Generally, there are no specific academic requirements for pursuing a career in costume design. Training standards may differ according to your niche (e.g., Broadway vs. television). Thus, it can be challenging to know what to look for in a degree program or course syllabus. Fortunately, many programs are available to prepare you for a costume design career in almost any field.
The five best online costume design degree programs include:
- Arizona State University art and design courses
- Creative Costume Academy led by Tricia Camacho
- New York University: Tisch
- Nino Via fashion academy led by Nino Via
- Academy of Art University School of Fashion Design
Though these would all be suited to learn costume design, there are unique aspects of each program that may serve you better than others. You can learn more about each of these educational opportunities from the descriptions below.
ASU is prepared to offer students the most well-rounded education to inform their future professions in costume design. This school offers several degree programs that include courses focused on costume design history, modern principles and techniques, and predictions for this discipline’s future.
Aspiring designers can earn their degree and accumulate hands-on experience in numerous artistic media, from print to photography to digital art. Even if you choose to specialize in only one medium, ASU instructors aim to teach students how to exercise critical thinking for artwork across various platforms. No matter what form of costume designing you do, you will be able to critically and creatively “develop, manage and assess visual media.”
ASU also aspires to provide students with “visual and technological literacy” that prepares them for traditional careers and work in digital realms. The university explains the broad degree focuses by noting that such a rich, diversified knowledge is essential to today’s relevant jobs in art and design.
The school reasons that there is no specific career that aspiring designers must choose. So, having a well-informed Bachelor’s degree (at least) is a crucial part of the step forward into an art and design career in any industry. But you are not restricted to a Bachelor’s degree alone. If you wish to grow your academic background, ASU offers master’s programs as well.
Art & Design Courses at ASU
Courses you may be interested in as a future costume designer include:
- Bachelor’s Courses
- Art History (B.A.): Becoming familiar with past art is critical to developing a functional understanding of today’s creative industries. With an Art History education from ASU, you will gain an intimate knowledge of visual artistry as an extension and expression of the surrounding environment. Further, your costume design expertise will be historically and culturally accurate, given the abundance of specialized courses in regional art from various past periods.
- Graphic Information Technology (B.S.):This degree program will specifically prepare aspiring costume designers to work in digital fields. You will learn how to produce visual artwork for printed media, online platforms, photos, and videos. Hone your graphic content creation skills and discover just how to deliver an impactful work of art, even through a fictional plane. Finally, gather a cutting-edge set of tools (and the knowledge on how to use them) to create breathtaking digital costumes. Examples of such tools include Adobe Illustrator and After Effects.
- Master’s Course:
- Graphic Information Technology (MSTech): Build on your knowledge from the B.S. GIT program with this path to a master’s degree. In addition to knowledge on the GIT field itself, you will learn more about the industry’s business management duties and how to apply your broad set of skills to various media from print to animation. Further, you will learn how to exercise your academic knowledge in problem-solving scenarios and end the program with a portfolio.
Developed and led by Tricia Camacho, this educational program was specifically intended to increase accessibility to industry-level theory and design techniques. Since it is entirely available through an online portal, you can control the pace at which you learn and master your skills in a way that’s most comfortable for you.
As the owner of The Patterned Seamstress, a costume shop that serves Cirque du Soleil, Camacho is beyond equipped to lead aspiring designers in their professional growth. Her instruction will introduce you to the rules, principles, and structures that form the world of costume design. Then, she will teach you how to break these rules and capitalize on traditional ideals to breathe life into your artistic vision.
Camacho leads the following courses for the Creative Costume Academy:
- Pattern Making 101: This 12-week live video series is designed to teach students foundational pattern making principles. Camacho will introduce you to her special three-part design procedure and help you along by providing an intuitive workbook to track your theoretical and practical knowledge.
- Note: You can also join Camacho for weekly live Q&As, and exchange questions and ideas with classmates in the Facebook community. (Source: Creative Costume Academy)
- Pattern Masterclass: Directly informed by her experience in high-profile theater costume design, Camacho will educate you on the fundamentals of the Foundational Pattern Principle. Don’t be intimidated by the course material. This instructor does everything in her power to make these concepts as understandable as possible, even for those with little to no sewing experience. (Source: Creative Costume Academy)
- Kickstart to Pattern Making: Free enrollment is available for designers who want to gain a deeper, more functional understanding of how to take an idea from the sloper to a working pattern. Camacho simplifies the process to only a few, easily understandable steps to reduce the possibility of you becoming overwhelmed or lost as you work. (Source: Creative Costume Academy)
- Draft Your Sloper: Streamline your design process by walking through sloper drafting with Camacho. You will learn to use your measurements to initiate the design and progress to a full bodice in no time. (Source: Creative Costume Academy)
Past students have repeatedly praised Camacho for her welcoming, understandable teaching style. If you aim to work on legendary theatrical productions and wish to develop original, complex, eye-catching patterns, Tricia Camacho is the perfect instructor for you.
