THEATRE CRAFTS INFORMATION SHEETS
CAREERS IN COSTUME
The Costume Designer –
is usually selected by the producer/director of a show in regard to specialist skills,
reputation, or previous successful collaboration. The designer is contracted to
produce original designs in accordance with the ideas and vision of the director,
delivering them by the due date as specified in the contract. Research is an
essential tool in the design of period costume, combined with an understanding
of cut, style, fabrics, trimmings and
The Assistant Designer –
may be chosen by the Designer to design and /or buy for secondary characters,
extras, etc., under the supervision and direction of the Designer.
The Design Assistant –
works with the Designer directly on a production, and may be involved in such
things as gathering information, researching, buying, running errands, etc.
Head of Costume / Wardrobe Manager
This is an extremely high-pressured position requiring stamina, foresight and
patience. First-rate time management and budgetary experience is essential.
Excellent organizational and communication skills are needed, along with the
ability to think laterally. Other essential requirements are – a sound knowledge
of period dress and textiles; the cut and construction of period and modern
clothing; the dyeing, printing and distressing of costumes. The hiring of both
permanent and fixed-term contract staff, and involvement with work experience
students are all part of this job description. Previous experience in all aspects of
Wardrobe work is a great asset.
The Buyer –
is responsible for the sourcing, ordering and buying of fabrics, trimmings, accessories
and clothing required for a production. A sound knowledge of period style and
design is essential. Good customer relations with suppliers; excellent
communication skills, and the ability to work within the budget are vital assets for
The Senior Cutter * –
works in close contact with Designer; he/she is responsible for the cutting and
fitting of costumes; overseeing the work of experienced staff and staff-in-training,
and organizing the smooth running of the workroom. This is a ‘high-pressure’
position requiring advanced knowledge of period and modern cut, and excellent
communication, time management and motivational skills.
The Assistant Cutter –
has responsibility similar to the above and may take the place of the Senior
Cutter in his/her absence.
The First Hand –
works closely with the Cutter in preparing the costumes for first fittings. High
standards of costume production and a basic knowledge of cutting are essential.
The First Hand may help with the training and supervision of less experienced
The Costume Assistant –
makes new, and alters existing costumes to a high standard. This job is usually
graded according to experience. Assistants may choose to specialize in either
Ladies costume making or Tailoring; depending on their interests. Good tailors
are rarely out of work!
* Job titles may vary in different organizations
Jobs in this area involve the movement, repair, laundry, storage, shipment of costumes
and dressing of performers within a theatre, or while a production is on tour. Good
health, the ability to work long hours, a calm attitude and good organizational skills are
essential for work in this area.
The Wardrobe Stand-by (Film and television)
The person in this position is responsible for the dressing of actors, extras, etc. during a
production. He/she will ‘stand-by’ on the set to supervise and attend to all necessary
action (eg. quick changes) regarding the costumes worn by an actor/performer; keep
continuity notes and take ‘master-shot’ photographs relating to continuity. Quick-thinking
and good organizational ability are essential.
The Costume Supervisor –
works closely with the Designer, He/she needs to have a sound knowledge of the day-
to-day running of a costume department. A responsible attitude; ability to work to
deadlines; good organizational abilities; an established rapport with suppliers, and a
knowledge and understanding of period textiles and costume are essential requisites for
this job. Good health, stamina, a calm attitude under pressure and excellent self-
motivation are also necessary. On small productions where there is no designer the
Supervisor may be required to fill a more creative role.
The Dyer –
should be professionally trained in all aspects of fabric and costume dyeing, screen-
printing, painting and ‘breaking down’ (distressing). As this job involves the use of
hazardous chemicals an awareness of Health & Safety regulations is of paramount
importance in the workplace at all times.
The Surface Decorator –
may also be a Dyer. Surface embellishment of textiles may use any number of
techniques and media to enhance and embellish existing fabrics. A sound knowledge of
period textile design and decoration is required, along with an awareness of up-to-date
processes and materials. Health & Safety issues may apply here,
The Costume Props Maker –
makes jewellery, masks, ‘trick’ costumes and other items from a large variety of
materials. The work may require the use of hazardous chemicals.
The Milliner –
makes hats and headdresses under the direction of the Designer. Training in this skill is
necessary, along with a fondness for hand-sewing. A sound knowledge of men’s and
women’s period head wear is essential.
The Shoemaker –
will have been trained in the making of boots and shoes. This is an unusual job in the
world of Costume, but an essential one, as period style footwear is an important part of
the overall costume design.
The above information may be used as an introduction to jobs within the Costume
industry. It is absolutely necessary to remember that all jobs in theatre, television
and film call for – among other things:
Commitment to long hours and deadlines
Occasional uncomfortable locations
Intermittent long periods away from home, partners and friends
The ability to move and lift heavy weights
The need to retain a cool head in times of high stress and chaos.
– otherwise it is creative, fun, and hugely satisfying!
Alexandra Tynan 2006
HOW I GOT INTO COSTUME…
SARAH, Costume Co-ordinator,
1992-1993 Bournemouth College of Art & Design* – HND in Costume for
Screen & Stage – Costume Interpretation (costume cutting / making)
Work experience while at college – making tailored costumes for LAMDA
Made pantomime costumes during summer break
Offered work experience at Birmingham Drama College which led to an
interview and subsequent employment
Assistant in 2-person Wardrobe Department at Birmingham Drama
College for two years
Spent one year travelling
On return worked on two pantomime seasons at York Theatre Royal
Sent out CV to various companies – was invited to an interview at
Glyndebourne. Spent three years in the Costume Department Tailoring
workroom, starting as a Junior Assistant and leaving at First Hand level.
Deputy Wardrobe Manager at Chichester Festival Theatre for two seasons
Worked for Gubbie Opera in London in winter 2004
Returned to Glyndebourne in January 2005 as Assistant Costume Co-
* Now The Arts Institute at Bournemouth – BA (Hons) degree in Costume for
Screen and Stage
JULIE, First Hand - Ladies Workroom
1997 A-level Art
1997 – 1998 Open Network in Sewing for Fashion (Evening course)
1998 – 1999 BTEC National Diploma – Fashion
1999 – 2002 The Arts Institute at Bournemouth – BA (Hons) degree –
Costume for Screen and Stage
2002 Junior Wardrobe Assistant – Ladies workroom,
Dresser – Glyndebourne on Tour
2003 Wardrobe Assistant – Ladies Workroom, Glyndebourne
2004 Wardrobe Assistant – Ladies Workroom, Glyndebourne
Freelance – Cirque de Soleil, ‘Quidam’ Tour
2005 – present Freelance costume-maker – London
First Hand – Ladies Workroom, Glyndebourne