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How to become a costume designer

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So it’s your dream to become a costume designer, but where do you actually start? And furthermore, how do you start getting projects so you practice your craft?

There is a sea of information out there, making it really tricky to find guidance and advice on how to become a costume designer and score your perfect role. Which is why we’ve condensed it down for you and pulled together some top tips to get you going. You’ll be working as a professional costume designer in no time.

Check out our handy guide and you’ll soon be ready to take things to the next career level:

Research

This is a very important part of your practice and honing your skills in all areas will not only help you learn but set you up for future jobs too.

Research doesn’t necessarily mean poring your way through hundreds of books in a library -although books are often a great place to start.

You can research and get inspiration anywhere – from live shows, films, to being outside in nature or walking through the city, ideas are everywhere.

Keep swatches of fabrics, trinkets or anything else you find in notebooks or sketch pads, alongside any drawings to keep track of what makes you tick.

It’s important to develop your critical eye too, especially if you’re looking at ready-made costumes- hone in on the details and make notes on their features and construction.

All of these will help feed into and formulate your own ideas when it comes to the design process.

Experience

Gaining as much work experience as you can is an integral element to your costume designer journey.

In an ideal world, this would be always be paid, but if you are in a position where you are able to, it would be extremely beneficial to look into volunteer roles.

Obviously, I’m not saying you should go out and design everything for free, but if you are just starting out, it may be a great idea to find ways to boost your practical experience.

This could be helping out with the costumes for a local amateur dramatic group or a school play, or even a student show or film. This way, you can help build up and practice your skills in a safe environment.

Learn the right skills

There are plenty of people and institutions out there offering a wealth of training options, whether that’s a part-time course or more intense learning through a college or university.

There’s a lot out there, so it’s important to find the right course to suit you – check out our University guide for tips on picking something suitable (in the UK).

It’s best to look for programmes which cover a broad range of study, including the principles of design, costume analysis, as well as construction and research methods.

An alternative to an often costly course is getting involved in an apprenticeship scheme. These are a fantastic way to obtain practical ‘on-the-job’ skills where you’re placed in a real-life working environment while also receiving some payment (albeit on the low side, but at least it’s something!)

Practice

It goes without saying, a fundamental part of any costume designer’s career is to keep practicing and honing your skills.

Whether that’s trying out different techniques, brushing up on and perfecting your existing skills or learning something completely new, practice really does make perfect.

It’s worth making sure you have a rough understanding of construction and design skills before you embark on any formal training too. Means you can get a little ahead of the game and come out with a stand-out portfolio.

Communication is the key

Being able to communicate efficiently and effectively is an excellent skill and if it’s something you struggle with or doesn’t come naturally, don’t worry, it can be improved upon.

With a little time and patience with yourself, you can build your confidence by putting together a great portfolio to help you explain your thoughts and ideas.

Use visual references where you can, as it’ll help others see your vision more clearly and aid you not only in bagging jobs but within those roles as well.

Practice putting your ideas across with a friend, in front of a mirror or with a tutor to keep fear at bay and to get feedback on any areas for improvement.

Finally, don’t worry – if you find something difficult or you’re not getting jobs straight away, remember these things take time, so keep the faith and you’ll be fine. Don’t forget to check out our tips on how to land yourself the dream job.

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