The parties, the images, the clothing, the glamour, it can all be mistaken for a constant lap of luxury as a fashion stylist. However, a career as a fashion stylist is far from what it is displayed in the media as being. Sure, the final polished product is posh and perfect, but the process of getting there is gritty and an often arduous process, lots of sweat, perhaps some tears, maybe a little blood (but like paper cuts people). What the world sees is the final image published in the glossy pages of the magazines they flip through, a final clip of a music video their eyes are peeled to, or the final cut of a favourite film, it is the FINAL that everyone sees, not the PROCESS, which is what creates the illusion of an elegant job that is positively extravagant and lavish each and every day.
“There are many jarring realities when you become a stylist, removed from the ideas of what you thought it would be”
Award shows give the illusion of extravagance when in reality they are one of the few times that celebrities indulge in such extravagant red carpet luxury and opulence, after long and arduous months of filming. It is their time to celebrate all of the hard (and incredibly unluxurious) work that they have done all year; it is their moment, it is their polished final product, and it takes an incredible amount of work to get there in this moment, and to get them there and ready for the red carpet. The entire process along the way is the opposite of glamorous, although one could be easily fooled by the images that we see of the final product. And the same goes for the parties and the events that you may see stylists attending, this is our moment to embrace the lifestyle and products of the clients that we help build an image for and celebrate the process. It is definitely not what a day in the life of a stylist looks like on a constant basis.
There are many jarring realities when you become a stylist, removed from the ideas of what you thought it would be. I personally didn’t have any preconceived notions of what it would be like, I only knew that I wanted to create and whatever that entailed I was willing to follow and so the transition was interesting but not overly surprising; I knew starting a career forms scratch would be difficult and I wasn’t in it for the glitz and glam. However, I’ve had many assistants who have had looks of, “What the hell is this” on their first day on set. You learn quickly that the outside looking in is very different from standing inside and looking around the set of a job. HINT: replace piles of luxury with piles of clothes.
5 MAJOR misconceptions of being a fashion stylist
- You get to wear whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want and damn it you look good all the time
Excuse me as I put on my most comfortable pair of shoes, you know the ones with the extra padding and Dr.Scholl’s inserts, before I answer this question. Do stylist’s get to wear whatever they want? Sure within reason, we need to keep it professional but there’s no uniform or dress code. However, the days duties change constantly so although one day we may need to put on a full face, pantsuit and heels for a client consultation, the next day, (or the next many days in a row) will probably be spent in clothes that allow quick movements, brisk walking, sometimes panic runs, with lots of stretch to accommodate all of the constant bending, stretching to reach things, primping, carrying, packing, unpacking, general hossing of garments and merchandise, and the overall manual labour and sweating that
may will be happening. Although you will need to look decent, like maybe you have some sense of personal style (hello, you are a stylist) comfortable clothing that is easy to coordinate in the morning and allows a great range of movement is what you will be spending a majority of your time in, not cute heels and the latest runway pieces. Sure, there will be times that your skills can be used for yourself, but the truth is that your skills will be mainly focused on someone else or something else now, and you will not have the time to coordinate full on looks every day. The irony is that the more you get to do what you want to do as a stylist, the less time you will have to ‘style’ yourself. Rough, I know, but there will still be events to attend and anyways, you will be so fulfilled by your job that you really won’t care (that much). So, do yourself a favour and look around for stylish outfits that will allow for freedom and movement and will not need constant readjusting, because you’re going to be too busy adjusting someone or something else. Vera Wang started her career as a stylist assistant at VOGUE, she had just arrived in NY from living in Paris and walked into the office in a cute little number with heels on, the stylist who she was to be assisting (an incredibly famous woman in her field) took one look at her and said something along the lines of, “Did you know that the suitcases that we pack and unpack are fondly nicknamed coffins? You can’t work in that, go back to where you came from and change into something that makes sense for the work that we’ll be doing.” And that was at VOGUE. Now, I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the picture. So if you currently think that being a stylist would be perfect because you’ll look hella hot every single day flaunting around your style, think again. I’m not saying you won’t have great personal style, but it will need to match the type of work you’ll be doing which by the way could be a lot of kneeling on floors and bends and ups and downs during sittings and fittings. The more clients you attain, the more comfortable shoes you will amass, trust me. And if you didn’t pick up on the hint: don’t come to an assistant gig or any first gig wearing heels, you’ll immediately look amateur.
