Costume Design Courses: The Ultimate Guide (2022)

Written By: Yuri
Credit: Prod Base

The costume design in fictional presentations (TV, Movies or Theater) it’s always telling its own story. The way characters dress it’s a great way for the audience to get a peek of their personality, and it's also the product of a specific era, place and historical context. 

As a costume designer, you’re in charge of creating and selecting the adequate clothing to define characters and performers appearances. 

The skills set required is similar to a fashion designer (and a certain background knowledge of this area is certainly required), but the costumer designer must fulfill the specific requirements of clothing for stage and Film/TV productions.

There are many ways you can specialize in the costume design area. There are a great number of quality online and in-person courses you can choose from. Also, there’s some informal and quick learning options, such as YouTube videos or podcasts

For example, the Red Carpet Rookies Podcast was able to interview two major costume design professionals of the film industry, Ngila Dickson (responsible for the Lord of the Rings' costume design) and Erin Benach (Star is Born). Both conversations are full of interesting information about their methods and experiences in the industry. You can check out these episodes here.

However, in this article we’re going to focus on the online and in-person costume design courses. We’ve made a selection of some of the best options out there for you to choose from, exposing the main characteristics of each, as well as what highlights them among the rest.

In-person

● Yale School of Drama

Credit: Yale University

The costume design course offered by one of the top 3 universities of the U.S. is often referred to as one of the best there is. Yale’s program is known for stimulating the originality of their students, with an intense learning atmosphere that is favored by a considerable number of practical classes.

The course format is of a 3-year MFA, with students having the opportunity to work on academic and professional productions during their time on the course, as well as other great practical and theoretical class projects.

The first year is dedicated to the development of technical skills in drawing, costume construction and costume history. There’s also the first steps towards understanding the business segment of the field, with important professional insights about the industry; always attached to heavy theoretical understanding.

Second year focus on analytical thinking and the creation of aesthetic voices through design work, with constant collaborations with other students and well-known directors. And in the third year, all the theoretical and practical knowledge obtained so far culminates in the creation of the costume design for a professional production of a consolidated director.

It’s important to say that the course (and Yale as a whole) always reinforces their diversity and anti-discriminating values, that translate themselves into their learnig methods and are estimulated in several student experiences.

The reported tuition for the MFA course is U$32,800.

Some notable alumni include:

● Julianna Makovsky (Avengers: Endgame)

● Chrisi Karvonides (American Horror Story)

● Tom Broecker (Saturday Night Live)

● Wimbledon College of Arts (University of the Arts London)

Credit: Wimbledon College of Arts

The costume design (and costume interpretation) course offered by the Wimbledon College of Arts is one of the most traditional of the entire U.K.

The course happens in the BA (Hons) format, with a 2-year duration, introducing students to the world of professional costume design for Film, TV, Theater and other kinds of performances.

Classes always have the intention of helping students to create inventive and assertive costumes for their respective productions, all of this through a consolidated knowledge of historical and conceptual contexts that are transmitted to all of them.

Experimentation is also very encouraged on all projects. The projects developed by the college can happen in the studio or to live audiences, so students can really grasp the variation of settings in which a costume designer can work in.

Students are constantly working and communicating with professionals of the industry (and that includes the teachers themselves). This type of close contact enables them to develop their own creative approach to problem solving, stimulated by constant practical classes and real-life experience in the field.

First year of the course is intended for students to explore the subject areas of costume, with all the proper introductions to practical and theoretical methods, as well as design strategies and creative processes. And at the end of the first year, the students must choose their specialization between the Costume Design and Costume Interpretation options.

The reported tuition for the BA (Hons) course is U$12,085 (U.K. residents) and U$29,946 (nonresidents).

Some notable alumni include:

● Jane Petrie (The Crown)

● Joanna Eatwell (Carnival Row)

● LCI Melbourne

Credit: LCI Melbourne

This Australia-based school offers a considerable number of design-related courses with great classes and teaching methods.

And the costume design course offered by LCI is actually a Fashion & Costume Design course. So, if you don’t have any type of background fashion, this particular course would be very suitable for you to get your foot in this world with some quality education.

