Five Books on Costume Design to Get You Started

Five Books on Costume Design to Get You Started

In this industry, you have to do a lot of research, so today I wanted to share with you my five favorite books on costume design!  There are a plethora of materials available as learning guides as you develop your hobby or career. What’s exciting is that we not only have costume/fashion books, but documentaries, podcasts and blogs- so you really have a diverse multimedia pool of reference material at your fingertips!

Why are books my favorite? Perhaps its my preference for physical annotation and reference. Maybe I just love a pretty pictures of costumes on good quality paper. Maybe I just wanna look like I know what I’m doing and have a really cool home library – whatever the reason, I love them! So without further ado, here are my five favorite books on Costume Design!


“Costuming for Film, The Art and The Craft”- by Kristin M. Burke and Holly Cole


UNSTITCHED Blog- 5 Books for Costume Design to Get You Started - Costuming for Film by Holly Cole and Kristin Burke


There are not too many costume books that focus on the technical features of film costuming, but Costuming for Film is the mecca. The ultimate bible for all things film costume! With over 570 pages, Cole and Burke provide interviews with film costume designers, information on breaking down scripts, costume kit essentials, set etiquette and, check this out- a whole section with links to job portals both in NYC and LA! This is a text heavy book, with some photo examples of costumes- but more importantly, there are scans of character costume plots, continuity sheets and presentation boards. To top it off, it is witty and honest, making it an enjoyable read that is chock full of essential knowledge!

Kristin Burke is a staunch advocate for education in the field- not only an active Costume Designer with movies like The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 and television shows like Sleepy Hollow, she also runs the blog Frocktalk and wrote an additional book titled Going Hollywood: How to Get Started, Keep Going and Not Turn Into a Sleaze . Here is Burke discussing Costume Design in a TedxTalk:


If you’re interested in film costuming, this is a MUST. Cannot stress it enough!

“Hollywood Sketchbook- A Century of Costume Illustration” by Deborah Nadoolman Landis


UNSTITCHED Blog- 5 Books for Costume Design to Get You Started - Hollywood Sketchbook by Deborah Nadoolman Landis

Deborah Nadoolman Landis is at the forefront of costume education- not only has she written multiple books on the topic, she also curated the Hollywood Costume exhibit, she is the Founding Director of David C. Copley Center for Costume Design at the University of Southern California Los Angeles. Additionally, she is the genius behind some of Hollywood’s most iconic looks- from Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)to Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983).



Hollywood Sketchbook is a great reference tool for emerging designers (whether it is fashion or costume).  Landis’s introduction discusses the important collaboration between Costume Designer and Costume Illustrator (as they are often two separate people, but not always).  There are examples ranging from Adrian’s vibrant designs for Wizard of Oz (1939) to Judianna Makovsky’s design for Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), all gorgeously printed on 9×12 glossy paper.


UNSTITCHED Blog- 5 Books for Costume Design to Get You Started - Excerpt from Hollywood Sketchbook
Cecil Beaton’s illustrations for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964). Image courtesy: Hollywood Sketchbook.


The book also showcases various artistic styles and rendering techniques. I personally love looking at how the evolution of costume illustration through the decades is showcased as you flip through. Certainly a book full of eye candy!

“Fashionpedia- The Visual Dictionary of Fashion Design” by Fashionary

UNSTITCHED Blog- 5 Books for Costume Design to Get You Started - Fashionpedia from Fashionary



Fashionpedia is a portmanteau of “Fashion” and “Encyclopedia”- and it delivers just as the name describes. This book is an in depth catalogue for fashion and costume lovers alike. It is particularly geared toward fashion but it breaks down women’s and men’s apparel from silhouette styles to collar names, as well as describing textiles and garment manufacturing. So instead of pointing at a skirt in a magazine and saying “oh yea, cupcake skirt!” you can articulate that it is a gathered skirt inspired by the 1950s, for example! (Though admittedly, I still say cupcake skirt because it’s more fun hehe!)

Why do I particularly love it? Each description is paired with a clear image, and breaks down fashion jargon for easy consumption.

UNSTITCHED Blog- 5 Books for Costume Design to Get You Started - Excerpt from Fashionpedia
Easy to read diagrams with straightforward captions make this a must-have in any costume/fashion library. Photo Courtesy: Fashionpedia

Fashionpedia is the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign from the company Fashionary. Also a portmanteau, Fashionary is the combination of “Fashion”, “Dictionary” and “Diary.” They have a series of fashion croqui sketchbooks in various sizes and these sketchbooks have a mini version of the Fashionpedia included. I myself own a couple of Fashionary sketchbooks as it makes rendering ideas so easy! So definitely look into investing in this book! With it’s portable dimensions (8.6 x 1.3 x 5.8 inches), it makes a great travel book!

Survey of Historic Costume by Phyllis G. Tortora & Keith Eubank


UNSTITCHED Blog- 5 Books for Costume Design to Get You Started - Survey of Historic Costume


This is certainly the priciest book on the list, however, it is an excellent investment for a dense textbook filled with rich information. Survey of Historic Costume is much more akin to what you’d expect out of a college textbook- it is hardcover, with nearly 700 beautifully printed glossy pages of costume history. From Ancient Greece to contemporary fashion (through 2008), it provides historical context with primary resources to illustrated a full picture of the time periods covered in the book.

UNSTITCHED Blog- 5 Books for Costume Design to Get You Started - Excerpt from Survey of Historic Costume
A guide to Northern Renaissance accessories. Photo courtesy: Survey of Historic Costume

This book is packed with historical costume jargon, reflective of both the time period and area which the fashion hails from. Sprinkled throughout the chapters are pop up boxes, connecting the history to modern fashion. This tome (really, it is!) is a reference treasure and will absolutely transform you into a fashion history aficionado!


“The Costume Technician’s Handbook”- Rosemary Ingham & Liz Covey


If Costuming for Film is the holy grail of film costuming, The Costume Technicians Handbook is the equivalent for theatre costuming. From setting up and managing a costume shop, to patternmaking, to stage blood recipes- this black and white paperback textbook is a companion piece to any costumer’s library. It even dips into makeup, props and wigs! Inspired to work on Broadway yet? Sign. Me. UP!

Both Rosemary Ingham and Liz Covey have quite the extensive resume. Ingham has also penned From Page to Stage: How Theatre Designers Make Connections Between Scripts and Images. Covey, on the other hand, has taught at Barnard College, Columbia University, Marymount Manhattan College and Bennington College on the subject. With their combined experience condensed into a single volume, you get a diverse range of topics available to your disposal. And we are lucky to have it!


Want more Books on Costume Design?

These books are just the beginning to your growing library! It was difficult to narrow down just five, so I certainly sense a follow up post is coming soon. As previously mentioned, these are all publications I personally own and vouch for. If you have any recommendations, please share in a comment! I love expanding my library and am always on the search for new tools.

Interested in a part two? Let me know in the comments below!

Enjoy reading and Happy Unstitching!


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