A costume designer is responsible for designing the clothes and accessories actors wear and works with directors, production designers, and art directors.
Costume designers develop costumes for characters that reflect who they are. Their work considers all facets of characters, including their personalities, lifestyles, and cultures. They must also ensure their costumes suit a production’s overall look.
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Typical duties for costume designers include:
Costume designers rely on a range of natural and learned skills to succeed. Some of the skills production companies look for in costume designers include:
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Costume designers do not need college degrees. However, formal qualifications can help these professionals set themselves apart. They can also help aspiring costume designers make industry connections. Many aspiring costume designers take courses in the following disciplines:
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People interested in costume design can also benefit from personal study. The following activities can complement coursework and on-the-job training:
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Costume designers are usually driven people with determined attitudes. This personality helps them stay positive when working long hours or searching for new work after one project ends. They are also natural problem solvers who can think analytically about each character’s requirements. Their confidence helps them present their ideas to directors and other important members of the production team.
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A common career path for a costume designer includes the following roles:
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Many costume designers work in mainstream fashion or other areas of film, TV, or theater before becoming costume designers.
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Participating in an internship is a good way for someone to advance to a costume designer role. Theater companies often welcome interns. Once they are established, costume designers who show strong research skills, imagination, and an ability to interpret directors’ vision should advance in their careers.
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Fashion designers and costume designers share many skills. However, costume designers have a unique understanding of how to design clothes for film, television, or theater productions. They understand the costumes they create must suit their production’s narrative. They must also be durable enough to sustain the wear of rehearsals and productions. This is a particular concern for costume designers working in the theater, where quick changes between scenes are common.
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Fashion designers often take their cues from classic fashion movements. However, their work is always contemporary and current. Costume designers, on the other hand, often create clothes reflecting earlier time periods in history.
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Costume designers also work more closely with a broader range of creative professionals. They regularly liaise with set designers and lighting experts, for example, to ensure their designs suit the production as a whole. Fashion designers do not need to work with other creatives in this way.
Costume designing is usually freelance work. Theater companies and television series often have costume designers on staff, but most costume designers are hired for specific projects. Some directors give their favorite costume designers regular work. However, it’s not uncommon for designers to have substantial time between productions.
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While some projects call for theatrical and extravagant costumes, costume designers know most work calls for simple, everyday costumes. They also understand they will need to work their way up through the industry.
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Costume designers work in cities across the United States and the world. Most local jobs are in cities with large entertainment industries, including New York and Los Angeles.
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Costume designers do most of their work in offices. They spend a lot of time at their desks creating sketches and more detailed costume images, costume plots, and budgets. Their offices are usually spacious enough to spread out materials and cutting patterns.
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Costume designers work long hours from pre-production until the end of a production run. Weekend and evening work is common, especially during the pre-production period. Pre-production is fast-paced, but the demands of the job usually slow down during production.
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A costume designer’s experience and reputation influence their annual earnings. Entry-level costume designers typically earn between $20,000 and $27,000 each year. With more experience, costume designers can expect to earn between $40,000 and $45,000 annually.
Strong competition and limited employment options should see costume designer jobs holding steady. Building a strong portfolio helps costume designers secure work.
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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics groups costume designers with fashion designers for statistical purposes. It states fashion designers earned a median salary of $73,390 per year in 2019. The median salary for fashion designers working in the motion picture and video sectors was slightly higher at $80,140.
The lowest 10% of fashion designers earned less than $37,260 in 2019. The top 10% of earners made more than $149,010 the same year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that 25,800 fashion designers were working in the United States in 2018. These are the official body’s most recent employment-population statistics.
Several organizations support costume designers throughout their careers. Some of the most prominent in the United States include:
If you have a flair for fashion and an interest in film or television, working as a costume designer may be the right career for you.