Academics Apparel Design

Bachelor’s program

BFA | 4-year program

Placing high value on the importance of creative individuality, Apparel Design professors assign a broad range of studio projects aimed at helping students to develop distinctive voices as creative professionals. Visits to New York's fashion district, along with required internships and competition opportunities, allow for important exposure to the industry.

Learning outcomes

The program equips students with the key technical, artistic and social attributes to contribute to and positively impact creative industries. In Apparel Design students will:

  • develop an approach to apparel design informed by an understanding that clothing the body is an invaluable form of self-expression integral to how people present themselves to and move through the world.
  • learn about critical discourses that investigate clothing on ideological terms, examining how apparel designers present and represent bodies, how clothing connects to identity/identities and how aesthetics, apparel design and sensorial human experience relate to one another.
  • learn qualitative research methods for investigating identity/identities, sourcing and audience in relation to the work they make.
  • gain a deep understanding of positive and sustainable practices in order to question, challenge and participate in the evolving world of fashion as forward-looking agents of change.
  • acquire a strong base in traditional making and craftsmanship, including drawing, pattern cutting, flat pattern, and 3D draping, garment construction and fitting.
  • develop effective communication and presentation strategies, problem setting, project planning and organization.
  • generate and share knowledge.

Inspiring community

As a close-knit group of approximately 65 undergraduates, Apparel Design majors benefit from regular interaction with alumni and other visiting critics and design professionals. Every spring, Apparel Design seniors debut a unified body of original work in the department’s senior thesis showwhich has taken several forms—from runway shows to print lookbooks and short films. The experience offers students an engaging way to share the latest fashion emerging from RISD studios and gain experience presenting work across mediums.

Learning environment

Apparel Design majors work in well-equipped studios on a single floor of the same building. The open studio environment, coupled with ongoing feedback from faculty mentors and a ready exchange of ideas with peers, fosters a collaborative and supportive environment for honing personal expression through the creation of one-of-a-kind works of wearable art.

Undergraduate student work


During sophomore year, students begin exploring apparel and bodily ornamentation as a means of identity projection/expression. Studios offer both a conceptual lens through which majors investigate individual and social identity, and core design and construction skills, including interdisciplinary approaches to making.

Through self-expression and visual communication, juniors learn to center their creative voices within their design process and its outcomes. Along the way they focus on knitwear, making both by hand and with knitting machines, to experiment three-dimensionally and explore the unique properties of knit fabrics.

Foundation year

Drawing I
Design I
Spatial Dynamics I
First-year Literature Seminar
Theory and History of Art and Design I: Global Modernisms
Non-major studio elective
Drawing II
Design II
Spatial Dynamics II
Topics in History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences
Theory and History of Art and Design II: Premodern Worlds


Intro to Apparel Studio
Sophomore: Identity/ Identities I
Histories of Dress
Open elective
Sophomore Apparel Studio
Sophomore: Identity/ Identities II
Liberal Arts elective


Junior Machine Knitwear Studio
Junior Cut and Sew Studio
Junior: Design I
Liberal Arts elective
Open elective
Junior Tailoring Studio
Junior: Design II
Liberal Arts elective


Senior Collection Development
Senior Thesis: Design Identity
Liberal Arts elective
Open elective
Senior Apparel Collection
Senior Thesis: Design Identity
Liberal Arts elective

Senior thesis project

Over the course of the final year, students engage in an in-depth process to create a series of works that demonstrate their philosophy and vision, and establish their authentic design language and identity. As they develop the capacity to express their mission and concepts in their fullest form(s), they become better equipped to communicate ideas to their intended audiences and potential collaborators.

Students advance their creative investigations by incorporating scent into the thesis project, as a means of connecting themselves and their audiences to the affective potential of their ideas and work. This follows the importance of investing in clothing as an emotional experience—how it makes the wearer feel, where it comes from and who it serves. Selected seniors will also have the opportunity to create a scent/smell in collaboration with International Flavors and Fragrances.

The year-long thesis experience culminates for each student in a body of work that addresses the multifaceted ways that clothing, fashion and adornment activate personal and collective expression. This takes the form of a physical body of work, a portfolio, lookbook, film short and written essay. 

Application requirements

  1. First-year applicants

    You’ll begin and manage your RISD application process by completing the Common Application. There is a nonrefundable application fee of $60 to use this service, plus a nonrefundable $10 fee to submit a required online portfolio via SlideRoom. Learn more about the first-year application here.

    Transfer applicants

    Submit your RISD application form, and all other credentials, through the RISD Applicant Portal. The application fee is $60, plus a nonrefundable $10 fee to submit a required online portfolio via SlideRoom. Learn more about the transfer application here.

  2. First-year applicants

    Applicants must provide official transcripts of all secondary academic work through the most recent grading period. Your counselor may submit your transcript through the Common Application, Parchment, email or mail. If your academic credentials are not written in English, they must be translated into English by an approved translator prior to submission.

    Transcripts can be submitted by school officials through Parchment, eTranscript, email or mail. 

