Costume Designers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Costume designers need at least a high school education. It is helpful to take classes in art, family and consumer science, and theater and to participate in drama clubs or community theater. English, literature, and history classes will help you learn how to analyze a play and research the clothing and manner of various historical periods. Marketing and business-related classes will also be helpful, as most costume designers work as freelancers. Familiarity with computers is useful, as many designers work with computer-aided design (CAD) programs.

While in high school, consider starting a portfolio of design sketches. Practicing in a sketchbook is a great way to get ideas and designs out on paper and organized for future reference. You can also get design ideas through others; watch theater, television, or movie productions and take note of the characters' dress. Sketch them on your own for practice. Looking through fashion magazines can also give you ideas to sketch.

Postsecondary Training

A college degree is not a requirement, but in this highly competitive field, it provides a sizable advantage. Most costume designers today have a bachelor's degree. Many art schools, especially in New York and Los Angeles, have programs in costume design at both the bachelor's and master's degree level. A liberal arts school with a strong theater program is also a good choice. Because costume designers need sewing, draping, and patterning skills, as well as experience in basic design techniques and figure drawing, it would be a good idea to choose a postsecondary program that can provide these types of courses.

Other Education or Training

The Costume Society of America, National Costumers Association, and the United States Institute for Theatre Technology offer professional development classes and webinars that help costume designers keep their skills up to date and expand their creativity. Contact these organizations for more information. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

There are no certification or licensing requirements for costume designers. 

Other Requirements

Some theatrical organizations require membership in United Scenic Artists (USA), a union that protects the interests of designers on the job and sets minimum fees.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Internships and volunteering with smaller organizations, such as a school drama club or a community theater, will help an aspiring costume designer gain valuable experience. Students in design programs can obtain experience by participating in internships. 

Costume designers must prepare a portfolio of their work, including photographs and sketches highlighting their best efforts. More experienced designers who want full professional membership in the union must also submit a portfolio for review.

Costume designers should be creative, resourceful, and able to work under pressure. Aside from being artistic, designers must be able to work with people because many compromises and agreements must be made between the designer and the production's director.