Fashion design degrees can be earned at the associate's, bachelor's, and master's levels. Subjects studied in fashion design programs range from pattern development and drawing to visual merchandising and advanced styling, depending on the degree level. Advanced studies could include business-related coursework, such as marketing and promotions. A portfolio and artistic proficiency test is typically needed for admission into these programs.
Associate's Degree in Fashion Design
An associate's degree program in fashion design offers students a practical foundation in fashion, design, textiles, visual merchandising and knitwear. Industry benchmarks and fashion design terminology are emphasized, as are individual style and technical expertise. This degree program often requires students to complete a professional fashion portfolio upon graduation. Students may graduate with Associate of Arts (AA) degrees and find entry-level employment or pursue freelance fashion work.
Individuals seeking an associate's degree in fashion design gain introductory fashion knowledge, hone their technical sewing skills and learn about fashion manufacturing. Students normally take courses that cover:
- Fashion merchandising
- Fashion illustration
- Pattern development
Bachelor's Degree in Fashion Design
Students in bachelor's degree programs in fashion design often take courses in studio-style classrooms that emphasize individual vision and collective technical fashion skills and techniques. Students learn to harness their own individual concepts and designs and to function as part of a fashion design team. Pattern creation and rendering, illustration and prototype development are all emphasized coursework. Throughout this 4-year degree program, students create and build a professional fashion portfolio that is critiqued by fashion professionals prior to graduation.
A bachelor's degree program in fashion design lays a solid foundation in fashion history, fashion design and consumer trend analysis. It also focuses on fashion concept development and manufacturing, menswear, knitwear, fashion marketing and business management. Students become expert seamstresses and learn how to analyze consumer trends that ultimately influence inventory purchases. These courses may be part of a bachelor's degree program in fashion design:
- Fashion design principles
- Fashion journalism
- Graphic design
- Visual merchandising
Master's Degree in Fashion Design
A graduate degree program in fashion design combines advanced fashion design knowledge with expert business acumen. Students learn how to interpret market and trend analysis in order to create effective business plans and design concepts. They also hone their marketing, promotion and product development skills. Graduate students utilize advanced computer technology to create, design and manufacture their very own unique fashion designs.
Most master's degree programs in fashion design confer the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree upon successful completion of coursework. A final project replaces the traditional master's thesis and requires students to produce their very own fashion collection or portfolio. This collection is often reviewed at an open or public fashion show.
Students in a master's degree program in fashion design learn advanced design techniques and principles. Often they study 3D design, applied textiles, merchandising and trend analysis. Students may also take the following courses:
- Advanced fashion design
- Fashion journalism
- Advanced styling
- Business management
- Pattern development and sewing techniques
Graduates with an associate's degree in fashion design may find entry-level employment with clothing manufacturers, seamstress or tailoring businesses or cultural production companies, such as theaters. Many start their own businesses.
Individuals with a graduate degree in fashion design are prepared to direct and manage large design houses or apparel manufacturers. Often they head major department store chains or high-end boutiques. They may also choose to open their own design firm and start their own design label. Positions such as: senior fashion director, director of merchandising and district retail manager are appropriate for a fashion design master's degree graduate. Some popular fashion design positions include:
- Assistant fashion buyer
- Costume designer
- Fashion designer
- Fashion store manager
Employment Prospects and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that there will be a 3% increase for fashion designers between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). Out of the 23,100 fashion designer jobs in 2014, 32% worked for apparel, piece goods, and notions merchant wholesalers, according to the BLS. Most of these positions are in fashion-oriented areas, including New York and California.
Fashion designers' wages vary widely according to BLS statistics. The median annual salary for fashion designers in May 2015 was $63,670. The highest paying jobs tend to be in motion picture and video industries.
Continuing Education Information
Fashion designers are not bound by certification or licensing requirements. However, consumer demand fuels their need to stay ahead of fashion trends. Fashion professionals constantly need to foster their unique and creative vision, hone their keen eye for color and maintain their attention to detail. Those designers interested in managing international fashion houses may find a master's degree in fashion or visual merchandising beneficial.
Many fashion designers attend annual conferences or fashion shows to help them maintain their expertise, keep current with their fashion perspectives and promote their own fashion collections. Senior-level designers may also attend business seminars that sharpen consumer relations skills and marketing techniques.
Depending on what type of career you would like to pursue, an associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree in fashion design may be needed. Undergraduate programs teach students foundational skills in fashion, techniques, and how to create their own designs, while graduate programs focus on design concepts and business plans.