Tisch is one of the world’s leading universities that prepare aspiring costume designers (and other artists) for top-notch careers across numerous industries. For the last 50 years, the school has excelled in molding incredible artists. They offer several degree programs to develop your expertise on every level:
- Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
- Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
- Master of Arts (MA)
- Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
- Master of Professional Studies (MPS)
- Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
As you work through one or more of these academic levels, choose from a vast array of design niches, from stage plays to film and television to gaming. If you wish to gain direct, in-person, and hands-on experience in specific regions and cultures, you can take advantage of NYU Tisch’s study abroad program, as well.
Students who want to continue their education domestically can enroll in courses at the Washington, D.C. campus. You will never have to doubt the quality of your schooling either, as NYU Tisch asserts that its faculty includes “renowned professional artists and scholars.” Your academic experience will not be restricted to theory but based on current, relevant techniques and styles applied in costume design across various industries.
Courses for Costume Designers at NYU Tisch
It can be difficult to navigate your academic journey as an up-and-coming designer. Fortunately, the Tisch faculty and advisors have charted a course for budding costume designers at their university. According to NYU Tisch experts, students should follow the academic path described below to form a strong foundation for a costume design career. (Note that this is only a partial representation.)
A new costume designer’s academic journey at NYU Tisch should include the following courses:
- Costume Design I: Embark on your journey into stage and film costume design with weekly, hands-on exercises. Specifically, you will sharpen your skillset concerning color selections, character proportions and personality, historical accuracy, and text analysis.
- Drawing Year I: Master your skill for perception, particularly by learning how to create three-dimensional costumes within a two-dimensional world. In the latter half of the program, you will discover how to see your costumes in detail, according to various lighting conditions.
- Cutting and Draping: Bring your costume designs to life with new skills that will guide you through each phase of the costume construction process, from the initial draping to patternmaking to fittings. You will also get hands-on experience working through assignments requiring historical accuracy and applying the muslin sloper, for example.
- Culture, Costume, and Décor: Delve into the historical roots of design by engaging in courses on war, religion, and technological and creative advancement. For a richer, more vivid education, visit relevant artistic and cultural landmarks through field trips, open discussions, and more.
Second-year students at NYU Tisch would obtain the best possible start to their careers by enrolling in the following courses:
- Costume Design II: Gain a deeper understanding of how your costume design choices influence the audience’s experience of the story. Through this program, you will learn how to study your character and complete a costume based on your analysis and the literary context.
- Costume Studio: To provide you with as much practical knowledge as possible, NYU Tisch offers aspiring costume designers a comprehensive education on topics that fall outside most courses’ “design” realm. For example, you will learn to dye fabric and how to distress certain materials.
- Drawing Year 2: Sharpen your skills in conceiving period-specific designs and the general development of costume elements like volume and form.
- Production Year 2: Put your training to the test by working as an assistant designer (or a designer) on a real-life production. In this role, you will work under the supervision of a faculty member.
In their final year at NYU Tisch, new costume designers should wrap up their academic careers with the courses below:
- Costume Design III: Aspiring costume designers interested in deepening their theoretical and technical knowledge would do well to enroll in this course. You will design “large, complex pieces” based on classical art and stage plays. To strengthen your industry-level expertise, you will get expert feedback on your pieces from practicing directors and choreographers.
- Transitioning into the Profession: Prepare yourself for the future by taking this course that guides you through the transition from being a student to a professional costume designer. You will learn how to navigate the ins and outs of the professional world, from learning how to negotiate and write contracts to building your portfolio website.
- Costume Exploration: Perfect your design and illustration skills, specifically for drawing, painting, and methods of presentation. You will have the opportunity to learn from professionals. They present guest lectures on illustration techniques and work styles and visit authentic costume shops to get familiar with their use of your sketches and written guidance.
- Collaboration: As a costume designer, you are just as much a part of the production team as everyone else. Thus, you will need to learn how to work with other staff, like the lighting crew, mainly to produce pieces that work well on-stage.
