While a degree program in dress design does not exist, students who are interested in garment design or manufacturing careers should consider an undergraduate or graduate degree in fashion design. Programs at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels often include internships or fashion show opportunities, and students explore topics closely related to dress design, including sewing, garment making and pattern draping. Students should note that some courses and programs are available online. Admission requirements for all programs may include submission of a fashion portfolio. Earning an undergraduate degree in fashion design typically prepares students for entry-level careers, while graduates of master's programs may be qualified to pursue mid- or upper-level opportunities, depending on prior work experience.
Associate's Degree in Fashion Design
An associate's degree in fashion design prepares students to transfer to a bachelor's degree program or attain entry-level positions in the field. In the two years it takes to complete this program, students learn how to create their own 2-D apparel drawings, cut sleeve and bodice patterns to match their design concept, select the appropriate textiles, and apply sewing techniques to create a finished product. Students typically achieve experience by displaying their designs in school fashion shows or complete internships via local design studios or garment manufacturers.
A GED or high school diploma that meets minimum GPA requirements is required for admission into most community colleges and vocational schools. Colleges with more competitive programs may also require letters of recommendation, entrance interviews, or a review of student portfolios.
Students seeking entry into the career field or a bachelor's degree program will need a firm grasp of a garment's initial design stages. Coursework in an associate's degree program stresses the technical skills needed for success in the industry and may include the following courses:
- Pattern design
- Garment making
Bachelor's Degree in Fashion Design
In addition to learning the basics of fashion design and garment manufacturing, bachelor's degree candidates develop their interests through elective coursework. Some programs offer specialization in knitwear or formalwear or allow students to take electives in fashion merchandising or fashion accessories. Students may find themselves assessing the current retail market or designing hats or jewelry to accentuate a garment's design. Over the course of the program, enrollees also refine their fashion aesthetic, studying past and present trends to design clothing that is both stylish and marketable. Fashion design majors may participate in student fashion shows and practical internships.
Admission requirements for a college or university's fashion design program vary by school. Applicants need a high school diploma or its equivalent. ACT or SAT scores may also be required for admission, while some programs use standardized test scores to place students in appropriate courses. Otherwise, admissions may be based solely on an applicant's high school transcript and portfolio.
Course offerings in a four-year fashion design program combine design concepts with industry technology. Students receive hands-on experience with weaving looms, knitting machines and textile print tables in the following courses:
- Art and fashion history
- 2-D design and 3-D design
- Pattern making
Master's Degree in Fashion Design
A master's degree program is for students who want to pursue an emphasis in merchandising or study advanced topics in fashion, such as textiles design. Graduate students spend a great deal of time researching fashion history or design theory. Studio courses are also part of program requirements and allow degree candidates to develop their design portfolios and learn computer-aided design applications. In addition to careers as fashion designers, graduates of this program can branch out into the fields of fashion show production and fashion forecasting or work as fashion buyers.
Applicants to a master's degree program must have either a bachelor's degree in fashion design or a background in art history. Most programs are extremely competitive and may include additional requirements such as an essay or letter of intent outlining educational goals, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and a resumé. To gain entry into some programs, students must submit a portfolio of their undergraduate or professional work to be reviewed by a faculty panel.
Popular Career Options
Those with a bachelor's degree in fashion design find employment with design firms, film companies, or garment manufacturers. Graduates can also become self-employed by starting their own clothing line or business. Potential job options include the following:
- Fashion designer
- Pattern maker
- Costume designer
Degree candidates submit a master's thesis and final portfolio before graduating. Their self-directed research and collection of professional fashions is the accumulation of the following coursework:
- Fashion history
- Cultural dress
- Printed textiles
- Woven garments
- Computer-aided design
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Fashion designers earned a median annual salary of $63,670 in May of 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). Employment among fashion designers of all kinds is expected to grow by 3% in the 2014-2024 period. As new clothing technology progresses, there will still be a call for the work of fashion designers.
The path to becoming a dress designer is most likened to that of aspiring fashion designers. At the associate's, bachelor's and master's level, aspiring designers can acquire the skills and theory needed to work in the industry.