Theatrical Costume Designer: Education and Career Roadmap

Jan 24, 2022

Learn about the educational and career requirements for becoming a theatrical costume designer. Explore some degree options and how an apprenticeship or internship can help you enter the field.

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Theatrical Costume Designers

Theatrical costume designers create costumes for theater, dance, and opera productions. They also work on film and television productions. Theatrical costume designers are skilled at period costume research, sketching, pattern making and sewing.They work closely with directors, stage designers, and technicians to design wardrobes that compliment the personalities of a production's characters.

Career Information

Degree Level Associate's degree recommended; bachelor's degree can help with advanced positions
Degree Field Fashion or theater costume design
Experience Apprenticeships and internships in the field will help advance professionally; professional portfolio
Key Skills Artistic skills, creativity, be detail-oriented, good people skills
Job Outlook (2020-2030) 0% (for fashion designers)
Salary $75,810 (2020 median for fashion designers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Step 1: Earn an Associate's Degree

An associate degree program in fashion design typically takes two years to complete and includes courses in design principles, clothing construction, draping, pattern making, and textiles. Students also learn to work with computer-aided design software. An associate degree program in theater costume design may be offered as a speicalization in a fashion design program.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Students can acquire additional skills through a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in costumer design program, which takes an additional two years beyond the associate's level, or a total of four years to complete.The curriculum usually includes courses in drawing and design, theater history, costume construction, and period costumes. Students may gain hands-on experience creating costumes for school theater productions. Many programs culminate in professional portfolios that can be used to find employment after graduation.

Step 3: Find an Internship

Costume design students should seek out internships or apprenticeships under the guidance of professionals in the field. Some institutions provide opportunities as part of BFA programs. In other instances, wardrobe and costume internships are available with theater production groups.

Step 4: Find Employment and a Union

Students with associate's or bachelor's degrees may find entry-level work as wardrobe assistants or costume designers for community productions. A wardrobe assistant makes sure that costumes are organized and find their way into actors' departments and tailors' hands. To become a costume designer with a regional theater or Broadway show, several years of experience are often needed.

While not necessarily a requirement for employment, theatrical costume designers can pursue memberships with regional or national labor unions. In order to join a union, theatrical costume designers usually need to pay an entrance fee. They may also have to demonstrate costume design experience or pass an exam. Unions often negotiate collective bargaining agreements on behalf of members in order to ensure safe working conditions, fair wages, and access to healthcare benefits. Additional benefits of union membership include enhanced employment opportunities that exist only for union members and the support of the union in securing union-backed projects.

Let's review. You'll need a minimum of an associate's degree in fashion design or theater costume design and some experience as an apprentice or intern to start a career as a theatrical costume designer. In May 2020, fashion designers earned a median annual wage of $75,810.

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