LCI offers a stand-out type of specialization, a 2-year Bachelor of Design Arts course that provides you just the right tools for you to learn about the standard concepts and creative methods of fashion and costume design so that you can eventually come up with your own, creating a specific vision for each project you work on.

The students learn to select and create clothing for stage, Film and TV. First, creative thinking is stimulated through multiple theory classes, then you’ll slowly learn industry techniques that include high quality pattern making and the creation of garments.  

After mastering such methods and learning how to manipulate them in favor of your vision, you’re going to handle fabrics more frequently, also working with responsible design by using sustainable materials and practicing no-waste strategies.

LCI is also very conscient of the importance of social media today. That’s why they also teach students how to style, photograph and promote their work in social media, helping them to gain visibility and hopefully acquiring jobs and important connections.

The reported tuition for the Bachelor of Design Arts course is U$26,787 (Australia residents) and U$32,211 (nonresidents).

Online

● Costume Design for Performance (University of the Arts London)

Credit: University of the Arts London

Online courses usually work through a shorter period of time and come at more affordable prices, making them ideal for people trying to get a not-so-in-depth and more introductory learning experience that can also be afforded with tighter budgets.

The UAL online costume design course lasts one week and has mostly introductory purposes, emphasizing character and story analysis in order to later develop costumes that match the atmosphere and social/historical context of the narrative at hand.

All students have the chance of developing a portfolio that assertively reflects their creative process and methods learned during the course.

Due to their introductory nature, classes don’t demand previous knowledge in the fashion design or costume design areas. Teachers also make an effort to explain topics in accessible English, with the methodologies also being handled in a very simplistic way.

There’s always demonstrations of important techniques a costume designer should know. And classes always happen live. This makes it possible for the students to interact live with teachers and other students. You’ll receive feedback, discuss topics with other  students and ask questions to teachers, all of that in real time.

Also, if you miss a class, you can watch it later in a recording (and that’s the only way you’d have to watch a class that isn’t live).

The reported price for the online course is U$789,00.

● The Art of Costume Design (National Institute of Dramatic Art)

Credit: National Institute of Dramatic Art

Also mostly indicated for beginners, this NIDA online course happens in a format of 4 Zoom sessions of 2.5 hours each, with 1 hour of writing and research activity between each session.

You’ll be introduced to the design world through enriching classes that intend to emphasize the collaborative nature of the creative processes in costume design, the importance of the conceptualization process before getting more practical, and learning of the potential of storytelling through costumes, among other things.

You’ll learn how to conceive the proper costume design to fulfill a director's vision while learning how to deal with different points of view and arguments about your creative process as well as questions about why you made the choices you made in your work.

The course will teach you everything you need to know: from the initial sketches in your notebook to the finished costumes for a particular story.

The reported price for the online course is U$960,00.

● Costume Design for Film and TV (Bina and Pepo)

Credit: Domestika

An online course offered in the platform Domestika, this option comes at a much more affordable price, but is still a very resourceful learning choice for beginners in the costume design and fashion industry, with 20 classes available (2h36min).

The course is ministrated by Bina Daigeler and Pepo Ruiz, two top costume designers that have worked in many big-budget and Hollywood productions for Film and Television. Their work includes costumes for productions such as:

● Only Lovers Left Alive (Dir. by Jim Jarmusch. 2013)

● Che (Dir. by Steven Soderbergh. 2008)

● Mulan (Dir. by Niki Caro. 2020)

● Mrs. America (Created by Dahvi Waller. 2020)

So, we can definitely say they have some field experience.

This course is strongly recommended for beginners in the fashion field. Bina and Pepo start off by presenting themselves and talking about their own influences, and later get deeper on the essentials all costume designers should know.

They talk about the differences between costume and fashion design, creative process and even about the specifics regarding all the positions of a costume design film crew (which is very useful and rarely talked about with great detail).

Bina and Pepo will also teach you how to interpret a script in a way that you can create your own original concept about the costumes that should be used. There’s also precious information about how to work within a budget and how to better spend the money available to you in each project.