What does a Costume Designer do?

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What is a Costume Designer?

A costume designer is a fashion professional who is responsible for creating the look and mood for actors and actresses in film, television and stage productions. The costume designer does this through designing, sewing, researching and purchasing actual clothing and costumes worn by those on stage and by selecting or designing the accessories and props which help to define each character.

A costume designer must have a thorough understanding of film, production, theatre, marketing, and fashion design. Also needed is the ability and desire to research and continually learn about scenarios, cultures and periods of history which help demonstrate the director's vision.

The costume designer and his/her team must ensure that individual props and wardrobes reflect the story being told and portray the character's personalities, cultures, ages, status and relationships. Many costumes may be required for each character as costumes define the attitude and feel which may change with every new scene, setting or development.

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What does a Costume Designer do?

Each costume design job begins with the designer carefully reading through the script. It is important that the costume designer has a good feel for the overall plot, the director's focus and intent, as well as the personalities, roles and relationships various characters have throughout the production.

Once the costume designer has a good feel for the direction of the production, he/she may research clothing, designs and materials indicative of the particular location or time period. Next, the costume designer will create a costume plot which follows characters through the progression of the production, changing their attire when appropriate. This plot can include sketches, photographs or computerized images that are presented to the director and production team.

Once approved, the costume designer begins the hunt for necessary costumes and props. In some situations, entire costumes may be purchased either new or from second hand stores. Other costumes will be drawn and sewn either by a tailor in close coordination with the costume designer or by the costume designer himself. Other costumes will be a combination of these two options. The costume designer is also responsible for supervising fittings and dress rehearsals. It is the designer's responsibility to ensure that every costume is ready by the specified deadline.

How to become a Costume Designer

It is imperative that all costume designers have good fashion sense, extensive knowledge of the fashion world, and bring imagination, creativity and drive to the table. Being knowledgeable in theatre and film production is a definite plus.

Although you may have a strong sense of fashion and are an accomplished seamstress, in order to work as a costume designer you must also receive formal education in costume or fashion design. There are both two and four year programs which meet the minimum requirements for employment but more advanced skills such as those acquired through a four year program will improve your chances of being hired. Many costume designers have master's degrees which include a focus on theatre, broadcasting, costume design, literature or marketing. Although an advanced degree is not a hard requirement, the greater experience and knowledge you have, the more marketable you are.

Any opportunity to work as an intern will provide invaluable experience, and this combined with your formal education will help to develop your portfolio while also showing your drive. The best way to ensure future work as a costume designer is to take advantage of every opportunity presented to you to work, even if it is for free and as an apprentice.

What is the workplace of a Costume Designer like?

Costume designers are employed in every city in the United States, Canada and internationally, though production hubs like Los Angeles, New York and Toronto employ a much higher number of designers. Costume designers work on film and television productions, stage productions, theatre, and even at festivals. The more experience a designer has, the greater his/her chance of being hired.

Most costume designers get their start with university or regional theatres and work their way toward off-Broadway and Broadway productions, then television and film. Whether a novice or experienced costume designer, hours are often long and demanding. From the moment the designer first reads the script until the show begins, the costume designer is always on the go. Once a production begins, the costume designer's job is basically complete, though he/she may assist in the event problems occur with costumes during production.

External Reading

  • Interview With Lynn Pecktal dunyaramicova.com

    I first wanted to be a painter but I was not admitted to the only high school that prepared future artists in Slovakia. My other great love was theatre and film but I did not want to be an actress. So, by default really, I saw costume and scene design (referred to in Europe as “sceneography”) as a possible way of becoming an artist.

  • How To Be A Movie Costume Designer voices.yahoo.com

    Working on Hollywood films as a costume designer may be a far fetched goal for fashion professionals at the beginning of their careers. It may be easier to obtain an internship with the head costume designer who is working on a big-budget production.

  • Creating Disney Magic – The Costume www.designingdisney.com

    A few weeks ago, the Designing Disney Blog had an exclusive interview with Mrs Sue LeCash, show costume designer & head of the 'Creative Costume Department'. Today, we show you how a Disney theme park costume is made.

  • Costume Designer Interview myfootpath.com

    Paul Favini has over 25 years of costume design experience, working in over 60 productions. He currently works as the assistant professor of costume design at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

  • Inside Llewyn Davis: Interview With Costume Designer Mary Zophres! frocktalk.com

    I thought the costumes in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ were so lovely, I just had to ask designer Mary Zophres a few quick questions about her work on the film. Here, she even gifts us with a few of her sources for vintage knits!! BONUS!

  • Sleepy Hollow: Q&A With Costume Designer Kristin M. Burke clothesonfilm.com

    Kristin M. Burke is what we would politely call a veteran costume designer, over 50 films to her name, although not someone especially used to working in television. Her big screen credits include The Cooler, Running Scared, Paranormal Activity 2, Insidious, The Conjuring, and Insidious 2.

  • A Reality Check - An Insider's Guide To Costume Design www.greatvine.com

    If you are considering a career in costume design, supervision or costume making in film, TV, commercials or theatre, Vinilla Burnham's top tips provide an invaluable overview from the perspective of an insider.