Becoming a Wedding Dress Designer: Job Description & Salary Info

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Get the truth about a wedding dress designer's salary, training requirements and career prospects. Read the job description, see the pros and cons and decide if a career designing wedding dresses is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Wedding Dress Designer

Wedding dress designers research, conceptualize and design the dress a woman will wear on one of the most important days of her life. The following pros and cons may help you decide if pursuing a career as a wedding dress designer is right for you.

Pros of Being a Wedding Dress Designer
Highly creative career (work with limitless combinations of fabrics and styles to come up with unique designs)*
Portfolio often valued over education level (associate's degree and internship can be enough for entry-level jobs)*
Can work off site (25% of fashion designers were self-employed in 2012)*
Travel internationally (attend high-profile fashion and trade shows all over the world)*

Cons of Being a Wedding Dress Designer
Competition for top salaried jobs is intense (apparel designers expected to face declining employment from 2012-2022)*
Starting salaries are often quite low (lowest 10% made $33,000 or less in May 2014)*
Relocation to fashion centers may be required (The majority of salaried fashion designers worked in New York or California as of May 2014)*
Hours can be long (must meet production deadlines and work around clients' schedules)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Designing a single wedding dress - let alone an entire dress collection - often requires many months of planning, designing and redesigning. Your responsibilities will vary depending on whether you are one of many in-house designers working for a bridal gown manufacturer or you have your own brand or freelance wedding dress design business.

The designer is responsible for coming up with concepts, which requires extensive research and insight into what brides will be looking for several seasons into the future. Ultimately, if you want to be a successful wedding dress designer, your dresses have to sell, so your designs must be unique and have mass appeal. Designers sketch their creations, perhaps first by hand and then in a design software program. They also test various fabric samples, creating prototype designs and trying them on models. A creative director and/or management team must approve a design before actual samples can be produced and marketed to bridal magazine editors and trade shows. Once a design has been approved for production, the designer may oversee the manufacturing process. Self-employed designers, or those who have their own brands or design companies, will also have to market their dresses to retail stores or directly to consumers. This job may require extensive travel to fashion, trade and bridal trunk shows.

Job Outlook

Overall employment for fashion designers was expected to decline slightly (-3%) between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Apparel designers are likely to see a decline in the number of available jobs during that same time period, as there will be more people seeking employment than there are jobs available. In the face of such strong competition, many fashion designers seeking to work for manufacturers may choose to relocate to states like California and New York, which had the highest concentration of salaried fashion designers as of May 2014.

Salary Info

According to the BLS, starting salaries for fashion designers are typically quite low. The most experienced designers who work for the most reputable brands and manufacturers tend to have the highest salaries. Additionally, self-employed or freelance designers earn less and have less stability than salaried designers. As of May 2014, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for a fashion designer was roughly $64,000, and those in the top ten percent earned over $129,000 per year.

Career Skills and Requirements

The BLS does not indicate any formal education requirements for fashion designers, although a 2- or 4-year degree in fashion design or merchandising is often preferred for employment and advancement, especially as a salaried designer. A portfolio that showcases the designer's best work and represents his or her style and range as an artist is a requirement, as employers often base hiring decisions on this element. Fashion designers typically receive on-the-job training through internships, which serve as their introduction to the industry and are an important first step toward securing a job as an assistant fashion designer. They may also start off as patternmakers or sketch artists.

What Are Employers Seeking?

Employers of fashion designers are seeking creativity above everything but also desire candidates who have the skills to work with CAD programs and design editing software. Fashion designers should know the characteristics of fabrics and how to work with different colors, styles and shapes. Understanding patternmaking, sewing and manufacturing is also very important. As of April 2012, there were no advertised openings for wedding dress designers; however, the following are related postings by employers seeking fashion and dress designers.

  • A well-known women's fashion brand is looking for a dress designer at its Los Angeles, CA, studio who has a fashion degree, at least five years of experience, merchandising knowledge, computer design proficiency and sketching and tailoring skills.
  • A specialized women's wear brand headquartered near Philadelphia, PA, is searching for a CAD designer who can create original, fashion-forward designs. Requirements include 3-5 years of print and pattern design experience, CAD experience and Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator skills.
  • A major retail merchandising company is seeking a senior ladies fashion designer at its headquarters outside of Boston, MA. The ideal candidate will have a degree in fashion design, 7-10 years of branded designer experience in ladies fashion (preferably high end) and experience traveling internationally for business.

How to Stand out

Most fashion designer jobs require either an associate's or bachelor's degree, so having one won't necessarily help you stand out among other applicants for a job as a wedding dress designer. It is more important to develop a varied and diverse skill set that includes experience in every part of the apparel design and manufacturing process. Keeping up with technology in the form of the latest design software and CAD programs is almost as important as keeping up with the latest trends in wedding dresses. It's also important to develop traditional skills such as hand sketching, patternmaking and sewing. Specializing in a type of fashion like wedding dresses or women's wear can help you find a job more easily in those areas. Finally, networking is essential to standing out in a business-like fashion. Employers are often more attracted to a candidate who has traveled widely and has strong international contacts.

Other Careers to Consider

If the retail fashion business appeals to you, and you'd like to be the one deciding what to put on the rack, you may want to consider becoming a buyer. Also called merchandise managers, buyers travel to fashion and trade shows and visit suppliers and view clothing lines in person. They make decisions based on their knowledge of trends as well as price, performance and availability. Although a degree is not required to start out as a buyer, it may be preferred, and if you wish to advance to a management position, you'll need a bachelor's degree or higher. The BLS reported a mean annual salary of about $57,000 for wholesale and retail buyers as of May 2011.

If you enjoy the product design aspect of fashion design and wish to hone your art and computer skills in an area of manufacturing rather than clothing, you could pursue a career as an industrial designer. In designing the products people use every day, industrial designers may sketch their designs or create blueprints before using a CAD program to make a virtual model. Most industrial designers have a bachelor's degree in an area of design, engineering or architecture, and some have master's degrees in business. According to the BLS, in May 2011, commercial and industrial designers had and average salary of about $64,000 per year.

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