MFA, Costume Design



Program Specifics




Financial Aid

Frequently Asked Questions

Linda Pisano Linda Pisano
Head of Costume Design
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The MFA in Costume Design at IU combines diverse opportunities for realized design work and a strong curriculum as the foundation for its training. Curriculum and practice focus on collaboration, analysis, drawing, painting, aesthetics, craft technology and costume history with a social history component. Taught by working professionals, the sixty-hour costume design curriculum offers intensive training in both studio and classroom settings coupled with one-on-one tutorials with the students major professor. There is also the option of a study-abroad course in London as part of the curriculum. This course is offered at graduate level credit. The goal of the program is to prepare the student for participation in professional theatre and associated disciplines.


Students are admitted into the program after proving competency as shown by their portfolio, statement of goals, and required onsite interview. Judgments of portfolio, writing quality, and professional potential are made by members of the Design and Technology Faculty Committee.


Each year students are invited to continue in the program after the faculty has assessed a student’s academic success, artistic growth and professional development. A 3.2 GPA or higher typically indicates academic success. The student’s faculty advisor provides an interim evaluation at the end of each Fall semester, and at the end of the first and the second year, students are required to present their portfolio with an oral interview to the Design and Technology Faculty Committee. At this time the committee will determine whether a student shall be advanced in the program. Weaknesses in the areas of academic success, artistic growth and professional development will be identified and may result in a probationary semester or dismissal from the program.

Program Specifics

Costume design students are assigned at least four productions during their tenure in the program. One production in the third year will be designated as the MFA thesis project which will include written documentation. The MFA is a sixty-hour curriculum including costume design, fine arts and technology courses, dramatic literature, history and criticism courses. To ensure a deep understanding of related fields, a student will also earn a minor in Scenic Design, Lighting Design or Theatre Technology or successfully complete an approved sequence of courses from at least three of these areas.


The successful student will complete the three year MFA degree program with an extensive and diverse portfolio of realized designs as well as project work in all genres of theatre including opera and ballet. Additionally students will demonstrate a comprehensive portfolio of skills in millinery, masks, tailoring and rendering. The graduate from Indiana University will be well prepared for a career in the professional or academic environment. Emphasized skills include; productive methods of research, effective collaborative and communication, a mature professional process, and a rich understanding of the breadth and depth of costume design, both historical and current.

Graduates of the Costume Design MFA program are employed in major companies across the country, including Washington Opera, Utah Opera, Indiana Repertory Theatre, San Francisco Opera, Illinois Shakespeare, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Colorado Shakespeare Festival and Santa Fe Opera. Graduates at academic institutions include school such as State University of New York Fredonia, Kutztown University, and the University of Florida.


Stage Costuming II
Focusing primarily in craft design and construction, this studio course provides four to five projects that allow students to construct major craft items based on their own design and research. Previous projects have included dye, paint and fabric modification exercises, millinery design and construction, leather armor and headwear, corset design and construction and the reconstruction of existing pieces to create a new design. Objectives of the course are advancement of construction and patterning skills, problem solving fitting challenges and developing clarity in the design, communication and research of craft and accessory items.

Costume Design I
The objective of this course is to provide an in-depth introduction to the theory & practice of costume design. Students develop an understanding of character and script analysis, theatrical composition, collaboration with directors, designers and actors and continue mastering their rendering skills. The primary media studied in this course is watercolor, although there will be opportunities for students to explore other media.

Historic Costume for the Stage
A survey of Western costume from Mesopotamian and Sumerian times into the twentieth century this course focuses on historical costume as it relates to the society and period in which it lived. Naturally, the successful student will understand the implications of a period or period inspired costume design on the overall visual and conceptual dynamic of a theatrical event. It is also the intent of this course to inspire students to discover and engage costume research resources that will be of benefit as they continue to pursue the discipline of costume design for the performing arts.

Costume and Character in London Theatre
A one month study abroad course taught in London. This course provides students an intensive on-site experience into the development of dramatic character and concept through costume design with emphasis on that literature and performance type prevalent in contemporary London and the history of British Theatre especially that of the 18 th and 19 th centuries. With a course location in the thriving city of London, students will have on-hands opportunities in learning, exploring, touring and viewing art, collections, lectures, performances, studios and many other experiences to study the aesthetic and psychological value of costumes in society and in the performing arts, particularly that of dramatic performance. Course assessment is based on interactive projects assigned specifically to each student’s level of study (i.e. graduate or undergraduate). Methods will include presentation of projects and exercises.

Advanced Costume Design Aesthetics
This studio course is an advanced level study of designing various costume styles and genres. Students will design several major works in musical theatre, opera and ballet. Each project will require a fully developed production process outline, research evidence and finalized portfolio quality renderings with swatches. Students sometimes work in exercises together but develop projects independently. With a heavy focus on rendering this studio course provides an understanding of how to make strong aesthetic and stylistic choices in costumes as they directly relate to character, the theatrical event, genre and of course concept and period. Collaborative conceptual work includes invited professional directors, choreographers and opera directors.

Studies in Stage Costuming
Studies in Stage Costuming are repeated up to 9 credits (three times) during a graduate student’s course of study. Each time the course is taught it has a different focus of specialization for the theatrical designer. Recent course topics have included advanced figure drawing and costume rendering, 16 th and 17 th century mask design and construction, advanced millinery, twentieth-century costume designers, historic fashion, costume materials and applications. Topics are selected according to specialty of instructor and needs of the current class of graduate design students.

