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How Long Do You Need to Go to College to Become a Fashion Designer?

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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there were 21,500 fashion designers employed in 2010. The most common employers for fashion designers are manufacturers and wholesalers, but about 30 percent of designers are self-employed. The BLS statistics show the median annual salary for fashion designers was $62,860 in 2012. A career as a fashion designer does not require a college education, but a degree program can help aspiring designers sharpen their skills and build a professional portfolio.

Job Description for Fashion Designers

Fashion designers may work on a team with other designers to create original clothing, accessory or footwear designs. Designers may specialize in a type of clothing such as footwear or accessories. A fashion designer must pay attention to trends in the industry and anticipate the designs that consumers will purchase in the future. When developing a clothing design for a collection, the designer determines the theme, colors, fabrics and accessories. Designers sketch their clothing designs or use computer-aided design software. Fashion designers create a prototype of the piece to try on live models, but computer programs are available that simulate how a piece will look with different fabrics and design choices. Some fashion designers create costumes for movies, television and the theater.

Associate Degree Programs

Associate degree programs in fashion design usually take two years to complete. Courses include clothing construction, pattern making, textile design and computer-aided design software. Two-year programs can help students become proficient in the technical skills necessary to design fashions. Some two-year programs include internships to give students an opportunity to work in the fashion industry. Budding clothing designers may complete two-year programs in fashion merchandising to learn the business skills to market, sell and promote their work.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs

Bachelor's degree programs in fashion design offer students an opportunity to study design and the fashion industry in more depth. A bachelor's degree program includes the technical courses in clothing design such as sketching, clothing construction, textiles, pattern making, computer-aided design and draping. A four-year program can also include courses on the business side of the fashion industry such as consumer behavior and marketing. Program requirements may include a final design project.

Training in the Field

Many fashion designers gain experience and training in the field by working as assistants or as interns for designers, according to the BLS. New designers may work in entry-level patternmaker positions. Patternmakers determine the layout of pieces, create a paper pattern, make samples and test patterns.


Luanne Kelchner works out of Daytona Beach, Florida and has been freelance writing full time since 2008. Her ghostwriting work has covered a variety of topics but mainly focuses on health and home improvement articles. Kelchner has a degree from Southern New Hampshire University in English language and literature.

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