If you have a flair for fashion, why not pursue a career designing clothes, shoes and accessories? Fashion design careers can be a fulfilling choice for those with artistic talent, and workers in the field have a dynamic job that includes the following:
- Studying fashion trends
- Creating a theme for a collection of clothes
- Using computer-aided design (CAD) software to draw clothing patterns
- Selecting materials and working with team members to create prototypes
- Marketing designs at trade shows, online or to retailers
Fashion Design Specializations
Women's clothing may be the first thing to come to mind when thinking about what is fashion designing. However, designers can specialize in several areas. Here are a few of the various jobs you'll find in the field.
- Clothing designers may work exclusively on styles for men, women or children. They may further specialize in a specific type of apparel such as outerwear, evening wear or casual clothing.
- Footwear designers focus on shoes and boots. They may work with various materials to develop styles that combine form and function.
- Accessory designers are those who make handbags, belts, scarves and hats. As with clothing, designers may specialize in items for women, men or children.
- Costume designers are employed by theater companies, motion picture and television companies. They may be called upon to create attire that would be authentic in an older era, or they may choose more contemporary designs for a modern-day production.
How to Become a Fashion Designer
Keep the following steps in mind for becoming a fashion designer:
- Earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Though it may not seem necessary, employers typically expect job candidates to have some formal education.
- Complete postsecondary training. You might start by earning a certificate or associate degree in the fashion design, and later might consider a bachelor's or even master's degree.
- Gain experience in the field. Sometimes, apprenticeships are available for fashion designers, and it always helps to keep up to date on the latest trends in the industry.
Fashion design schools not only help students put together a portfolio, but they also teach skills that are essential for working in the industry:
- Computer-aided design (CAD)
- Art and design fundamentals
- Textile and fabric properties
Fashion design degree programs
Fashion designer education requirements can be filled in several ways. While many professionals in the field have a bachelor's degree, you may be able to get started by completing a shorter program first.
- Certificate: Undergraduate certificates provide an introduction to the field of fashion design. These may cover sketching, graphic design and merchandising. Depending on the school, you can earn a certificate in anywhere from a few months to two years.
- Associate Degree: Compared to a certificate, a two-year associate degree usually offers a greater level of instruction to those pursuing fashion design careers. The curriculum may include computer-aided design, textiles analysis and patternmaking. Credits from an associate degree may transfer to a bachelor's degree program.
- Bachelor's Degree: Many fashion designers have a four-year degree. However, some schools won't let people enter a bachelor's degree program directly. Instead, they ask students to earn a certificate or associate degree first so they have a portfolio to submit with their application.
- Graduate Degree/Certificate: Although not required to work in the field, some professionals choose to go back to school for a master's degree or graduate certificate in order to further hone their skills.
Fashion design schools
Fashion design programs are offered by art institutes, community colleges, four-year colleges and universities. More than 350 schools are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art & Design.
You can also find fashion design schools online. Distance learners may be taught via videos, slideshows and digital documents. Many programs follow a typical college course schedule, but some online fashion design schools offer self-paced programs which can give you as long as a year to complete a class. As with a traditional degree program, check for accreditation before applying.
Career advancement for fashion designers
New fashion designers may begin their careers as assistants to established designers. Once they have gained experience and further developed their portfolio, they may hired to lead a design team. Others may go back to school to expand their skills or to take business classes so they can open their own design business.
Top Fashion Design Programs
The best fashion design programs are affordable and accessible. They help students graduate on time and land a new job quickly. Since many people don't want to spend years in college, we analyzed data from vocational schools to see which had the best fashion design programs that can be completed in two years or less. Not surprisingly, many are in California, a state with one of the most established fashion industries in the nation. Check out our methodology and list of the top fashion design programs below.
Founded in 1935, City College of San Francisco is now one of the largest community colleges in the nation. It offers two-year programs in both academic and vocational fields, and its student body is diverse. Regardless of age or cultural background, all are welcome here. California residents have access to a low in-state tuition rate and can take online courses for some programs.
Fashion design programs at CCSF: Based in the Ocean Campus, the fashion department at CCSF offers two associate degrees and 10 short-term certificates. These programs allow students to study fashion design in general or focus on a specific aspect of the field such as patternmaking or fashion styling. Students get hands-on instruction that prepares them for jobs in the modern fashion industry.
With hundreds of degree programs, dozens of student organizations and numerous support services, Mt. San Antonio College provides a full college experience at an affordable price. More than 1.2 million people have received their education at the college since it opened in 1946 and about 75 percent of current students receive financial aid. The flexible education options at Mt. San Antonio College include both fully and partially online classes.
Fashion design programs at Mt. SAC: Students can choose from two degrees and a handful of certificates in the fashion design and merchandising program at Mt. SAC. Classes are taught by instructors with industry experience. The curriculum at Mt. San Antonio College provides plenty of opportunity for hands-on learning with the latest technology and tools used in the fashion industry.
El Centro College is the flagship college within the Dallas County Community College District. It is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and offers dozens of academic and technical programs that result in associate degrees and certificates. Founded in 1966 on one campus, El Centro College now offers classes at three locations across Dallas. The school has fully online degree programs with online courses that run on an accelerated 8-week format.
