Fashion Design Schools

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What is Fashion Design?

Fashion design began in the 19th century when Charles Frederick Worth, an English clothing designer, began to place his name on clothing produced by his fashion house in Paris. The term couturier, women's clothing designer,  was invented to describe Worth. The date typically given by historians for the start of the fashion industry is 1858. Prior to that date, though fashion existed, it was dictated by the buyers, typically the aristocracy, who would instruct dress makers in what styles they wished to be fitted. With the advent of fashion design, designers such as Charles Frederick Worth and the many that came after him, were and are able to affect what is fashionable. In the case of Worth, he was able to determine what his clients would wear, offering suggestions to his clientele.

It was also around this time that clothing companies began to use illustrations of designs to market their clothing. Rather than going through the expensive and time consuming habit of producing a sample dress to be modeled for potential clients, now designers would produce painting of potential outfits from which interested clients could choose and approve, after which production would begin on that particular set of clothing.

Top Fashion Design Degrees

The number of fashion design programs can be dizzying for most students.  As an example, degree programs can be offered at a number of different levels for fashion design, fashion business, fashion design and society, fashion merchandising, fashion studies, and fashion marketing.  Coupled with the degree program variations and degree levels, you can also take fashion degrees online or in class.  As a result of these varied options in fashion design, we have assembled an overview of each type of degree to help you focus on a few choices in the field of study.

Certificate Programs in Fashion Design

Online certificate programs in fashion design and online diplomas in fashion design are available from a number of accredited institutions around the country.  Undergraduate certificate programs in fashion design are for individuals with no or little prior experience in fashion design.  On the other hand, graduate certificate programs in fashion design are created to provide professionals and qualifying students with high-level skills and industry-specific knowledge in a defined area of study.  Undergraduate on-site or online certificates in fashion design is a focused program designed to provide students with the essential knowledge and skills necessary to begin a career in the field.  Career examples may include a fashion merchandiser, marketing, communications, public relations, styling, or similar entry-level positions.

Associate Degrees in Fashion Design

An associate degree in fashion design is conferred as an Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Fine Arts (AFA), Associate of Science (AS), or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) depending on the course design and school accreditation requirements.  An associate degree provides students with a series of core classes along with general education courses such as English composition, math, philosophy, and psychology to help provide a well-rounded way of thinking.   Core classes in the associate degree track can include the following: fashion design essentials, design, conceptualization, draping, drawing, production, sewing, patternmaking, tailoring, haute couture, communications, and specialty design.

Bachelor Degrees in Fashion Design

A bachelor degree in fashion design is typically a 4-year program of full-time study that can be conferred as a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), or a Bachelor of Science (BS).  Students will be provided a larger number of general education courses and core courses when compared to an associate’s degree.  Core classes in the online bachelor’s degree in fashion design can include programs such as: advanced design, structural drawing, graphic design, human dynamics, garment construction, digital photography, visual imaging, theory of design, kinesiology, chemistry, design trends, multicultural design, and contemporary design issues.  Students graduating with a bachelor’s degree will be prepared to assume roles in public relation firms, design companies, merchandising organizations, marketing firms, or continue forward into a graduate degree program.

Master’s Degrees in Fashion Design

An online master’s degree in fashion design is a 1-2 year program with a focus on a specific area of study in fashion design or related area of study.  Some schools offer a dedicated fashion design program while other accredited colleges integrate fashion design with digital media, graphic design, social media, merchandising, or various MBA programs.  Degrees can be conferred as a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), Master of Business Administration (MBA), or a Master of Science (MS) depending on the focus of the program and associated coursework.  With a deep understanding of fashion through the lens of practice, theory, object, image, text, and concept, students will be able to thoughtfully create with a unique worldview.   This worldly perspective will include an intimate understanding of fashion connected to social identity, geography, and cultural implications.  Graduates from a mater’s program will be equipped to launch careers in business management, museum administration, media, consulting, journalism, teaching, and/or gallery management.

Educational Requirements for Fashion Designers

A degree in fashion and apparel design will teach students to sketch figures, fabric and garments, utilize theories and historic perspectives, create original designs, use new technologies and understand the fashion and textile industries. Students interested in fashion and apparel design can obtain an associate, bachelors or masters degrees. Currently a doctorate degree in fashion design is only offered by Cornell University. During the application process some schools may require or suggest that applicants submit a portfolio. If you are pursuing a bachelor's degree you may be required to obtain an associate's degree prior to entering a two year bachelor's program and may have students take design and/or sewing tests.

Course work for fashion and apparel majors is varied and may include:

  • Illustration
  • History of Fashion
  • Shoe Design
  • Computer Applications
  • Textiles
  • Costume Construction

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Employment Outlook and Fashion Design Salary Growth

The fashion industry can be lucrative but it is a small growth industry with a large barrier to entry. Though the average wage for a fashion designer is $74,500, the starting wages are much lower until a designer can become established within the industry. The stratification and hierarchy in place can be difficult to surmount when attempting to have a career as a fashion designer. Often individuals will work in a variety of positions under more experienced or notable designers, in order to glean information about production and design.

Some potential jobs for fashion and apparel design graduates include:

  • Assistant Designer
  • Fashion Illustrator
  • Assistant Buyer
  • Marketing Assistant
  • Pattern Maker

Fashion Design Advice and Related Fields

The best opportunities for those pursuing a career in fashion can be found in the film industry, shoe manufacturing, and wholesale. Those with more advanced degrees will find they can fan out into other areas of fashion, such as market research, management, or become more specialized in their focus, such as working leather or designing clothes for children. Additionally, a master's degree will allow the degree holder to teach as well. The amount of experience one manages to gain in the fashion industry, the more likely he or she is to find steady work.

Achieving notoriety has many parts, such as networking, diligence, skill, talent, and luck. No one thing alone will provide an individual the breakthrough needed in order to establish a name in the industry, though some changes to the system are occurring through digital connectivity.  The internet can help designers disseminate of designs and evolve ideas. Fashion blogs are able to focus on the famous as well as the undiscovered, allowing for wide exposure for starting designers, as well as sales and custom work through personal sites. Individuals wishing to enter into fashion design today would do well to educate themselves in the art of internet usage and advertising.

If you are interested in a obtaining a fashion and apparel design degree, you may also want to consider a degree in fashion merchandising, art studiesillustration and fashion management.

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Related Areas of Study

Career Summary: Fashion design Major




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