What is a Fashion Design Degree?

A degree in fashion design teaches up and coming fashion designers how to develop artistic ideas and concepts and transform them into wearable clothing and accessories. The typical curriculum is built around the four basic elements of fashion design:

  • Color – the color lifecycle in fashion
  • Silhouette – the shape and form of a garment
  • Line – vertical, horizontal, and asymmetrical seam lines
  • Texture – how the weave and texture of a fabric affect how it hangs or ‘drapes’ and how it looks when worn

Students learn that each of these elements can create identity and meaning; they can convey certain emotions; they can be flattering or unflattering; and they can trick the eye.

Classes in fashion design programs cover the history of design, fashion sketching, pattern drafting, and computer-aided fashion design.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Fashion Design - Two Year Duration
With an associate degree, graduates commonly find employment as fashion store managers and assistant fashion buyers. Classes at this level include:

  • Principles of Fashion Design – fashion processes from conceptualization to production
  • Color Theory – examination of color effect
  • Fashion Drawing – the basics of drawing and sketching for fashion design
  • Pattern Making – creating templates for cutting fabric to sew into items of clothing
  • Couture Fashion History – the impact of historical events, art, and pop-culture on fashion
  • Fashion Merchandising – overview of fashion promotion and display

Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design - Four Year Duration
The Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design typically prepares students to work as fashion designers, art directors, fashion editors, fashion buyers, and sales managers. In addition to expanding on the topics addressed at the associate level, coursework covers:

  • how to forecast fashion and style trends
  • how to choose between different fabrics, based on their textile make-up: fibers, dyes, yarns, and weaves
  • how retail fashion buyers make profitable decisions

Master’s Degree in Fashion Design - Two Year Duration
The focus of master’s degree programs in fashion design is twofold: to teach advanced skills in the field and to provide students with business knowledge that will allow them to work in high-level roles in the fashion industry. These roles may include designing for and leading a design house or clothing manufacturer or managing a high-end boutique or major fashion department store. Some holders of this graduate degree may go on to run their own design firm or develop their own label.

The master’s curriculum requires students to produce a fashion portfolio. Coursework generally includes:

  • Advanced Fashion Design
  • Fashion Styling – providing fashion advice and coordinating outfits for clients, models in photo shoots, actors in film and television
  • Business Management
  • Marketing and Advertising
  • Fashion Journalism

Degrees Similar to Fashion Design

Art Direction
Like fashion designers, art directors are concerned with design and visual style. Majors in the field include the magazine, newspaper, product packaging, movie, and television production sectors.

Commercial Art
Professionals in this field combine art and business by using their creative skills to market and sell products and services.

Costume Design
The curriculum of costume design programs includes the research, design, creation, and sometimes also the purchasing of costumes for stage, film, and television productions.

Exhibit Design
The world of exhibit and display design for large exhibitions, shows, businesses, libraries, and galleries offers yet another option to students with a designer bent.

Fashion Merchandising
Fashion merchandising degree programs teach students how to promote and sell fashion. Coursework typically covers fashion buying, advertising, marketing, and retail sales and management.

Fine Arts
In addition to graphic design, industrial design, and art direction, the fine arts provide several other similar degree options to students who initially consider pursuing a degree in fashion design. Painting, photography, drawing/illustration, and animation are some examples.

Floral Design
While a certificate or degree in floral design prepares for students for a career that generally does not pay as well as fashion design, the field does call for some related artistic, creative skills.

Graphic Design
The common goal of fashion design, interior design, and graphic design is to produce visual concepts. All of these disciplines employ layout, color, and other creative concepts to inspire and captivate consumers.

Industrial Design
Industrial designers do for manufactured products what fashion designers do for clothing. The field of industrial design combines art, business, and engineering concepts to achieve new product functionality, aesthetics, and acceptable cost. Degree programs in this field focus on materials and processes, model making, and computer-aided industrial design.

Interior Design
Architectural drafting, color theory, lighting design, and materials sustainability are the primary components of interior design degree programs.

This degree field is focused on activities undertaken by businesses to promote the buying or selling of products and services. Students study advertising and promotion, marketing communications, international marketing, marketing management, sales and sales management, consumer behavior, marketing research, and marketing strategy.

Set Design
Students of set design learn how to make sets or theatrical scenery for theater, film, and television productions. Courses include theater and scenic design, sound design, and lighting design.

Skills You’ll Learn

As noted above, students of fashion design spend a lot of time learning about color, silhouette, line, and texture. While doing so, however, they also gain knowledge and develop skills that are useful and valued outside the fashion sector, as well:

  • Communication – communicating ideas and concepts is part of almost every job
  • Creativity – every business needs employees who are imaginative and innovative
  • Artistic Ability – artistic ability is surprisingly valuable in non-artistic jobs, because it can lead to out-of-the-box thinking
  • Drawing Skills – the ability to present an idea in a drawing can be applied throughout the business world
  • Visualization Skills – the capacity to visualize, to imagine how a product, event, or presentation will look is key in many kinds of work
  • Business Sense – knowing how a business operates is an asset in any field

What Can You Do with a Fashion Design Degree?

Of course, the goal of many fashion design students is to enter this field, to design and produce their own garments and products. The three main areas pf fashion design are:

  • Commercial Fashion – mass-produced garments
  • Ready-to-Wear Fashion – ready-to-wear collections produced in fairly small numbers by established designers
  • Haute Couture – one-off garments produced for the modeling runway to promote a specific label

Buying and Merchandising
Those who work in this fashion buying are responsible for sourcing and buying trending products that suit their company and its customers. Those who work in the merchandising sector of the fashion industry watch purchasing trends and make sure that the right items are available in the right stores at the right time.

Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations (PR)
Fashion marketers, advertising sales agents, and PR specialists are focused on analyzing trends and communicating and promoting their products to consumers.

Production and Management
This area of the fashion industry is concerned with producing quality products in socially and environmentally safe ways. One of the responsibilities of a production manager, for example, is ensuring that manufacturing plants follow labor laws.

Journalism and Publishing
Fashion journalists may work as independent bloggers or for fashion magazines, trade publications, or fashion websites. This is a good career fit for those who are interested in both fashion and writing.

This sector presents a relatively new occupational option for graduates of fashion design programs. Its covers areas like designing new fashion production technologies and developing new fabrics and materials and testing how they interact with the human body and with the environment.

Retail Sales
High-end department stores and fashion boutiques, in particular, attract fashion design graduates to work in frontline retail sales jobs.


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