Assistant Costume Designer

  • Assistant Costume Designer

The last stop on your way toward becoming a professional stage costume designer is to apprentice under a senior designer as an assistant. You are charged with keeping the logistics and creative chaos under control while the department churns out garments for a cast of two … or 200. 


Duties

The assistant costume designer works under the supervision of the senior designer and supports his or her work in a number of ways: script and costume breakdowns, helping produce and track the budget, and the majority of the research. During preproduction, the assistant costume designer oversees the organization and completion of tasks in the shop, leaving the costume designer free to create, sketch, and meet with the cast, director, or production staff. The scope of the assistant’s responsibilities vary based on the needs of the designer, but typically include managing the inventory of costumes and materials, scheduling fittings with the cast, and—when afforded the opportunity—serving as the primary buyer for rented costumes or accessories with the approval of the designer. When necessary, he or she is tasked with arranging the rental of equipment or tools and purchasing fabric. At fittings, the assistant may be encouraged to give creative input, and is responsible for taking notes for alterations, measurements and reference photographs. For chorus members and background players, the assistant may be given the creative latitude to select pieces and perform solo fittings.

Skills & Education

As an artist, you must have a strong personal aesthetic and impeccable creative talent. Though you won’t be sending your own designs out on the stage, the senior designer will rely on your judgment and good taste. You must be proficient at sewing, patternmaking, and the techniques of garment construction. A college degree in theatrical production with a concentration in costume design is encouraged; courses in fine art, art history, and literature are also helpful. More than making a pretty dress, you must have an understanding of dramaturgy to support your translation of a character’s clothing from script to stage.

What to Expect

The level of creative involvement in the design process will depend entirely on your professional relationship with the costume designer. Most often, the senior designer hires an assistant with whom he or she has worked for several years and on many productions. In cases where an assistant is thrust upon a designer, the learning curve for both individuals is high. Be gracious, be accommodating, and watch your boundaries. It is good to be proactive, but be considerate not to step on anyone’s toes. In time, you will learn what your supervisor expects and accepts. This is an apprenticeship role and should be taken as an opportunity to learn and observe under an established professional. Work as an assistant costume designer is the last step to graduation as a full-fledged designer.

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