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Costume Designer: Job Description, Duties and Salary

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a costume designer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and skills to find out if this is the career for you.

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Costume designers create the outfits worn in movies, television shows, or theater productions. If you are creative, meticulous, and able to work under stress and deadlines, you could consider a career as a costume designer. A degree in fashion design is often preferred by employers.

Essential Information

Costume designers combine elements of color and fabric textures to provide a visual understanding of characters in terms of age, social status, occupation and era. Their work can also create fashion statements and is a critical element in television shows, theater productions and movies. Because costume design is a branch of fashion design, the majority of costume designers hold an undergraduate degree in fashion design. Fashion design, in general, is a competitive field for employment and not many positions are expected to be created in the coming years, increasing the competition among designers for jobs.

Required Education Associate's or bachelor's degree in fashion design
Other Requirements A portfolio of work
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% for all fashion designers*
Median Salary (2015) $63,670 for all fashion designers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Duties of a Costume Designer

A costume designer first reads the script to learn about the personalities of the characters. If the production is set in an earlier time period, the costume designer researches the clothing styles worn in that era. If a production is set in the future or has a unique theme, a costume designer consults with the director to interpret that vision into the costumes.

The costume designer confirms the number of speaking and non-speaking characters in each scene of the production and what they will wear. This is especially important in a theater performance, because it identifies when a character may need a quick costume change during successive scenes.

Although computer-aided design is used in the fashion industry, costume designers create their initial design sketches by hand, which is still an important, highly valued skill. Once the director has approved the initial sketches, the costume designer draws up the final designs, which illustrate details of fabric texture and distinguishing accessories, such as jewelry, shoes, hats or masks, in color. A costume designer needs to be experienced in pattern making and sewing to explain the details of how a costume is to be constructed to an assistant or a dress maker. They also manage and must stay within the production's costume budget. When all the costumes are created, the care and coordination of costume use becomes the responsibility of a wardrobe assistant.

Costume Designer Education

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fashion designers, who include costume designers, typically have an associate's or a bachelor's degree in fashion design. These degree programs offer courses in pattern making, textiles, color, sewing and designing for different clothing markets.

Salary Information for Costume Designers

The BLS reported that fashion designers, a category that includes costume designers, earned a median hourly wage of $30.61 in 2015. This is the equivalent of an annual median salary of $63,670. Figures for costume designers who worked in the theater were not available.

A costume designer must understand the work for which they are producing costumes, and be able to work closely with production team members and actors. The necessary skills can be gained through an undergraduate degree program that includes coursework related to fashion design.

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