What do fashion designers earn?

This is a heads up for students and starry-eyed teenagers stumbling on this site who think that fashion designers earn the big bucks. In this morning’s Morning Edition from National Public Radio comes this story, Some Glamour Jobs Simply Don’t Pay

The results of a survey conducted by Salary.com -a wage data firm- show that some of the jobs people think are most glamorous, actually don’t pay very well. Where can the real money be found?

According to Salary.com, the median salary for a fashion designer is barely $40,000. As I’ve always said, pattern makers -who’s job is far less glamorous- make more. I can only imagine that a pattern maker would laugh out loud if offered a designer’s salary (even 15 years ago, the median salary for pattern making was at least $45,000). So, to those starry-eyed hopefuls -if you want to make serious money in fashion- the only way to do it is to run your own company.

From the story page on NPR, you can click on a link to play the What People Earn game at Parade Magazine’s site (my score was $640).

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Yes! Designers make squat!

    Good timing, Kathleen. I just wrote a post yesterday on how unglamorous being a fashion designer really is on my blog.

    sigh. Yes, I do it for the love of it. I’m such a sucker. ;P

  2. s'mee says:

    WAY back in the day, my Grampa was a pattern maker for the US Arsenal, prior to/during the depression and afterwards. They lived comfortably enough, but the key here was he had a good paying job DURING the depression. His medium was wood and he would make life sized (some working)models of everything from desks to aircraft to tanks.

    I can imagine that being a clothing pattern maker *would* pay more. I can draw and have in the past designed my own children’s clothing. However, coming up with the patterns for those designs was much more difficult.

  3. La BellaDonna says:

    One of the saddest days of my life was the day I was offered, cold, a job as head designer for a costume company. I walked in the door; the owner took one look at my coat and said, Where did you get that?? When I said I’d made it, he offered me the job. He said he had design students/graduates coming in all the time wanting that job, but all they knew how to do was draw pretty pictures.

    The sad thing is, I couldn’t take the job, and it was exactly the job I’d come to Philadelphia to find years before. But I couldn’t take it. I was making the same money already, with better benefits, at a law firm (staff, not attorney, thanks), and I had a useless husband to support. So I couldn’t take the job I’d longed for; I just couldn’t live on it.

  4. christy fisher says:

    Right on, Kathleen!
    So many young designers do not know the REALITY..how many designers like DooRi, Peter Som, and many other “famous up and comers”..are STILL living with roommates and parents and not drawing a salary.

  5. Josh says:

    I’ve never had this glamorous vision of fashion. Even when I was a little kid and played “purse factory” with my twin brother, it was a fascination with automated machines and industrial equipment. Our game was how to efficiently manufacture the purses in our imaginary purse factory. Of course we were using a thead and needle to sew with and a hot water bottle to iron with (mother wouldn’t let us play with the iron) but.. lol And when I became a teenager my mother just happen to get into contract sewing at home and I was exposed to my first industrial sewing machine and it was love at first sight. I consider myself a machine operator who will hopefully some day be in control of what I’m sewing. I will never stop sewing, it is a compulsion and what I was born to do. If I ever do make enough money to quite sewing I won’t. I’ll be in my factory with the rest of the workers (if I’m lucky enough to ever hire people) working.

    To me the glamour part is reserved for the people who are buying and wearing the clothes.

    Oh industry, whatever will become of me…

  6. Nicole Marie says:

    SOOOOO true…… i never wanted the “glamorous” fashion job. in my first ever fashion design class they asked us what we wanted to accomplish in our lives. most said ” i want to be Alexander McQueen”. i said i want to work for a company where i can sew and design and get paid. i recently graduated and am working as a costume designer for a production company, and you know what? our patternmaker is getting paid more then me!!!

  7. Barbara says:

    You have a lot to learn. If my boss hired a designer right out of school and paid her more than me, I couldn’t quit fast enough. Designers are a dime a dozen, good patternmakers aren’t.

  8. Birgitta Schneider says:

    This is a very interesting site!! And I hope many young girls/boys read it, and think about the unglamorous side of a job in fashion before they chose to be a second Jil Sander or Christian Dior. I love my job but there is a big error in the peoples heads about how glamorous and well paid fashion people are.

    However, I cannot agree to everything you wrote. I am working in the fashion industry as a designer for a boutique chain and I am better paid than the patternmakers here. It is always a question of experience and how well you promote yourself (this is soooo important: to be confident and ask for the salary you think you deserve!). Plus, a good job in the industry may pay better than a freelance job. So the question is, what kind of working life you prefer.

  9. Rosie says:

    I graduated from fashion design school (The University of Cincinnati – Design, Art, Architecture and Planning school) in 2009. Knowing I did not want to work for someone else, I opened my own shop where we design and sew our own goods and then sell in our store! Sounds glamorous. IT’S NOT. It has been a very very hard struggle for two years and every day I consider the alternative (getting a day job…) It sounds like freedom, but in a way, you become your own prisoner. I love waking up each day with a new challenge, but it requires true dedication and you should expect to live, eat, sleep the business. PS > a salary isn’t even an option for me, im doing it for the love.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.