Style Department

1. Costume Designer

Costume Designers start working on costumes for TV, theatre and films at the beginning of pre-production. They are in charge of designing, creating, acquiring and hiring all costumes for Actors and extras. This must be achieved within strict budgets, and to tight schedules. Costume Designers’ work is integral to defining the overall ‘look’ of films, and their role requires a great deal of expertise. Their creative work ranges from designing original costumes, to overseeing the purchase and adaptation of ready-made outfits.

As Head of the Costume Department, Costume Designers are responsible for staffing and for managing a team of skilled personnel. Costume Designers also supervise practical issues, such as departmental budgets and schedules, the organisation of running wardrobes, and costume continuity.

As an important part of the production team, a Costume Designer would be expected to work closely with the Production Designer to make sure the costumes fit in with their overall vision and that they work with the chosen lighting and camera angles. They would also collaborate with the hair and make-up team to make sure these elements complement each other and a cohesive look is created.

What is the job?

During pre-production Costume Designers break down scripts scene by scene, in order to work out how many characters are involved, and what costumes are required. They then begin the more complex task of developing costume plots for each character. These plots ensure that colours and styles do not mimic each other in the same scene, and highlight the characters’ emotional journeys by varying the intensity and depth of colours.

Costume Designers must carry out research into the costume styles, designs and construction methods which are appropriate for the productions’ time period, using a number of resources, including libraries, museums and the Internet. They may also discuss costume and character ideas with performers. They deliver initial ideas to Directors about the overall costume vision, character plots and original costume designs, using sketches and fabric samples. They also discuss colour palettes with the Director of Photography and the Production Designer.

Throughout the production process Costume Designers ensure that accurate financial records are kept, and that weekly expenditure reports are produced. They prepare overall production schedules, as well as directing the day-to-day breakdowns of responsibilities. Costume Designers select and hire appropriate suppliers and Costume Makers, negotiating terms with them, and communicating design requirements (on a smaller-scale production a costume designer would be involved in both the design and the making processes). They make sure that fittings for Actors and extras are arranged. They supervise fabric research and purchase, and ensure that garments are completed to deadlines.

Depending on the numbers of costumes to be created, and the scale of budgets, Costume Designers may decide to create a dedicated Costume Workshop. They should be on set whenever a new costume is worn for the first time, to make sure that performers are comfortable, to explain special features, and to oversee any alterations. Once filming is completed, Costume Designers are responsible for the return of hired outfits, and the sale or disposal of any remaining costumes. Durability and washability of garments also needs to be taken into account.

Costume designers may be required to work long hours; evening and weekend work may be involved when working to deadlines.

A typical starting salary for a costume designer may be between £13,000 and £18,000 a year, which could rise to around £28,000 a year with experience. Senior costume designers with considerable experience of the industry may earn over £35,000 a year.

Costume designers can be based in a studio, office or home-based environment when designing and making the garments. Travel to locations for TV and film productions is common and costume designers are often required to attend meetings at theatres or TV/ film production companies.

Typical Career Routes

The role of Costume Designer is not an entry-level position, and practitioners need considerable knowledge and experience in order to design for feature films.
Having first gained qualifications, many Costume Designers begin their careers as Costume Assistants or Wardrobe Trainees and progress through the Costume Department, learning from more experienced colleagues as they work their way up. Alternatively they may start their careers working for one of the large costumiers.
An experienced costume designer could negotiate a consultancy contract on a freelance basis. It is common for a costume designer to work in the areas of theatre, film and TV until they become established and specialise in one area.

Jobs may be advertised in the national press, trade publications and on industry websites but competition is strong and networking and word of mouth is the most common route to employment.

Essential Knowledge & Skills

It would be useful for someone considering a career as a costume designer to have some of the following skills and interests:

  • creativity, imagination and excellent design skills
  • good communication and organisation skills
  • good research skills and knowledge of costume history and modern fashion
  • good stamina and the ability to work under pressure to strict deadlines
  • highly organised and the confidence to motivate a team
  • able to put others at ease (when working closely with actors in a physical sense)
  • able to break down scripts in terms of costume plots, and have knowledge of story structure and character arcs
  • good garment production skills and knowledge of textiles
  • a wide-ranging cultural knowledge base
  • a full EU driving licence, as travel is often required

2. Make-Up Artist

Make-up Artists work on feature films and on some commercials and pop promos, working to the Chief Make-up Artist.  Make-up and Hair are key elements in the overall design of films or television productions, creating a look for the characters in relation to social class, and time periods, and any other elements required to create the desired illusion.  Make-up Artists should be experienced in using a wide variety of professional make-up products.  They must be able to work to make-up designs to meet production requirements.  They also work with facial hair, and may be required to affix any required small prosthetics.  They oversee make-up continuity on their performer(s) during the shoot, and remove products as required.   Make-up Artists are recruited onto films during pre-production and work throughout production, usually on a freelance basis.  The hours are long and the job can involve long periods working away from home.

