Costume Design

A program that prepares individuals to design and select costumes for characters in theater and the performing arts and to serve as part of a production team. Includes instruction in costume design, script analysis, theory and criticism, period styles, history of costume, stage makeup, rendering, and costume construction.

Costumers and wardrobe personnel dress performers to fit specific narratives.

Clothes can say a lot about a person; it's up to a costume designer or wardrobe stylist to decide what they say. Character wardrobes can convey all kinds of information to a viewer, like profession, social class, hobbies, or traits. Using this visual shorthand is one way to differentiate the world of a production from our own and save writers the trouble of having to spell things out. Wearing certain articles of clothing can affect an actor's movements or help them to connect to a role, and costume designers will often work closely with hair, makeup, and special effects artists to achieve a certain look.

Generally speaking, costume designers will join a production during the planning phase, working from a script to develop each character's style. This looks different for every project; period dramas or stage productions may involve renting or fabricating historically accurate garments, which can require a great deal of research and technical skill. In contrast, wardrobe stylists for reality television shows tend to focus less on crafting garments and more on selecting items of contemporary clothing that reflect an individual's personality. Similarly, many TV shows will have wardrobe staff responsible for filling each character's closet and dressing them consistently for each episode. The duties of a wardrobe or costume designer vary, but there's one constant - fittings. Actors, performers, and onscreen figures must be measured to ensure that their clothing fits them specifically and adjustments can be made.

Costume and wardrobe work may include...

  • Developing costume concepts for specific characters
  • Constructing and fabricating articles of clothing
  • Selecting wardrobe and styling options for characters
  • Creating multiple versions of the same garment for different takes
  • Researching fashion trends, period styles, or notable outfits on public figures

The majority of costume designers work on a project basis, though some are employed by film studios, theater companies, or performance groups. Finding work is usually reliant on a designer's portfolio, and working on student projects, short films, or local performances can be a great opportunity for designers to showcase their skills.

Most costume designers spend significant time developing their skills before they set foot on their first film set. Sewing garments takes time, skill, and a nuanced understanding of the actions that will be performed in them. Some schools offer tracks in costume design, particularly conservatory tech and crew programs and fashion institutions, where students design and create costumes for film, theater, opera, music performances, fashion shows, and other productions. Students looking to elevate their craft may benefit from graduate programs in costume design. However, formal education is in no way the only path to a career in costume design; many successful costuming professionals have backgrounds as stylists, seamstresses, or sewing hobbyists. The key to succeeding in costume design lies in the ability to convey styles visually to producers and directors, which may take the form of drawings, mock-ups, or digital renderings. Costumers need to be able to both imagine and realize these designs, whether that means finding specific pieces or making them from scratch.

If you're a dedicated craftsperson with a passion for character driven work, consider pursuing a career in costume design or wardrobe.

The Costume Designers Guild is a labor union representing costume designers, assistant costume designers, and costume illustrators working in motion pictures, television, and commercials.

The Costume Society of America fosters an understanding of appearance and dress practices of people across the globe through research, education, preservation, and design.

The National Costumer's Association is a professional organization promoting the artistic, historical, education, and social nature of costuming.