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Costume and Wardrobe Specialists

At a Glance

  • Costumes range from modern fashions to medieval armor
  • Work closely with directors and actors
  • Sometimes have months off at a time
  • Often work long hours when preparing for a production
  • Have a bachelor's degree
  • Often work as freelancers

Career summary

Costume and wardrobe specialists design outfits for actors. These costumes express a certain time, place, or mood.

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Costume and wardrobe specialists work closely with production teams. These teams may be made up of directors, actors, makeup artists, and set designers. They work together to create outfits for:

Costume and wardrobe specialists study scripts to learn about the characters and what image the writer wants to portray. Costumes may range from contemporary fashions to medieval armor, depending on the production.

Costume and wardrobe specialists research the time period of the story. They learn about the fashion and accessories of people who lived during that time. Some film studios have large collections of costumes that specialists can use. If they cannot find the outfits they need, specialists design costumes and have costume technicians make them. At smaller film studios, costume specialists may rent, purchase, or make costumes to fit the script's theme. For filmmaking, costume and wardrobe specialists may need to provide clothes for the main actors and the extras.

Costume and wardrobe specialists work closely with the actors to determine how their outfits fit and if alterations are needed. They make notes or sketches about changes that must be made. Some specialists make the changes themselves.

The duties of costume and wardrobe specialists depend on the size of the budget and size of the production. In larger productions, specialists may supervise workers who do the alterations. They also may supervise dressers who set out the costumes and help actors change. In smaller productions, the costume and wardrobe specialist may be the only person in the costume department.

Related careers

This career is part of the Arts, Audio/Visual Technology, and Communications cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to costume and wardrobe specialists.

Common work activities

Costume and wardrobe specialists perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, costume and wardrobe specialists:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Costume and wardrobe specialists frequently:

It is important for costume and wardrobe specialists to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for costume and wardrobe specialists to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Costume and wardrobe specialists need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a costume and wardrobe specialist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Some costume and wardrobe specialists have a bachelor's degree or higher. Students major in areas such as theater or art for their bachelor's degree. Some get a master's degree in costume design. A broad background is helpful for costume designers to be successful. For example, you need to know literature, film and art styles, the costumes of various time periods, and the technical side of filmmaking.

Work experience

It is helpful to have experience working in theater. Participating in school plays and community theater is an important way to prepare for this occupation. Keep a portfolio with photographs of your work.

On-the-job training

Most costume and wardrobe specialists train on the job. Training typically lasts up to one month.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers prefer to hire costume and wardrobe specialists who have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Many require a bachelor's degree. Most employers, however, look for someone who has experience and success in the field. Producers are cautious of taking a chance on someone who does not have much experience.

Most employers look for costume and wardrobe specialists who have a background in their area of production, such as film, television, or theatre. Costume fabrics appear differently on stage than they do on television. Employers prefer specialists who know a broad range of costumes. They also look for someone with creativity and good communication skills. Costume and wardrobe specialists need to work well with others, especially when under the pressure of a production. In large productions, they may supervise costume technicians, design assistants, cutters, and sewers.

Costs to workers

Some workers in theatrical design may pay union membership dues.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Costume attendants (SOC 39-3092)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $12.88 $16.94 $23.40 $28.65 $54.82
Monthly $2,232 $2,936 $4,055 $4,965 $9,500
Yearly $26,790 $35,230 $48,660 $59,580 $114,020
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $14.94 $18.46 $24.41 $30.09 $58.75
Monthly $2,589 $3,199 $4,230 $5,215 $10,181
Yearly $31,093 $38,402 $50,781 $62,572 $122,192
    Vancouver Hourly $13.60 $15.59 $20.80 $29.26 $71.65
Monthly $2,357 $2,702 $3,605 $5,071 $12,417
Yearly $28,299 $32,431 $43,247 $60,855 $149,021
United States Hourly $9.82 $13.89 $19.80 $25.27 $37.32
Monthly $1,702 $2,407 $3,431 $4,379 $6,468
Yearly $20,430 $28,880 $41,190 $52,550 $77,630

Some costume and wardrobe specialists work as freelancers. They may work for a few months and then be off for a few months before their next job begins. This lowers the amount of money they earn over the year. Freelance costume and wardrobe specialists may have jobs in other areas to increase their income.

Wages vary by city and size of the production. Specialists generally earn more in larger cities. Costume and wardrobe specialists may be paid by the number of costumes, shows, or by the hour. If they are paid by the costume, they earn more for large productions. Some New York City dance companies and Broadway shows require that their workers be members of the United Screen Artists' union. The union sets wages for how much employees are paid. They also make sure that employees receive health and life insurance benefits.

Community theatres do not require their employees to be members of a union. As a result, wages are usually lower.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Costume Attendants (SOC 39-3092)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 46 8.7% 16.1% 11
    King County 34 11.8% 19.6% 9
    Spokane County 12 0.0% 13.9% 3
United States 6,700 4.5% 5.2% 1,600

National employment

Although there are theatres throughout the nation, most jobs are in larger cities where more theatres are located. Two of the cities with the most need for costume and wardrobe specialists are New York City and Los Angeles.

Major employers:

National outlook

The demand for new movies and live performances is expected to continue to increase. More costume and wardrobe specialists will be needed to outfit the actors for these productions.

Despite the growth in this occupation, it is very small and there will be very few job openings each year. Competition for these positions will be strong.

Other resources

Association of Sewing and Design Professionals (external link)
2885 Sanford Ave SW #19588
Grandville, MI 49418
Costume Designers Guild (external link)
11969 Ventura Boulevard, 1st Floor
Studio City, CA 91604
Costume Society of America (external link)
PO Box 852
Columbus, GA 31902-0852
National Endowment for the Arts (external link)
400 - 7th Street SW
Washington, DC 20506
Washington Filmworks (external link)
1411 4th Avenue, Suite 1000
Seattle, WA 98101


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Holland occupational cluster