Freer’s "How to Get Dressed" updates that heritage. And, after reading some 60 previous books on the self-help fashion shelf, she came to a realization:
“They were not practical for the everyday girl. They talked about buying investment pieces, which, if you can afford it, is a great thing to do. But if you’re a 19-year-old girl entering the workforce, what you want to hear is how to have the sleeves taken up on a blazer from Forever 21 so you don’t look like you’re wearing your mom’s clothing.
“What’s happening at Chanel and Givenchy and all these places doesn’t apply to you. I realized there wasn’t anything intensely practical, and in my day job I traffic in the practical only. It’s results oriented or it goes out the door.”
In her 1918 Craftsman house near downtown Los Angeles, Freer has a bedroom-turned-wardrobe vault devoted to her obsessive lust for fashion.
“This is my horrifying closet,” she says, chuckling. “This is my life’s work, this is my greatest accomplishment.”
It’s wall-to-wall clothing. All manner of stuff. Dresses, hats, kimonos, a pickle costume. And boxes of shoes. Lots of boxes of shoes. Freer has them stacked and labeled meticulously. She hunkers down to examine one.
“What do we have right here? Grey Doc Martens, floral. Blue Doc Martens, floral. Black and gold lace-up heels. I like this: silver glitter boots times two. That tells me I have a double of those. I liked those so much I bought them twice.”
It was this closet that launched her career. A friend of a friend was a commercial director. He dropped by one day, “And he said, ‘Wow, look at all these clothes. Are you a costume designer?' And I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded very glamorous and I said yes, yes I am. I lied, basically.”
The truth is, Freer’s previous career taught her invaluable skills for the jump to laboring in Tinseltown.
“I worked retail for 15 years of my life. Anybody who walked into the door of any store that I worked at, I could tell immediately, should I be nice to them? Should I be a little bit mean? Should I be coquettish? What personality should I take on to sell them on my ideas? Because that’s really all it is. Psychology and salesmanship really are the two skills I use daily.”