What you need: Fashion designers are not required to have a certain level of education, although a high school diploma or its equivalent is helpful when applying for entry-level positions. Most designers do find formal education in the field valuable, though, and attend a two-year or four-year degree program in fashion design or an affiliated subject. Internships and apprenticeships also provide useful experience.
What you study:
Design school classes range from the esoteric to the practical. Some classes offered may include:
- Fashion History
- Art History
- Design Philosophy
- Textile Studies and Applications
- Computer-Aided Design
- Product Development
- Color Theory
A short overview of the clothing designer career. Created for the US Department of Labor.
A Day in the Life
Despite what movies suggest about late nights and glamorous lifestyles, your day as a fashion designer begins as early and prosaically as any office worker's. In fact, if you work as an in-house designer for a major department store or apparel line, you may spend your day in an office, albeit one with sewing machines and dress forms. As you eat your breakfast, you'll review notes you've set down in your design journal, read your email and check your calendar. Where you go next depends on your role.
If you're self-employed, your office may be no farther than the next room. It's rare that you'll have a day devoted purely to design even if you work for yourself. You're your own marketing team, buyer and head of sales, so your calender is usually full. You have a meeting at a local boutique this morning to showcase your samples. With luck, the owner will place a wholesale order after seeing your designs. Because you've done your homework about the boutique, you feel confident about the samples you're showing and are fairly sure you'll be a good fit for the shop's clientele.
After your meeting with the boutique owner, you have an appointment with one of your private clients. She's attending an evening wedding and wants something formal yet subdued enough that it won't upstage the bride's gown. You've allotted an hour-long meeting with her to discuss details about flattering design elements, color and style while taking measurements for a custom fit. Your job may be to design and sew wearable works of art, but it's rooted in good customer service.
The rest of the afternoon is yours, but you don't spend it lounging; you have a runway show coming up in two weeks, and you have much left to do. Adding finishing touches to your collection, choosing the music, contacting an agency to find models and coordinating accessories will take time and good organizational skills.
As an in-house designer, your day begins when you get to the workroom. You probably share space with at least one other designer. If you're an entry-level in-house fashion designer, you may work in a common area with half a dozen other artists. You'd like to pick up where you left off yesterday with next year's fall line, but your first order of business is checking the factory samples that came in overnight. Comparing them to your design team's efforts, you're satisfied that the off-the-rack sample versions capture the essence of the original designs. You sign off on the samples, sending them up the chain of command for final approval.
The next hour of your day is spent in a design meeting. The head designer wants input from you and other in-house designers on translating a trend toward formal fabrics and feminine design elements for your brand's sporty image. Together, you build an inspiration board, develop a color story and create the first sketches of what will become the collection's look book. You're part of a large team, so although you may work with the people who order fabric lots and sew samples, you aren't the final step in the process as you would be in your solo career.
Whether you work for a couture house, an off-the-rack department store brand or yourself, your days are long. Art takes time to create, more so when you must also tend to the practical side of creation. Meetings, phone calls and email may take up more of your day than draping, fitting and sewing. Even after hours, you're still on the job in a sense because everything you experience can become your inspiration. It's part of your job to visit art galleries and scan fashion blogs to give your creative impulses fresh ideas, so you plan a museum excursion for yourself over the weekend.
Certifications and Licensing
Fashion designers do not require licensing or certification. However, designers who work from home may need to obtain a business license; this requirement varies by state. Certifications for special skills such as leatherworking or completing a master sewing course may give designers greater credibility with some employers.
Full-time versus part-time:
Long hours and weekend work are typical for fashion designers, especially those who are establishing their own businesses. Meetings are often at a client's convenience instead of the designer's, and overseeing shipments from international suppliers may require long phone calls irrespective of time zone differences. Although the hours are long, the career does allow some flexibility within them; a designer can set aside one challenging project for another task fairly easily.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Fashion Designers – For a broad overview of fashion design and what it entails, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is a good place to start. Visitors will find information on average salaries, educational requirements and projections of future demand for the job.
- Council of Fashion Designers of America – This not-for-profit professional organization invites established designers to help advance the cause of fashion as art and culture. While the CFDA does not offer open membership, its website is an essential resource for prospective designers seeking design news, scholarship information and guidance from industry leaders.
- National Association of Schools of Art and Design – Students looking for guidance on choosing a design school will find a list of accredited colleges and universities as well as information on the accreditation process. The FAQ for parents and students is an especially useful resource. NASAD also offers a number of publications that can help students further their fashion education.
- Association of Sewing and Design Professionals – Those who have a keen interest in the craft of fashion as well as the art of it will find a wealth of information from the ASDP website. Get career guidance, connect with other sewing professionals and explore certification programs at this site designed for people at all levels of the fashion industry.
Salaries by City
See typical salaries and ranges for this career below*. Shift click to sort by more than one column -- for example first shift-click on state and then shift-click on salary to find best and worst salaries in each state.
|State||City / Region||Typical Salary||Salary Range||Job Count||% of All Jobs|
|CA||Los Angeles - Long Beach - Glendale (Metro Area)||$64,980||3,200||0.08%|
|CA||Oakland - Fremont - Hayward (Metro Area)||$69,270||N/A||N/A|
|CA||Riverside - San Bernardino - Ontario||$55,850||140||0.01%|
|CA||San Diego - Carlsbad - San Marcos||$64,740||130||0.01%|
|CA||San Francisco - San Mateo - Redwood City (Metro Area)||$66,780||380||0.04%|
|CA||San Jose - Sunnyvale - Santa Clara||$47,850||N/A||N/A|
|CA||Santa Ana - Anaheim - Irvine (Metro Area)||$53,830||570||0.04%|
|CO||Denver - Aurora - Broomfield||$47,920||50||0.00%|
|DC||Washington - Arlington - Alexandria (Metro Area)||$40,990||40||0.00%|
|FL||Miami - Miami Beach - Kendall (Metro Area)||$73,780||70||0.01%|
|GA||Atlanta - Sandy Springs - Marietta||$59,890||110||0.00%|
|MA||Boston - Cambridge - Quincy (Metro Area)||$50,410||40||0.00%|
|MD||Baltimore - Towson||$63,990||N/A||N/A|
|ME||Portland - South Portland - Biddeford||$82,690||40||0.02%|
|MN||Minneapolis - St. Paul - Bloomington||$71,240||140||0.01%|
|NC||Greensboro - High Point||N/A||70||0.02%|
|NJ||Edison - New Brunswick (Metro Area)||$56,610||N/A||N/A|
|NY||Nassau - Suffolk (Metro Area)||$70,260||130||0.01%|
|NY||New York - White Plains - Wayne (Metro Area)||$66,650||7,280||0.14%|
|OH||Cincinnati - Middletown||$42,080||40||0.00%|
|OR||Portland - Vancouver - Hillsboro||$56,810||120||0.01%|
|PA||Allentown - Bethlehem - Easton||$52,580||50||0.01%|
|PA||Philadelphia (Metro Area)||$52,790||90||0.01%|
|TX||Dallas - Plano - Irving (Metro Area)||$50,100||220||0.01%|
|TX||Fort Worth - Arlington (Metro Area)||$38,040||30||0.00%|
|TX||Houston - Sugar Land - Baytown||$50,120||100||0.00%|
|UT||Salt Lake City||$43,750||30||0.00%|
|WA||Seattle - Bellevue - Everett (Metro Area)||$54,790||210||0.02%|
|WI||Milwaukee - Waukesha - West Allis||$77,580||110||0.01%|