Costume Design

Light Entertainment

What you do in the job?

The Costume Department is responsible for the design, fitting, hire, purchase, manufacture, continuity and care of all costume items on feature films. The term 'Costume' refers to the clothes that the Actors wear, and these differ enormously from production to production, ranging from contemporary urban fashion to period ball-gowns, and even wetsuits. The Costume Department is also responsible for jewellery, footwear, corsetry, hosiery, millinery and sometimes wig-work. Costume is integral in defining the overall 'look' of the film. It provides the audience with information about the period, culture and society the Actors inhabit and, on a more subtle level, the underlying themes of the film itself.

Work in the Costume Department is divided between two 'wardrobes': the 'Making Wardrobe', which incorporates the design, acquisition and creation of costume during pre-production; and the 'Running Wardrobe', which takes care of the organisation, maintenance and continuity of costumes during the film shoot.

The Costume Designer is the Head of the Department, and works closely with the Production Designer and Director to ensure that costumes blend into the overall production design. The Costume Designer oversees a team that usually includes a Costume Design Assistant, Costume Supervisor, Costume Assistants and Costume Dailies. On larger productions, the Costume Designer may employ a team of skilled technicians in a Costume Workshop, which could include cutters, makers, finishers, dyers and milliners. There may also be a Wardrobe Supervisor to oversee the Running Wardrobe.

Job responsibilities for personnel in the Costume Department vary enormously from production to production, depending on the requirements of the Costume Designer. As a result, the boundaries between job roles are blurred, particularly in the case of Costume Design Assistants, Costume Supervisors and Wardrobe Supervisors. During the shoot Costume personnel ensure that costumes are available when required, assist performers with dressing, oversee costume continuity, and maintain and service costumes when not in use. After the shoot Costume personnel ensure that costumes are safely stored, packed and returned to the relevant sources, or sold.

Contribution by Noelle Rees Rowlands
Costume Design - Light Entertainment:

Beginning with the script, the costume designer, together with the producer, director , and sometimes a choreographer, forms an interpretation of the mood and characterisation in relation to the script content, the artiste, sets, make-up and lighting. They may have to do research into period costume and will have to keep the designs within budget. A team player they may well work with design assistants and dressers, but sometimes will take on all these roles. Fittings, hiring trips and shopping trips. Work on location and in the studio.
Noelle Rees Rowlands

What qualities are required?

A degree in fashion or design. Skillful in design interpretation and innovation. Practical knowledge and business sense. Team skills and good communication skills.

Costume and Wardrobe personnel work closely with Actors in a physical sense and must therefore be tactful, sensitive and able to put people at their ease. In addition, all those working in the Costume Department require the following knowledge and skills:

Close attention to detail and meticulous organisational skills
Flexibility, stamina and the ability to multi-task
An imaginative approach to work and the capacity to solve problems creatively
Good communication and interpersonal skills
The capacity to work to extremely high standards of accuracy, in pressurised and often cramped environments, as part of a team working toward a deadline
Good foundation skills in ironing, steaming, adapting garments, dyeing, hand and machine sewing, alterations, pattern cutting and drawing
An understanding of how to care for, and maintain, costumes
General knowledge about the qualities of different types of fabric
The ability to dress Actors in different types of clothes: lacing corsets, knotting ties, etc.
An understanding of how to dress to particular faces or physiques in order to create characters
Good research skills, particularly for period costumes
General knowledge of both costume history and modern fashion.
A full EU driving licence
Computer literacy (PC and Mac)
A knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures
A passion for film and costume

How you start and where you can go with it?

No specific qualifications are required for entry into the Costume Department, but most new entrants have a qualification or diploma in a related area such as Fashion, Costume Design, Costume Interpretation or Garment Making. Promotion within the Department is based on experience. Entry-level candidates may have taken part in an apprentice-style scheme to gain their foundation skills, or they may enter the Department as Trainees. If they make a good impression on senior staff during their placement, they may be called back onto another production to work as Dailies or Assistants. Another alternative is to work for one of the large Costumiers (the most famous is Angels & Bermans in London) where trainees receive all-round experience and education in the Costume processes required in film production.

You may have a Design Degree and initial experience as a junior in television or the theatre. Eventually make it to designer and then work up to bigger productions.

Costume Department personnel involved in film production work on a freelance basis, and must be prepared to travel.

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