The costume department is responsible for finding, creating or hiring the costumes for every character on screen. To work in costume you must have a deep understanding and interest in fashion and clothing history, design and trends in order to make a film or TV show both believable and visually interesting. It is incredibly important for the actors to feel not only physically comfortable in the costumes they wear but emotionally connected to the character by donning that costume. Sometimes the costume department will have to come up with creative solutions to technical issues, for example, concealing a bag of special effects fake blood, or hiding a battery pack for microphones. The department is led by a costume designer who oversees assistants, supervisors, dressers and trainees or runners.
Skills needed to work in props
- a passion for clothing and costume
- set etiquette
- attention to detail
- sewing and sewing machine experience
- photography skills, including digital photography and airbrushing
- knowing how to dress actors in different period styles
- ability to gauge clothing sizes at a glance
- dressing for different bodies and faces
- tact and sensitivity
Ways into the costume department
No specific qualifications are needed to work in costume, but many in the costume department will have a degree or qualification in fashion, costume design or performing arts and design. However practical experience is key and there are apprenticeship-style programmes such as the FT2 New Entrant Technical Training Scheme that can prove helpful. Runners may find work by approaching designers they admire and asking for work experience on set.
Costume assistants may have previously worked at large costumiers companies. Vocational qualifications in practical sewing skills, such as ABC qualification, or City and Guild awards in textiles many be useful.
Jobs in props
The costume designer is the head of the costume department and must work with other departments to create the look and feel of a production, based on the director's brief. They are in charge of designing, creating and hiring costumes for actors and background extras. They must be able to express creative views and have input into the design of the film or TV show. This can include research, arranging fittings and working with cast members to help them feel comfortable in their characters.
Costume design assistant
Costume design assistants work with costume designers to break down the script and assess the costume needs of every character. They research costume styles, designs and construction methods using the internet, archives and museums. They work on the department budget, estimating costs of staff and resources and may be involved in sourcing and buying costumes, accessories and fabric swatches. They may oversee fittings or be given responsibilities for taking specific actors measurements.
Supervisors oversee the day-to-day use of the wardrobe on set and plan for coming days or weeks. This includes organising schedules and transport and checking continuity. They may be required to organise and arrange costume hire and petty cash purchases. A very important role of the costume supervisor is to oversee the washing and repair of the costumes, as they are often heavily used through the day and star to wear and tear.
Dresser or costume standby
A dresser is present at all times on set to monitor the quality and continuity of the costumes before and during takes. They may be the only member of the costume team on set during shooting, so they hold a lot of responsibility.
Runners assist the costume department and personnel and dress background artists. They may also make costume purchase returns.
Some other job roles in craft
Choreographers and dancers are hired by studios or production companies to create routines for films and TV shows, and dancing doubles may be used in filming
Casting directors are responsible for finding the right actor for a role and are helped by casting assistants who themselves often start out as runners
Make-up and hair
Expert make-up, hair and prosthetics are vital to creating realistic characters and most hair and make-up artists start as assistants and learn on the job