The Top 10 Costume Design Schools

9:30 AM 1/24/2020

by Cathy Whitlock

From USC to NYU, The Hollywood Reporter offers a guide to the best colleges and universities for learning the craft: "It goes to work with me every day, years after graduation."

Students at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts
Students at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts
Courtesy of Subject

While some designers forgo school in favor of on-the-job training, a costume degree is still a major plus. Intangible factors such as alumni groups and networking coupled with specialized courses, résumé-boosting experience on school theatrical productions, internships and post-grad job preparation are invaluable. “I still use all I learned at Tisch,” says three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Mark Bridges (Joker, Marriage Story), a Tisch School of the Arts graduate. “The way to work with a director and an actor and create character, color and line, all of it still goes to work with me every day, some 30 years after graduation.” For this list, The Hollywood Reporter consulted with costume designers and professors to choose 10 top schools based on curriculum, reputation, alumni success and networking opportunities.

  • California Institute of the Arts

    Valencia, California

    Founded in 1921 as Chouinard Art Institute, CalArts carries on the legacy of co-founder Walt Disney. Students can receive a BFA and MFA in Design and Production with a specialty in costume design, and it's fitting the school offers a Costume Design in Animation course, plus classes in 3D printing, digital sculpting, patterning and laser cutting. Via the Alumni-to-Alumni Peer Mentor Program, grads such as Nickolaus Brown (president of the Motion Picture Costumers IATSE Local 705) and Jessica Lawson (GLOW) help guide the next generation. Students work on on- and off-campus theater productions, including those at the school's production arm, the CalArts Center for New Performance.

    TUITION $26,425/semester, $52,850/year for Full-Time Undergraduate (BFA & Certificate), Graduate (MFA & Advanced Certificate), and Doctoral (DMA) programs

    ALUMNI Elaine Montalvo (The Walking Dead), Rita Ryack (Casino)

  • Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama

    Pittsburgh

    Emmy-winning CMU grad Daniel Orlandi (Ford v Ferrari) touts Carnegie Mellon for its collaborative atmosphere: "Working on [school] productions in different jobs helped me to learn to respect the actors and made me interested in what makes them feel comfortable in the part. What we do is not fashion and while sometimes it overlaps, it's all about the character." Orlandi also credits alumni networking as an integral part of his education that eventually landed him his first gig as Bob Mackie's assistant. "Now that I am well into my career, I will hire someone who went to Carnegie as we have a shorthand already." Undergrad and grad students learn marketable skills in tailoring, draping, dyeing and millinery work, and design several productions each semester. Internships are available at the Pittsburgh Public Theater and Opera companies, and the school's New Works Series also provides opportunities to boost portfolios.

    TUITION $55,816 (BFA); $36,300 (MFA)

    ALUMNI Ann Roth (upcoming Wicked), Eduardo Castro (Once Upon a Time), Terry Gordon (USC faculty, The Nanny)

  • NYU Tisch School of the Arts

    New York

    A sketch for 2019's 'Harriet' by NYU MFA grad Paul Tazewell; Tazewell (right) with Leslie Odom Jr. on the set of 'Harriet.'
    A sketch for 2019's 'Harriet' by NYU MFA grad Paul Tazewell; Tazewell (right) with Leslie Odom Jr. on the set of 'Harriet.'
    Courtesy of Paul Tazewell;Glen Wilson/FOCUS FEATURES

    Conveniently located in NYC — with its host of film, television and Broadway productions — Tisch offers classes that focus on collaborations with directors, designers and performers, as well as the chance to work on 150 productions a year. Professional internships (a requirement for third- and fourth-year students) and the opportunity to network with grads such as Mark Bridges, Paul Tazewell (Harriet), who earned an MFA at the school, and Gregg Barnes (Broadway's Kinky Boots) are a plus. In the third-year course Transitioning Into the Profession, guest lecturers cover contracts, taxes, financial planning and working with agents.

    TUITION $55,928 (BFA); $60,766 (MFA)

    ALUMNI Clint Ramos (Broadway's Torch Song), Katie Irish (The Enemy Within), Rachel Attridge (associate costume designer, Broadway's Ain't Too Proud), AC Gottlieb (associate costume designer, Broadway's Moulin Rouge! The Musical)

  • Savannah College of Art & Design

    Savannah, Georgia

    SCAD — which also has campuses in Atlanta, Hong Kong and Lacoste, France — is one of the first to offer an MFA in Themed Entertainment with an emphasis on costume design, and the department expanded with the hiring of Disney and Universal designer Sydney Bacenas as production design professor. Recent master classes have been taught by costume designers Ruth E. Carter (Black Panther) and Ane Crabtree (The Handmaid's Tale). "SCAD has its finger on the pulse," notes Crabtree, calling the vibe at the school full of "an artful, creative confidence." Students can access networking events at SCAD's Savannah Film Festival and aTVfest and find work post-graduation through the school's full-time, in-house casting office. Many students nab jobs in Atlanta's booming production scene while still in school.