- Everyday is spent putting together outfits and shopping
My personal favourite, especially when family tries to get on the level with what I do. Shopping has become something that I need to do, not something that I necessarily enjoy. Of course, my love of design and garments could never waver, however, shopping is not a hobby or a past time for me, it is a part of my job and is something that I do need to do often, so like many tasks done at work, it’s not something that I enjoy doing on my off time. However, shopping is NOT all that stylists do (unless you are perhaps a personal stylist or a retail stylist) and actually, it isn’t so much “shopping” that we do but rather sourcing specific items and garments for a client or project. This means that I need to know what stores have which types of items and the price range, which designers they carry and their hours of operation. I also need to know which showrooms have which designers in them and contact designers directly for specific clients, always having something in mind before going out to look for it. It isn’t “shopping” it’s “sourcing” and yes, it’s definitely something that will be done constantly, and don’t be surprised if “shopping” is the last thing you want to do on your day off after being a stylist for long enough. At this point, I do most of my “shopping” on set or online because I’ve already seen the looks for the season or what designers have available and know exactly what I want so do not need to peruse racks looking.
Putting looks together is the specific reason why many clients will be hiring you, but it will also be the aspect of your job that you spend the least amount of time on. Ironic again, I know, also incredibly sad, but needless to say, reality. The majority of our time is spent researching, contacting designers and showrooms, procuring garments and accessories, driving and lugging said garments and accessories around to set, fittings, studios and back to where they came from plus keeping the pulls and inventory safe and organized, and always ensuring the proper fit of the garments and overall adjustments. Coordinating outfits are a small fraction of the days (but undoubtedly the best part) but seeing the final product whether it be a red carpet look, a character, or a lookbook is rewarding and worth it.
- Stylists only work on projects that they absolutely love and have created themselves
Wrong. Your level of passion will differ from project to project depending on what the job means to you, how much creative input you have, what types of jobs you prefer to do and the team and client. It’s common to think that because often fashion stylists are in love with their jobs, that they love every single job, but this just isn’t the case (is it the case with anyone really?!) even people who follow their true calling still get stuck in tasks that are far from the ideal situation. There are many commercial jobs that are not as creative as say an editorial sitting is and there are many gigs that rely more on the organization and keeping of the clothes than on creativity. But there are also the projects that sing to your heart, concepts that hold strong messages and convictions that you believe in, and personal passion projects that allow you to create your own teams and vision. There is not one person on Earth, no matter how much they love their job, that likes doing every single aspect of it, every single day, but they keep on doing it because of the tasks they look forward to. It will always be an ebb and flow of fluctuating levels of passion for the projects that you work on. And that leads me into the next common misconception …
- Fashion Stylists always have creative control over the work that they produce
Although there will be many times that a stylist has creative control, there are going to be just as many, possibly even more times that they don’t, depending on what sector of styling one chooses to focus on. For instance, for a lookbook or campaign, a client has a clear picture of what they want the final product to look like, there will already be weeks of work and moodboards and creative briefs ready for reference and there is often many people involved in the developing the creative including any or all of the following: a creative director, a brand director, an art director, ad agencies, the client(s), fashion director/director and/or photographer, etc etc, each of these individuals having a vision for the final product and a certain amount of authority regarding how much of their vision will be incorporated. There is a hierarchy and a certain amount of “set etiquette” surrounding it, and depending on the capacity in which you have been hired, you will be able to recommend a direction based on your expertise or simply carry out the vision of the clients that hired you (although I think it is always important to give feedback based on what you know the trends of the market are at the time, this is after all supposed to be your expertise).
Sometimes it may be a very small team and you may be hired as the fashion stylist and fashion director (possibly on an ongoing basis) and have a lot of creative freedom and power when it comes to consulting with the client on attaining their revenue goals and connection with their targeted demographic and customers. It all depends on the client, the situation and team and the level of your expertise. And this leads us to the final most popular misconception …
- Being a fashion stylist is glamorous
This is by far the most common misconception. And really, who can blame someone from the outside looking in, the media has a way of showing a perspective that is all glitz and glamour but no actual behind the scenes work which is a completely different story. It is the final polished product that everyone is seeing, the red carpet look that took days to track down, miles spent in a car travelling from showroom to showroom and grueling years to make the connections possible to get into these showrooms. Nobody is seeing the suitcases of supplies that always need to be at the ready, suitcases of tape and under garments, sewing supplies, the arsenal that you will be wielding for each and every job to ensure that no matter what happens you’re ready for it. The sore muscles from carrying garment bags and shoe boxes, the hours on your feet, the deodorant you keep packed in your bag for when things get sweaty (everyday). Sure, the parties are (very) cool but they are not what the job is, they are only a very small percent (like .1%) of the overall career, think of them as a reward for all of the 60 hour work weeks; finally a time when a stylist can “get glamorous” to make up for all the time spent getting someone else glamorous.