costume designer

Career in costume designing: jobs, skills, courses and other details

Nancy Jaiswal
Nancy Jaiswal
Posted on 03 Aug 2022
10:14 AM
A costume designer is responsible for designing the elements of clothing worn by actors in films or on stage.

A costume designer is responsible for designing the elements of clothing worn by actors in films or on stage. Source: Pixabay

A costume designer is responsible for designing the looks for the actors in films or on stage, including clothes, footwear and accessories
Costume designers research, design, and stitch the costumes and other accessories worn by actors

Who is a costume designer?

A costume designer is the person responsible for designing the elements of clothing worn by actors in films or on stage. A costume designer has skills similar to those of a traditional fashion designer, but with certain exceptions. More on that later.

So, in a nutshell, costume designers are in charge of creating the look and mood of actors and artists through the wardrobes and props used.


What is the difference between a fashion designer and a costume designer?

Fashion designers and costume designers share many common skills. However, costume designers have their own understanding of how to design costumes for film, television, or theatrical productions. They understand that the costumes they design must be impactful while also being durable enough to withstand the wear and tear of rehearsals and production. For costume designers working in theatre productions, they also have to plan for rapid scene changes, where people will be changing costumes in a rush.

Theatrical costumes should also meet the specific needs of the story, for instance a costume designer may be asked to design a period crinoline piece, or a delicate and refined dress but one that must withstand months of everyday wear. Often, costumes also play a significant role in the storytelling process - conveying things that may not be explicitly stated. The costume designer must be able to understand the need for these elements and work accordingly.

Finally, costume designers are also tasked to work with other design professionals in a production, such as lighting and set design, to develop a compatible aesthetic for the entire show.

So now that we know the differences, let’s try and define exactly what a costume designer does…

What does a costume designer do?

Costume designers research, design, and stitch the costumes and other accessories worn by actors. They ensure that the props and wardrobe align with the story being told and that represent each character's personality, culture, and relationships. They are also responsible fordesigning entire wardrobes for their characters with multiple looks, that all conform with the overall aesthetic of the character while conveying shades of difference from scene to scene.

All costume design assignments begin with a careful reading of the script by the designer. It is important for the costume designer to have a good understanding of the overall plot, the director's vision and intent, as well as the role various characters have to play throughout the production.

Once the costume designer has a good sense of the creative direction to be taken, they study the clothes, designs and materials that belong to the period, place and time being depicted. The costume designer then creates a costume plan keeping all of this and the personalities of the actors in mind. This plan may consist of sketches, briefs, or even computerised images.

Once approved by the director, the costume designer will then begin searching for the required costume and props. Certain costumes may also need to be sewn by a tailor in close consultation with a costume designer, or by the costume designer himself. Even with the props being used, some may be sourced, and others need to be made and customised.

What does the day-to-day of a costume designer look like?

The day to day duties of a costume designer will include some or all of these:

  • Understanding and segregating scripts to determine costume needs
  • Finalising costume needs with directors, writers, and other members of the production team
  • Sketching costume concepts for all actors
  • Developing a costume plan detailing what each character is wearing for each scene

What courses to study to become a costume designer?

Here’s a list of the major degrees and diploma courses which one can pursue to learn the skills and techniques needed to excel in costume designing:

  • B.Des in Fashion Design
  • B.A. in Fashion Design
  • in Costume Design and Fashion
  • Diploma in Costume Design and Dress Making

The top 3 colleges in the country offering courses for costume designers are:

  • ARCH College of Design & Business, Jaipur
  • Whistling Woods International, Mumbai

  • Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar

Whistling Woods International, Mumbai

Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar

Regardless of educational background, most professional costume designers initiate their professional journey as assistants either in stage costume design shops or film dressing rooms. Gaining basic experience in these entry-level positions enable designers to assemble a portfolio showcasing the various costumes they have designed.

Costume designers research, design, and stitch the costumes and other accessories worn by actors

Costume designers research, design, and stitch the costumes and other accessories worn by actors Source: Flickr

What are some key skills that help a costume designer make it in the industry?

When looking for experience as a costume designer, it is essential that you present yourself as a worthy candidate - be it for internships, apprenticeships or jobs. Some of the important skills that any production company will look for are:

  • The ability to think out of the box: As a costume designer, you will often be expected to come up with innovative solutions, particularly when it comes to customisation of clothes and props. Thinking out of the box, and particularly being able to display this in a job interview, will go a long way.
  • Resourcefulness: Film and theatre sets are usually quite dynamic and high pressure atmospheres. As someone making their start in the industry, you might be asked to contribute to some department other than costume design. Having the ability to think on your feet and come up with solutions may go a long way in helping you build a dependable reputation.
  • Knowing your area of work well: Last but not the least is an excellent sense of colour, cuts, fabrics, fashion trends, and dress-making. While you may not need the last one at all times, it is a great skill to have in your repertoire, particularly when it comes to giving directions to the tailor or in situations where you might be in a fix and need a quick tailoring or altering job done on a costume.

What are some of the related job opportunities a costume designer can consider?

Being a flourishing field, the job opportunities available for a costume designer are not only restricted to the field of costume designing. Here are some popular profiles available for them to kickstart their professional career:

  • Costume designer - they design the clothes and apparel as well as the overall look, in terms of clothes, to be used in a production.
  • Jewellery designer - they design jewellery, in this case for film or theatre productions. However, jewellery designers can also start their own line in the future.
  • Accessory designer - accessory designers contribute to designing items that complement the clothes being worn. While they may work as part of a costume design team, usually under a head designer, they must be able to bring other skills (know how of materials used for accessories, how to pick the right ones, how to care for them, etc.) to the table to be really relevant.
  • Leather accessory designer - as the name suggests, this is a niche area. Be it actual leather or synthetic leather, the designer must have an indept knowledge of the fabric, how to work with it and what are the possibilities when using it. Leather accessory designers also have relevance both on and off film and theatre sets.

Costume designers use the language of fashion to describe the setting, mood, and characters of a film or opera, often depicting crucial character details that would otherwise be lost because they are not articulated in the dialogues. However, what seems like merely creating beautiful costumes, is actually a job that requires a specific knowledge of stage production, a deep understanding of fashion history and costumes, and the ability to create excellent visual designs. So are you ready with your sketchbook now?

Interested in fashion designing? click here to know how to start your career in the field

Last updated on 04 Aug 2022
15:30 PM
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