What types of fashion degrees can you study at university?
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Fashion degrees are very industry-focused; from day one of your course you will be preparing for your future career. There will be a lot of independent study to help you develop your own identity and voice, but you will have the chance to learn a variety of creative and technical skills, build up a professional portfolio and exhibit your work.
You can study at a traditional university, an art and design school such as the University for the Creative Arts or a specialist fashion college such as London College of Fashion.
There are lots of fashion degrees. Read on to find out about the ones that interest you and then scroll down to find out what it’s like to study fashion at university and the careers it can lead to.
These are the broadest degrees on offer. You will learn about every aspect of the fashion design process, from research and design development to garment construction and utilising media to present fashion concepts to the public. You will work in 2D and 3D and explore areas such as textiles, styling, photography, trend forecasting, pattern cutting, draping and fashion drawing/illustration. This will be underpinned by your study of fashion business and marketing, the history of fashion and its wider cultural context.
Fashion design degrees
You will cover the fundamentals of fashion design and learn how to research, design, develop and make clothing. You will develop your technical knowledge and practical skills in areas such as drawing, fashion illustration, fabric technology, pattern cutting, computer-aided design (CAD), colour, testing, sewing and garment construction. There will also be modules on fashion communication, fashion business and fashion cultures. The emphasis throughout the course is very much on developing your individual identity as a designer.
You can also choose a degree that specialises in a particular area of fashion design such as:
- fashion design and technology: womenswear
- fashion design and technology: menswear
- fashion design and technology: sportswear
- fashion knitwear design and knitted textiles
- footwear: product design and innovation
- fashion bags and accessories: product design and innovation
- fashion jewellery
- fashion contour (underwear, nightwear and swimwear).
Fashion textiles degrees
You will focus on the development of textiles for use in the fashion industry through print, knit, embroidery and embellishment and through the use of both traditional craft techniques and contemporary digital processes. You will develop your knowledge of fabrics, colour and silhouette, engage in textile sampling and prototype testing in 2D and 3D and explore areas such as fashion awareness, trend forecasting, illustration, pattern cutting and garment construction.
Fashion communication and fashion promotion degrees
Different universities have different names for their degrees in this area. Variations include fashion communication, fashion promotion, fashion communication and promotion, fashion public relations and communication, fashion communication and styling, and fashion promotion and imaging.
While the exact content may vary slightly, you can expect to learn about and develop technical skills in visual communication techniques such as photography, film, music, digital media, styling, social media, website and app design, fashion shows and journalism. You will then learn to apply these techniques to areas of the fashion industry such as branding, advertising, fashion media, marketing, visual merchandising, events, public relations, retail environments and colour and trend forecasting.
Fashion styling degrees
You will be introduced to the fundamentals of fashion styling and the skills required for this career. You will cover styling for magazines, advertising, catwalk shows, digital media and e-commerce and learn about fashion image making, fashion photography, how the body is used to convey meaning, hair and makeup, garment and prop sourcing, and media production. This will be complemented by your historical and cultural studies.
Fashion photography degrees
You will study fashion photography, film and animation and explore a range of images, from haute couture to street style, across a number of mediums, such as advertising campaigns, designer look-books, glossy magazines, art galleries and shop windows. You will experience both studio and location shooting and learn about digital image production and manipulation, including high-end and non-destructive retouching and video editing techniques.
Fashion journalism degrees
You will study fashion journalism across multiple platforms, from print and broadcast to online and social media. You will learn the fundamental skills required to be a journalist in the fashion industry including writing styles, research, media law and ethics, fashion vocabulary, catwalk reporting, styling, photography and video journalism, as well as studying fashion theory, history and culture, such as style icons and subcultures. You may also undertake a shorthand course.
Fashion marketing degrees
You will develop an understanding of the fashion industry as well as the principles of marketing. You’ll learn how to build and communicate a brand narrative for a variety of fashion organisations and you’ll gain experience of digital technologies and platforms. Topics you may study include consumer behaviour, segmentation, trend forecasting, marketing planning, visual merchandising, digital marketing, brand development, international fashion marketing and public relations.