    Transfer applicants

    Applicants must provide official transcripts covering at least the last three full years of academic work completed. This should include all college transcripts and, if applicable, your secondary school transcript. If you attend a school where the language of instruction is not English, your academic credentials must be translated into English by an approved translator.

    Transcripts can be submitted by school officials through Parchment, eTranscript, email or mail. 

  3. Test-Optional, SAT and ACT

    RISD is offering all applicants (domestic and international) the ability to be reviewed without submitting results from the SAT or ACT. Students may opt into this process by selecting the test-optional option under the "Testing" portion within the RISD section of the Common Application. For students who choose to submit test scores, RISD will superscore your results, looking at your highest outcome across multiple test dates.

    RISD’s institution code number for the SAT is 3726; for ACT the code number is 003812.

    Transfer credits

    Some Advanced Placement (AP), A-Level classes and International Baccalaureate (IB) credits can be used toward RISD liberal arts requirements. First-year students can transfer a maximum of nine credits from AP courses with a score of 4 or 5, A-Level classes with an earned grade of C or higher or Higher Level IB scores of 5, 6, or 7. RISD will not accept AP or IB credit from art or studio classes. View RISD's full transfer credit policy.

    English language proficiency tests

    All applicants who speak English as a second language, including US citizens, must submit results from any one of these three options: TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or Duolingo (an online English test). Since English proficiency is a prerequisite for acceptance, applicants are required to meet a minimum score of at least 93 on the TOEFL, a 6.5 on the IELTS, or 115 on Duolingo.

    Plan to take the TOEFL or IELTS well in advance of the application deadline since it may take three weeks for your scores to be sent to RISD by the test agency. Duolingo test results may take up to four days to be received by RISD.

    The language test requirement may be waived for applicants who have studied in an institution where English is the language of instruction. You must email the Admissions Office at to explain your school history and determine if you are eligible for a waiver.

  4. Portfolio Submission

    Your portfolio should present 12–20 examples of your most recent work that showcases your thinking and making. Once you've started your application to RISD in the Common Application, you will be directed to SlideRoom, a separate online platform, where you will upload your portfolio.

    What to include

    Your selected work should reflect a full range of your ideas, curiosity, experimentation and experience in creating and making. This can include work in any medium, in finished or sketch form, and can be the result of an assigned project or a self-directed exploration.

    We strongly recommend that you include some examples that involve drawing from direct observation (rather than from imagination, a photograph, or video). Drawing is a fundamental tool for visual makers from initial concept to execution, so it is valuable for reviewers to see examples of your experience with and approach to drawing.

    While the majority of your portfolio should feature finished pieces, we suggest including some research or preparatory work in up to three—but no more than three—portfolio uploads/slides. This helps reviewers better understand how you develop your ideas.


    Finally, we strongly discourage including excessive visual elements and text descriptions in a single slide submission. These are difficult to view and are likely to exceed the allowed submission limit. Additional angles or detail shots of some works can be submitted across multiple slide submissions, combined into one composite including no more than 3 images or in a single video upload. Editing is an important part of curating your portfolio. You may need to devise creative solutions to best show your work within the limits of submission guidelines.

    Our recommended file formats are: jpeg, png, gif, mp4 and mov. These formats are most compatible with SlideRoom. Google Drive or zipped files are discouraged.

    You may be interested in attending or watching the recording of one of our Portfolio Tips webinars for more advice on how to approach your RISD application portfolio. 

    The RISD Assignment is no longer part of the application

    After extensive research and discussion, it has become evident that requiring the RISD Assignment functions as a barrier for applicants and is in direct conflict with RISD’s Social Equity and Inclusion action plan. To provide more access and equity in our admissions process, we have made the decision to remove the RISD Assignment as an application requirement beginning with the 2022/23 application cycle. We will continue to prioritize the portfolio when evaluating the visual component of an applicant’s candidacy.

  5. First-year applicants

    If you are applying as a first-year, RISD requires the Common Application Personal Essay (up to 650 words). You will find the writing prompts in the Writing section of the Common Application.

    While we encourage you to adhere to the rules of good writing, we look for applicants who are not afraid to take risks in their expression. Please don't hesitate to use a writing style or method that may be outside the mainstream as you express a distinctive personal position in your essay.

    Transfer applicants

    Submit a written statement, up to 650 words, using the prompt indicated below. Remember, this is the limit, not a goal. Use the full limit if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so.

    • Provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve by joining us at RISD.

    While we encourage you to adhere to the rules of good writing, we look for applicants who are not afraid to take risks in their expression. Please don't hesitate to use a writing style or method that may be outside the mainstream as you express a dynamic position in the samples you submit.

  6. Letters of recommendation can be very helpful to your application. One letter is required, although as many as three may be submitted. Recommendation letters should be written by teachers or other professionals who have firsthand knowledge of your art or academic achievements and can comment on your potential as a student.

    First-year applicants

    Please use the Common Application to invite your recommendation writers to submit letters through that service. Letters may also be sent directly to our mailing address (see below) or emailed to

    Transfer applicants

    Please have your recommendation writers submit their letters directly to Letters may also be sent directly to our mailing address (see below).