What is the job?
Make-up Artists are briefed by Chief Make-up Artists, who provide them with detailed notes, character and scene breakdowns, and if necessary reference pictures about the characters they must create.  Occasionally they may only receive a rough brief, and must produce their own script breakdown, and research and create their own design notes.  They work on principal and supporting Actors, and depending on the schedule, usually look after several Actors throughout the shoot.  They are responsible for maintaining the continuity of their Artists’ “look”.  They must also carry out full risk assessments, and develop procedures to control risks.

On smaller productions Make-up Artists must be able to negotiate terms with appropriate suppliers and prosthetic makers, provide them with design specifications, and ensure that they deliver to specific deadlines.  They discuss colour palettes with Production and Costume Designers.  They make appointments for, and if necessary, go with actors to facial hair fittings, prosthetic castings, optician and dental appointments.  They ensure that actors are comfortable with their look, note any allergies or sensitivities and report them to appropriately qualified personnel.

Personal Make-up Artists are specifically requested by one of the principal Actors to work exclusively on their make-up, and they have autonomy within the department.  Although they receive a rough brief from the Make-up Designer, they prepare their own script breakdown, and research and create, and are ultimately responsible for, their own designs.  However, they must work within the overall design of each production.  Dailies work on productions on a day-to-day basis, usually on large crowd scenes.

In all cases, Make-up Artists check whether Actors have any skin conditions in advance, and make sure that any allergies or sensitivities are taken into consideration, and report them to the relevant Head of Department.  They apply make-up, affix prosthetics, apply products and use specialised techniques to create specific designs.  They work with facial hair and false pieces, such as beards and moustaches.  They may also apply special effects make-up, e.g., grazes, cuts and bruises, and bald caps.

Make-up Artists usually accompany their performers onto set, and stand by during their scenes, touching up make-up between takes, and ensuring that continuity notes are maintained using digital or polaroid photographs.  When the scenes have been shot, Make-up Artists remove performers’ make-up.  They remove facial hair and small prosthetics, ensuring that they are cleaned and prepared for further use.  Make-up Artists may be required to assist with any subsequent publicity shots.

Essential knowledge and skills
Make-up Artists must be self-assured, without appearing over-confident.  The ability to cope with stress, and a positive attitude are paramount, as they work long hours in pressurized, often cramped environments  The work can be physically demanding, as it involves many hours of standing or bending over Actors.  Make-up Artists work very closely with Actors in a physical sense and must therefore be tactful, sensitive, patient, and able to put people at their ease.  Creative problem solving and flexibility are essential, as is the keen eye for detail needed to oversee continuity.

Make-up Artists should be able to break down scripts in terms of Make-up plots for their Artists, and need an understanding of story structure and character arcs.  They must understand the research process, and be familiar with both period Make-up, and contemporary looks.  They should understand the overall look of the production and be able to re-create it.  They need a good eye for colour, and an understanding of the anatomy of the human skull and facial muscle structure.  They should have the artistic and technical skills, and manual dexterity, necessary for the application of make-up styles and effects.  Language skills may be helpful for foreign shoots, where the team may include local Make-up personnel.  All members of the Make-up Department are expected to have their own kits.

Key Skills include:

  • make-up skills including: straight corrective; glamour; period; ageing face, hands and neck; contouring effects; some specialised techniques such as making and applying bald caps; applying and dressing facial hair; creating special effects such as skin diseases, cuts, burns, scars; tattoos and body-painting;
  • effective communication and diplomacy skills;
  • excellent organisational skills;
  • good presentation skills;
  • ability to work effectively as part of a team;
  • ability to work under pressure to external and departmental deadlines;
  • good IT skills;
  • knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures.

3. Hairdresser

Hairdressers work on feature films and on some commercials and pop promos.  They liaise closely with colleagues in the Hair, Make-up and Costume Departments, as well as with Directors, Actors and extras.  They prepare performers’ scalp and skin and create hairstyles to suit production requirements.  They also work with wigs, hair pieces, and hair extensions and may be required to use chemical solutions, and to administer hair and scalp treatments as necessary.  They oversee hair continuity during shoots, and remove products as required.  Hairdressers are recruited onto films during pre-production and work throughout production, usually on a freelance basis.  The hours are long and the job can involve long periods working away from home.

What is the job?
Hairdressers are briefed by Heads of Department (either the Make-up and Hair Designer, or the Chief Hairdresser) who provide them with detailed continuity notes for the characters they create.   They work on principal and supporting Actors and, depending on the schedule, usually look after several Actors throughout the shoot.  Personal Hairdressers are specifically requested by one of the principal Actors to work exclusively on their hair, and they have autonomy within the department.  They liaise closely with the Chief dresser, and are responsible for breaking down the script, all hairdressing requirements, and monitoring the continuity of hair for their own Actor, throughout each production. They attend any wig and/or hair piece fittings with their artists.

