Costume Designer

By TACP Staff on July 20, 2021

Costume designers are professionals who utilize their imaginative, technical and production skills and talents for employment in small theaters, major stage productions (opera, ballet, plays), movie studios, video companies, entertainment producers and holiday costume companies; just to name a few.

What Is Costume Design?

Simple masks worn by ancient Greeks during their productions were most likely the earliest types of costumes. As theater productions and characters became more involved and complex, however, so did other elements of theater production, including costume design. Up until the 17th century, for instance, women were forbidden from acting in theater productions. Because of this, the costumes before this time needed to be elaborate enough to make boys and men appear to be women, if need be.

Today, the art of costume design involves creating costumes and apparel for characters in plays and movies. Costumes typically need to be created in order to suit both the personalities and the roles of the characters. Realistic costumes should also look as though they fit into the time periods of the productions. For instance, if a play takes place in the 1800’s, the costumes of the actors should reflect this.

What Does a Costume Designer Do?

Along with makeup artists and hair stylists, costume designers are responsible for the appearance of actors and characters in the performing arts industry. Costume designers are the professionals that are responsible for designing and creating costumes for characters in plays and movies. Besides clothing for the characters, costume designers are also responsible for providing the correct props and other costume essentials for actors. This can include such items as wigs and accessories.

Before costume designers can begin to design costumes for productions, they must first read through the scripts. This will help them get an idea of how the characters should look. Scripts that are set in different time periods often require extensive research on a costume designers part in order to create the right look for the characters. Costume designers will also work closely with other production crew members, including script writers, directors, producers, and lighting technicians, as well as make-up artists and hair stylists.

After discussing some costume ideas and possibilities, along with budget limitations, with other crew members, costume designers will then usually get to work drawing designs. Once the designs are approved, they will then usually start creating the costumes.

Some costume designers may be able to create the majority of a production’s costumes with clothing that already exists. In some cases, however, a clothing designer may need to sew custom pieces of clothing.

Creating costumes for theater and film, although somewhat similar, generally, require a couple of different techniques. Since actors in plays usually need to change their costumes quickly, for instance, costume designers must design and create apparel that is easy to get in and out of. On the other hand, this is not much of a concern for costume designers who work on film productions.

Costume Designer Education & Training Requirements

Since they will often create many of the costumes that they design, costume designers must have excellent sewing skills. They should understand how to make and use clothing, and they should also have a deep appreciation and understanding of fashion. A degree in costume design is usually necessary for a successful career. Some costume designers may also choose to earn fashion design and theater degrees.

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Costume Designer Salary & Job Outlook


Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have salary information specifically regarding costume designers, this career is part of the fashion design industry. In 2017, the average annual salary for a fashion designer was $67,420. Very talented costume designers, however, are often able to command a much higher wage, especially if they are freelancers. For instance, some costume designers made over $100,000 in 2017.

Job Outlook

Individuals with costume design degrees can often find work with theater or dance companies. Film production companies might also hire full-time costume designers. These designers will usually only create costumes only for that particular theater or company. Costume designers can also choose to work as freelancers as well. In doing so, they are typically free to work for any theater or studio that will hire them.

Learn More: How to Become a Costume Designer

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