What Is a Costume Designer

Costume Designer

In this article, we look at the role of the costume designer and also the importance of costume in film.

The costume designer creates and hires costumes for the actors. Great costume design boosts the production value and the right costume can enhance the film’s story and the actor’s performance.

Unquestionably, costume design is an integral part of visual storytelling. Below we have broken down the job role of movie costume designers.

What is a Costume Designer?

costume in film
Anna Robbins – Downton Abbey (2010)

Firstly, the costume designer is the head of the wardrobe department. They lead a team of supervisors, tailors, designers, and assistants. The size of the department depends on the film’s overall budget. 

The costume designer in film must not only translate the director’s vision on screen but also do this within budget. Costume in film is one of the many visual tools a director can use to tell the story. 

The choice of costume conveys the character’s personality and emotional journey. The costumes you use say a lot about a character, not to mention the use of color theory.

For example, many films use color to determine the intentions of a character. The good guy might wear white and the bad guy black. 

Costume Designer Responsibilities 

Movie costume designers, begin their work in early pre-production. Firstly, they will read the script, make notes and complete a script breakdown.

After that, they will meet with the director, production designer and DOP. How the film looks on screen is, by all means, a collaborative team effort. 

la la land sketch moodboard
Mary Zophres – La La Land (2017)

If the film takes place in a specific period, there will be a lot of research. They will create sketches, mood boards and then rough designs to show the director. The costume designer in film hires and manages their team. Lastly, there will be costume fittings and test shots before filming. 

costume designer in film
Mary Zophres – La La Land (2017)

Pre-production Duties

  • Reads the script, completes a script breakdown
  • Researches and sketches costume ideas
  • Attends meetings with all department heads
  • Design, make and hire all costumes
  • Makes sure that the outfits fit the actors

Once production starts the costume designer is always on set. Their team will help dress, clean and mend the actor’s costumes. After all, actors and extras will need outfits for every story day on set. The bulk of the job is complete once production starts. After the wrap, they return any hired costumes in good condition. 

Production Duties

  • Stays on set to watch over costumes
  • Manages the costume department
  • Mends, cleans, repairs costumes if needed 
  • Makes sure to return any hired costumes

Education & Skills 

To be a costume designer in film, you don’t need to have a formal education. However, a degree in film, fashion design, art, or graphic design would teach you useful skills. Even more, the job requires a range of practical skills from sewing, styling, mending, organization, and attention to detail. 

It’s typical to learn and develop your skills when on the job. Most costume designers begin as trainees or take apprenticeships. You can find placements through companies such as ScreenskillsBBCPACT and Creative Assess

Additionally, movie costume designers need to work as a team. The majority of costume design is research, and you will need to handle a wide range of designs. 

Career Route 

movie costume designers

The costume designer can work in film, TV and theatre. It’s typical to start at the bottom of the ladder before working up to a designer. You might also be able to find an apprenticeship or trainee placement.  

Costume in film is a competitive department, and you might need work experience before you find a paid position. Many filmmakers begin their careers by working on student and low budget films.

Additionally, you will need to build up a portfolio to demonstrate your skills. You can do this independently by creating your designs with software like Adobe Illustrator, or hand-drawn sketches. 

Salary Expectations 

A costume designer is a self-employed freelance job role. This means that you will negotiate your pay rate per project. Unions such as BECTUThe Costume Society and The Production Guild can provide pay rate advice.

Generally, you would start on a lower wage and work your way up to more responsibility. 

Like all film crew roles, your salary changes widely with the production budget. On significant feature films costume in film crew can make between £300-£400 per day. 

However, on lower budgets, this can go down to £150-£200 per day. 

Curious to know what other crew jobs role salaries are on film and television sets? Check out our updated page on film production crew rates

Wrapping Up

Costume design is a hands-on, creative career. If you have an interest in fashion, history, design, and storytelling, this career might be a good fit for you.