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Although they don’t receive as much fanfare as the men and women who wear them, costumes are one of the most vital ingredients to the success of any film. Without even realizing it, seeing what someone is wearing can take you back or forward in time or to any place on this earth or beyond.
Without proper costumes, it would be pretty hard to convince an audience that they were watching a scene in seventeenth century England if the main character is wearing a maxi dress or a pair of jeans.
Just like any profession there are many ways to become a costume designer. There are colleges and universities all over the country that offer special classes for aspiring designers. Some vocational schools also offer design programs that you can get certificates from. Another way of getting your foot in the door is by contacting groups, organizations, professional associations, and online forums where you can interact with professional costume designers and other aspiring designers.
You should research the profession as much as you can by reading books, magazines, watching interviews- whatever material you can get your hands on.
Some costume designers are so masterful in their craft that they manage to make the wardrobe the actors wear into its own character in the movie. Costume designers aren’t just seamstresses or fashion designers, they are historians, curators of knowledge about art, literature, textiles, what fabrics were popular in what time period, whether you had to be rich or poor to wear a certain garment. etc.
Costume designers must be willing to do extensive research, they must be prepared to motivate, direct, and supervise their crew. Costumes don’t stop at clothing. Costume designers should also have knowledge of the styles of jewelry, shoes and other accessories for the time period they are capturing.
The costume department on a creative production has a costume designer at its head. Reaching this pinnacle of artistic expression and fashion takes time and dedication. Nobody can walk onto a Hollywood movie set or a Broadway theater stage and find employment as a costume designer without some time spent in the trenches of unpaid internships and entry-level work.
However, if you adore design and your friends call you the next Edith Head, your dreams of costume design can come true with some education, luck, and experience.
To Enroll, or Not to Enroll
The life of a costume designer doesn't always begin in school, but learning the subtleties of design may be easiest in a classroom setting. If terms like "color wheel," "breakdown," and "flat drafting" sound like a foreign language to you, some time spent with a book on costume design is advisable.
It's not necessary to enroll in a four-year or bachelor's degree program, but a few classes at the community college level or a technical design school will help you learn common terminology, as well as industry design standards.
Finding the Jobs
Costume designers require the creative environment of a movie set or theatrical production. Certain locales will offer more work in these areas and will be vital for finding internships and assistant positions near the beginning of your career.
Check out the geographic profile from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see what states offer the best chance at employment. If you live in an area where jobs are sparse, you might want to start by volunteering with a local community college's theater department.
Costume designers learn every facet of the design process and will work through the night to get that last stitch finished. If you put in the leg-work, you can become a successful, working costume designer.
A great theater will have a host of talented individuals that work on incredibly tight budgets and time lines, in order to be ready by the opening curtain. There are the actors, the directors, the musicians, and the costume designers. This last talent is hard to break into, but very gratifying.
To become a costume designer for the stage you must be ready to work hard and diversify your talents. A costume designer is expected to be able to stitch, sew, mend, and tear all sorts of different fabrics. They will also be expected to do it on the fly. (It's not uncommon for an actor's weight to fluctuate and thus render the costume unusable- unless the costume designer is able to save it!)
How does one learn all of these abilities? Well, it is possible to do independent research and practice in your own free time but it won't prepare you for the rush of the theater.
Costume designer hopefulls should break into the field by working for their local theaters. Many times a theater will take on interns. This hands on experience is the best way to learn the ins and outs of becoming a great costume designer. It's truly the best way to learn.
|Sheri Ann Richerson|