Costume Designer

Costume designers design the costumes for live performances and television and film productions. Costume designers need to ensure that the particular historical period of the performance is accurately reflected in the costumes, right down to the last accessory, including hats, shoes, gloves and even hairstyles.

Costume designers need to be able to work creatively within certain restrictions. Some period costumes need to look heavy, yet should be designed in such a way that the actors can move freely. This is especially important when action such as dancing or fencing form part of the performance. The designer also needs knowledge of fabrics in order to be able to depict the period accurately.

Those designers working for small companies often need to do the cutting and machining themselves. In larger companies specialists do this, but the designer must supervise the process and take responsibility for the final product. Most large organisations provide costume designers with sophisticated materials and well-equipped workrooms.

Costume designers often work on their own and decide for themselves where they want to work and also buy their own materials. In smaller enterprises, where costumes are designed and patterns and materials cut, one person does machine work, needlework and the designing of all the accessories. In larger organisations, such as film and television companies and performing arts councils, various people do these tasks.

After receiving information from the producer about the production, a designer does research on the style of clothing, the material used, the headgear, hairstyles and other relevant information on the specific period in which the production will take place. Once all the research has been done, designing the costumes can begin.

Designers often have to use their imagination when designing the costumes for productions such as fairy-tales, fables, animated stories or mythological themes. The correct choice of material is very important to achieve a specific effect.

After the producer has approved the designs, the designer looks for the most suitable material and accessories. The designer keeps an eye on the process to ensure that all the instructions are carried out and the specifications are met. A cutter is responsible for drawing the pattern and cutting the material. They discuss the costume design with the designer in order to solve all possible problems. After all the actors’ measurements have been taken, the patterns are drawn.

Sometimes costumes are made according to standard sizes. As soon as the cutter is satisfied that the pattern is correct, the material is cut according to the pattern. Machinists receive instructions from cutters. They are responsible for all the machine work such as stitching the different panels together and all the needlework involved. To finish off a costume, the machinist is also responsible for ironing it.

Milliners (makers of hats) receive sketches and materials from the designer that they use to make all the headgear and hats. The milliner also has to do some research on the fashion of the period concerned. It is important that the headdress be designed in a manner so that it rounds off the effect of the costume as a whole.

Personal Requirements

  • artistic, with creative imagination
  • ability to be creative within certain constraints, including budgetary constraints
  • excellent eye for detail
  • ability to transform ideas into practical concepts
  • dexterity and some mechanical aptitude
  • keen initiative and ability to get on well with others
  • patience and ability to work well under pressure
  • cutters must be able to transform a two- dimensional sketch into three-dimensional reality
  • machinists should have an aptitude for needlework
  • milliners must have good artistic abilities and dexterity

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Art or a related subjects is highly recommended
Recommended subjects: Art, Design Studies, Engineering and Graphic Design


  • An art portfolio is required to demonstrate your creativity, abilities and commitment.
  • If you intend studying towards a degree in Fine Art at university, you will need to a Bachelor's pass in matric. If you intend studying a diploma in an art-related field, then you will need a Diploma pass in matric.
  • Meet the admission requirements (APS) set by the university or requirements set by the college.

What to Study

Diploma: The N.Dip. Entertainment Technology: is offered at DUT and TUT.

The N.Dip. Fashion Design is offered at CUT, CPUT, DUT, TUT, VUT, NMMU and UJ. Some private fashion-designing schools also offer in-service training.


  • film companies
  • television services
  • performing art councils
  • self-employment - free-lance or contract work

Further Information

CityVarsity Film & Television and Multimedia School
18 Roeland St
Gardens, Cape Town, 8000
Tel: (021) 466-6800

Department Entertainment Technology
Arts Faculty
Tshwane University of Technology
Tel: 086 110 2421

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation work in a company employing a costume designer
  • read up about and practise designs of period costumes
  • develop a portfolio of your artwork and costume design
  • make an appointment to speak to a costume designer about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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