How to Become a Costume Designer


If you want to become a costume designer, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits. Does the following describe you?


• You have excellent design skills

• You have creative vision

• You want a creative job in the film, television or stage production industry

• You have knowledge of costume history and modern fashion

• You have an interest in, and knowledge of the production process

• You can accept the challenges and rewards of freelance employment 


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a costume designer. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, educational requirements a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Costume Designer

The educational requirements for getting work in this field will vary by employer, as there is no industry-wide standard. Many costume designers however, have a degree or postgraduate qualification in a field related to fine artscostume design, fashion, theatre design or performing arts production.


Some employers will hire costume designers solely based on creative abilities, as demonstrated by a portfolio, versus formal educational requirements. However, many employers prefer to hire candidates that have demonstrable creative abilities as well as a college or university-level qualification in costume design or fashion.


Short courses in areas such as computer aided design (CAD) or pattern cutting can also be very helpful for this career, both in terms of helping you to find work, and in terms of helping to develop the necessary skills.





Costume Designer Job Description

Costume designers are responsible for the overall look of the clothes and costumes for theatre, dance, opera, television and film productions. Their main responsibility is to plan and create costumes and related accessories for these productions.


They must create costumes that suit both the personalities and the roles of the characters, as well as look as though they fit into the time periods of the production for which they are being created.


Aside from researching and designing costumes, they might also be responsible for leading a team of people within the costume department, depending on the size of their employer or the size of the production.


Although costume designers tend to specialize in either theatre or in film and TV, they can find work in both sectors if they are established within the field and choose to do so.



Typical Job Duties Involved

• Read and analyze the script of the production in order to gain an understanding of costume needs

• Liaise with the director and other designers in order to develop design concepts

• Produce colour renderings of drawings

• Meet with wardrobe supervisor in order to discuss the designs

• Develop the budget for costume related expenses

• Develop patterns for costumes

• Attend costume fittings

• Attend dress rehearsals, if applicable



Who Employs Costume Designers?

The majority of costume designers work as self-employed freelancers, on a contractual or temporary basis. Full-time jobs in this line of work are fairly uncommon, although they are sometimes available, typically with larger theatres and touring theatre companies, as well as contract design agencies that employ designers on a permanent basis.


The following types of organizations typically employ the services of costume designers:


• Community theatres

• Touring theatre companies

• Film production companies

• Television production companies

• Opera and dance companies

• Festivals

• Design agencies



Experience Needed to Become a Costume Designer

Many employers prefer to hire candidates that have at least some form of industry experience, or a university-level education in a related field. If you want to become a costume designer and you do not have such credentials, you can always work your way up to it by gaining experience in an entry-level position, such as a wardrobe assistant or costume maker.


You can also get relevant career experience via the following avenues:


• Student theatre and film productions

• Amateur theatre

• Working as a temporary helper on TV or film sets

• Casual wardrobe work in theatres

• Working for a theatrical costume company

• Working an apprenticeship-style new entrant training program through your school or independently


As you gain experience (or while you are earning your degree) building a good portfolio is essential; it is a sort of visual resume, and may be in various formats such as online, physical, photographic, or DVD. Potential employers will want demonstrable proof of your creative abilities and design skills. You can start your portfolio with projects you have done in school, as well as with any projects you’ve done on a volunteer or paid basis. 





Skills Needed to Be Successful

To be effective and ultimately successful as a costume designer, and perform your job duties with competence, you need to posses a certain set of skills, including:


• Able to maintain organization and work within a budget

• A high level of design skill

• Creative vision

• Practical sewing skills

• Able to direct the work of others

• Able to work under pressure to meet deadlines

• Good research skills

• Knowledge of costume history and modern fashion

• Knowledge of the production process, including technical aspects such as lighting and sound



Characteristics of Successful Costume Designers

In order to enjoy performing the duties of a costume designer, you need to have certain personality traits. Taking enjoyment from your duties as a costume designer is important, as it helps you maintain a positive attitude towards your work, which usually leads to having a long and successful career.


• You want a creative job in film, TV, theatre, dance or opera

• You have a flexible and adaptable attitude

• You have a deep appreciation for fashion and design

• You have an interest in the history of fashion

• You are willing to work as a freelancer (may not be necessary, although it is more common)



Typical Earnings in This Line of Work

The salary level of costume designers can vary based on various factors, including:


• Their level of experience and skill

• The size and type of their employer (including whether or not they are self-employed)

• Whether they work on stage (theatre, opera, dance), television or film productions

• The budget of the production they are working on

• The region in which they work

• Whether they work part-time or full-time


Costume Designer Salary Canada: According to the 2016 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (most recent data available at the time of writing - June 5, 2019), Albertans working in the Theatre, fashion, exhibit and other creative designers occupational group earned on average from $17.89 to $25.47 an hour. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories. 


Costume Designer Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage of American workers in the Designers, All Other occupational group is $69,650 per year for those who work in the Motion Picture and Video Industries sector, and $43,980 for those who work in Performing Arts Companies sector.



Costumer Designer Job Opportunities - Current Postings

Our job board below has "Costumer Designer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.



Working Conditions Common to This Profession

Working Hours: The hours of work for costume designers may not be typical weekday working hours, and they are often long as they frequently face tight deadlines that they have to meet. Costume designers often have to work during evenings and weekends.


Work Setting: Costume designers may work in a variety of settings, depending on the project they are working on, or the size and type of their employer; they typically work in a studio, an office or from home. They also spend a fair amount of time attending meetings with the staff of theatre, film/TV production companies.


Work Environment: The work of costume designers can be stressful, as they may have to work on many projects simultaneously due to the freelance nature of the career; they also frequently face tight deadlines. Some travel may be also be required in a career as a costume designer, in order to maintain steady employment.



Similar Career Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to this one, as they involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Fashion Designer

Makeup Artist

Set Designer

Theatre Director

Wardrobe Supervisor




Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of this profession.


Occupations in Alberta: Costume Designer.” (March 27, 2017). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Occupational Employment and Wages:Fashion Designers.” (March 29, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Explore Careers:Costume Designer.” (n.d.). National Careers Service website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Fashion:How to Become a Costume Designer.” (n.d.). The Art Career Project website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.



How to Become a Costumer Designer



Scholarships for Becoming a Costume Designer

The Relevant Fields of Study section below shows fields of study that are helpful for becoming a costume design, and relevant to the work you'll be doing in some way. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for this profession. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


Top Banner Image: