What does a costume designer do?
Costume designers are responsible for the design, creation, acquiring and adapting of all costume items for a production. They design original costumes, oversee the purchase, hire and adaptation of ready-made outfits, and work with a team of technicians and craftspeople who will translate their sketches into wearable garments and look after the costumes once at the theatre or on set.
They head the costume department, staffing and managing a team of staff which may include a costume design assistant, costume/wardrobe supervisor, costume/wardrobe assistants and skilled technicians such as cutters, makers, finishers, dyers and milliners. The size of department and number of job roles vary depending on the size and type of production.
Designers work closely with the set designer and the producer/director to create ideas which complement their concept of the play/film and the overall production design and are within the available budget. They often also liaise with make-up designers and the props department to agree appropriate make-up, hair styles and accessories to complement the costumes.
They carry out research into costume styles, fabrics, designs and construction methods which are appropriate for the production's time period, using a number of resources including libraries, museums and the Internet. They may also discuss costume and character ideas with performers. They will also need to consider how different types of lighting and movement affect costumes and colours, and how costumes may affect sound on the production.
Once filming is completed, costume designers are responsible for the storage of costumes, the return of hired outfits, and the sale or disposal of any remaining costumes.
Designers also supervise departmental budgets and schedules and organise running wardrobes and costume continuity.
What's the working environment like for costume designers?
Hours are variable and may involve evening and weekend work.
Costume designers might work in a studio, an office or from home. They also attend meetings and rehearsals at theatres.
Designers may spend long periods away from home on location work or touring with a production.
What does it take to become a costume designer?
To be a costume designer you should have:
creativity and imagination, and a strong sense of colour
drawing and computer aided design skills
communication and interpersonal skills, with the confidence to manage a team and liaise with the director, set designer and other key production personnel
excellent organisational skills, with the ability to work to deadlines and manage a budget
patience and stamina
flexibility - an ability to make last-minute changes where necessary
knowledge of the properties of different fabrics, general knowledge of costume history and modern fashion
good research skills
problem solving ability
the ability to work under pressure
passion for and knowledge of theatre/film/TV
awareness of health and safety issues.
Costume designer career opportunities
Costume design is extremely competitive. It is also a job where talent, flair and reputation are the main factors that determine success.
Opportunities exist in most theatres that present their own productions. An increasing number of independent film and TV production companies offer scope for employment. Production companies making advertisements and videos also use costume designers.
Many successful costume designers are self-employed, working on a freelance basis or as partners in a consultancy. Promotion from design assistant to senior designer is only available in the larger theatres, theatre production companies or consultancies that employ staff on a full time basis.
If you would like to know anything about costume design that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.
Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD)
55 Farringdon Road
Tel: 020 7242 9200
Chartered Society of Designers
179-181 Bermondsey Street
Tel: 020 7357 8088
Creative and Cultural Skills
Tel: 0800 093 0444
Tel: 08080 300 900 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Tel: 0808 100 8094 for Scotland
80-110 New Oxford Street
Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS)
New Barn Lane
Tel: 0870 1122 211
Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU)
373-377 Clapham Road
Upper St Martin’s Lane
Tel: 020 7379 6000
Costume Society of Great Britain