Fashion buying and merchandising degrees
You will learn about consumer behaviour and how fashion ranges are researched, planned, sourced and developed. You will also study visual merchandising (eg look books, window displays and store layouts), purchasing and supply chain management, ethical issues and sustainability, and sales analysis. You are also likely to study a module that gives you an overview of fashion textiles and garment development.
Fashion management degrees
You will study the management of brands, finances, events and people across the fashion chain, from design and development, to manufacturing and the supply chain, to sales and marketing. Topics you may cover include business development, buying, merchandising, retailing, consumer behaviour, trend forecasting, advertising and public relations, social responsibility and sustainability. You will also gain an appreciation of garment construction and the manufacturing process.
It is possible to get onto a fashion degree straight after studying A levels, Scottish Highers, a BTEC extended diploma or another suitable level three qualification.
However, the most important requirement is a proven enthusiasm for and knowledge of fashion. This is why almost all fashion courses, apart from the business-focused degrees, ask you to submit a portfolio of your work and attend an interview to discuss this portfolio. Studying an art and design subject is often essential, especially for the creative degrees such as fashion design, and is the easiest way to build up a portfolio of work.
If you’d like to, you can do a one-year foundation course before you apply for an undergraduate degree. This will allow you to develop your knowledge and technical skills and build a strong portfolio, which may help you get onto the more competitive fashion courses at top universities. Some universities also offer a four-year undergraduate degree (five years in Scotland) that includes an extra foundation year. The entry requirements are usually a bit lower than if you’re applying to go straight onto an undergraduate degree.
Most fashion degrees follow a similar structure. Your first year will give you a broad introduction to your subject and start developing key technical skills. Your second year will then expand on the knowledge and skills you’ve gained so far and it’s likely that you’ll be given more project work.
This will all prepare you for your final year, which will usually require you to apply everything you’ve learned to a major final-year project, for example creating a fashion line or fashion magazine or developing a corporate or marketing strategy for a fashion business.
Fashion students are usually based in a university’s dedicated fashion studios, designed to mirror the collaborative working environment in the fashion industry. As well as design studios, there will be a range of facilities for you to use, such as computer suites, sewing and joining machines, mannequins and photography studios.
On a creative degree, most of your time will be spent in the studio working on a mixture of individual and group projects. This will then be supported by:
- practical workshops and demonstrations
- lectures and smaller group seminars
- one-to-one tutorials
- group critiques.
Critiques (sometimes shortened to crits) will involve you and your peers discussing and giving feedback on each other’s work. This will prepare you for life in the fashion industry where you’ll need to listen to – and not be upset by – constructive criticism.
On a more theory-based degree (fashion buying and merchandising, fashion management and fashion marketing) you will predominantly be taught through lectures, seminars, tutorials and computer lab sessions, but you can still expect a lot of project work.
While some of the theory-based degrees include some formal written exams, most fashion degrees are assessed entirely through practical and written coursework, including:
- essays and reports
- portfolios of 2D and 3D work
- workbooks and sketchbooks
- research books, folders, dossiers and blogs
In your final year, you will be assessed on your final project, which you will present in a professional context, such as a catwalk show or static exhibition. You will usually produce a professional portfolio and you may also write a dissertation.
‘For my dissertation I had to create a three-year marketing strategy and a one-year communication plan,’ says Kayleigh Gregory, a fashion marketing and branding graduate from Nottingham Trent University. ‘I based mine on the in-store experience and how online shopping is taking away the need to shop in store. I did a lot of research into consumer behaviour and then created a business plan on how to influence consumers to shop in store again by creating a new concept store.’
You can expect a decent number of contact hours – usually between 20 and 25 hours – in your first year of a fashion degree. On top of this, you will be expected to do a fair bit of independent study, whether that’s at home or in the fashion studios. This could include reading journal articles and books, conducting research, preparing for assessments, working on individual projects and meeting peers to complete group work.
'My course was very hands on,’ says Emma Tattersall, a fashion design graduate from Northumbria University. ‘I had scheduled sessions in the studio for around two or three full days during my first year. In my final year I was expected to be in the studio for five or six days a week, where I had my own assigned desk space, to work both independently and with staff and lecturers. We also had 24-hour access to the studio and computer area, which was really useful. I often put in late nights or worked over the weekend.’
