How to become a Costume Designer. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does a Costume Designer do?
As a costume designer, you would be responsible for the overall look of the clothes and costumes in theatre, film or television productions. As well as researching and designing costumes, you would often lead a team of people in the costume department.
On a large production, you would create the ideas but delegate the practical work to others such as costume makers, wardrobe supervisors and wardrobe assistants. You would:
- study the script
- discuss ideas with the production designer, director, and make-up, set and lighting designers
- create costume ideas to fit the production’s design concept and budget
- research suitable costume styles, fabrics and designs
- sketch costume designs
- give instructions to costume makers, who would turn your sketches into real garments.
On smaller productions, you might also carry out some of the practical tasks, such as:
- managing the wardrobe budget
- buying or hiring outfits
- fitting, altering and adapting costumes
- cleaning, ironing and mending
- making sure that wardrobe items are available at the right time
- keeping the continuity of costumes when filming.
Your hours could be long and may involve evening and weekend work to meet deadlines.
You could work in a studio, an office or from home. You would also attend meetings with theatres or film/TV production companies.
How much does an Costume Designer earn?
Salary and pay information:
- Earnings in theatre can start at around £20,000 to £31,000 a year. Established designers may earn much more.
- Earnings in film and TV are usually higher, although you may need to work for low pay at the start of your career.
Freelance rates can vary widely, based on the type of production and your own track record. Contact BECTU or Equity for information on minimum pay guidelines.
Figures are intended as a guide only.
You will need a high level of design skill and creative vision, as well as practical sewing skills. In practice, many costume designers have a BTEC HND, degree or postgraduate qualification in costume design, fashion, theatre design or performing arts (production). Check exact entry requirements with course providers.
Alternatively, you could start as a wardrobe assistant or costume maker and work your way up to designer as you build experience and contacts in the industry.
Whatever your qualifications, you should find practical work experience and build a good portfolio or ‘showreel’ DVD of your design work to show to potential employers. You can get relevant experience through:
- student theatre and film productions
- amateur theatre
- working as a costume ‘daily’ (a temporary helper) on TV or film sets
- casual wardrobe work in theatres
- working for a theatrical costume hire company.
You may be able to start in the film and TV industry through an apprenticeship-style new entrant training programme such as the BBC’s Design Training Scheme, or similar schemes run by regional screen agencies.
- BBC, Design
Competition for places on such schemes is very strong, so you should still gain practical experience as explained above before applying. Contact Skillset Careers to find out about any schemes that may be available.
Follow the link below to read about how a successful costume designer is building her career.
- Get Into Theatre, Costume and Set Designer case study
Training and Development
Most of your training would be on the job, starting as a design assistant or wardrobe assistant and learning from experienced designers.
You should continue to build your portfolio / show reel and develop your skills and contacts throughout your career. You may find it useful to join organisations like the Society of British Theatre Designers and the Costume Society, for professional recognition, networking and training opportunities.
You could also take short courses in skills such as computer aided design (CAD) or pattern cutting. To search for relevant courses for film and TV costume design, see Skillset’s database of media courses.
Skills and Knowledge
- creativity, imagination and problem-solving ability
- excellent design skills
- good communication and ‘people skills’
- leadership ability
- organisational skills
- budget awareness
- a good eye for detail
- the ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines
- good research skills, with a knowledge of costume history and modern fashion
- a flexible and adaptable attitude
- knowledge of the production process, including technical aspects such as lighting and sound.
You would be most likely to work on freelance contracts for film and television production companies, theatres and touring theatre companies. Permanent work is not common, but is possible in larger theatre companies or design agencies that employ staff on a full-time basis.
You would tend to specialise in either theatre or in film and TV, but you could work in both sectors once you are established.
Some jobs are advertised in the national press, trade press and industry websites. However, it is more common to get work by networking and word of mouth, and by using an agent or crew directory. Competition for work is strong.