What You Should Know if You Want to Be a Costume Designer
Costume designers are some of many important people for any movie, play, or television show. Stage production relies on costume designers to bring their characters to life. With costumes, actors and actresses will belong to a certain period. The director and production team work closely with costume designers in order to truthfully represent their characters. (Know how costumes affect characters)
However, theaters and movie sets are not the only places of work. When the play is over, costume designers are still sought after. As a costume designer, you can work for a fashion company or create your own cosplay costumes. But what do aspiring costume designers need to know before they can put their foot in the door of this competitive field? What is the skill set needed? We’ll check all of this out further below!
What Is Costume Design, and What Do Costume Designers Do?
By definition, costume designers’ job is to develop, create, and fit costumes for a certain play or movie. A costume designer is the CEO of the wardrobe department, and their job is to make a director’s ideas a reality. You need to study the script, get the feel of the time and place as well as the characters in order to make them a costume that suits them. Think about how you dress. You dress differently for different occasions. There’s also a difference between how a yuppie dresses from how a truck driver does. This all has to go into consideration.
With costume designers, it’s not just about putting on any piece of clothing that’s lying around your bedroom. The costume has to speak about the character itself and the mood of the performance art in general. You have to study the script carefully and develop an idea of a costume. Once the director approves, you have to develop the costume by selecting the appropriate material. Depending on your budget, you’ll probably have to be cunning about buying what you need. See a Masterclass for Costume Designing here.
Another important aspect is that characters evolve during storytelling. You’ll rarely see a play or a movie in which a character spends the entirety of the show in just one piece of clothing. As the character evolves, so should your costumes. You need to bring their mood and circumstances to life, all the while staying true to your initial idea. If in the first scene he’s wearing jeans and a shirt, it makes no sense for him to be in an astronaut suit the next time we see him. This is obviously an exaggerated example, but you get the idea.
The Types of Costume Designers
Regardless of whether you’re designing for a movie, a play, or television, your skillset is always pretty much the same. You need to be able to read the character and the mood in order to come up with adequate costumes. However, the working environment is different for all of these three options.
For instance, movie costume designers usually (not always) don’t have to have a plethora of costumes for each character. Unless it’s a time-traveling epic, the script has a shorter timescale. In this regard, you have less to do. Additionally, big-budget movies hire several costume designers who collaborate, so you’re not in charge of every single costume we see. While it’s not uncommon to see schedules moved around, you usually have more than enough time to prepare.
With television design, you normally get more time to prepare for your creative process. But you have a lot more to do. As the story spans across multiple seasons (and years), your characters evolve, and so does their clothing. An event in the story (for instance, a job promotion), can change how your character appears, and you need to adapt.
Finally, you have theater designers. Here, you have a limited number of costumes you need to make, but you have to make them practical. You can’t think about the looks only. Actors have just a bit time to go from one costume to another. As a result, your costumes have to be easy to remove. They also need to be bold in color so that everyone sees them, but not in a way it compromises the play.
Tools of a Costume Designer
There are many tools that you, as a costume designer, can utilize. We usually split them into two categories — practical material and visual design tools. The latter comes into play during the creative process. That’s when you start imagining the costumes and start drawing up your ideas. The most important elements of visual design are texture, color, composition, space, line, and mass. All of these are crucial to creating a believable costume that will put your characters in an adequate period as well as represent your characters’ ctraits.
You need to take into consideration all of these different elements on several different levels. For instance, composition involves a single character costume, but you also need to think about the composition of all costumes being on the stage together. Once you’ve figured all these elements out, you’ll come up with sketches, photographs, and silhouettes, which the director, hopefully, approves.
Then, there’s the practical part. Aside from acquiring material, you’ll use sewing machines, hot glue guns, and so on to make a costume. Many consider the body of an actor as a tool itself as a costume is good only once it fits your actor (and character) well.
The Usual Qualifications for Hiring a Costume Designer
Now that you know the answer to the “what is a costume designer” question, let’s see what some of the qualifications of a costume designer are.
Formal education is not necessary here. While absolutely helpful, a degree in fashion design doesn’t mean you’re a better designer than someone who studied something else. One of the most important aspects is the grit or passion for the job. While you’re on the same set as movie stars, your job is not glamorous, and it involves a lot of hard work. You have to be creative and imaginative, but you also have to make sure you’re knowledgeable about different periods in fashion. Without that knowledge, your costumes will look out of place.
If your dream is to become a costume designer, you should know that this is not something you get to be when you leave high-school. Costume designers often work for years before they get their first opportunity. Usually, you have to start at an entry-level position, such as a costume assistant or wardrobe trainee. Once you’ve built up your portfolio, you can start applying for costume designer jobs.