Dailies work on productions on a day-to-day basis, usually on large crowd scenes.  In all cases, Hairdressers prepare performers’ hair and scalp in advance, note any allergies or sensitivities and report them to appropriately qualified personnel.  They wash, cut, blow-dry and style hair, apply hair products and use techniques to create specific designs.  They repair, alter and dress wigs and hairpieces.  Hairdressers usually accompany their performers onto set, and standby during their scenes, touching up hair and redressing wigs between takes, and ensuring that continuity notes are maintained by taking length measurements and Polaroid photographs.  When the scenes have been shot, Hairdressers wash out products from, and condition, performers’ hair.  They remove wigs, and ensure that they are cleaned and prepared for further use.  Hairdressers may be required to assist with any subsequent publicity shots.

Essential knowledge and skills
Hairdressers must be self-assured, without appearing over-confident.  Good communication skills, diplomacy, the ability to cope with stress, and a positive attitude are paramount, as they work long hours in a pressurised, often cramped environment, as part of a team.  The work can be physically demanding, as it involves many hours of standing or bending over Actors.  Hairdressers work very closely with Actors in a physical sense and must therefore be tactful, sensitive, patient, and able to put people at their ease.  Creative problem solving and flexibility are essential, as is the keen eye for detail needed to oversee continuity.

Hairdressers should be able to break down scripts in terms of Hair plots, and need an understanding of story structure and character arcs.  They must understand the research process, and should be familiar with both period hairstyles and contemporary looks.  They must be able to define the overall look of the production and re-create it.  They need the artistic and technical skills, and manual dexterity, necessary for the creation of styles and effects, using different products and techniques.  All members of the Hairdressing department are expected to have their own kits.

Key Skills include:

  • hairdressing skills including: cutting, waving, straightening, colouring, perming, setting, applying extensions, braiding, shaving;
  • altering, setting, dressing, and applying wigs and hairpieces;
  • effective communication and diplomacy skills;
  • excellent organisational skills;
  • good presentation skills;
  • ability to work effectively as part of a team;
  • ability to work under pressure to external and departmental deadlines;
  • good IT skills;
  • knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures, especially when dealing with different substances, materials, and scalp reactions;

4. Wardrobe Supervisor

(aka Wardrobe Master/Mistress)

Although Wardrobe Supervisors are often referred to as Costume Supervisors, the Wardrobe Supervisors’ role is actually a separately defined position.  In UK feature films they are normally only employed on larger-budget productions.  Wardrobe Supervisors start work on productions shortly before shoots begin.  They are responsible to Costume Supervisors and Designers.  Wardrobe Supervisors oversee the day-to-day running and use of the wardrobe on set (the ‘running wardrobe’).  They manage on-set staff, including Costume Assistants, Standbys and Dailies, arrange transport, oversee continuity, and ensure that all the equipment needed for costume maintenance is functioning correctly.  The role involves logistical planning, scheduling, management and organisational skills.

Responsibilities
Wardrobe Supervisors initially discuss films with Costume Designers, Costume Design Assistants and/or Costume Supervisors.  They refer to the continuity book for details of which costumes are needed for which scene, how many changes are required in a shooting day, and whether Costume Dailies should be hired.  Wardrobe Supervisors may be given responsibility for managing the wardrobe budget (for the purchase of clothing rails, washing machines, etc).

Supervisors may also be put in charge of crowd fittings.  They organise the transport of costumes to sets or locations.  They ensure that all items of equipment, e.g., sewing machines, steamers, irons, etc., are available and in working order, and that costumes are cleaned, ironed and ready for use.  They may need to carry out a risk assessment of the workplace, and draw up codes of practice to minimise the possibility of injury to persons working with potentially hazardous machinery or chemicals.

During the shoot, Wardrobe Supervisors ensure that all clothes are labelled, and laid out for dressing according to continuity requirements, and that accurate lists are kept of costume accessories such as jewellery.  They supervise the maintenance and cleaning of costumes during breaks, and between shooting days.  They oversee continuity, keeping up to date with any last minute changes in schedules or scripts.  They are responsible for wardrobe on all shooting units.  In some cases, second or third units may be shooting in different countries, and Wardrobe Supervisors must ensure that the correct doubles have been dispatched, together with copies of the continuity book.  After filming is completed, Wardrobe Supervisors manage the return of hired outfits, and the sale or disposal of any remaining costumes.

Skills
Wardrobe Supervisors must be highly organised and efficient, with a good memory and the keen attention to detail needed to oversee continuity.  They should be able to multi-task, and to analyse detailed information in order to prepare day-to-day schedules.  Wardrobe Supervisors have a number of people working for them, and must therefore have excellent leadership, management and motivational skills.  They also work closely with Actors in a physical sense, and must therefore be tactful, sensitive and able to put people at their ease.

Wardrobe Supervisors need to be adaptable, and able to deal proactively with last minute changes.  They must cope well with external deadlines, and be able to work on their own initiative.   They should be able to hand sew, in order to make any emergency repairs.  They must know how to dress Actors, and how to gauge clothing sizes at a glance.  Good computer skills (Mac and PC) are essential.  Language skills are useful for foreign shoots.  They should be familiar with the requirements of all relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures.

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