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The Nation's Best Schools for Accessory Design, 2017

Accessories such as parasols, fans, and gloves were all the rage in the Victorian era and held significance for women and men of status and lineage. Today, men and women of all ages and social status own countless accessories to complement their wardrobes. Accessories can be carried or worn, and include purses, wallets, umbrellas, canes, and shoes, jackets, watches, jewelry, gloves, and socks, just to name a few. Accessory design is typically offered as part of fashion or apparel design programs. Many schools offer certificate and degree programs with a chance to focus on multiple aspects and different professional specialties of the industry. Only a handful of schools in the US offers a specific degree in accessory design. The best schools provide a sweeping overview of the fashion and apparel industry, but offer a focus on accessory design, or at least an appreciable amount of accessory design classes, for those individuals who choose to specialize in this area. Coursework with cover all aspects of design, marketing, and business, and the professors will be respected professionals in the field. The best schools will meet high academic standards and prepare students for a career in the world of fashion. On this page, we provide a list of the nation’s best fashion/accessory design schools, along with guides and links to additional resources for students seeking education or training in a specific area of focus.

  • School Name

    11 schools ranked

  • With 22 undergraduate degree programs, 12 graduate programs and international study options; California College of the Arts successfully balances tradition with innovation and theory with practice. Students enjoy an 8:1 student/teacher ratio and class sizes averaging 13 students.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1,975
  • Celebrating over 130 years of educating students in the field of art; the Cleveland Institute of Art was established in 1882 and enjoys international recognition as a source of excellence and innovation.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 606
  • With its legacy beginning in 1873, Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt), is public, independent, and one of the nation’s oldest art schools. Stressing diversity and inclusiveness, MassArt fosters and encourages community-building, within and outside the college. Challenging students to transcend traditional boundaries, MassArt addresses the learning process within each student from a holistic standpoint. Valuing art as a life-enhancing force, there is an emphasis on academic excellence as a foundation for greatness.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 1,990
  • Pratt Institute utilizes the city of New York as a literal classroom by engaging students in real life experiences including public critiques and internships with top design companies like Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and more.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 4,784
  • Nestled amidst the picturesque New England seaboard, Rhode Island School of Design has long been one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious colleges offering rigorous art programs at both an undergraduate and graduate level.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 2,481
  • A world-class research university, UC utilizes an interdisciplinary approach; complete with an international, prestigious faculty; a variety of workshop facilities, photography and computer graphics center and an experimental technology laboratory.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 36,042
  • Located in the heart of one of the world’s cultural centers, the UCLA School of Art emphasizes the necessity of a profound interdependence between the creative arts and academic scholarship. Drawing from the richness of the surrounding culture, the School hosts a distinguished, world-famous faculty who effectively combine studio-based experience with critical studies and liberal arts. As part of a leading research university, students are guaranteed an exclusive and empowering education.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 41,908
  • With 26 creative majors, FIDM students have career options in Fashion, Visual Arts, Interior Design and Entertainment. In addition to Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degrees, FIDM offers degree programs in Advanced Study and Professional Designation.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private, For Profit
    • imgEnrollment : 2,814
  • Woodbury’s School of Media, Culture & Design provides an innovative learning experience within an interdisciplinary environment. Undergraduates can choose from 8 degree programs: animation, communication, filmmaking, game art/design, graphic design, psychology and media technology.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1,457
  • FIT has consistently amassed international acclaim and recognition for its programs in fashion, design, art, communications and business. Its rigorous curriculum is steeped in its commitment to research, experiential learning, adaptable academics and industry partnerships.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 9,565
  • Established in 1906, the College for Creative Studies is a small, private, fully-accredited institution of higher learning. Diversity and inclusion characterize the student body: undergraduates hail from 35 states and 24 countries; while the graduate population is comprised of 81% international enrollees from 8 countries. Located in Midtown Detroit, students enjoy the long-established, rich culture of the city. From the Detroit Film Theatre and the Detroit Institute of Arts; to the libraries, galleries and famous restaurants; both college and students can leverage the educational opportunities provided by the urban community.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1,487

