Build your costume portfolio

To get a job in costume you will need to show examples of your work to demonstrate you have the skills, knowledge and creativity required. You’ll need to put together a collection of work to show what you can do. This is known as a portfolio.

You can build up a collection of work from any projects for which you’ve designed or made costumes. This might have been for theatre or short films, for costume hire companies or from a degree course you’ve done. You might also work with photographers, models and makeup artists on collaborative pieces which you can all use for your portfolios known as ‘testings’. Over time, you will build up a strong collection that you can adapt when you apply for jobs.

What to include in a costume portfolio

Your portfolio can include mood boards, sketches, final designs and fabric samples. Include pictures of the finished garments on mannequins or in use.

You should focus on quality, not quantity, so you don’t have to include every sketch you’ve ever done. Collect the work which best shows your skills and ability. Include a minimum of ten pages, but no than twenty. Try using two pages for each job or project you’ve done, or four if it’s a big one. Edit your portfolio for different interviews to keep it relevant to the job.

You need to demonstrate:

  • Originality: show you’re aware of old and new fashion trends and find creative ways to use them.
  • An artistic eye: show you’ve got an eye for texture, colour and composition and can approach these creatively.
  • Sewing skills: show you can sew by machine and hand. This includes skills from sewing on a button or hemming trousers to creating a well-constructed corset.
  • Variety: show work that covers a range of styles and different types of garments. If you’ve created multiple looks for the same project, include some of these. This will show you can work within a theme. But make sure you still show range with your work. Don’t include the same garment in multiple colours, for example.

How to present your costume portfolio

Create a free website where you can upload your best work. You can link to this in a CV or cover letter. If you find you don’t have many final images to upload then you can add sketches to this. Make sure the website can load pictures quickly.

Here are some popular sites you might want to use.

You should also have a hard copy of your portfolio that you can take to interviews and meetings. Use an A3 hardcase portfolio which zips shut. (Cheaper variations like flip files are also available at good art supply stores and work just as well.) This will be a useful resource on which you can base conversation about your work. The hard copy is more likely to be where you will include sketches, early designs and fabric samples.

Presentation tips:

  • Mount your work. Use black cardboard.
  • Make sure it’s neat. Don’t use creased or stained pages.
  • Never have empty pages.
  • Use high quality copies of your work.
  • Lay it out simply and keep it consistent. The layout needs to be fluid but not confusing. Including a few smaller pictures on a page can help to show more work but don’t include more than three on one A3 page. If you have less material for a piece, just include one big picture.

What else to bring to an interview

As well as the hard copy of your portfolio, bring just one garment that you have worked on with you. You can include pictures of others in the portfolio. You should pick one that shows as many of your skills as possible. A simple pair of trousers or a skirt can demonstrate buttons, hemming, zips, neat seams and accurate top stitching.

Remember it doesn’t have to be an elaborate Elizabethan costume to show skill and competence.

More inspiration

If you’re looking inspiration for designs to include in your portfolio try researching at local museums and at the V&A in London. You might also want to have a look at the following websites: