Wardrobe Assistant

The Job and What's Involved

Wardrobe assistants help to make, find and look after the clothing and costumes used in theatre, film and television productions.

As a wardrobe assistant, you would work under the direction of a costume supervisor or wardrobe master/mistress. Your work might include:

  • Helping to buy and hire costume items.
  • Looking after the costumes between takes or scenes.
  • Mending and altering items.
  • Packing and unpacking costumes and accessories.
  • Cleaning and ironing.
  • Helping to make pieces and put costumes together.
  • Fitting the performers.
  • Making sure that all items are available when needed.
  • Keeping an accurate record of all items needed.
  • Storing costumes and returning hired items (known as 'breaking down' costumes).

In theatre, you might also act as a 'dresser', helping performers with costume changes during the show.

Hours can be long and unsocial, depending on the production's schedule. In film and TV, most of the work is in the daytime, but in the theatre wardrobe assistants normally cover evening performances and matinées, six days a week.

You might work in theatres, at film/TV studios, or temporary cabins if out on location. Working conditions backstage may be cramped and hot.

Wardrobe assistants tend to work on a freelance basis. Freelance rates can vary widely. You could negotiate your fees based on the type of production and your own track record. Contact BECTU for current pay guidelines for film and TV.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

You will need practical skills in hand and machine sewing, pattern cutting and dressmaking. You don't always need formal qualifications.

The key to finding paid work is to get practical experience, which you can get from:

  • Student theatre and film productions.
  • Amateur or community theatre.
  • Dressmaking.
  • Work for a theatrical costume hire company
  • Casual work as a costume 'daily' (temporary helper) on film and TV sets.

Some jobs are advertised in the national press, trade press and industry websites. However, it is common to find work through networking and word of mouth, and by listing your details in a crew directory.

Contact Skillset Careers for advice about work experience in film and television. Check the Creative Choices website for advice on developing your career as a wardrobe assistant.

Education and Training

You could build useful skills on college courses such as:

  • City & Guilds Certificates and Diplomas at levels 1, 2 and 3 in Creative Techniques – part-time courses, with options including for theatre costume and pattern cutting.
  • BTEC Level 2 Certificate/Diploma in Fashion and Clothing or Level 3 Certificate/Diploma in Production Arts (Costume) – courses may be full- or part-time.

You may have an advantage with a BTEC HND, degree or postgraduate qualification in costume design, fashion or textiles, especially if you want to eventually become a costume designer. You should check entry requirements with course providers.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

You will develop your skills on the job, learning from experienced wardrobe supervisors, costume makers and designers.

In film and TV, you may be able to receive apprenticeship-style training at the start of your career from new entrant schemes that are sometimes available from broadcasters such as the BBC, regional screen agencies or media training organisations.

Competition for places on such schemes is very strong, so you would need to prove your enthusiasm and commitment by building relevant experience before you applied. Contact Skillset Careers for information about any schemes that may be available.

You should keep developing your costume knowledge and skills throughout your career. To help with this, you could take short courses in various costume skills, or join a professional association such as the Costume Society. For relevant courses, see the Association of British Theatre Technicians website, or Skillset's database of media courses.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A wardrobe assistant needs:

  • Good sewing skills.
  • Creativity and style.
  • An understanding of design, fashions and period clothing.
  • A flexible and adaptable attitude.
  • Excellent attention to detail.
  • The ability to follow instructions.
  • Good organisational skills.
  • Calmness under pressure.
  • A calm, tactful and patient manner.
  • Good 'people skills', for working in a team.

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Your Long Term Prospects

Freelance contracts are much more common than ongoing full-time work, and competition for jobs is strong.

You would tend to specialise in either theatre work or film and TV, but you could cross over into the other area once you were established.

With experience, you could move into set design, production design or stage management.

Get Further Information

Association of British Theatre Technicians,
55 Farringdon Road, London EC1M 3JB
Tel: 020 7242 9200
Website: www.abtt.org.uk

Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph
and Theatre Union (BECTU),
373-377 Clapham Road, London SW9 9BT
Tel: 0845 850 2502
Website: www.bectu.org.uk

Costume Society of Great Britain
Website: www.costumesociety.org.uk

Creative and Cultural Skills, Lafone House,
The Leathermarket, Weston Street,
London SE1 3HN
Website: www.creative-choices.co.uk

Get Into Theatre
Website: www.getintotheatre.org

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

Skillset Careers.
Tel: 08080 300 900 (England and Northern Ireland)
Tel: 0845 850 2502(Scotland)
Tel: 08000 121 815 (Wales)
Website: www.skillset.org/careers

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