How can I become a costume designer?

Jane is in her last year of her GCSEs and wants to become a costume designer, but isn't sure what qualifications to take.

​Hi, I’m in my last year of GCSEs and I want to be a costume designer.

I was just wondering whether it would be better for me to do a diploma in backstage art or to do A-level in Art, DT, Psychology and Sociology?

— Jane

Expert answers

Naomi Gibbs's reply:

​Hello! My advice would be that a backstage art diploma would be the most useful in terms of what you’d learn; however if that course has extra ‘room’ in the timetable, supplementary courses in creative textiles or fine art (with flexibility to ‘specialise’ in costume / textiles - which some colleges allow) would be extremely beneficial. If this isn’t possible, City & Guilds do amazing evening classes which can give your skills a professional ‘leg-up’.

It’s great that your area offers a backstage art course, as I had to take a different avenue. If it also helps to know: I did a GNVQ art and design intermediate, specialising in costume and textiles (so I could adapt coursework to be textile-based) followed by a BTEC national diploma in music practice (which, although not costume related, threw me in the path of many musicians who wanted specially-made stage costumes - so alongside my course I was continuing my costume work privately). I spent a lot of leisure time researching costume history and techniques, which inspired me to make many of my own clothes.

Then, as soon as I was proficient enough to sell my work, I started taking private commissions for prom / wedding dresses, corsets and costumes. I mainly did that for a year before deciding that in order to reach my goal of working for TV or film I would need to go to uni. To prepare myself, I did a pre-degree foundation year (which gets your portfolio up to scratch) - specialising in costume, of course - and onwards to degree at a uni-status theatre college.

I think I definitely took the long way round, but the point is that whether at home or on campus, or both, I was always working towards the goal of becoming a costume designer. Spend as much leisure time as you can in museums looking at costumes, poring over costume books. At birthdays and Christmas ask for costume books and build yourself a costume textiles and fashion reference library: mine is invaluable to me.

I sincerely hope this has helped and sufficiently answered your question, best of luck!

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