Freshman Julia Dotson can trace her passion for fashion back to third grade, when she wanted to make her own clothes.

To apply

Applications can be found at, and the deadline is Jan. 24. Applications should be mailed or hand-delivered to School of the Arts, 5109 W. Enterprise Street, North Charleston.

Prospective fashion and design majors will be asked to audition, which involves:

Submitting three drawings of original costume or fashion designs appropriate for a child, teen or adult (male or female). Drawings should be provided in a manila folder with the applicant’s name on the back.

Bringing or wearing a garment either constructed or altered by the student (this could be a T-shirt that is sewn, cut, embellished or “blinged out”).

Participating in an on-site 60-minute design assessment in which the applicant will use a variety of materials to create original designs similar to the Project Runway challenges. All materials will be provided.

Answering about five minutes worth of questions relative to their designs.

Charleston County School of the Arts

Her interest in garments grew, and she signed up for School of the Arts’ fashion and costume design elective as soon as she was allowed.

Although visual arts is her high school major, she plans to audition for and, if accepted, double major in the school’s newest major, fashion and costume design.

“This is what I love doing,” she said. “Creating is just amazing. I love having my hands in everything. It’s more interesting than having it made in Taiwan.”

The Charleston County School District’s flagship arts high school has three fashion and costume design electives, and those will be expanded into a full-fledged major for the 2014-15 school year. The county-wide magnet school hopes to satisfy students’ desire to learn more about that art, as well as enroll more students from under-served groups, such as minorities, who might not have had the same preparation as others who apply for the school.

“It’s two-fold,” said Principal Shannon Cook. “One is that we have the students who have the interest ... and we do want to make sure we are giving equal access to students across the county.”

Filling a need

Dotson, senior Caton Hamrick and junior Paris Scott stood Wednesday before a row of mannequins dressed in 1920s attire.

The costumes will be featured in the school’s upcoming production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which opens Feb. 6. The fashion and costume design students have created all 46 actors’ costumes, and every performer has multiple outfit changes.

The trio picked through boxes of earrings and necklaces to find the right accessory for each period piece.

“Try to put more color on this one,” Hamrick said to Dotson, pointing to an all-black ensemble.

“I feel like it needs a broach or something,” Dotson said, and Hamrick agreed.

Like Dotson, Hamrick has been interested in clothes for as long as she can remember. Her second word was “fashion,” and her parents have video of her walking around and saying “fashion” as she pointed out what she thought was pretty.

An internship with the Charleston Acting Studio on James Island exposed her to the field of costume design, and after serving as a production assistant, she had the chance to design a few shows by herself.

She plans to pursue a career in costume design, and she’s grateful for the School of the Arts electives. She learned that she liked costume design better than designing for fashion shows — “It’s more complicated,” she said of the former — and she understands proper sewing and design techniques.

She expects the new major to fill a need in the school.

“It’s really going to take off,” she said.

The offering

Marie Nichols is a visual arts teacher who’s been at the school for 18 years and will head up the new fashion and costume design major. She said she’s not expecting students to come in with the ability to use a sewing machine.

“What we’re looking for is raw talent and potential,” she said.

The African American culture has a heritage of quilting and sewing, and Nichols said that cultural heritage is an untapped resource.

“We’d love to have some of these kids,” she said.

The new major is part of a broader effort the school is making to boost diversity. Other initiatives include tweaking the application and audition process to ensure fairness, and sending students into low-income elementary schools to teach young children about the arts and how to apply to the magnet school.

For the new major, the school will accept up to 24 rising freshmen and sophomores who can demonstrate creativity, potential for and interest in fashion and costume design. The application deadline for every other major has passed, but the school extended this deadline until Jan. 24 because of the low number of applicants.

Wando High in Mount Pleasant is the only other Charleston County school that offers fashion design and apparel construction as a major. The new School of the Arts major will be different from Wando’s in that it will delve deeper into costume design, and Cook said students will spend about twice as much time in fashion classes.

At least 13 former School of the Arts students have gone on to pursue a degree or career in fashion, and Scott, a junior, hopes to one day be counted as part of that number. She wants to work as a theater costume designer.

“I love the backstage stress,” she said. “There’s never an idle moment.”

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.