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Backstage Costume News

What Does An Assistant Costume Designer Do?

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You may know all about the role of a costume designer, but what about their assistants?

When you think of costume design, people tend to think of the designer as the only person responsible for bringing an idea to life, but often that is simply not the case.

In big budget shows – in both theatre and music – as well as TV and film, there is often a whole host of people involved in a costume and wardrobe department.

A costume designer perhaps has the final say or at least presents the final sketches or ideas to the rest of the production team, but their assistants play a crucial part in the process.

The head designer and their assistant will more than likely have their work cut out, so it’s pretty essential they can work closely together – and under immense pressure – to get the job done.

And it’s because of this intensive workload situation that it becomes paramount the assistant can step up and share some of the many, many (many) tasks a designer has to manage.

Be ready for flexibility…

The role can be extremely varied, so a good degree of flexibility and an open-minded approach is needed when faced with rapidly shifting priorities.

Some of these may involve close scrutiny of the script – or if it’s for a music performance, analysis of the set list of the artist’s overall ‘theme’ for the tour – and work on creating breakdowns.

The assistant will probably have a key role in establishing how many costumes are needed and when and will help the designer draw-up or work out the budget.

They will probably need to be keen researchers too as they could will spend a lot of time looking-up time periods and collating ideas and inspiration for the designer to work with.

While the designer works on sketches, prototypes or mock-ups and liaises with the top dogs in the production department, the assistant will need to take charge of the workshop to make sure everything is running along smoothly.

An assistant could also expect to keep on top of what costumes have been made and what needs to be done, as well as taking charge of rentals, buy-ins and fittings.

During the fittings, the assistant costume designer may need to take an administrative role, documenting any alterations or amendments for each costume or outfit and photographing the looks at each stage.

Of course it doesn’t just stop with the costumes themselves, there is also the cost and logistical management of equipment required which may also be a part of the assistant’s job.

More than just assisting…

The job of an assistant costume designer may involve a lot of responsibility at various stages of production and pre-production and could even include a certain level of autonomy in terms of costume selection.

Depending on the designer (and the production), there may be an opportunity for the costume design assistant to get involved and have some autonomy over the costume selection. This may be in the form of extras if in TV or film or potentially some parts of the chorus/ensemble/backing dancers in a stage show.

Making and repair…

Pattern-drafting, sewing and all aspects of construction are key skills to have and will form a key aspect of most costume roles a costume design assistant could be faced with.    

Another crucial part of the job is liasing with the Head of Wardrobe to make sure costume lists are available, as well as any specific notes as to how the costumes should be worn.

They will probably be expected to take the lead in compiling the all important ‘Costume Bible’, to make sure all information is in one place and accessible.

It goes without saying this list is not exhaustive and there will most likely be a whole host of additional tasks a design assistant may be asked to do.

If you’re interested in how to become a costume designer check out our guide here.

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