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Film costumer Colby Kelly blends career aspirations with the quest for happiness

Colby Kelly works in the wardrobe department in the film industry. His previous role was a truck costumer for CBS’ “The Equalizer” season three. PHOTO COURTESY OF COLBY KELLY

Colby Kelly hopped on the Zoom call with a smile stretching from ear to ear. He is a truck costumer responsible for managing and organizing costumes on film sets, ensuring actors’ comfort and overseeing costume changes throughout the production shoot. He has always had a passion for fashion ever since he was young when his grandmother used to take him shopping with his siblings. Behind him, the cozy confines of his Bushwick rental studio apartment come into view, fitting seamlessly within the webcam frame. He is 41 and lives alone. He is originally from Jersey City, N.J. but moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. for a shorter commute to work. It’s only 4:30 p.m., but our rooms barely receive any natural light as the sun is hidden behind the clouds. Kelly’s dimly-lit apartment, shrouded in the gentle embrace of darkness, feels snug and comforting. With his dog, Tiberius, roaming around, his presence only enhances this warm and inviting virtual setting. After moving from Jersey City to Williamsburg, N.Y. and now to Bushwick, N.Y., it’s a place he calls home. 

“I never expected to be in film,” Kelly said. “I feel incredibly lucky to work in the industry. The connections I make with people, and the enjoyment of learning about them …” His voice trailed off, leaving the sentence unfinished as if to imply that the amazement of it all is immeasurable in words. 

Kelly worked on projects like “Saturday Night Live” as a costumer. He was also a key costumer on the hit comedy-drama “Succession,” responsible for supervising the on-set activities of the wardrobe department. Most recently, he worked on season three of “The Equalizer” as a truck costumer. Throughout his 10-year career in the film costume industry, he has been a truck costumer for only three projects. 

Kelly didn’t jump into the film wardrobe department from college — in fact, it took a year-long stint at the School of Visual Arts before he discovered his true desire to pursue fashion. He then transferred to SUNY’s Fashion Institute of Technology. He always loved studying the latest styles trending on MTV and then heading to the store with his grandmother to assemble his own version of the outfits on the screen. 

Kelly fondly recalls dressing up his mother and sister — a distant, but joyful memory. “Fashion is attainable to anyone with money but style is only achievable by staying true to yourself,” he said. “What new clothes can do to you is something special and what I mean by new isn’t necessarily newly made but something that is new to you. It can give you the confidence to face your day.” 

From the age of 18, Kelly worked at several clothing stores and vintage boutiques, constantly hopping between jobs. After a stint at Abercrombie & Fitch, he discovered the iconic New York vintage company — then called “What Comes Around Goes Around” — while looking for boots. According to Kelly, the store has since rebranded itself as “What Goes Around Comes Around” (WGACA) since then. 

As he opened the door, he instantly found himself captivated by the store. Not only did he aspire to work there, but he also stumbled upon a familiar face. At another vintage store, he bonded with Kris Smith, an employee who later became the assistant manager at WGACA at the time. 

Although the store wasn’t actively hiring and his resume didn’t match the standards of the high-end establishment, Kelly still asked Smith to put in a good word for him. The manager presented him with a challenging ultimatum: work there for 30 days, during which he must meet a sales quota to secure a full-time position. 

He met the quota. 

“I just looked around the store a lot, so every time a customer came in looking for a specific style, I instantly catered to what they wanted,” he said. At WGACA, Kelly cultivated meaningful connections, forming a close friendship with his co-worker Tamara and interacting with friends who frequently visited him. “Looking back, I didn’t know it at the time but it was probably one of the best times in my life, in terms of overall happiness levels.” 

Kelly’s journey took a “refreshing” turn when Tamara ventured into the film costume industry. Tamara recognized Kelly’s potential and passion for costume work and extended an invitation for him to join her in this new endeavor. With Tamara’s invaluable support and guidance, Kelly landed his first job in the industry. From that point on, his career as a costumer took flight. 

Having an eye for fashion and working at vintage boutiques as a sales associate, Kelly was unsure about which long term career would truly be invigorating only that sales was not it.  He was excited about the prospect of finding creative opportunities yet limited to only what he knew. that he had not yet been aware of.

“When I thought about working in film, I thought I had to be in front of the camera,” Kelly said. “I just kept myself open to new things without fully understanding.”

His initial foray into the costume industry was with MTV’s “I Just Want My Pants Back,” and the “whopping” $2,000 paycheck at the end of the week was the shining moment that made him forget the stress and hard work each day required.

No matter the  genre, it is Kelly’s responsibility to ensure the realization of the costume designer’s establishment and assist with maintaining continuity. Above all, Kelly believes that film and television revolve not only around the celebrities on camera, but also the crew who work tirelessly to create the magic. 

“It feels so special,” Kelly said. “The beautiful conversations you have with people, the connections you make. We become a family and you get so happy when you see them on the next project. You reunite, reminisce and bond all over again.” 

Looking at designer Tom Ford handing the company over to Peter Hawkings, a friend of Kelly’s, and transitioning to the film industry, Kelly believes that he is in the right place by working in entertainment. 

With his age factored into his long-term goal, Kelly aspires to jump into a costume design or costume supervisor role. But his ultimate dream is to be “stress-free, to be in love, to be happy both metaphysically and mentally. Just a place to live, to call home and everything else is what it is.”

Correction: This article previously named the WGACA assistant manager as “Christie.” The name has since been corrected to Kris Smith.

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About the Contributor
Jenna Zaza
Jenna Zaza, Arts & Culture Editor
Jenna Zaza is The Statesman's Arts and Culture Editor. She is a second-year journalism major with a minor in Korean studies and on the fast-track MBA program. When she is not writing, she is probably reading a book with a cup of coffee in hand.
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