What to Expect in Your First Year Studying BA (Hons) Costume Design and Practice

Mary Teresa Mayes joined Birmingham City University’s School of Fashion and Textiles, to study BA (Hons) Costume Design and Practice as a mature student in September 2020. Mary gave us an insight into her first year at BCU, the balance of remote and on-campus teaching and shares her advice for students who are beginning their journey at university soon.

What were your expectations before starting your first year at university?

Attending university has literally been a lifelong dream for me! I knew that this would be a completely life-changing experience and one I was willing to embrace fully.

Due to lockdown, it has been different than I expected with the restrictions around socialising with fellow students and not being able to go on research trips.

However, I was fortunate to be in a very supportive group of students who were very welcoming and treated me the same as everyone else. As a mature student, I was concerned that I wouldn’t fit in.

What has the balance been like for remote learning vs on campus teaching?

I have attended tutorials both online and on campus, so the balance has been good. At the beginning of this year, we went to being totally online. Towards the end of the term, we were able to have one session on campus and one online. In a nutshell, I have experienced all types of learning!

I sometimes struggle with IT so I was very happy when we were able to return to campus in March. I do focus well at home but I prefer to work on campus where I can have face-to-face conversations with the tutors and other students. 

What has been your favourite project you have worked on so far?

The module we have just completed, Creative Direction, was based around our favourite film, mine being Gone with the Wind. During the module we looked at fabric manipulation, embroidery and draping on the stand all of which I loved and would like to do more of in the future.

For my final drape I looked at the men’s shirts worn by the male characters and the exuberance of the women’s costumes at the beginning of the film. The colour pays homage to the “Burning of Atlanta” scene.

Have you had any work experience in your first year?

No, as due to lockdown unfortunately theatres have been closed. I would love to undertake some work experience in a costume museum or within the costume making department in a theatre or ballet company. The Birmingham Royal Ballet would be wonderful! At the moment I am just enjoying learning all I can.

Is studying at university much different to college or sixth form?

I last attended college in 1993, so things are very different in some ways primarily with new technology. Back in the 90’s, I just used a word processor to write my essays. Everything was hands-on and practical which played more to my strength’s. For example, when it comes to research, I would have gone to a library visited places attended museum or exhibitions to get the information, now it is just click on a screen. I know which I would prefer but that is purely a personal thing. On the plus side the course was able to go ahead during the pandemic thanks to online learning.

Attending University had been a lifelong dream for me and if I’m honest, the pandemic made me realise that I didn’t want to look back in a few years’ time and say, ‘why did I not do that while I had the chance?’

What advice would you give to students who are starting university soon?

As a mature student I would say if it is what you want to do, just do it. Take every opportunity you can in life and embrace everything that it has it offer. Hopefully, as lockdown eases, we will be able to experience everything that university life has to offer!


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