TV/Film/Theatre Wardrobe Assistant

The Job and What's Involved

Wardrobe assistants help to make or source the costumes for theatre, TV and film productions.

The job might include:

  • Helping to make or assemble costumes.
  • Buying and hiring costumes and accessories.
  • Mending, altering, cleaning, washing, ironing, packing and storing costumes.
  • Organising and keeping records of outfits.
  • Fitting performers with costumes and accessories.
  • Making sure all items are ready when needed.

Sometimes wardrobe assistants also act as dressers for one performer or more, helping with costume changes during the performance.

Wardrobe assistants are often needed in an emergency, such as when a costume is torn and needs mending during a performance. During film and TV shoots they are also responsible for keeping detailed records for continuity and reference.

Wardrobe assistants work variable, often unsocial hours. During rehearsal periods work is mainly during the daytime. Within theatre productions they work before, during and after matinee and evening performances.

Hours in film/TV can vary from day to day, often with early starts and late nights, and possibly entail being away from home for long periods.

Some wardrobe assistants work part time.

Wardrobe assistants spend considerable time sitting down, sewing by hand or machine, often in cramped and hot conditions. There can also be a fair amount of running around when on location or on set.

Many wardrobe assistants start out by doing work experience without a salary, but get expenses and lunch provided, or a lunch allowance. Trainees may get around £30 a day in expenses.

New wardrobe assistants may earn around £10,000 a year.

Freelance rates can vary widely. Wardrobe staff may negotiate their fees based on the type of production and their own track record. The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) can provide current pay guidelines.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Most wardrobe assistants in theatre find their work in London and other major UK cities. There are also opportunities with film/TV production companies, touring artists and companies, and short-term work at festivals and concerts.

Vacancies may be advertised in The Stage weekly newspaper and on specialist job websites such as www.stagejobspro.com, www.broadcastfreelancer.com, www.pcrnewsletter.com and www.theknowledgeonline.com.

Applicants can also contact wardrobe supervisors at local theatres to enquire about possible work or work experience. Writing speculative letters and making contacts in the industry are very important.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements. The key to finding work is to get practical experience, perhaps through working as part-time or casual wardrobe staff with a local theatre or production company, or on a student production. Other possibilities are to work as a dressmaker, or for a theatrical costume hire company, or as a costume daily (temporary helper) on a film/TV set.

Competition is fierce, and many assistants will have gained a costume- related diploma or degree. Qualifications in history, English literature, fashion or textiles can also be an advantage.

Courses include:

  • City & Guilds (C&G) certificates and diplomas in media techniques, and design and craft covering various aspects of sewing.
  • BTEC National Awards, Certificates and Diplomas in production art, fashion and clothing (Levels 1 and 2).
  • HNC/HND's in fashion and textiles.
  • BTEC Level 5 Professional Diplomas in costume management.
  • Foundation degrees in fashion and costume craft, and art and design.
  • Top-up degrees in performance (costume and make-up).
  • Degrees, such as costume for the stage and screen.

Entry to a degree is usually with at least two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C), or the equivalent. For HNC/HND courses, entry is generally with at least one A level and four GCSE's (A*-C), or the equivalent. Candidates should check with individual institutions, as entry requirements vary.

Some drama schools and theatre training schools offer full-time courses in theatre wardrobe and many colleges offer part-time and evening courses in useful skills, such as sewing and pattern cutting.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this area or work.

There are also some apprentice-style programme's, such as the FT2 New Entrant Technical Training Scheme and the BBC's Design Trainee Scheme.

Some TV or film companies may advertise for a costume trainee for major productions.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Many wardrobe skills are learnt on the job, with instruction and guidance from the wardrobe supervisor or another experienced team member.

Wardrobe assistants need to develop their skills and knowledge, either by taking a short course or joining a professional association, such as The Costume Society.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A TV/film/theatre wardrobe assistant should:

  • Be highly organised.
  • Have good sewing, altering and ironing skills.
  • Have a good memory and an eye for detail.
  • Have a knowledge of costumes from different periods.
  • Have good communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Be calm and sensitive when assisting performers to dress.
  • Be prepared to work under pressure, and for long hours.
  • Be prepared to spend time away from home.
  • Have a full EU driving licence.
  • Have good ICT skills.

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Your Long Term Prospects

An experienced wardrobe assistant may gain promotion to wardrobe supervisor. Those working in theatre may need to attend some training or a short course to progress into film and TV work.

Some go on to work in costume design, to specialise in an area such as historical costume or to act as consultants in a particular field such as armour.

Get Further Information

Angels The Costumiers, 1 Garrick Road,
London NW9 6AA
Tel: 020 8202 2244
Website: www.angels.uk.com

BBC Recruitment HR Direct,
PO Box 1133, Belfast BT1 9GP
Email: careers@bbchrdirect.co.uk
Website: www.bbc.co.uk/jobs

Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph
and Theatre Union (BECTU),
373-377 Clapham Road, London SW9 9BT
Tel: 020 7346 0900
Website: www.bectu.org.uk

Creative Choices (Creative and Cultural Skills),
4th Floor, Lafone House,
The Leathermarket, Weston Street,
London SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1800
Websites: www.creative-choices.co.uk
and www.ccskills.org.uk

FT2 Film and Television Freelance Training,
3rd Floor, 18-20 Southwark Street,
London SE1 1TJ
Tel: 020 7407 0344
Website: www.ft2.org.uk

Get Into Theatre
Website: www.getintotheatre.org

Skillfast-UK, Richmond House,
Lawnswood Business Park, Redvers Close,
Leeds LS16 6RD
Tel: 0113 239 9600
Websites: www.skillfast-uk.org/justthejob
and www.skillfast-uk.org

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Tel: 0808 030 0900
Website: www.skillset.org

The Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD),
Fourth Floor, 55 Farringdon Road,
London EC1M 3JB
Tel: 020 7242 9200
Website: www.theatredesign.org.uk

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