How to Choose a School for Fashion or Accessory Design

With movies like The Devil Wears Prada, the many television shows dedicated to fashion and trends in apparel, like Runway, and Runway Junior, and the increasing popularity of New York or Paris Fashion Week, it’s no wonder the industry is totally in-vogue and a hot field to study. After all, as long as there are people there will be fashion and accessories to adorn their clothes. Fashion and accessory design students can find programs at traditional colleges and universities or at private art and design schools. It is a competitive field that requires a great deal of skill, artistic ability, and tenacity, and the best schools will have professors on-staff with close ties to the industry and who help students master the design, technical, and business skills necessary to succeed, as well as programs that offer a range of classes to help students launch their careers upon graduation. More desirable design and art programs will also offer internships to gain experience and coursework that covers a full range of accessory design, from high-fashion boots, shoes, and handbags, to wallets and athletic footwear. Coursework in a typical accessory design program (at any degree level) will include drawing, sewing, pattern making, computer-aided design (CAD), studio classes where you create and build a professional portfolio, fashion and accessory marketing and buying, business, textiles, and surface design. But how do you know which program is best or which school to attend? First, ask yourself if you’ve been dreaming about a career as an accessory designer for as long as you can remember, and if you’ll do everything it takes to make that dream come true?

DEGREE PROGRAMS

Fashion accessories are a major global industry with revenues of $51 billion annually in the US alone. It is a field that is underserved, but programs targeted in the study of accessory design are still rare. Curriculum at all levels of education will typically combine education in design, research, and technology to prepare graduates to do well in all aspects of fashion accessories design; from initial concept to final product manufacturing. In addition to a strong focus on creativity and design, most programs cover topics like fabrication techniques, trends forecasting, and market research. Supply chain management, marketing, branding, and merchandising are usually also included in most degree programs.

Whether pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Art, certificate, or associate degree, or furthering your education by pursuing a Master of Fine Art program, the goal of fashion and apparel programs (the umbrella for accessory design programs) is to introduce students to the understanding, techniques, materials, and background of fashion design through an interdisciplinary approach. Curriculum, although similar, varies from one program to the next, and from one school to the next. Private fashion design schools provide a more focused and intensive approach to accessory design. Public liberal arts colleges usually have an accessory design program embedded within a fashion design program. Both offer a well-rounded curriculum and provide students the opportunity to gain from the knowledge of professional faculty with experience in the industry.

There are a few colleges in the US that offer associate degree programs in fashion design with an emphasis in accessory design. Most employers, however, prefer students earn at least a bachelor’s degree in fashion/accessory design. That said, an associate degree will give you a good foundation in design and can be used as a stepping stone into a BFA program (it’s also financially prudent). In an associate program, you’ll learn sewing techniques, construction, model drawing and design, and usually also learn the fundamentals of computer-aided design.

A bachelor’s degree program, usually a Bachelor of Fine Arts or BFA, teaches students illustration, apparel and accessory design, textile design, merchandising, and builds on drawing and color theory, art history, fashion and accessory technology, design strategies, concept and development, and many other relevant courses. Most programs offer students the opportunity to become proficient in all phases of accessory design while working with the same computer technology, materials, and equipment used in the accessory design industry. Some students will pair a degree in accessory (or fashion) design with a minor in business, marketing, or fashion merchandising.

Most schools, whether private or public encourage students to complete an internship, preferably at a fashion house, large retailer, or other company related to the industry to gain hands-on experience, build confidence, and meet other people in the industry. This professional work experience can develop a student’s competitive edge when applying for jobs after graduation. It also gives individuals the skills needed to meet the real-life demands of the fashion world.

Because there are so few programs that have concentrations in accessory design, immediately following graduation you may want to look into schools that offer advanced study options. These programs allow graduates to choose a concentration in specialty topics such as footwear, handbags and purses, or athletic shoes. These classes with build on what you already know, help you better conceptualize and create accessories to complement fashion on the runway, show you how to launch your brand, and how to use market research to stay up-to-date with current trends. A maser’s program in accessories design prepares students for a variety of professions related to apparel and fashion design. Students learn the importance of accessories, from shoes and jewelry to handbags and wallets, or anything that complements an outfit. Graduates of a master’s program are expert designers and have completed courses in fashion trends, product development, color theory, advanced computer techniques, and marketing.