Fashion design programs at El Centro College: Fashion design is one of the standout programs at El Centro College. The school offers two associate degrees and a certificate in the field. Their curriculum stresses hand-on skills such as designing, patternmaking and sewing. The college notes some of its fashion graduates have gone on to win national and international competitions.
Also called Trade-Tech, Los Angeles Trade Technical College is the oldest school within the Los Angeles Community College District. It has been educating students since 1925. Trade-Tech is located near the Central Business District of Los Angeles and has a low tuition rate and flexible learning options, including online classes. Nearly half the students enrolled at LATTC are adults working 30 hours or more a week.
Fashion design programs at LATTC: Students can earn either a degree or certificate in fashion design or fashion merchandising from LATTC. The programs are taught by experienced faculty and incorporate the latest design software and technology. Students are introduced to real-world work experiences, and graduate designs are featured in the Gold Thimble Fashion Shows. Daytime classes as well as Saturday and evening courses are available.
There are many reasons to like Long Beach City College, not the least of which is its tuition rate, which is on the lower end of schools in our rankings. What's more, the school offers multiple programs that let first-time college students attend classes for free. Viking Advantage, Long Beach College Promise and Promise 2.0 let eligible students take classes at no cost for one or two years. Once enrolled, students can take traditional, partially online or fully online courses, depending on their field of study.
Fashion design programs at LBCC: Located near the fashion hub of Los Angeles, LBCC offers fashion design programs that promote creativity, sustainability and critical thinking. Students can choose from an associate degree or certificate of achievement in fashion design or merchandising. Either way, they can receive hands-on training and opportunities for professional networking.
Fashion Designer Skills and Qualities
To be boost your chances of success in this field, you'll need to develop the following skills and qualities which fashion design schools can help you foster.
- Critical thinking: Designing clothes and accessories can be challenging. Fashion designers need be able to decipher which textiles and colors go together in a way that is both attractive and comfortable.
- Service orientation: This skill refers to the ability to understand what people need in terms of fashion and proactively working to meet those needs.
- Negotiation: Whether fashion designers are part of a team or working directly for clients, they will need negotiation skills to balance their artistic vision with the expectations of others.
- Originality: Being able to create original and creative designs is one of the hallmarks of a successful fashion designer.
- Fluency of ideas: Not only does a fashion designer need to be original, but he or she needs to come up with multiple designs. This ability is known as having a fluency of ideas.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Fashion Designers
When talking about how much do fashion designers make, remember that incomes can vary depending on a person's education, experience and creativity. However, for an idea of what you can expect, average fashion designer salary data is listed below. While the numbers below also show the expected growth nationwide for the occupation, keep in mind that most fashion design jobs can be found in California and New York, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
Professional Resources for Fashion Designers
To keep on top of the latest trends in fashion design careers, stay up to date with the following industry organizations.
- Council of Fashion Designers of America - Known as CFDA, this non-profit was founded in 1962 and its membership includes some of the most prominent designers working in the field today.
- The Fashion Group International - This industry organization was founded in 1928. In addition to providing members with information about the latest fashion news and trends, FGI is responsible for the creation of a comprehensive fashion archives at The New York Public Library.
- International Association of Clothing Designers and Executives - Founded in 1910, IACDE brings together fashion designers, patternmakers and manufacturing executives from around the world.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
- The school must offer at least 1 program for the subject in question
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following variables:
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificates conferred for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Fashion Designers, Accessed December 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/fashion-designers.htm
- Accredited Institutions Search, National Association of Schools of Art & Design, Accessed December 2018, https://nasad.arts-accredit.org/directory-lists/accredited-institutions/search/?institutionname=&city=&state=&country=&search=true
- Curriculum Information - Fashion Technologies Program, Lansing Community College, Accessed December 2018, https://internal.lcc.edu/cma/fashion/curriculum/
- Eligibility, FIT State University of New York, Accessed December 2018, http://www.fitnyc.edu/fashion-design/eligibility.php
- Online Fashion Degree, Academy of Art Institute, Accessed December 2018, https://www.academyart.edu/academics/fashion/online-degrees/
- Fashion Design Certificate, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Accessed December 2018, https://massart.edu/degree-programs/fashion-design-certificate
- Fashion Designers, O*Net Online, Accessed December 2018, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/27-1022.00
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- An Overview of City College, City College of San Francisco, Accessed July 2019, https://www.ccsf.edu/en/about-city-college/aboutccsf.html
- Facts and Figures, Mt. San Antonio College, Accessed July 2019, https://www.mtsac.edu/about/overview/facts-and-figures.html
- About Mt. SAC, Mt. San Antonio College, Accessed July 2019, https://www.mtsac.edu/about/
- About Us, El Centro College, Accessed July 2019, https://www.elcentrocollege.edu/au/pages/default.aspx
- About LATTC, Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Accessed July 2019, http://college.lattc.edu/about-lattc/
- Long Beach College Promise, Long Beach City College, Accessed July 2019, https://www.lbcc.edu/promise-20