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Costume Designer

Fashion and Textiles | Film | TV
Personality type:

The lowdown

  • Being in charge of designing, creating, acquiring and hiring all costumes for Actors and extras
  • Managing a team of skilled personnel
  • Supervising practical issues, such as departmental budgets and schedules, the organisation of running wardrobes, and costume continuity

Is this role right for me?

To do this role, you will need to:

  • be creative and imaginative
  • have excellent design skills
  • have good communication skills
  • be skilled in research
  • know about costume history and modern fashion
  • have good stamina
  • be able to work under pressure to strict deadlines
  • be highly organised
  • have the confidence to motivate a team
  • put others at ease (when working closely with Actors in a physical sense)
  • break down scripts in terms of costume plots
  • know about story structure and character arcs
  • have good garment production skills and knowledge of textiles
  • have a wide-ranging cultural knowledge base

What does a Costume Designer do?

Costume Designers' work helps to define the overall ‘look' of TV productions and films and their role requires a great deal of expertise. This must be achieved within strict budgets, and to tight schedules.

They work closely with the Production Designer to make sure the costumes fit in with their overall vision and work with the chosen lighting and camera angles. They also collaborate with the hair and make-up team to make sure a cohesive look is created.

During pre-production, Costume Designers break down scripts scene by scene to work out how many characters are involved and what costumes are required. They then develop costume plots for each character. Plots ensure that colours and styles do not mimic each other in the same scene, and highlight the characters' emotional journeys by varying the intensity and depth of colours.

Costume Designers must carry out research into the costume styles, designs and construction methods suitable for the time period, using resources such as libraries, museums and the Internet. They may also discuss costume and character ideas with performers.

They deliver initial ideas to Directors about the overall costume vision, character plots and original costume designs, using sketches and fabric samples. They also discuss colour palettes with the Director of Photography and Production Designer.

Costume Designers ensure that accurate financial records are kept and weekly expenditure reports are produced. They prepare overall production schedules, as well as directing the day-to-day breakdowns of responsibilities.

They choose and hire appropriate suppliers and Costume Makers, negotiating terms with them, and communicating design requirements (on a smaller-scale production a Costume Designer would be involved in both the design and the making processes).

They arrange fittings for Actors and extras. They supervise fabric research and purchase, and ensure that garments are completed to deadlines.

Depending on the numbers of costumes to be created and the scale of budgets, Costume Designers may decide to create a dedicated Costume Workshop.

They should be on set whenever a new costume is worn for the first time to make sure that performers are comfortable, to explain special features, and to oversee any alterations.

Once filming is completed, Costume Designers are responsible for the return of hired outfits, and the sale or disposal of any remaining costumes.

Costume designers may be required to work long hours; evening and weekend work may be involved when working to deadlines.

They can be based in a studio, office or home-based environment when designing and making the garments. Travel to locations for TV and film productions is common and they are often required to attend meetings at theatres or TV/film production companies.

What might I earn?

A typical starting salary for a Costume Designer may be between £13,000 and £18,000 a year, which could rise to around £28,000 a year with experience.

Senior Costume Designers with considerable experience of the industry may earn over £35,000 a year.

Will I need a qualification?

You will need an HND, degree or postgraduate qualification in a subject such as Costume Design, Fashion, Theatre Design or Performing Arts (Production).

If you are interested in film and TV you can apply for an apprenticeship-style training scheme, such as the BBC's Design Training Scheme.

You will undergo further training on the job by learning from more experienced designers.

You can also join organisations such as the Society of British Theatre Designers and the Costume Society to gain professional recognition and for networking and training opportunities. Some drama schools, such as RADA and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, offer vocational training in costume for theatre, film and television.

It is important to update your portfolio or show reel.

You can also gain practical garment production skills by taking relevant ABC, City & Guilds, NOCN or SQA courses.

As travel is often required, you will also need a full, EU driving licence.

What's the best route in?

The role of Costume Designer is not an entry-level position and you will need considerable knowledge and experience in order to design for feature films.

After gaining qualifications, you can expect to start your career as a Costume Assistant or Wardrobe Trainee before progressing through the costume department.

Alternatively, you could work for one of the large Costumiers.

You will probably need to work in theatre, film and TV until you become established and specialise in one area.

You can look for jobs in the national press, trade publications and on industry websites but competition is strong and networking and word-of-mouth is the most common route to employment.

You could also apply to be a TV Trainee through Trainee Finder, which gives you hands-on experience in the industry and helps you build those all-important contacts that are essential when competing for a job:

More information about Trainee Finder

Interested? Find out more...