Fashion designers are a huge part of our lives, although you might not have ever thought about it that way. What do we mean? Well, consider this simple question? Are you now, or will you at some point today, be wearing clothes? The odds are, you answered “yes” to that question, unless you live in a nudist colony situated in a tropical zone. And if you answered “yes,” then you are wearing (or will be) the product of a fashion designer. In fact, you’re no doubt wearing the product of several fashion designers. In all likelihood, you have on the handiwork of no less than five fashion designers at any one time, and possibly more than that.
So what do these people who are integral parts of all our existences actually do? Well, if you’re thinking about becoming one, you might know some of the job description, but there’s a lot more to being a fashion designer than what you might have seen on Project Runway. Today, we’ll look at the ins and outs, the nuts and bolts, and the whys and wherefores of fashion design.
Fashion designers design clothing, accessories, and shoes of all types. If you wear it, and it isn’t jewelry or electronic, a fashion designer is responsible. The world of style, each of our individual styles, exists only because a fashion designer thought up the clothes we all wear. We choose from the styles they create. And while each of us has our own sense of style, the choices we make are always informed by the designers we wear. Eric James Anderson’s blog entry, called “Fashion Careers,” will help you get an idea of the possibilities in the field.
Anyone thinking about getting into fashion design probably already has a well-developed sense of style, but if you’re just starting out, it can be helpful to take some time to cultivate your ideas about what works and what doesn’t. There’s a great online course in men’s style called “The Men’s Style Guide” that might be just the thing to get you thinking along these lines.
Where To Begin
Fashion design starts with ideas, and with design, so we’ll start there. Fashion designers have to have their eyes open. It isn’t enough to be able to spot trends—fashion designers must be able to predict them, to create them. Your number one priority is to look and learn. See what people are wearing, and what they look good in. Learn what has come before, and also how people feel about those old trends. Everything comes back in style eventually if you wait long enough, as they say. It’s corny, but it happens to be true.
So once you’re looking and learning, you’ll need to start thinking. Ay, there’s the rub. That’s the hard part, the thinking. First, you’ve got to come up with a concept, and then you’ve got to render it somehow, visually. Generally, we think of sketches as the fashion designer’s modus operandi, but renderings of this type can be done on a computer as well, in any number of design or real-time art applications.
Anyone who wants to get into fashion design needs to be able to draw the garments they see in their heads. Like sewing, drawing is a prerequisite skill for fashion design. You can’t get by without it. There are some great online courses in basic drawing technique, and this one, “The Secrets to Drawing,” is a great place to start.
As we’ve said previously, you will also need to be able to sew, and that’s another skill you just can’t fake or get around in any way. You need to be proficient with a hand-held needle and a sewing machine, in any and all possible fabric or other media. Even if you think you already know everything you need to know about sewing, it’s a good idea to practice and sharpen your skills if you plan to get into fashion design. A great online course to get you sewing and refining your craft is this one, “Sew Boutique Children’s Clothes For Fun and Profit.” Whatever path you choose to follow, you aren’t going to get better at sewing by sitting around, are you? Get sewing!
In addition to the sewing and drawing skills, fashion designers need to be creative (no surprise), have a good eye for colors, textures, and patterns, and be able to visualize things in three dimensions. After all, the sketch may look fine on paper, but if the garment makes you look like you were dressed by Omar the Tentmaker once you have it on, that sketch won’t mean much. Fashion designers need to understand how different types and weights of fabric will “wear,” and how they’ll work together in the ways that most people will combine them.
Fashion designers typically go to college for fashion design, and in particular, to a school devoted to just that, like the Fashion Institute of Technology, for example. A Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in fashion design is the best foundation, and in a fashion school, you’ll also study textiles, visual arts, marketing, business, and all the other areas that aspiring fashion designers might not think about when they start making their first sketches. Fashion design is a business, after all, not merely a creative pursuit.
You won’t need an advanced degree to get started, but be aware that many BFA programs take five years to complete, rather than the traditional four years for a BA or BS degree.
The Job Itself
Let’s start with the thing you probably wanted to know right away: the money. Yes, top fashion designers can make oodles of money, but like any creative field, you should be aware that most people who go into the fashion industry don’t end up as millionaires. Salaries can range from around $20,000 a year to start, with salaries climbing up to the low six figures once you become established and experienced.
Usually, a designer fresh out of school will begin working for an existing label, or for an in-house design team for a clothing company or retail chain. The hours tend to be long—don’t get into fashion design if you are envisioning punching a clock at 5 pm and going home for a casual dinner five nights a week. Usually, you learn on the job, since school can only do so much to prepare you.
Competition is generally pretty fierce for jobs in the fashion industry, and things can get pretty cut-throat sometimes. In that sense, the environment portrayed by Project Runway and other reality design shows is accurate. You’ll most likely need to relocate to a big city where opportunities open up: New York City and Los Angeles are the two meccas for fashion design in the US, and not coincidentally, those two cities are where most of the great design schools are located as well.
Types of Design Work
Designers can work in three basic areas, and you’ll get no extra points for figuring out which category most designers work in, at least at the beginning. At the top is haute couture, the sort of one-off creations you see on the reality shows, generally made for large amounts of money and demanding clients. This kind of fashion design is more like art than anything else.
A related type of design work is in the pret-a-porter, or “ready-to-wear” high fashion industry. These are the lines that famous designers sell in small quantities, available only through select outlets. These clothes are very expensive, and while each will not have been sewed by the designer, each bears the designer’s name.
And the third area is the largest: design for the mass-market, whether it is upscale for high-end mall stores or downscale for bargain outlets. This is where the bulk of the jobs in the industry are. Everyone needs clothes, and everyone wants to look good in them. Unless, as we said before, you are a nudist, in which case, you probably aren’t interested in a career in fashion design.
At the top of the industry are the “name” designers, those whose name appears on the label. Whether or not those designers actually designed the jeans you’re wearing is up for debate, since they all employ teams of designers, but you get the picture. If you want to become one of them, you’ll need to work harder than you ever thought possible, and probably a course like this one, “How to Start a Global Fashion Brand, Step By Step,” is a good place to get started with your plans for world fashion domination.
Whatever your reasons for getting into fashion design, and whatever your goals, if you pursue this dream, you’ll be working in such a way that your creativity benefits others. And there can’t be many higher goals than that!