CURRICULUM & SKILLS

Most fashion design programs, whether in a private school or public liberal arts university, follow a similar curriculum. In these programs, you will learn the basics of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, fashion history, digital sketching design, patternmaking, societal impacts on fashion design, design elements, accessory design theories and methodologies, color theory, 3D design, and predicting trends and marketing and promotion techniques. Designers must have an eye for color and detail, an appreciation for beauty in apparel and the accessories that adorn fashion, and a sense of balance and proportion. Despite the growth of computer-aided design, sketching ability still remains an important skill to have in fashion/accessory design. Designers also need excellent communication and problem-solving skills. A good portfolio, which is a collection of your very best work, is often the deciding factor in getting a job.

In addition to creativity and artistic talent, fashion designers need to have sewing and patternmaking skills. Fashion designers also need strong presentation and sales skills to help persuade clients to purchase their designs. This is especially true if you plan to open your own shop or plan to sell to a retail establishment. Good teamwork and communication skills are necessary too, as this career requires contact with suppliers, manufacturers, and buyers from around the world.

ACADEMIC LIFE

Choosing a school that offers a course of study that’s right for you is fundamental to school selection. Of course, size of school, opportunities to get involved in student life, attend sporting events, and proximity to nightlife and jobs, are all important too. That said, if you want a career as an accessory designer, you should attend a school that offers a good program in fashion design or you won’t offer the curriculum you need. Some schools are known for fashion design, while other’s only offer classes a part of an art program. Some school’s offer a traditional course of study, while others encourage students to think independently and use their imaginations. Many schools offer a work-study program for students who need financial aid. Work-study programs can supplement grants and loans, so this may be something to check out when researching schools. Do you plan to live on-campus in a dorm, or off-campus? Does school size impact your decision? Is attending student events an important part of your overall college experience, or are you only interested in earning your degree? Are you looking for classes (and professors) that will push you out of your comfort zone, or do you prefer a more traditional course of study? It’s also a good idea to consider the extracurricular activities offered by a school. This may include recreational sports, volunteer groups, or clubs associated with your field of study.

SCHOOL SIZE

The size and feel of a campus can play a huge role in choosing a school and how well you think you’ll fit in. Just walking across the campus or into a classroom can either give you a sense of belonging or have you running for cover. Even if the student-to-faculty ratio is relatively low, a large school can be overwhelming for many students, while a small school may be underwhelming. Is attending a school where you know everyone on campus important? Do you feel the school shares the same values and sense of purpose as you? Is the environment conducive to gaining collegial relationships with other students and faculty? Some schools are so large that getting personal attention or help from faculty is nearly impossible. So, if one-on-one assistance and building relationships with your professors is important, then examine the student-to-faculty ratio very closely. Large schools, however, typically offer more student resources, like clubs and opportunities to get involved, as well as the latest equipment and technology. Smaller schools are more intimate and usually have fewer distractions.

SCHOOL & FACULTY REPUTATION

One of the most important factors (some would say the most important factor) is the reputation of a school and a school’s faculty. For better or worse, students choose colleges based on reputation. It can be more important than where a college is located, the size of classes, or even course content. Without a good reputation, schools are unable to attract resources needed to build effective programs. Reputation attracts everything, from the best professors to philanthropic donations and star athletes. Professors are crucial to a school’s success and reputation, and the relationships they form with the student body is paramount to student’s feeling a sense of belonging and affiliation. Professors are mentors and advisors, and often help students find internship and networking opportunities outside of the classroom. And, because they are experts in the fashion and fashion accessory fields, they can also advise on career options post-graduation. It’s a proven fact that students do better when they form bonds with their professors, and the reputation of the faculty is often the main reason students choose one school over another. How knowledgeable are your professors on that latest technological advances in accessory design? What do recent grads and alumni say about their experiences on campus? How well-known and respected is the school? What opportunities will you have for continuing education?

PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE

No doubt, there are some things a private school can offer that a public university can’t, and vice versa. Private schools usually have more immersive and in-depth coursework in a student’s course of study. If you’re attending a private college for fashion/accessory design, then most of your classes will be in fashion/accessory design, with less time spent in general ed classes. Private colleges tend to be smaller with some campuses only numbering in the hundreds. Private colleges tend to offer a smaller range of majors, often concentrating on only a handful of fields. For instance, some private colleges emphasize the fine arts or fashion, while other focus on just computer science or engineering. Since state residency isn’t crucial for admittance into a private college, they tend to have a greater student diversity among the student body. But, most private colleges do not offer housing, meal plans, or extracurricular activities and they usually also cost more to attend. On the other hand, public colleges and universities are state funded, keeping tuition costs lower. They also offer financial aid, housing, meal plans, athletics, and typically more clubs and organizations than their private school counterparts. Public schools also offer a wider range of majors, but campuses can be large; some very large. While private schools keep classes small, public class can sometimes top 200 students, making access to professors at public universities more difficult and at private colleges much easier. So, ask yourself; do you like smaller class size, and are you willing to pay more for attending a private college where you may get personal attention from faculty and staff? Is it important that you have access to the latest technology for designing fashion accessories? Do you prefer a larger campus where there are more activities, and is financial aid a requirement?

STUDY ABROAD OPPORTUNITIES

Like many fields of art, fashion and accessory design has no borders, and studying abroad for many students can be a chance in a lifetime too good to pass up. Imagine standing toe-to-toe with professional designers in Italy or learning about international fashion from a leading accessory design instructor in France? Most programs offer a balance between studying, designing, creating, and sightseeing, so you’re not overwhelmed or bored. There are summer internships, one- or two-year degree programs, and graduate programs that immerse students in the fashion of another culture, and provide a foundation in fashion and accessory design, art history, drawing, and many other pertinent courses. You will acquire technical skills while simultaneously developing and refining your creative abilities and building a professional portfolio. You may even design and construct your own collection of fashion accessories. Have you always dreamed of visiting Paris and meeting the top designers of the fashion world? Have you always thought that traveling as part of a study abroad program would be a part of your college experience? If this spikes your interest, then there are a number of programs to check out.

What to Expect from an Accessory Design Program

Whether taking classes at a community college, enrolled in a bachelor of fine arts program at a large university, or studying fashion and accessory design at a private college, what you get out of college is a direct link to the investment of time and energy you put into college. Before selecting a school, develop a plan and identify your priorities and goals. Do you want to study at a large university that offers access to many clubs and extracurricular activities? Or, does a smaller college where you are immersed in your field of study sound better? What are your goals after graduation?

And, besides a desire to become a world-renowned accessory designer, what skills are needed to succeed in this competitive field, and what knowledge can I gain while in college? All fashion/accessory designers must know design techniques, tools, and what is involved in the production of accessories. Designers must have knowledge about raw materials, production processes, costs, and how to effectively manage the distribution of goods. They must have at least a basic knowledge of the business of accessory design, understand sales and marketing strategies, and knowledge of the principles for providing customer service, which includes customer needs assessment. They must have a firm grasp of the latest technology used in designing accessories, keep up on fashion trends and the fashion industry as a whole.

In general, aspiring accessory designers are typically exposed to these areas of design:

  • Fashion History
  • Fashion Drawing and Design
  • CAD (Computer Aided Design)
  • Old and Current Fashion Trends
  • Accessory Designing and Conceptualization
  • Fashion Marketing and Advertising

Accessory designers must be detail oriented, highly creative, artistic, competitive, and have strong business sense. They also must be able to sew and have the ability to visualize an accessory before an idea is ever put on paper. Strong drawing skills, a complete understanding of fabric, texture, color, and form, excellent communication and interpersonal skills and the ability to work well alone or with a team are also imperative to succeed in the accessory design field. In addition, the ability to land a job in the fashion/accessory design industry depends a great deal on a strong portfolio. In fact, one job candidate is often picked over another simply because one portfolio was better. Whether online or in print or in the form of a personal website, your portfolio is a statement about your talent and taste, and employers will rely on a portfolio to shed light on a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses; on who they are and what they are capable of. So, whether you’re in college or not, compiling a professional looking portfolio is imperative.