Film and TV drama
Also known as: Wardrobe trainee, Costume assistant
What does a costume trainee do?
Costume trainees are at the ready with a needle, a cup of tea, an iron and a notepad. Their tasks vary depending on the scale of the production. They might carry out research for the costume designer or work with a costume assistant to detail requirements, photograph garments and note changes in the continuity book.
They are likely to help with setting up workrooms, ordering supplies and may help with pattern cutting or the ageing and distressing of costumes. They may be given specific responsibility for crowd fittings or packing costumes for overseas shipment to other locations or units.
During the shoot, they make sure the outfits are ready for the actors and help the standbys by making simple alternations. Or they might be asked to collect garments and supplies, clean and iron them or do returns for the designer.
Watch and read
What’s a costume trainee good at?
- Sewing: measure, cut fabrics, sew by hand and with a sewing machine
- Costume history: know period costume and contemporary fashion, be able to research using books, museums, the internet
- Watching film and TV drama: have a passion for the genre and a love of the industry
- Learning by watching and asking: be able to observe what’s happening and ask questions at the appropriate moments
- Reliability: get to set on time and do what’s asked
- Communication: put actors at their ease while in fittings or on set, listen to and explain to crew members
Tools of the trade
You will need some basic kit when you start working on a film set:
- Bum bag or small across body bag
- Black and white is a good start
- Pins and safety pins
- Tape measure
- Small scissors
- Notepad and pen
- Teams often communicate by WhatsApp
- Camera with digital card or phone with a good camera
- Waterproof jacket and trousers
- Walking boots or wellies
- Thermal clothes and lots of layers
Who does a costume trainee work with?
Costume trainees work with the whole costume team, including costume assistants on set, on costume trucks or at base. They might also be working with actors in crowd scenes.
How do I become a costume trainee?
Start by becoming a skilled garment maker. If you can cut fabric and sew, you will have something to offer the costume team. Once you’ve developed your skills, you need to get experience, make contacts and find your way into the industry. Get onto ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder scheme. This will help you make the contacts and build up the industry knowledge to get work in the art department of a film or TV drama.
At school or college:
If you want to go to university, A-levels or Highers in art and design, fashion, textiles, theatre, graphic design or graphic communication are useful. Or you might want to take the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:
- NCFE Applied General Certificate in Art and Design
- BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
- UAL Applied General Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design)
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Graphic Design)
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Photography)
- BTEC National Diploma in 3D Design and Crafts
- BTEC National Diploma in Fashion Design and Production
- BTEC National Diploma in Photography
- UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are jobs with training, so they’re a great opportunity to earn as you lean. It can be challenging to find jobs as an apprentice with production companies as many are not able to take on people for a whole year, which is an apprenticeship requirement at the moment. However, it might be worth looking for a job as an apprentice in an industry that uses similar skills, such as being a tailor for a clothing designer or tailoring company. This could help you develop your craft and create a body of work for a portfolio that you can use to find your way into film and TV drama at a later point.
These are apprenticeships throughout the UK that might be relevant to the role:
- Bespoke Tailor and Cutter (Level 5, England)
- Fashion Studio Assistant (Level 3, England)
- Leather Craftsperson (Level 2, England)
- Design (SCQF Level 5, Scotland)
- Fashion and Textiles Heritage (SCQF Level 5, Scotland)
- Costume and Wardrobe (Level 3, Northern Ireland)
- Design (Level 3, Northern Ireland)
- Fashion and Textiles (Level 2, 3, Wales)
- Design (Level 2, 3, Wales)
- Fashion and Textiles Heritage (Level 2, 3, Wales)
- Creative Craft Practitioner (Level 3, Wales)
In Scotland, you might be able to find degree-level apprenticeships through the following frameworks:
- Creative (SCQF Level 6/7, Scotland)
- Design (SCQF Level 6/7, Scotland)
Before taking any apprenticeship, check what you’ll be learning with your prospective employer and college, so you can be sure it will be giving you the skills you want. Go to how to become an apprentice to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region or approach companies directly.
Volunteer to do the costumes for student films or amateur theatre productions.
Build a portfolio:
This is essential. Go to Build your costume portfolio for specific advice on ways of impressing admissions tutors and costume designers.
Work at a costume rental firm:
This will help you to learn how to handle costumes and make contacts in the industry.
Get a degree:
It’s by no means essential. But if you want one, have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses in film and TV. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the film and TV industries.
Go to ScreenSkills’ events like Open Doors to meet people working in costume. Show them your portfolio and give them your number.
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there’s a Facebook page or other social media group for people making films or videos in your area. Join it. Create a ScreenSkills profile.
Become a trainee:
Get onto ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder scheme. Get the skills, make contacts and start working in a costume department.
You might also be interested in…
Being a costume assistant in unscripted TV. Working in studio shows and entertainment is different from working on the film set of a large period drama. Look at the job role to see which you think you might prefer.
- Costume Society
- The British Film Designers Guild
- The Production Guild
- Concept Art World
- PACT: Producers Alliance for Film & Television
- BECTU (the creative media union)
- Shooting People
- Soho Runners
- Production Base
- Screen Daily
- Women in Film and Television (WFTV)
Visual effects (VFX)
Involves making sequences on a computer that can't be created on set, like enormous crowds and fire-breathing dragons
Combines art with programming as well as production, design and testing - the UK’s fastest growing entertainment industry
Creates the illusion of movement, includes computer-generated, stop-motion and hand-drawn animation