Reel Opportunities

Costume Designer

What does a Costume Designer do?

A Costume Designer is a person who designs the look of the costumes and wardrobe for all of the cast on a film or TV show.

Costume is at the core of a film or TV production. As well as contributing to the overall look, specific clothing helps actors feel emotionally connected to the character they are playing.

Costume Designers design and create or purchase all costumes for the cast. The role of the Costume Designer is to create the characters’ outfits and balance the scenes using texture and colour. They may sew and construct the costumes from scratch, or source existing clothing that suits the look of the film. The Costume Designer may also collaborate with the hair and makeup departments.

They start by working with Directors, Producers, Writers, the Production Designer, and hair and makeup departments to help give the production a look that supports the storytelling. They research, sketch, and draw mood boards of characters and clothes to communicate the style.

They then break down the script, working out what they need to create or acquire. Working within tight budgets and deadlines, they recruit a team, organize a schedule of purchases and ensure the costumes are created on time for fittings. With the help of the team they schedule fittings and take photographs. These are then approved by the Producer and Director. They are also responsible for ensuring all materials used in the development or creation of the various costumes meet safety standards (for example, breakaway materials for easy on and off) and are within budget.

What's a Costume Designer good at?
  • Dressmaking and Tailoring

    Draw, sew, make and source clothes, including fabrics and accessories

  • Styling

    Understand the director’s vision, know what that means for the costumes, know what styles suit different people best and create the right looks with flair and creativity, have an eye for detail

  • Costume History

    Know contemporary fashion and clothing design through the ages, be able to research using books, museums and the internet

  • Storytelling

    Understand how a story can be told through garments and colour palette

  • Making Clothes

    Have an in-depth knowledge of all aspects of garment production

  • Organization

    Break down a script into costume requirements, schedule the costume production, manage the team and the budget

  • Communication

    Share the vision of the costume design with team members, listen to actors and respond to their needs, be trusted, and have good relationships with designers, PR (public relations), and brands who may supply clothing in current styles, as well as hair and make-up artists

Who does a Costume Designer work with?

Costume Supervisor or Background Costume Supervisor
Supervisors oversee the day-to-day use of the wardrobe on set and plan for the coming days or weeks. This includes organizing schedules, transport and checking continuity. They may be required to organize and arrange costume purchases. A very important role of the costume supervisor is to oversee the washing and repair of the costumes, as they are often heavily used throughout the day and start to wear and tear. Costume Designers spend most of their time in their own department, creating, sourcing, adjusting and maintaining outfits.

Costume Design Assistant
Costume Design Assistants work with Costume Designers to break down the script and assess the costume needs of every character. They research costume styles, designs and construction methods using the internet, archives and museums. They work on the department budget, estimating costs of staff and resources, can be involved in sourcing and buying costumes, accessories and fabric swatches. They may oversee fittings or be given responsibilities for taking specific actors’ measurements. They may also be in charge of costuming the supporting artists under the guidance of the costume designer.

Costume Maker/Sewer
Costume Makers create the garments. Starting with the designer’s specifications, Costume Makers cut the fabric and sew the costumes. Sometimes they make a rough version first. It’s a creative role because it involves interpreting the vision. Costume makers also fit the costumes on the actors and alter the garments as required.

How do I become a Costume Designer?

Costume designers typically start as costume trainees and work their way up through the ranks of the department outlined above. Some have experience working with costumiers and others come from theatre or dressmaking.

Get an internship: Internships are jobs with training, so they are a great opportunity to earn as you learn. It might be worth looking for a job as an apprentice in an industry that uses similar skills, such as being a tailor for a clothing designer or tailoring company.

Build a portfolio: Create a portfolio of the work you have done. This could include design sketches, photos of costumes you made, or past work experience in the field. This will be used to show off your work to new job opportunities.

Meet people in the industry: Reach out into the industry and express your interest. You can meet some people you could potentially shadow and create a working relationship with.

More tips

For more tips on finding job opportunities, lists of training programmes, and other great resources, check out our Career Resources page.

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Job Profile Design by Dave Gray. Based on an original concept by Ian Murphy/Allan Burrell.