Nino Via Fashion Academy & Online Courses offer a multifaceted education for aspiring costume designers. This school provides theoretical, academic approaches in their available courses through which you will gain hands-on, personalized direct training through their school’s coaching programs.
At this institution, your education will be led and inspired by fashion photographer Nino Via, who is distinguished by the following expertise (Source: Nino Via Fashion Academy & Online Courses):
- Knowledge of and practical experience with:
- Fashion design, photography, etc.
- Practices fashion photography at Nino Via Studio, working closely with high-profile models and entertainment figures
- Brand coaching
- Social media management
- Manufacturing practices
- Former Curriculum Development Coordinator of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM), Los Angeles
To help enhance your brand’s visibility and publicity, you may have the opportunity to take advantage of Nino Via’s corporate relationships. These connections stem from his role as a consultant for Samsung C&T America, Inc. and acclaim as the “Best Fashion Design Instructor.” He also earned the award of “Outstanding Faculty Award” from the FIDM, ensuring his instructional leadership quality.
Past students and clients have raved about Nino Via’s academy. They recalled how the fashion artist taught them to sharpen sewing and pattern skills through audio and visual educational courses, guided by “clear and concise constructions.”
Coaching at Nino Via Fashion Academy
For a more personalized learning experience, students can enjoy one-on-one sessions with Nino Via. In these instructional meetings, you will learn how to develop your style, further your career, and grow your brand. Additionally, the academy provides an adaptable education that addresses your design weaknesses while offering practical solutions to these challenges.
Aspiring costume designers that already have in-progress pieces or who require professional feedback to further their project can also turn to Nino Via’s Coaching Service. With this service, you can earn an expert evaluation of your working collections or your overall brand.
As you mature in your skillset and accumulate practical costume design experience alongside Nino Via, you will have the opportunity to discuss the following topics will your mentor (Source: Nino Via Fashion Academy & Online Courses):
- Portfolio and brand development
- Stages of the creative process
- Creating a business plan
Nino Via Fashion Academy Courses
The courses available at this incredible fashion university are listed below:
- How to Design a Collection and Launch Your Brand: Learn the basics of developing your signature Line, from beginning to end. You will be taught how to seek and identify the inspiration for your projects, work through mood boards and sketches, all up to the final realization of your design (including marketing and sales). (Source: Nino Via Fashion Academy & Online Courses)
- Principles and Techniques in Pattern Drafting for Fashion Design (Parts 1-3): Strengthen your ability to create innovative patterns that can be cut and sewn into brand-new pieces. Learn to incorporate new tools and techniques, including the use of Yokes, dart manipulation, and how to draft collars and necklines. (Source: Nino Via Fashion Academy & Online Courses, Pattern Making in Fashion Design Parts 1, 2, 3)
- How to Sketch Your Fashion Ideas: Primarily a video educational series, this Fashion Sketching class is carried out through seven distinct modules designed for beginners. Students will develop their visual artistry, beginning with simple pencil illustrations and ultimately creating a unique style, expressed and sourced from your fashion diary. (Source: Nina Via Fashion Academy & Online Courses)
This is only a partial look at what this fashion academy offers aspiring costume designers. Visit the Nino Via Fashion Academy website to learn more about the available courses.
This institution offers an emphasis in the School of Fashion specifically for aspiring costume designers. Students are provided with cutting-edge tools and expert guidance to realize their designs, theoretically and visually, in the classroom and on stage in the Costume Design program.
The curriculum is sculpted around designers’ need to gain hands-on experience in their field for each step of the creative process. You can be confident in your education’s quality and relevance, given that the university recruits only the best and brightest faculty in the world.
This school is known to employ “nationally and internationally recognized industry professionals as instructors,” giving students the highest-caliber training possible. Once you complete your program, reap your education’s remaining benefits by taking advantage of your accumulated industry connections, internship opportunities, and more.
In particular, Costume Design students will undergo a demanding sewing program, designed with modern industry standards in mind. With this education, you will have the precise educational foundation for building a career in costume design for theater and film. To top it all off, you can put your acquired skills and knowledge to the test through collaborative projects with the School of Motion Pictures & Television and the School of Acting.
Degree Programs for Costume Designers at AAU
Available Costume Design degree programs are as follows:
- BFA: This degree program is intended to mold the beginnings of a professional costume designer. This is someone who can research and sketch their designs with the utmost creativity and originality, edit their work, and create pieces that will translate well in multiple types of media, notably with both 2D and 3D forms. Students will also learn to create stunning silhouettes, harness the visual power of color and textures, and work within the design concept’s bounds.
