Unscripted TV

Costume assistant

Also known as: Wardrobe assistant, Stylist assistant

Entry level

Costume assistant

What does a costume assistant do?

Costume assistants work for designers or costume supervisors. The types of outfits they help with depends on the types of production they are on. They could be assisting a designer or helping with the hire of dramatic costumes for an entertainment show; they might be purchasing clothes and accessories for a presenter or steaming and brushing clothes down for an expert on location. In these cases, they might be known as stylist assistants working for stylists.

Costume assistant roles can vary in seniority depending on the show. On many productions, this is the entry level role, where you may be required to research, source and purchase clothes, accessories or materials for your department; steam, mend or adjust outfits and run errands. Or you can find yourself working as a junior stylist assisting a lead stylist and looking after the appearance of guests or less central contributors. On some productions, assistants have a little more experience and are given more responsibility for key onscreen appearances. 

On big budget shows, costume assistants may be part of a team ensuring costumes or outfits are ready in time for fittings, rehearsals and recordings. Once shooting starts, they are often on set to adjust and maintain, and when filming is over, they assist with cleaning, repairs and returns.

Costume assistants are usually freelance, unless attached to large in-house art departments. They often will be requested by designers or stylists they’ve worked well with before.

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What’s a costume assistant good at?

  • Dressmaking and tailoring: be able to draw, sew, make, alter and maintain clothes and accessories, prepare outfits to look faultless on screen
  • Styling: understand the stylist’s or designer’s vision for a show, know what styles suit different people best and create the right looks with flair and creativity
  • Attention to detail: spot and deal with any design or styling flaws or issues during filming, keep the department organised and tidy
  • Knowledge of design: have a passion for fashion, the history of design and costume, an understanding of colour, lighting, pattern and texture, know where to source fabrics, accessories and outfits
  • Communication: work well with others, listen and respond to stylists’, presenters’ and contributors’ needs, be trusted and have good relationships with designers, PR and brands who may supply clothing or accessories

Who does a costume assistant work with?

A costume assistant works directly to a designer, supervisor or stylist, or all three, but they also work with everyone and anyone on the production, in particular the hair and make-up team, to ensure they all create a complete and coherent 'look' for any contributors featuring in a programme. They have contact with studio and technical staff, particularly sound when putting on and removing mics, and members of production, and have regular updates with the production management team regarding budgets and schedules.

How do I become a costume assistant?

Costume assistants are often the entry-level role in the costume department. Some start as runners, but others go straight in as costume assistants. To get in, you need to develop your craft. Build a costume portfolio, get in touch with costume designers and ask if you can shadow them on productions.

At school or college: 
If you want to go to university, A-levels or Highers in art and design, fashion, textiles, theatre studies, graphic design or graphic communication are useful. 

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you: 

  • 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
  • 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. They’re a great opportunity to earn while you learn. Some of the major broadcasters offer apprenticeships. Check out the schemes with ITV. If you can’t get an apprenticeship with a broadcaster, it might be worth trying to find one outside the TV industry, where you can develop your skills and your craft. You can then move into TV at a later point. 

These are the relevant apprenticeships that might be available throughout the UK: 

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 give you the skills you want. Go to where can I find an apprenticeship? to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region, or approach companies directly. 

Build a portfolio: 
This is essential. Go to build your costume portfolio for specific advice on ways of impressing admissions tutors and costume designers. 

Get a degree: 
You don’t need a degree to be a costume designer, but if you want one, you could have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in unscripted TV or search for “costume”. 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. 

Get work experience:

Try to get work experience by writing to local production companies and asking if they offer any. Keep an eye out for work experience opportunities at the BBCChannel 4ITVSky and the PACT Indie Diversity Training Scheme

Take a short course: 
Hone your skills in costume designing by taking a specialist course. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills to see if there is one in pattern cutting, millinery or embroidery. 

Network: 
Get to know people in the unscripted TV industry by attending events. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest in and knowledge of the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this. 

Network online: 
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there are Facebook pages or other social media groups for people making unscripted TV in your area. There might even be groups for runners and trainees. Join them. Create a ScreenSkills profile. There are a lot of crewing agencies that will charge you to be on their books. Sign up to the free ones initially. Wales Screen, Northern Ireland Screen and other areas offer free crew databases. Find a film office near you and get connected. If you do sign up to paid sites, make sure they specialise in the areas in which you’re interested. 

Search for jobs: 
Research unscripted TV production companies that you’d like to work for and watch the programmes that they make. Regularly check their websites and job listings websites to see if they are advertising for roles. Write to costume designers, send your CV and ask if you could work with them. StartinTV offers tips on creating your CV and attending interviews, as well as some advice for your first day working in TV.

You might also be interested in…

You might also be interested in being a costume designerproduction designerprop master or production buyer in the film and TV drama industries.

Further resources