A costume designer helps tell the story of a play or musical by creating the look of each character. They design costumes/clothing, accessories, shoes—anything that goes onto the actor's body. Costume designers usually have enough drawing or painting skill to help the rest of the creative team understand what the costumes will look like. They also need to learn about sewing, fabric and other materials, color theory, and how to research various time periods. Some learn this on the job, while others get an undergraduate or graduate degree in design. Some designers get hands-on to sew (or "build") the costumes themselves, while those working at larger theatres usually rely on costume shop assistants to make their designs into reality. Costume designers are almost always hired as contractors on a per-show basis, and usually work at multiple theatres.
About the Video: Emilio Sosa, Costume Designer
Emilio Sosa knows his fabrics. He likes diving into research. He's adept at collaborating with everyone from tailors and sewers to directors like George C. Wolfe and Phylicia Rashad. He's got an incredible eye for design…and he stays cool under pressure. Sosa, who worked with Center Theatre Group on August Wilson's Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 2016, talks about what it takes to become a costume designer in theatre, how he got his start, and his first big break.
About the Video: Whitney Oppenheimer, Costume Shop Assistant
How does a costume designer's idea go from a drawing on a page to a performance-worthy creation? What does it take to motivate yourself to create something new every day? Why did Edwardian era ladies wear bustles? Whitney Oppenheimer thinks about these questions all the time. As the Costume Shop Assistant at Center Theatre Group, she spends her days dyeing fabric, crafting costume pieces, altering garments, and supporting shows' costume designers in any way she can. Oppenheimer discusses the skills that have served her best in her profession, the advice that changed her life as a teenager, and what to do when confronted with the word "No."
Resources & More Information
- Get step-by-step instructions for creating different costumes (everything from zombies and samurai to period outfits) at Instructables.com.
- The Costumer's Manifesto Wiki is a wealth of resources, including a listing of online classes, tips on things like using a sewing machine and making big hair, and a directory of where to purchase supplies.
- Learn more about costume design from the Costume Designers Guild, Local 892 of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (I.A.T.S.E.). The Guild represents costume designers, assistant costume designers, and costume illustrators.
If you’re curious about careers in theatre and wondering which ones might be right for you, we’ve created a quick quiz to help you think about the type of job you might want within the arts and what kind of lifestyle and education that career path requires.Take the Quiz