Wardrobe assistant

 22 March 2011

Wardrobe assistants work to provide support with costumes and accessories. Performances like plays and musicals rely on a strong wardrobe team to make the production look credible.

Hannah Lobelson, wardrobe manager at Shakespeare's Globe.
Hannah Lobelson, wardrobe manager at Shakespeare's Globe.

The role of wardrobe assistant

Wardrobe assistants help to make, find and look after the clothing and costumes used in theatre, film and television productions.

Tact and patience are required to maintain calm and respect the actor.

Assistants may be involved in designing, making or acquiring costumes and accessories. They may also look after them during the run of a show.

In theatre, wardrobe assistants might also be required to act as dressers. In some instances they may be allocated to one or more actors to help them get ready for the performance.

As a wardrobe assistant, you would work under the direction of a costume supervisor or wardrobe master/mistress. Your work might include:

  • helping to buy and hire costume items
  • looking after the costumes between takes or scenes
  • mending and altering items
  • packing and unpacking costumes and accessories
  • cleaning and ironing
  • helping to make pieces and put costumes together
  • fitting the performers
  • making sure that all items are available when needed
  • keeping an accurate record of all items needed
  • storing costumes and returning hired items (known as 'breaking down' costumes).

Hours can be long and unsocial, depending on the production's schedule. In film and TV, most of the work is in the daytime, but in the theatre wardrobe assistants normally cover evening performances and matinées, six days a week.

You might work in theatres, at film/TV studios, or temporary cabins if out on location. Working conditions backstage may be cramped and hot.

Becoming a wardrobe assistant

You will need practical skills in hand and machine sewing, pattern cutting and dressmaking. You don't always need formal qualifications, but you could build useful skills on college courses such as:

  • City & Guilds Certificates and Diplomas at levels 1, 2 and 3 in Creative Techniques - part-time courses, with options including theatre costume and pattern cutting
  • BTEC Level 2 Certificate/Diploma in Fashion and Clothing or Level 3 Certificate/Diploma in Production Arts (Costume) - courses may be full- or part-time.

You may have an advantage with a BTEC HND, degree or postgraduate qualification in costume design, fashion or textiles, especially if you want to eventually become a costume designer. You should check entry requirements with course providers.

The key to finding paid work is to get practical experience, which you can get from:

  • student theatre and film productions
  • amateur or community theatre
  • dressmaking
  • work for a theatrical costume hire company
  • casual work as a costume 'daily' (temporary helper) on film and TV sets.

You will develop your skills on the job, learning from experienced wardrobe supervisors, costume makers and designers.

In film and TV, you may be able to receive apprenticeship-style training at the start of your career from new entrant schemes that are sometimes available from broadcasters such as the BBC, regional screen agencies or media training organisations. Competition for places on such schemes is very strong, so you would need to prove your enthusiasm and commitment by building relevant experience before you applied.

You may also be able enter this type of work by taking a Creative Apprenticeship. The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers.

You should keep developing your costume knowledge and skills throughout your career. To help with this, you could take short courses in various costume skills, or join a professional association such as the Costume Society.

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