With a population of nearly 13 million, Illinois is the nation’s fifth largest state and it is home to the nation’s third largest city—Chicago. With more than 2.7 million residents, Chicago is also the largest city in the Midwest. In addition to having a large population, the state of Illinois is home to more than 181 Title IV degree-granting institutions. Because Chicago is considered the art and culture center of the Midwest, many of the city’s postsecondary institutions offer outstanding art and design programs. Some schools, such as the world-renowned School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), are devoted exclusively to the arts. SAIC also offers more Master’s degree programs in art and design than any other top-tier college in the region.
In addition to a large collection of programs for aspiring artists and designers, Chicago is home to dozens of performing art venues, galleries, museums, public art installations, renowned restaurants, and a shopping scene that satisfies all tastes and budgets. Some of Chicago’s busiest shopping areas include the Magnificent Mile, where high-end designer boutiques dominate the landscape, Lincoln Park & Lakeview, where you’ll find a mix of designer boutiques and independent shops, and Wicker Park/Bucktown home to some of the most unique independent boutiques in the region. Chicago is also home to the famed Merchandise Mart and 350 West Mart Center—home to 120 wholesale apparel showrooms.
Venture outside of Chicago and you will still find plenty of places to shop. Gurnee Mills, Lincolnwood Towne Center, Huntley Outlet Center, Woodfield Shopping Center, and Old Orchard are just a few popular shopping malls. If Illinois sounds like a great place to start your fashion career, continue reading to find out which schools are the best options for aspiring fashion designers.
Illinois Fashion Schools
Illinois is home to a diverse collection of postsecondary institutions ranging from traditional universities to technical schools. While many of the state’s top art and design schools are located in the city of Chicago, you can also find excellent schools in other areas such as Normal, Palatine, and DeKalb. Take a look at the list of Illinois fashion schools below to find out where they are located and what they have to offer.
Olivet Nazarene University – Degrees Offered: B.S. Fashion Merchandising, B.S. Interior Design, Fashion Merchandising Minor, Interior Design Minor
Southern Illinois University - Degrees Offered: B.S. Fashion Design and Merchandising with specializations in Fashion Design, Fashion Merchandising, Fashion Stylist, B.S. Interior Design
Columbia College Chicago - Degrees Offered: B.A. Fashion Design, B.F.A. Fashion Design, B.A. Fashion Business, B.A. Fashion Studies
DePaul University - Degrees Offered: B.F.A. Costume Design (students focus on Fashion, Drawing, Costume Technology, Art), B.F.A. Costume Technology
School of the Art Institute of Chicago - Degrees Offered: B.F.A. Fashion Design, B.F.A. Fiber and Material Studies, Master of Design in Fashion, Body and Garment, Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Fashion Body and Garment
The Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago – Degrees Offered: B.F.A. Fashion Design, B.A. Fashion Marketing & Management, B.F.A. Interior Design, B.F.A. Illustration & Design, A.A.S. Fashion Merchandising, Fashion Retailing Diploma
Northern Illinois University – Degrees Offered: B.S. Textiles, Apparel, and Merchandising, M.S. Apparel Studies, Minor Textiles, Apparel, and Merchandising
College of DuPage – Degrees Offered: A.A.S Fashion Design, A.A.S. Fashion Merchandising, A.A.S Fashion Apparel Production, Fashion Design Certificate, Fashion Merchandising Certificate, Fashion Apparel Production Certificate, Fashion Entrepreneurial Certificate
Illinois State University – Degrees Offered: B.S. Apparel Design/Product Development, B.S. Merchandising, A.A.S Apparel Design/Product Development, A.A.S. Merchandising
Harper College – Degrees Offered: A.A.S Fashion Design, A.A.S. Fashion Merchandising, Advanced Patternmaking Certificate, Apparel Construction Certificate, Textiles Certificate
Dominican University - Degrees Offered: Bachelor's Apparel Design with concentrations in Fashion Development, Surface Design, and Dress and Textile Studies, Bachelor's Apparel Merchandising, Minor Apparel Merchandising
The Illinois Institute of Art, Schaumburg – Degrees Offered: B.F.A. Fashion Design, B.A. Fashion Marketing & Management, A.A.S. Fashion Merchandising, Fashion Retailing Diploma, B.F.A. Illustration & Design
More Programs to Consider:
Employment and Salary Trends for Illinois Fashion Designers
As of 2011, the state of Illinois was home to 110 salaried fashion designers with an average salary of $61,340 per year. They work in design, consulting, apparel manufacturing, and other related areas. The Bureau projects a 10.4 percent increase in employment for fashion designers nationwide for the 2010-2020 decade. Average salaries are on the rise as well. In 2006, the annual mean wage for fashion designers nationwide was $69,270. A news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics dated March 29, 2013 states that the average mean wage for fashion designers today is $72,620 per year.
It is important to keep in mind that many fashion designers are self-employed—especially in major cities such as Chicago. However, the Bureau does not collect data for these individuals. That said, self-employed designers might earn much less or much more than the national average. Some of nation’s top designers earn anywhere from the high six figures to tens of millions of dollars.
Another area that might be of interest to aspiring fashion designers and fashion merchandisers is the merchandise display industry. The U.S. is home to 73,490 salaried merchandise displayers, up from 62,580 in 2006. They earn an average mean annual salary of $28,860, up from $26,550 in 2006. The highest paid merchandise displayers earn an average salary of $43,940 yearly and the lowest paid displayers average $17,940 per year.
Illinois has a sizable merchandise display industry, with 1,870 designers averaging $32,020 per year. The state was home to 2,240 merchandise displayers in 2011, averaging $30,830 per year. Some of the best opportunities for merchandise displayers can be found in department stores, in advertising, public relations and related services, and clothing stores.
Most opportunities can be found in the state’s largest city—Chicago. However, several other cities (with a population of 100,000+) might be worth exploring as well. Aspiring fashion designers should consider Aurora (the state’s second largest city), Rockford (third largest), Joliet, Naperville, Springfield, Peoria, and Elgin.