The Top 10 Costume Design Schools

6:00 AM 2/18/2019

by Cathy Whitlock

The Hollywood Reporter offers a guide on the best, from USC to Wimbledon, for learning the craft and becoming a "sleep-deprived costume design machine."

Deborah Nadoolman Landis (right), endowed chair and director of the David C. Copley Center for costume design, with a student.
Deborah Nadoolman Landis (right), endowed chair and director of the David C. Copley Center for costume design, with a student.
UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

Legendary costume designer Edith Head once noted: "Fashion is a language: Some know it, some learn it, some never will." No doubt the eight-time Oscar winner, who attended Chouinard Art Institute, would be amazed at the technological changes in the field — a BFA or MFA degree certainly can help with keeping up. THR consulted with leading costume designers and professors for a breakdown (not ranked) of the top 10 schools for film and TV costume design.

  • California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)

    VALENCIA, CALIFORNIA

    Courtesy of CalArts

    This progressive fine arts school, formerly the Chouinard Art Institute, got its initial backing from Walt Disney; Tim Disney is chair of the board of trustees today. While cos­tuming Kristen Wiig, Last Man on Earth's Sandra Burns followed a teacher's advice and put her in "long flowy robes, high heels to make her off balance, and a color palette of creams and whites," Burns recalls, "a most impractical choice when trying to survive the end of the world." Innovative programming includes experience design, for themed entertainment and immersive experiences, as well as costume in animation — an emerging career field — with a class for animators and costume designers to collaborate.

    TUITION $48,660 (BFA, MFA)

    ALUMNI Bob Mackie (The Cher Show), Ariel Boroff (key costumer, Station 19, Superstore), Sandra Burns (The Cool Kids, Last Man on Earth)

  • Carnegie Mellon School of Drama

    PITTSBURGH

    A costume sketch class at Carnegie Mellon.
    A costume sketch class at Carnegie Mellon.
    Carnegie Mellon School of Drama

    While far from the backlots of Hollywood, Carnegie Mellon offers students both theoretical approaches and hands-on experience with 20-plus theatrical productions a year. Ann Roth, who costumed Meryl Streep in The Post, has put her CMU lessons to good use in a storied career with three Tony nominations in 2018 alone (at age 87).

    TUITION $54,244 (BFA); $35,030 (MFA)

    ALUMNUS Eduardo Castro (2012Ugly Betty)

  • Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)

    SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

    Courtesy of Savannah College of Art and Design

    The curriculum includes costume design for sitcoms, single-camera dramas and films, with study-abroad options at Lacoste, France, or Hong Kong campuses. Due to increased filming in Atlanta, students work on local- and student-made films and TV series. The SCAD Casting Office, the only one of its kind, translates into a 100 percent employment rate for grads, “from crafting the wings of Lady Gaga to hat making for Julie Taymor's newest film,” says Jamie Britsch, SCAD associate director. Master classes by Ruth E. Carter (Black Panther) and Ane Crabtree (The Handmaid's Tale) provide top-notch networking.

    TUITION $36,630 (BFA); $37,530 (MFA)

    ALUMNUS John-Ross Winter (costume maker, Lady Gaga)

  • Tisch School of the Arts

    NEW YORK

    Courtesy of NYU Tisch School of Design

    Students learn from pros in film, TV and Broadway, along with technique courses taught by master craftspeople. Tisch excels in theater costume design as scores of graduates have found costume-design success both on and off the Great White Way. Grad Brian Bustos went on to create over-the-top gowns (with Mackie) for The Cher Show: "My favorite is a beaded, nude mesh dress with white feathers, one of the most expensive and labor-intensive dresses in the show."

    TUITION $58,000 (MFA)

    ALUMNI Katie Irish (The Americans), Paul Tazewell (Jesus Christ Superstar, Hamilton), Gregg Barnes (Broadway’s Mean Girls), Mark Bridges (Phantom Thread)

  • UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

    LOS ANGELES

    Courtesy of UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

    With the industry at its backdoor, UCLA TFT has been a costume design powerhouse with industry champion Deborah Nadoolman Landis, endowed chair and director of the David C. Copley Center and Emmy winner Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko, at its helm. Students benefit from lectures by notables such as Cate Adair (Man in the High Castle) and Laura Jean Shannon (Black Lightning), who participated in a panel on superhero costumes. Visiting profs often find their next assistant at the Swarovski Designer in Residence mentoring program. “UCLA Costume Design provides students with new digital platforms for budgeting and script breakdown, tech tools in preparation for current design practice,” says Landis. MFA grad and Showtime’s Ray Donovan assistant costume designer (seasons two and three) Anita Cabada reflects, “The [show's] characters are quite Shakespearean, and I drew on my time at UCLA where I learned to look at characters from a theatrical point-of-view. I was taught how to use color and texture to … hit the audience in a quick visual read while still carrying depth.”

