What Is A Costume Designer?

28th April 2022

What Is A Costume Designer?
Georgia Carter

Georgia Carter

Have you ever asked yourself what does a costume designer do? And what are the roles and responsibilities of a costume designer? Then don’t you worry, you have come to the right place. We will give you all the info; what skills you need to break into the industry and what a costume designer gets paid.

What Is A Costume Designer

They are the critical link between telling the story and portraying the characters’ personality in the film or play. They will work with the director, producers, actors, and the rest of the crew to create costumes which visually express the characters.

Dorothy’s red ruby slippers, or any of the wardrobe in Wes Anderson’s films have been thoroughly thought out and have a meaning to them. Whether it is modern or period drama, there is a purpose that has been discussed and taken forward to create what you see on screen or on stage. It is a collaborative process.

You need to be meticulous as there will be close ups working on film and every accessory needs to be planned down to every detail. You need to be able to tailor the costume to the particular actor wearing it, so that is why costume fittings are vital to your role.  

How To Become A Costume Designer

Firstly, there are film and theatre courses where design will feature heavily, so do your research beforehand. In terms of how analytical or practical the course will be, make sure you make a choice about what exactly you want to get out of it. 

You can go straight into the world of costume design without a degree, it just may help you in the long run. Especially when you start out and do not have enough experience, a director may take a chance and let you work on their project. 

If you work on a smaller, indie project, and you are very hands on but doing higher level duties. You may even find work on social media as a PA to a costume designer or costume supervisor and then you can make contacts that way. You may find a group that focuses on costume designers and they will post jobs, which may include day player roles and you can jump in and work on the production. 

It is definitely a networking game and once you have made a name for yourself, people will want to work with you again. You may even work on larger feature films and collaborate with the top directors in the field. As long as you have the right energy & focus and take initiative you will go far. 

Another piece of advice that you may hear is that in the US, LA, New York and Toronto are where the opportunities are and mainly London. Also Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham in the UK. So be open to potentially moving to one of these cities, starting from the bottom and working your way up. Try to join unions in the US. You could work as a tailor at a Broadway / West End costume shop?  

What Are The Skills You Need To Be A Costume Designer

  • You need to be able to sew / tailor clothes 
  • You need to be able to work under pressure and have initiative 
  • Know where to source materials for costumes locally or if you are working on a larger production, be able to source these on set
  • Have your own kit to take with you to set and then you can work from anywhere. You may be working on location

How Much Do Costume Designers Make 

On average in the US, costume designers can make  $3,000 to $3,500 a week in terms of union film rates and for television it may be lower. In the UK, you can earn anywhere between £16,000 – £18,000 per year. It definitely is one of the lower paid roles, so take this into consideration when deciding whether you want a job as a costume designer. However, when you have made a name for yourself, you can earn up to £35,000 per year or $64,043 per year. 

Famous Costume Designers

  • Edith Head
  • Irene Sharaff 
  • Deborah Nadoolman
  • Jenny Beavan 
  • Sandy Powell
  • Micheal Kaplan 
  • Milena Canonero
  • Colleen Atwood
  • Adrian Adolph Greenberg
  • Mark Bridges
  • Jacqueline Durran
  • Marilyn Vance
  • Ruth Morley 
  • Will Clarkson
  • Santo Loquasto 
  • Natalie Bronfman

The costume designer for A Star is Born – one of my favorite films – was Erin Benach and she worked very closely with Lady Gaga on the film. Learning how to design costumes for movies takes a certain skill and you will work even closer to a film director and your actors. This is because every choice will be scrutinized since you can be that much closer to the action compared to theatre.

To be a costume designer, choices are made with the knowledge everything is taken into consideration and to bring the character and the story to life on the screen. In theatre, the costume designer will also be in charge of the actors’ visual appearance and is responsible for matching the clothes to the time period and that of the character’s personality.  

A Day In The Life Of A Costume Designer 

Firstly, it must be said there is no typical day, as every day will be different, but in terms of the duties entailed in the role, these are the most relevant. 

In pre-production phases, the production team; including the director, producers, costume, hair & make-up, lighting, and set designers discuss the feel and look of the project. Costume designers will then source fabrics, maybe sketch costume designs, which have to align to the production’s budget and concept. 

You can work between 2-10 hours a day depending on what stage of the process you are in and the scale of the production. Be prepared to work all-nighters for many projects. 

Arranging costume fittings with the actors, including the leads and supporting characters and also extras is all part of being a costume designer. 

Phrases You Will Need To Know As A Costume Designer  

  • Ager/ Dyer – they will make the costumes reflect whatever action happens in the story or communicate aspects of a character’s personality
  • Cutter/Fitter – responsible for making patterns, cutting, fitting and construction of costumes from specific designs or sketches supplied by the designer
  • Seamstress – they will alter, sew, construct garments which align to the costume designer’s / director’s vision
  • P cards – purchasing cards for the production 

What You Will Need In Your Kitbag On Set 

  • Wet wipes
  • Pins
  • Measuring tape
  • Stapler/Staples 
  • Micro Tag/ Kimble Gun
  • Scissors
  • Anti bacterial gel
  • Superglue 
  • Clothes brush 

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, costume designers are the integral piece of the production and we have only skimmed the surface as there is much more you can find out about the profession.  I think that with all the info above, you have a pretty good starting point, but experience and learning on the job is going to get you really far. 

Allow Center Stage to sky-rocket your career and surface your talents to casting agents, booking agents, directors, and modelling agents worldwide. Pre-register by clicking the button below!

Share this article


sign up to
center stage

Register for the pre-launch!