Costume designers research and design costumes and accessories for theatre, film and television. Their designs must suit particular characters and settings. Costumes may be made, hired or bought from second-hand clothes shops.
Costume designers work in theatre, film or television production. They design costumes and select accessories to suit specific characters and settings.
Before beginning their designs, they read, analyse and interpret the script they are working on. They spend a lot of time carrying out detailed research, especially if they are designing period costumes. If they are collecting modern materials, they may spend time observing and taking photos of people in the street.
Following the research, the costume designer presents their design ideas in the form of drawings and fabric samples. Once ideas have been approved, they take measurements of the cast members. In some cases, they may then create the costumes themselves, although this is more often the role of a costume maker.
Costume designers are given a budget that they use to buy fabric, or to hire/buy whatever cannot be made. They arrange costume fittings with the cast members, and make any alterations to the costumes, if necessary.
Costume designers work closely with directors, producers, technicians, lighting and set designers as well as performers. This helps to produce designs that suit the overall look of the production. They need to manage the continuity of costumes.
Directors usually have the final say about all aspects of production. Some may allow the costume designer to have a great deal of creative freedom. Others like to give detailed guidelines that they expect the costume designer to follow.
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.
The work may involve local travel, or more extensive travel in the UK and possibly overseas. Costume designers may also go on tour with a production.
Personal Qualities and Skills
- Good practical and problem-solving skills.
- An understanding of dressmaking.
- An understanding of colour, shape and form.
- To draw clearly and accurately.
- Good organisation and planning skills.
- To pay attention to fine detail.
- Good communication, presentation and negotiation skills.
- An interest in theatre, drama, fashion, art or history.
- Good research skills.
- To keep up to date with new design developments and fashions.
- To work to deadlines and budgets.
- Knowledge of lighting techniques, camera angles and the overall production processes.
Self-employed or freelance costume designers will need business and marketing skills.
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of costume designers
Employers are theatre, television and film production companies. There are a few opportunities with specialist costumiers.
Opportunities for costume designers occur with employers in large towns and cities throughout the UK, where major theatres/TV production centres are located, for example, London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
Most costume designers work on a self-employed, freelance basis. They are usually employed on short contracts and may move from production to production in theatre, television and film. You can obtain this work through specialist recruitment agencies.
Entry routes and training
A common route into this career is via a Foundation course in Art and Design followed by a degree, HNC, HND or foundation degree in a subject such as theatre, costume or fashion design.
Graduates often start work as costume design assistants or junior designers and work their way up, gaining skills along the way.
Entry requirements for foundation courses and degrees vary so it is important to check with individual colleges and universities.