    TUITION $37,575 (BFA); $38,475 (MFA)

    ALUMNI Layne Brightwell (costume supervisor, Ozark), Ivory Stanton (textile artist, Avatar 2 and 3)

  • UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television

    Los Angeles

    Under the helm of Deborah Nadoolman Landis (director of the David C. Copley Center for Costume Design), along with Emmy Award-winning costume designer Chrisi Karvonides, UCLA's TFT program offers one of the most comprehensive curriculums available anywhere, located in one of the world's best cities for filmmaking. "Students can work one-on-one with high-level design faculty," says Landis. The creative process is aided by the large number of production facilities and costume houses in L.A. offering summer jobs and internships. Guest speakers have included Oscar nominees Sandy Powell, Mark Bridges, Michele Clapton, Ruth E. Carter and Arianne Phillips. The new Museum Masterworks: Advanced Historical Costume class is vital for those who want to excel in period costumes, while the Swarovski Designer in Residence Program is where students meet with industry professionals who evaluate their spring projects.

    TUITION BFA: $16,245 (California residents); $45,999 (nonresidents). MFA: $29,520 (residents); $41,765 (nonresidents)

    ALUMNI Rebecca Guzzi (Ryan Murphy's Ratched)

  • University of Missouri-Kansas City

    Kansas City, Missouri

    UMKC — which offers an MFA degree in costume design and technology (taking only two to four students a year) with a conservatory training approach — has opened a new seven-room costume shop complex, which includes wig, craft and cutting rooms, and has added a digital rendering course. "Directors and producers find nothing more magical than designers who can actually draw something on the spot," says professor of costume design Lindsay Davis. "Grads are also encouraged to hire recent grads." Students are required to take six technical courses to prepare them for work with fabric artisans.

    TUITION Resident: $295 per credit hour; nonresident: $824 per credit hour

    ALUMNI Tom Houchins (Grey's Anatomy), Jonathan Knipscher (lead tailor, The Irishman)

  • University of North Carolina School of the Arts

    Winston-Salem, North Carolina

    Students at work in the costume shop at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
    Students at work in the costume shop at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
    Courtesy of Raunak Kapoor

    Tony- and Emmy Award-winning costume designer Paul Tazewell (HamiltonThe Wiz! Live) loved his undergrad time at UNCSA's School of Design and Production so much that he established a merit scholarship for designers of color. He credits the program, which offers a BFA and MFA in costume design, with preparing him for the 2019 film Harriet, with its extensive number of pre-Civil War costumes. "I learned how to organize a film of that size," he says, "as well as the approach to conceptualizing the period costumes." The design and production conservatory trains in a broad range of theoretical coursework from all genres, from contemporary plays, musicals, Shakespeare and the classics to opera, circus, dance, film and television. Students can participate in 26 theatrical productions and 10 student films in an 80,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art production space.

    TUITION BFA: $6,497 (North Carolina residents); $23,040 (nonresidents). MFA: $9,196 (residents); $23,203 (nonresidents)

    ALUMNI Stef Maus (Madame Secretary)

  • USC School of Dramatic Arts

    Los Angeles

    USC's BFA in Design guarantees a comprehensive experience in all the production disciplines (including scenic and lighting design and hair and makeup design). A low faculty-to-student ratio is attractive, as award-winning faculty (such as costume designers Terry Gordon and Christina Haatainen-Jones) mentor future designers. Students are exposed to production work as early as their first year. Its location in one of the entertainment capitals of the world is a plus as well. Grads have landed work on the series Outlander and on Black Panther.

    TUITION $57,256 (BFA)

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

  • Wimbledon College of Arts, University of the Arts London

    London

    Dance production 'Rebel Tartan' at Wimbledon College of Arts, with student-designed costumes.
    Dance production 'Rebel Tartan' at Wimbledon College of Arts, with student-designed costumes.
    Courtesy of Ali Wright

    Students at UAL often find work at the Royal Opera House, National Theatre, and Pinewood and Shepperton Studios upon graduation. Kevin Freeman, course leader, details, “Although we are one course, it’s important to highlight there are two pathways — Design and Interpretation — which makes us unique regardless of the pathway chosen. We aim to produce graduates that have a high technical ability, confident skillset and strong personal aesthetic.” Coursework includes bespoke tailoring, corset and tutu making, historical cut and construction, hand-finishing techniques, embroidery and digital printing. This spring, students will collaborate on a costume installation at London's celebrated Victoria and Albert Museum.

    TUITION $12,085 (U.K. residents); $29,946 (nonresidents)

    ALUMNI Joanna Eatwell (Carnival Row), Jane Petrie (The Crown), Trisha Biggar (The Wife)

  • Yale School of Drama

    New Haven, Connecticut

    Alum Donna Zakowska found that the school's costume department — part of the second oldest college-theater association in the country — prepared her well for costuming three seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. "The atmosphere was very intense, but forced great productivity — which you later learn is a very important part of succeeding in the industry, particularly on a project like Mrs. Maisel in which you are creating a great deal of original work in a short period of time," she says. Only four of 30 to 40 applicants are accepted to the MFA program each year. Students can participate in 25 annual theater productions, and new faculty include theater designers Toni-Leslie James and Oana Botez. "We have added many new classes to the costume curriculum," says assistant professor adjunct of design Ilona Somogyi, "balancing the pedagogy with more knowledge on the business end of the practice."

    TUITION $32,800 (MFA)

    ALUMNI Judianna Makovsky (Avengers: Endgame), Chrisi Karvonides (American Horror Story), Caroline Duncan (The Affair), Tom Broecker (Saturday Night Live), William Ivey Long (Broadway's Beetlejuice), Jennifer Rogien (Orange Is the New Black)

    A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.