- MA: Hone your creative skills even further by mastering the art of visual storytelling and learning how to develop original concepts. You will be better prepared to maintain consistency throughout your design process, from pre-production to filming. To bring renderings to life, students will be trained to build costumes in 2D traditional and digital media, and ultimately, develop those initial illustrations into 3D pieces. At the end of this program, you will have a full portfolio to represent the breadth of your expertise.
- MFA: Intended for designers that at the cusp of transitioning into real-world work (similar to the M.A.), this program is packed full of technical and logistical challenges that prepare you for industry-level costume creation. You will learn to research such a way that allows you to translate the story into your character’s attire while supporting the cast’s and script’s needs. The MFA’s ultimate goal is to send you off into the professional world with a full portfolio.
What Kind of Education Do You Need to Be a Costume Designer?
While no costume design career specifically requires a degree, having a college education or advanced training is ideal to further your career. Further, you may need specialized experience for the specific industry and niche you intend to work in.
For instance, a designer who wishes to become a movie costume designer or create costumes for Broadway productions is encouraged to obtain university training. On the other hand, a designer for smaller, local projects may only need to know how to sew better than others. And for both of those options, knowing the costume design process is a must.
The University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) suggests that aspiring costume designers pursue an education in the following subject areas (Source: UCAS):
- Performing Arts (and related subjects)
- Design Technology
Working toward a career in costume design requires training in the following categories (Source: Chron):
Industry and Production
Business and Administration
You should have a functional understanding of all sewing essentials and how to execute basic costume construction techniques. You may also have the opportunity to collaborate directly with the tailors and sewers responsible for fittings and alterations.
Students will learn how to perform in-depth literary analysis to learn as much about their character as possible. This is a crucial skill to master, as the designer’s interpretation of a literary work can make-or-break a cohesive production.
You must have full, working knowledge of the ins and outs of stage production, no matter the type of project you’re working on. This means that you must know how to use lighting and set elements to complement your design, and vice versa.
An effective costume designer knows how to create show-stopping pieces within the production team’s budget and specifications. Thus, your responsibilities will extend outside of artistry and include bookkeeping, efficiency in identifying sources for materials, and more.
Many schools, such as those listed above, offer specific costume design programs. As long as the program emphasizes these specific areas of expertise, along with historical knowledge of fashion and a well-developed literary education (according to Backstage), it does not need to be a “Costume Design” program specifically.
Is Costume Design a Good Career?
Before you set your expectations for a costume design career, keep in mind that there is not one specific template you must adhere to. Your career will be just as rewarding if you want to work on famous Broadway plays or local commercial shoots if your job in costume design allows you to exercise your education and practical experience in a way that advances your creativity.
Further, your work as a professional costume designer will almost certainly provide you the means to secure and maintain financial independence. According to Glassdoor’s latest data, the typical costume designer salary ranges from $40,000 to $86,000, with an average of $60,865 annually.
Positions used to determine these pay rates included (Source: Glassdoor):
- Assistant Fashion or Costume Designer
- Entry Level Fashion Designer
- Fashion Designer
Aside from the monetary compensation, you will reap tremendous rewards from the job’s research aspects, as you analyze the scripts and relevant historical periods. You get to be a central part of telling stories that audiences will retain in their most precious memories for a lifetime. The job of a costume designer is enormously fulfilling. You need only to gather the tools and expertise to get there.
What Does it Mean to be a Costume Designer?
Being a costume designer means that you will need to be involved in nearly every step of the storytelling process. Your designs are not merely “outfits,” but integral parts of the play’s, film’s, or other media’s world, time, and narrative.
In the words of the renowned costume designer Edith Head, your role is to “create the illusion of changing actors into what they are not.” You play a critical role in an actor’s transformation and the process of convincing an audience into believing that they genuinely belong in a specific place and period. According to Claire Anderson, you are “responsible for building the visual identity of the character.” (Source: Backstage)
Your work is critical to creating a cohesive, memorable production that transports your actors and audience into a brand-new world and timeline. A career in costume design means clear, dynamic, and engaging communication through visual media, supported by a skillset of administrative, business, collaborative, and economic proficiency.
There are numerous degree programs and specialized courses available for aspiring costume designers. These degrees and programs will provide you with a strong foundation for building your career in costume design, with practical knowledge of historical arts, visual storytelling, character and text analysis, and more.
Though there are no specific academic requirements to succeed in a career in costume design, the previously mentioned subjects and skills are essential to progress your career across nearly all industries and niches.