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How to Become a Costume Designer

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If you are interested in fashion and if you are looking for a creative job, a rewarding career choice that you may consider costume designer.

A costume designer is a talented individual responsible for the overall look of the clothes and costumes in theatre, film or television productions.

Job

As a costume designer, your primary job is to design, make and hire costumes for on-screen members in the production team. You are expected to perform various tasks such as:

  • Studying the script
  • Discussing ideas with team designers and director
  • Sketching costume designs that fit the production’s designing concept and budget
  • Researching costume fabrics and styles
  • Instructing costume makers to turn your sketches into real garments
  • Liaising with costume makers, wardrobe supervisors and wardrobe assistants
  • Managing wardrobe budgets
  • Buying or hiring outfits
  • Maintaining the proper look of costumes between the scenes

Working Hours and Conditions

Your working hours may vary considerably and you usually have to work for longer hours to meet deadlines. Your work may also demand you to work late evenings and over weekends.

You may work in a studio, a theatre, or in your own office. You may also have to attend meetings with different production companies.

Income

Trainee costume designers  

 Around £13,000 a year

Qualified costume designers 

 Around £18,000 a year

Experienced designers

 £28,000 or more a year

Senior designers

 £35,000 or more  year

Freelance rates may vary widely, depending upon your experience and the type of production house.

Source: nationalcareersservice

Skills and Interests Needed

To be a successful costume designer, it is important that you possess the following:

  • Excellent design skills
  • Creativity and imaginative power
  • Good problem solving skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Impeccable communication skills
  • Good inter-personal skills
  • Be able to pay attention to detail
  • Budget awareness
  • Be able to work under pressure
  • Be able to meet deadlines
  • Good research skills
  • Flexible attitude towards work
  • Technical know-how of lights and sound

Entry requirements

You don’t need any specific qualifications to enter into this profession. It is however suggested that you earn a HND, degree or postgraduate qualification in fashion, theatre design, costume design or performing arts.

When seeking employment, you are expected to demonstrate a high level of design skill and creative vision, as well as practical sewing skills. You also have to have a lot of experience in the theatre, film or costume industry. You must build a good portfolio to be presented to potential employers.

To kick-start your career as a costume designer, you may enter this field as a costume assistant or wardrobe trainee. It helps you to gain required knowledge and experience in the industry.

To gain hands-on experience and practical knowledge on garment production, you may consider working towards various qualifications such as:

  • Level 1 Certificate or Diploma in Fashion and Textiles
  • Level 2 Award/Certificate in Fashion
  • Level 2 Award in Fashion (Character Costume)
  • Level 2 and 3 Certificate in Theatre Support

You may also get into this job through a Costume and Wardrobe Advanced Apprenticeships scheme.

You can also refer to the Creative Skillset website for more information on related courses and careers in this field.

Training

Once employed, you usually receive on-the-job training by learning from experienced designers.

For professional growth, training opportunities and networking, you may consider joining organizations such as The Society of British Theatre Designers and The Costume Society.

If you have already completed your training or you have some practical experience, you may apply for a place on the Film Craft and Technical Trainee Placement Scheme. You may refer to Skillset Craft and Technical Skills Academy (Trainee Finder) website for further information.

Career Prospects

You may find employment with film and television production companies and various theatre companies. Freelance or contractual work is common in this profession. You can, however, find permanent work in larger companies, agencies and costumiers that may employ you on a full-time basis.

After gaining significant experience, you may be able to move to the role of senior designer in high profile production houses. You may work in both theatre or in film and TV, once you are established.

Career Tips

To rocket fuel your career, you must gain a lot of practical experience through following means:

  • Volunteering
  • Student theatre
  • Film productions
  • Working as a temporary helper on TV or movie sets
  • Working for a costume hire company

While this is an interesting career it is only suitable for individuals with a creative bent of mind and for those who are inclined towards fashion.

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