    TUITION BFA: $15,775 (California residents); $44,767. MFA: $28,437 (residents) and $40,682

    ALUMNI Rebecca Guzzi (assistant costume designer, Feud: Bette and Joan), Samantha Kuester (upcoming feature Elyse)

  • University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC)

    KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

    Courtesy of University of Missouri-Kansas City

    The philosophy of UMKC’s program is that design and technology cannot be separated, which forms the basis of the MFA degree in costume design and technology. This translates into an emphasis on drawing, painting and sketching along with salable skills learned during courses on how to construct a garment with current techniques in fabric manipulation, millinery, tailoring and pattern drafting. The Greatest Showman's lead tailor Jonathan Knipscher says, "Running a shop of several tailors, pattern makers and milliners for a large movie like this can be stressful, especially with an ever-evolving schedule. UMKC taught me to deal creatively with these struggles, be calm and come up with the best solution in the moment." The program takes only two to four costume design aspirants a year, assuring one-on-one attention.

    TUITION BFA: $6,418 (Missouri residents); $16,502. MFA: $8,573 (residents); $20,676

    ALUMNI Tom Houchins (costume supervisor, Grey's Anatomy), Douglas Enderle (costume designer at Walt Disney Creative Entertainment) 

  • U. of North Carolina School of Arts (UNCSA)

    WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA

    A UNCSA millinery class.
    A UNCSA millinery class.
    Courtesy of Subject

    "The design and production program has such high standards that it's become second nature for me to try to make the best choices, even under duress," says 2007 grad and Madam Secretary costume designer Stef Maus. Students can design for the school's nearly 30 theater, opera, dance and film productions each year. Says dean Michael Kelley, "UNCSA costume technology grads are the next generation of makers for all of these fields."

    TUITION BFA: $6,497 (North Carolina residents); $22,640. MFA: $8,796 (residents); $22,640

    ALUMNI Margaret Robbs (The Romanoffs), Paul Tazewell (upcoming Harriet Tubman biopic Harriet)

  • USC School of Dramatic Arts

    LOS ANGELES

    Courtesy of USC School of Dramatic Arts/Chris Shinn

    Not every school offers a class in corset construction (tip: whalebone has been replaced by grommets and laces). Benefiting from close proximity to the studios, students receive one-on-one guidance from a faculty of award-winning pros where the student-to-faculty ratio is desirably low.

    TUITION $55,320 (BFA)

    ALUMNI Chloe Ji Yoon (assistant costume designer, Black Panther), Sara Fox (key costumer, Disney’s The Mandalorian)

  • Wimbledon College, University of the Arts

    LONDON

    Courtesy of University of the Arts London/Arnhel de Serra

    If the thought of studying in the land of period costume design appeals, University of Arts London is the place. With a Hons (BA) in costume for theater and screen, the school focuses on historical research, coupled with new methods of production. Says costume designer Janie Petrie (The Crown), "I left with making skills that helped — I made one of the Queen Mother’s hats the night before we shot it, and Jackie Kennedy’s cape for Buckingham Palace on my lunch break the day we shot it." Says UAL’s John Wallace, it’s all about “understanding the past in order to inform the future,” as exemplified by UAL’s focus on historical research and methods of cut and construction, coupled with new methods of production.

    TUITION $25,400 (BFA)

    ALUMNI Trisha Biggar (The Wife), Joanna Eatwell (Taboo)

  • Yale School of Drama

    NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT

    Yale School of Drama alum Donna Zakowska's costume design for 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.'
    Yale School of Drama alum Donna Zakowska's costume design for 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.'
    Courtesy of Amazon Studios

    Working with Yale School of Drama students — the next Meryl Streep, Frances McDormand, Henry Winkler or Liev Schreiber, who are all graduates — is just one of the many pluses of getting an MFA costume design degree at this prestigious school. Emphasis is placed on theater with a faculty of professional designers teaching students to become "complete theater artists," says assistant professor of design Ilona Somogyi. American Horror Story's Chrisi Karvonides says the "rigors of Yale shaped me — AHS storylines are created at such a rapid pace and the training from Yale gave me the ability to wing it as scripts arrived at the eleventh hour." The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's Donna Zakowska concurs: "Yale forces you to question how you will strive to achieve a high design standard. To a degree, you become a very sleep-deprived design machine, which is perfect for designing a period series."

    TUITION $31,800 (MFA)

    ALUMNI Judianna Makovsky (Avengers Infinity War: Endgame), Tom Broecker (Saturday Night Live), William Ivey Long (Tootsie: The Musical)

    A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.