Research and Collaboration for the Theatre
(Taught by Design and Technology Faculty)
This studio course builds and strengthen research, collaboration, communication and artistic/presentation skills. Student teams research, investigate, design and present innovative approaches to major projects, devised to challenge their individual and collective growth as collaborative artists and technologists.

Third Year Portfolio Preparation
Each MFA costume design graduate will have an independent study with the head of the costume area their fall semester. This independent study will include preparing and polishing a full portfolio, sample portfolios and digital portfolios geared toward various types of employment in costuming according to the student’s goals. Students will develop professional resumes, curriculum vitas, cover letters and explore through research and discussion an understanding of the realities of contracts, job searches, United Scenic Artists membership and interviewing/portfolio presentation techniques.

Other Independant Studies for the Graduate Student
If a student’s schedule allows there may be opportunities throughout their course of study to have independent studies with the head of the costume area. These independent studies may include specialization in a particular area of costuming, historical research or research methods, an unusual topic related to the field of costuming or further portfolio development, especially for students wishing to branch into multiple areas of the costuming field (i.e. design and crafts, or design and wigs etc.). The amount of course credit is determined on a case-by-case basis according to scope of study, depth and breath of projects and possibly other criteria.

See thesis requirements.

Stage Make-up
(not for graduate credit)
This course is a skills studio in the design and professional application techniques of stage make-up. This course will cover techniques in corrective (including feature modification), old age, period (including a historical overview of the period make-up styles and uses), fantasy, facial hair, 2-D and basic 3-D prosthetic techniques commonly used on stage. Students will also learn techniques in creating effective make-up renderings and charts.

Stage Costuming I
(not for graduate credit)
The intent of this course is to introduce students to the entire process of theatrical costume design and production. Through practical assignments in design, analysis, research, construction and production work, the successful student will develop an understanding and appreciation of the art, craft and discipline of stage costuming. This course will also encourage students to engage and learn to understand the theatre production process.

Independent Study Opportunities
(for undergraduate credit)
Assistant Costume Designers were established in the IU Costume Design Program to offer undergraduates interested in costume design an opportunity to shadow and assist an advanced designer on the mainstage season. It is also excellent training for the production designers to learn to appropriately utilize the abilities and talents of an assistant designer. The role of the Assistant Costume Designer can take on many forms depending on the production, the Costume Designer and the part of the season in which the production falls. They may serve as research assistants, design assistants, shoppers or perhaps a combination of all of these areas. Independent study credit is offered and the amount of credit earned is dependent upon the size of the production and depth of experience provided to the student.

Financial Aid

Graduate students in the Design and Technology MFA programs are typically awarded an assistantship which includes a tuition waiver covering most fees, in addition to a stipend (currently a minimum of $13,400) for working 20 hours a week in their area of expertise. Academic merit fellowships and research/creative activity travel grant opportunities are also available on a competitive basis.

Student Academic Appointees and Fellowship Recipients are automatically enrolled in the student insurance plan and the cost of the student premium is paid by the university. The plan also includes dental, mental health and prescription drug benefits. Eligible students may also insure their dependents. Eligible dependents are the spouse/same-sex domestic partner (residing with the Insured student) and unmarried children under the age of 24.

Learn more about the Student Academic Appointee Health Insurance Plan

Additional benefits include a "green conscious" campus with free buses, free Adobe and Microsoft products, and a ubiquitous wireless internet.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many realized, fully-mounted production assignments can I expect in the program?
Students can expect at least five main season production assignments in their area of study over the course of their three-year program.

How many shows do you do each season?
The Department of Theatre and Drama produces eight fully-mounted stage productions each season in addition to a four-show summer season, a modern dance concert, a new musical, and special events.

Will I work on the "Main Stage" or on the "student season"
We offer one season that we cosider a main stage, eight-production season, where graduate students serve as the primary designers (lighting, costumes, scenery), technical directors, scenic artists, and properties masters for all shows. See details about the season here.

Is the GRE required for admittance?
No, the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is not required for the MFA program.

How many students are in the program?
We have graduate students in all design and technology areas. There are five Scenic Designers, five Costume Designers, four Lighting Designers, and four Theatre Technology (TD) students. When combined with MFA Acting, Directing, and MA and PhD students, the Department of Theatre and Drama has roughly 55 graduate students and approximately 250 undergraduate majors.

What types of financial aid are available?
To supplement departmental financial aid, various scholarships, fellowships, and loans may be available through the University Graduate School or the Office of Student Financial Assistance.

Does the program offer assistantships?
Yes, all MFA students accepted into the program are offered graduate assistantships which provide a full tuition waiver, plus a competitive stipend, for each of their three years of study. Some fees cannot be waived.

Are teaching opportunities available?
If teaching coincides with the students professional goals, opportunities exist to gain college-level teaching experience through both laboratory instruction and classroom lectures.

What styles of shows do you do?
The department takes pride in offering a wide range of theatrical genres to students and audiences. Two musicals are produced each season in combination with six plays which are presented in diverse styles.

How do I apply to the program?
You can find information on the admissions process here.

What types of job placement services are offered?
Students are mentored into their respective professions by the major professor in their area (Lighting, Costumes, Scenery, or Technical Direction) with the purpose of meeting each individual student’s professional goals.

Where do the faculty instructors work professionally?
All Design and Technology faculty maintain active professional careers. Please see individual faculty profiles for more details.

What jobs do recent graduates have?
Recent graduates of our programs are employed all across the country. Please see specific program web pages for further information.