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Costume designer

Costume designers are responsible for the overall look of the clothes and costumes in theatre, film or television productions.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £13,000 to £35,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: Variable per week

1. Entry requirements

You’ll usually need:

  • paid or unpaid work experience in the theatre, film or costume industry
  • a high level of design skill, creative vision and practical sewing skills
  • a good portfolio or 'showreel’ of your design work
  • an HND, a degree or a postgraduate qualification in costume design, fashion, theatre design or performing arts (production)

You could:

  • start as a costume assistant or wardrobe trainee
  • get practical garment production skills like pattern cutting, hand and machine sewing and dressmaking by completing a Level 3 qualification
  • work for a costumier who provides costumes for stage and screen
Creative Choices has more information on how to become a costume designer.

2. Skills required

You’ll need:

  • excellent design skills
  • leadership ability
  • organisational skills
  • to be aware of costs
  • a good eye for detail
  • the ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines
  • good research skills, with a knowledge of costume history and modern fashion

3. What you'll do

You’ll be in charge of designing, making and hiring costumes for everyone on a stage or screen production. 

You’ll also manage other staff like costume makers, wardrobe supervisors and wardrobe assistants.

Your day-to-day duties might include:

  • studying the script
  • discussing ideas with the production designer, director, and make-up, set and lighting designers
  • creating costume ideas to fit the production’s design concept and budget
  • researching suitable costume styles, fabrics and designs
  • sketching costume designs
  • giving instructions to costume makers

On smaller productions, you might also carry out some of the practical tasks, like:

  • managing the wardrobe budget
  • buying or hiring outfits
  • fitting, altering and adapting costumes
  • cleaning, ironing and mending
  • making sure wardrobe items are available at the right time
  • keeping the look of the costumes the same between shoots or scenes

4. Salary

Starter: £13,000 (trainee)

Experienced: £18,000 to £28,000 (qualified)

Highly Experienced: £35,000 (senior)

Freelance rates can vary widely, based on the type of production and your reputation. The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) has information on pay rates.

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

Your hours could be long and may involve evening and weekend work to meet deadlines.

You could work in a studio, theatre, from an office or from home. 

You’ll also attend meetings with theatres or film and TV production companies.

6. Career path and progression

You’ll specialise in either theatre or in film and TV, but you could work in both areas once you’re established.

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Last updated: 08 December 2016