As the fashion industry is very competitive, universities encourage their students to engage with the industry whenever possible. This includes:
- industry projects – most fashion students will have the chance to work on briefs set by well-known fashion brands, giving you the chance to work on a real project that the brand may well use
- guest speakers – it is common for industry professionals to visit your university and deliver a lecture, presentation or workshop
- field trips – this could include visits to factories, stores and museums as well as trips to famous fashion capitals, fashion weeks and international trade events such as Premiere Vision in Paris, Pitti Filati in Florence and IPSO Munich
- competitions – you will be encouraged to enter competitions, such as those run by the British Fashion Council, to gain industry recognition of your work
- exhibitions – universities will usually host a fashion show for their final-year students to exhibit their work. The event often includes a reception where you can network with press and industry contacts
- work experience – several degrees require you to complete an internship as part of a module and students are encouraged to spend a year in industry between their second and final year.
‘I would highly recommend a placement year,’ says Emma, who now works as a buyer for Topshop. ‘Mine gave me insight into the industry and experience that you just cannot get from a university course. It’s also a good talking point in interviews, especially if you’ve worked with recognisable, well renowned names. One piece of advice I would give is to pick one high-end placement and one more commercial high-street option if possible. Both ways of working are so different, so it’s really useful to see both sides. I worked for Aimee McWilliams, an independent designer, and Preen, a designer fashion brand.’
‘My course has made me very analytical and a strategic thinker,’ says Kayleigh, who now works in events management for TARGETcareers and its sister website TARGETjobs. ‘Also, as nearly every module involved a group presentation, there was a lot of teamwork and it helped me become more confident. On top of this, I got a lot more creative and started using tools such as Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Pinterest, which are great skills to have in many jobs.’
Other skills you will develop include:
- problem solving
- commercial awareness
- research skills
- project management
As a fashion graduate, you could work in-house for a high-street brand, designer label or online retailer, become a freelancer or even set up your own business. There are a number of jobs you could pursue, including:
- fashion designer
- garment technologist
- pattern cutter
- product developer
- studio manager
- trend forecaster
- visual merchandiser.
Or you could work in advertising, marketing, public relations or events management within the fashion industry.
How difficult is it to get a job in the fashion industry?
The fashion industry is very competitive and it can be difficult to find a job after graduating. Just having a degree is not enough, especially if you want to be a fashion designer. You’ll need to do as much work experience as possible during your degree and, even then, it’s common for fashion graduates to have to complete several internships before they land their first permanent job.
Fashion internships in the UK are typically based in London so you’ll need to be able to live nearby. You may be able to find opportunities in other large cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. Fashion internships are also often unpaid so if you can’t get financial support or live rent-free with your family or a friend, you may need to be prepared to work a second job.
While it’s hard work, this isn’t to say a fashion degree isn’t worth it. If you are committed to breaking into the fashion industry, it will give you the best possible chance do so. Those with a non-fashion degree will find it difficult to compete with fashion graduates and will therefore need to study a postgraduate fashion degree.
As the fashion industry is so competitive, lots of fashion graduates do need to find work in other industries.
Fashion photographers and journalists, for example, could look for work in a different area, such as sport or food, although you’ll usually need to study a relevant postgraduate degree and/or get some work experience in this area. Meanwhile, jobs in marketing, public relations and events management can be found in a number of industries, including charity, retail and the media, although, again, it may be difficult to land one of these jobs without some related work experience.
If you’ve studied fashion design or fashion textiles, you could become a design and technology teacher at a secondary school or college if you are willing to commit to further study to train as a teacher.
Alternatively, you could look at a different career altogether. Some jobs, such as retail management, are open to graduates from any degree discipline. However, not all jobs will list fashion as an accepted subject. This is because fashion degrees are very industry-specific and aren’t as transferable to a range of careers as degrees such as history, business and English are. Depending on the career you’re interested in, it’s likely that you’ll need to study a suitable postgraduate degree or get some good work experience.
See our guide to which jobs need a specific degree for more information.
Not set on a fashion degree? Other courses that might interest you
If you aren’t 100% sure you want to work in the fashion industry, you may be better off studying a more general degree that keeps your options open, such as:
- public relations
Or, if you know you want a degree in design, you could consider other areas such as:
- art and design
- textiles design
- interior design
- graphic design
- product design
- web design
Read our design degree subject guide to find out more about your options.