Career profile: costumier

Jo Sims has provided the following profile with lots of hints and tips about how to get into the exciting industry of freelance costume making.

Job titles: costumier / costume maker, costume assistant, costume trainee, costume supervisor

Employer: freelance, but have worked for Hackney Music Development Trust, Red Production (Scott & Bailey Series 2), Scottish Opera and Sheffield Theatres.


  • Theatrical costume making – a non-accredited 15 week intensive practical course (Northern College of Costume, York, 2011)
  • MA Design Innovation Strategy (SheffieldHallamUniversity, 2001)
  • BA (Hons) Surface Pattern Design (University of Huddersfield, 1998)
  • HND Graphic Design (Nene College, 1993)

1880s bustle gown by Jo Sims
1880s bustle gown by Jo Sims [Image from]
 What does your role involve?

My work as a costume maker involves making up costumes under the guidance of the pattern cutter, assisting on costume fittings, and making alterations in time for the dress rehearsals. I’m also experienced in pattern drafting, draping on the stand, and some costume design (done on the course). As a freelancer I also have to be able to manage my time and be constantly looking ahead for the next project.

How did you get your job?

I did a two week work placement at Scottish opera in Glasgow straight after finishing a 15 week intensive costume making course. While there the ladies cutter/workshop manager gave my details on to a friend (a costume designer) who was working on an ITV drama in Manchester. I got in touch and met the Designer (Rhona Russell) after my placement and was offered a 16 week contract as costume trainee on the drama starting the next day! I think it was very much about having a direct contact and being in the right place at the right time. Following on from this I was recommended as a costume supervisor for Shadowball, a touring jazz opera, working with children aged 7-9 (by the Head of Wardrobe in Sheffield, where I’d volunteered one day a week for two months in 2010). I was then contacted by Scottish Opera who wanted me to work for them for 12 weeks, after being happy with me on my work placement. I also secured more work with Sheffield Theatres in November 2012 for pantomime and with Scottish Opera in 2013. So my few contacts have gone a very long way.

I do hope to gain work in New York though, so that’s where I’ll really have to push marketing myself.

How did your degree help?

Having a degree has helped me gain all my organisational skills (as well as the 10 years that I worked for e-learning companies after my Masters). It has helped time management, project planning, developed specific technology skills (Adobe PhotoShop, Illustrator, Flash, Dreamweaver).

The intensive costume making course taught me historical costume construction, pattern drafting, draping on the stand, sewing techniques, tailoring. The course covers a lot in 15 weeks because by the end of it I’d made an 1820 gents eveningwear costume – consisting of pantaloons, shirt, waistcoat and tailcoat; 1880s bustle gown – consisting of underwear (combinations, corset bustle cage, petticoat), foundation skirt, bustle apron, bodice and additional gloves and bag; 1940s ladies eveningwear. Because the course was practical we only had one day per project to research and come up with the designs. It was much more focused on practical skills rather than design and development skills.

What advice would you give anyone else wanting to get into costume design?

Placements are so valuable. At the time it seems really difficult working for nothing, but it has paid off so much with how much work I’ve got from 8 days volunteering (over 2 months) at Sheffield Theatres in 2010 and 2 week work placement (unpaid) at Scottish opera in Glasgow. Costume making in particular is such a small industry in that everyone knows everyone, so it’s really important to make the best possible impression rather than taint your career with a lack of enthusiasm.

Due to the nature of the work, unless you live in or near London, you’ll have to do a fair bit of travelling to get work, but once you’ve made your few initial contacts they do call you back for more work.

For more information see Jo’s website.