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Elizabeth Whiting, costume designer for New Zealand Opera (2016)

A costume designer is a person who designs costumes for a film, stage production or television show. The role of the costume designer is to create the characters' outfits or costumes and balance the scenes with texture and colour, etc.[1] The costume designer works alongside the director, scenic, lighting designer, sound designer, and other creative personnel. The costume designer may also collaborate with a hair stylist, wig master, or makeup artist. In European theatre, the role is different, as the theatre designer usually designs both costume and scenic elements.

Designers typically seek to enhance a character's personality, and to create an evolving plot of color, changing social status, or period through the visual design of garments and accessories.[citation needed] They may distort or enhance the body—within the boundaries of the director's vision. The designer must ensure that the designs let the actor move as the role requires. The actor must execute the director's blocking of the production without damaging the garments. Garments must be durable and washable, especially for plays with extended runs or films with near-real time pacing (meaning that most costumes will not change between scenes) but whose principal photography phase may stretch across several weeks. The designer must consult not only with the director, but the set and lighting designers to ensure that all elements of the overall production design work together. The designer must possess strong artistic capabilities and a thorough knowledge of pattern development, draping, drafting, textiles and fashion history. The designer must understand historical costuming, and the movement style and poise that period dress may require.


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During the late-19th century, company managers in the US usually selected costumes for a show. Many were pulled from a rental houses, only a few were designed. Though designers in other theatrical disciplines were recognized, few who specialized in costumes were. The few that were included Caroline Siedle, C. Wilhelm, Percy Anderson, and Mrs. John Alexander. They sometimes even received credit on the title page of a playbill rather than in the back.[2]

In the 20th century, film costume designers like Edith Head and Adrian became well known. Edith Head (born Edith Claire Posener),went on and won eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design between 1949 and 1973. Later, those working in television like Nolan Miller (Dynasty), Janie Bryant (Mad Men), and Patricia Field (Sex and the City) became more prominent, some becoming authors and having their own clothing and jewelry lines.[3]

Types of costume designers

Professional costume designers generally fall into three types: freelance, residential, and academic.

Both residential and academic designers are generally also required to act as Shop Master or Mistress of an onsite costume shop, in addition to designing productions. In a resident theatre, there is almost always a shop staff of stitchers,[4] drapers, cutters and craft artisans. In an academic environment the shop "staff" is generally students, who are learning about costume design and construction. Most universities require costume design students to work a specified number of hours in the shop as part of their course work.

Unions in the United States and Canada

The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and Canada and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. You may improve this section, discuss the issue on the talk page, or create a new section, as appropriate. (April 2022) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees is the sole union in the United States and Canada that represents costume designers. It has two local unions that costume designers can belong to:

Costume Designers Guild, Local 892 is one union that represents Costume Designers,[5] as well as United Scenic Artists.[6]

Many costumers belong to the Motion Picture Costumers Union, Local 705 and represent every position within the costume department (except the costume designer). Local 705 represents Costume Supervisors, Key Costumers, Costumers, Tailor/Seamstress, Ager/Dyer, Cutter/Fitters, Costume House Employees and Commercial Costumers.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Landis, Deborah Nadoolman (2012-03-16). Filmcraft: Costume Design: Costume Design. Elsevier Science. pp. Introduction. ISBN 9780240818672.
  2. ^ King, Kimball. Western Drama through the Ages: A Student Reference Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007. 534. Print.
  3. ^ Meltzer, Marisa (2013-09-19). "Get Me Wardrobe!". The New York Times. p. E1.
  4. ^ "stitcher", The Free Dictionary, retrieved 2020-09-30
  5. ^ "Costume Designers Guild, I.A.T.S.E. Local 892".
  6. ^ Local 829
  7. ^ Local 705 Archived 2013-10-05 at the Wayback Machine