Career Facts of a Costume Designer

Costumes are one of the tools a filmmaker has to tell a story. A designer’s challenge is to realize the director’s vision and to bring that script (and that moment) to the screen. Wise directors use film costume designers to articulate the visual world of the screenplay. A designer’s work exists to actualize the screenplay—defining the people and the places. That’s why it’s called the language of film design. Costume designers conceptualize outfits for television, film or theater. They design the people in the movie. They create the clothing actors wear during a stage performance. Their contribution is more profound than providing the clothes for a production. Film costuming support the narrative by creating authentic characters (people) and provide balance within the frame by using color, texture, and silhouette. A successful costume must be subsumed by the story and be woven seamlessly into the narrative and visual tapestry of the movie. Costumes, like the characters they embody, must evolve within the context of the story and the arc of the character within it.

Duties and responsibilities

  • Read the script to learn about the personalities of the characters.
  • Choose the appropriate fabrics and styles for a play.
  • Draw rough sketches to present to the director and design team, including the set and lighting designer.
  • Develop a “costume plot,” which is a list or chart outlining the costume each character wears in each scene.
  • Produce full-color drawings of the style, silhouette and accessories before hiring costume makers to produce their designs.
  • Perform research on historical periods and different regions.
  • Hire or buy ready costumes when necessary.
  • Ensure costumes stay within budget.
  • Supervise fittings and rehearsals.
  • Assume responsibility of returning, storing or disposing used costumes after filming.

Skills needed

  • Understanding of a range of styles and cultural/historical elements
  • Aptitude in research
  • Excellent communication and people skills
  • Creativity and attention to detail
  • Well-organized and reliable
  • Sketching and drawing abilities to demonstrate your preliminary vision.

Training and career progress Fashion designers, who include costume designers, typically have post-secondary education and a portfolio to show to prospective employers. Certificate and diploma programs in the subject can hone your drawing and tailoring skills and prepare you to produce a rendering based on a given concept. You’ll study pattern design, fashion history and stage makeup, among other topics. Internships can be available at this stage in your training. After completing this program in costume design, you can seek work within this niche of the entertainment industry. Work Environment Many theatrical costume designers work as freelancers. They tend to work long hours, including evenings and weekends, especially during pre-production of a stage performance. The costume designer’s job usually ends once the show opens.

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