Love the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? There’s an FIT Connection

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade turns 95 this year, and properly observing this landmark event requires a lot of clowns. “Half-baked holiday sweets” clowns, as Macy’s calls them, will be costumed as pies, cookies, and cakes. “Silly seaside” clowns appear as starfish and seahorses. “Spacey” clowns are astronauts, and—a new category this year—“first-responder” clowns, outfitted as firefighters and hospital workers. These and many more were dressed by a crew assembled and overseen by the parade’s costume crew chief, FIT adjunct faculty member Barbara Berman. This is her 20th parade.

Top: Just a few of the hundreds of parade clowns. Bottom: Barbara Berman at the New Yorker Hotel. All photos courtesy of Berman.

Some things never change. As always, Berman and her team arrived at the New Yorker Hotel on West 34th Street at 4:45 am. There, they helped the 600 clowns, 300 float escorts, 159 teens, 75 stilt walkers and special characters, 2000 balloon handlers, 450 officials, 100 banner carriers and more, into their costumes. After performers complete the 2.5-mile procession from Central Park to Macy’s at Herald Square on West 34th and Broadway, Berman’s team will help them back into their street clothes. “The transformation is amazing,” Berman says. “Performers might arrive sleepy or a little grouchy, but after they walk that parade and see all the happy people? They come back euphoric.”

For the Green Giant parade float, Berman’s team dressed the float escorts as ears of corn and sunflowers. Universal Studios is presenting the Holiday Express float, with escorts outfitted as train engineers; and the South Dakota Office of Tourism will present a float that resembles—you guessed it—Mount Rushmore. (Escorts dress as park rangers.) Costume hems require special attention; if they get stepped on, the outfit can unravel, so Berman’s crew members are quick to provide hand-sewn solutions or, in a pinch, safety pins. “The styling certificate program in FIT’s Center for Continuing and Professional Studies has classes in hand-sewing, pinning, and taping,” Berman points out. She recruited part of her team from her class in PR and Special Events in the Fashion Events Planning and Publicity Program, where she serves as the lead teacher. 

A stilt walker dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

Because of COVID-19, parade proceedings will be slightly different this year. “It’s not back to normal because normal isn’t normal any more,” Berman says. Macy’s is taking every precaution to keep marchers and attendees safe. Berman’s team has been reduced from 100 to 85. Some participants were mailed their outfits to reduce density at the New Yorker, but that creates an additional challenge: “COVID put 20 pounds on a lot of people,” Berman says, “so we have to have emergency sizes available in a huge trunk near the start.” Tall, vertically oriented balloons require the handlers to stand close together, so they were omitted last year in favor of the horizontal balloons. In 2020, much of the event was curtailed, and certain segments were pre-recorded at Macy’s satellite spot at the New Jersey Meadowlands. The good news is, this year, the whole parade will be live. 

Berman’s team helps keep the parade’s holiday spirit alive, and in 2008, Macy’s thanked her with a Rollie—a special award for working on the event. “Will I be working on the 100th?” she wonders. She thinks for a moment, then smiles. “Probably.”

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