Costume Design High School: Building a Career

Being a great costume designer can be more about research than actually creating the costume. It is important to make sure that what you are creating makes sense with the show that you are creating for. Whether you are creating for film or stage, the costumes that the actors are placed in help tell the story about their character. They have to be as unique as the character that wears them. When a costume designer is building a costume, or a series of costumes for a character, they have to be aware of who the character is and what the story needs to be. The designer needs to be aware and open to what the writer and director are envisioning so they can capture the look and feel of every character.

Costume Designers need to be chameleons. They need to have a wide range of what they can create. A great designer needs to be able to change what they are creating to fit the show and production. Sometimes the simpler costumes are the harder ones because it is still the job of the costume designer to help tell the story. Costuming a show can mean fabricating masks or intricate props, building a heavily designed Elizabethan era dress, or planning how the character will build a "street clothes" look that will develop the character.

Watching from behind the scenes, a costume designer may not ever become "famous" but they will be able to enjoy their work as they see it. The reward from a great costume designer is being able to see the journey that their design makes from the page to the stage or screen. Designers get to see the fruits of their labor come to life. For some of the most iconic pieces in designing for the stage, costumes like the puppets from Disney's "Frozen" or Belle's yellow dress can become iconic. A designer is prepared to have their work stand as the star.

Costume designers have to have great communication skills. Not only do they have to be able to speak with the directors and creators of the show to make sure that they understand what the character has to portray, they also have to build designs based on what the character has to do. Creating costumes for a circus performer is a lot different than creating for a sitcom. Directors may want a design that calls for rigid lines, but also needs that performer to dance. Building strong communication is key to making it work.

Designers are generally fitting and working on the current costume that is being used right now while creating the costume that will be needed later. This helps develop really essential multi-tasking skills. Designers have to be open to mends and updates to costumes as the needs and elements change. Sometimes the best design will need to be scrapped because the practicality of the costume didn't work. The trick is to learn how to make drastic changes with grace.

At Encore High School in Southern California, the costume design department creates hundreds of costumes every year. The facility has a design room and an extensive costume library to be able to show off the talents of the young designer. As a designer at Encore, students graduate with a professional portfolio that helps them enter into a design program after high school with the extensive tools and knowledge to succeed. Designers from Encore are often offered scholarships and jobs upon graudation.

Designers get to work through a variety of shows during their high school career that stretch the limits of their imagination. They work with period pieces, circus pieces, dance pieces, street clothes, tour costumes, and everything in between. They learn how to sew, tailor, design, create, fabricate, mend, catalog, clean, and store costumes. They also learn how to build their own confidence and communication to share what they can do with the world.

The highlight of the year (besides seeing costumes come to life onstage) is the annual designer's showcase. This annual showcase give designers a chance to talk about their work as a designer in high school. The Designer's Showcase will resume in 2021 with the top designers and top costumes from Encore.

Designers interested in entering the Encore High School Costume Design program can choose between a traditional schedule (5 days per week) or a hybrid schedule where they are on campus to design two to three days per week and complete their academic courses online. Transportation is available from the Inland Empire (15 freeway and 215 freeway) and throughout the high desert.

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Petey the Pirate is the author of this blog for Encore Education Corporation. Part of Encore Education Corporation is Encore High School, a free public arts regional high school in Southern California grades 7 - 12. Encore's Costume Desingers arts program is currently taking applications for the fall 2020 enrollment. Where arts and academics grow together. WASC Accredtied. Copyright 2020.

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