It takes countless numbers of people to stage a film or theater performance, and many of them are never seen by audiences in the finished product. A costume designer is one of those people who work behind the scenes. A costume designer is the individual who is responsible for creating or procuring the wardrobe and prop items that are essential to the outfits of the characters in the performance. A costume designer strives to capture the personality or social status of a character, but also strives to design costumes that remain in tune with the ambiance and time period of the performance.
Costume designers design costumes with several things in mind, depending upon whether the garments are to be used for stage or film productions. Costumes designed for theatrical productions that will run for a long time, a Broadway show for example, need to be durable and washable. Theatrical costume design must have a good appearance under stage lighting, and allow the actor or actress to change costumes quickly, if needed. Costume design for film takes some of these qualities into consideration, but film costume design often requires the garments to have more intricate detail and has less of a need for quick-change options.
A costume designer is typically hired in one of three capacities: A freelance designer, a residential designer or as an academic designer. A freelance costume designer is hired per project and is often not exclusively obligated to work on one production at a time. A residential costume designer is hired exclusively by one theater or company to work on their costumes and run their costume shop. Academic designers tend to be professors at institutions of higher learning in addition to creating and maintaining costumes for the school's theatrical productions.
A costume designer does not just design costumes, however. They also work closely with hair and makeup specialists to realize a director's vision of a character. The field of costume design is considered a unionized field, represented by both the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees as well as United Scenic Artists. Not every production company has a contract with these unions, and many designers are not unionized, although nearly every major ballet, opera and film company uses union workers.