French Alterations


CS – In Costume design there’s this term called a “French alteration.” Basically what that is, is when someone requests an alteration, like raising a hem a quarter inch, or something that won’t be at all noticeable on stage, like it’s just an unreasonable request and a waste of time. So some costume shop workers might say oh yeah we can definitely do that, no problem, a nice little French alteration. So it’s kind of a code word to others in the shop that it’s a waste of time, but it sounds fancy to people who don’t know what it means. And then you give the costume back to them and they see it on stage and are just delighted at the wonderful alteration job, and that extra quarter inch (not) lifted from the hem looks great.


The informant was talking to a coworker about wether of not they should do a small alteration that would not be noticeable on stage. The coworker argued that it was a stupid request for an alteration, and that they could easily say they did it, but not do it, and the person wouldn’t notice. The informant asked, “Like a French alteration?” The coworker had never heard the term, so the informant explained. They then agreed that the play’s director would not notice, but they decided to talk to the director rather than fib to them.
There’s the saying that, “The customer is always right.” But the person who actually specializes in something is going to know more than the customer (in this case the play’s director). This term can make the “customer” think that they are right so they don’t put up an unnecessary fuss, and the costume tailor can avoid getting yelled at.