I am just starting college and very interested in pursuing a career in fashion. I’m not sure what I want to do but am thinking something on the business end or perhaps fashion journalism. What advice do you have to help me get on the path toward this career?
Ooh ooh advice column list time!
1. Put your ego aside.
Note: this is an old photo, taken prior to Madonna’s “Gaga stole ‘Born This Way’/down with Gaga” nonsense.
A lot of the tips on this list would apply to ANY job and this is one of them. None of the people able to give you your first big break want to deal with an entitled intern or entry-level employee who thinks they can pick all their projects and skirt the grunt work because their head is swollen with delusions about how fabulous they are and what they should be doing. Especially in fashion, where many egos thrive already (some are deserved and feel mildly excusable while some are just totally obnoxious) you need to be willing to do anything enthusiastically.
When I say anything, I don’t mean it in the Devil Wears Prada sense. I mean filing, research, picking out buttons, packing up borrowed dresses — not glamorous things. The fashion industry has a reputation for treating interns and employees very badly, thanks to The Devil Wears Prada, but not ALL offices are like that. A lot of them are crazy, some more tolerably than others, but a lot just have a lot of grunt work that needs to get done. Do it well, hide how much you hate it if you do, and you will be rewarded. And if someone asks you to do something totally unreasonable, like clip their cat’s nails, then quit! There is a difference between grunt work and abuse.
2. Look for an internship.
Sean Avery posing for a story about his Vogue internship (yes, really happened) a few years ago.
Guess what? Marc Jacobs isn’t going to come banging down your door begging you to come design pilgrim shoes for his next collection. A lot of people who want things fail to realize that those things come with action, and careers are one of those things. So find internship listings (Fashionista.com is a great resource) and send out resumes and cover letters that are actually good. Apply to 100 jobs if you have to — the hardest thing is getting your foot in the door, but if you do a good job you will be rewarded.
Also, if your dream company rejects you, keep applying. I did this once for a gig and I got in simply because the person hiring was impressed by the balls it took to say “I tried with you already and you didn’t like my work but I’m trying again.” Fearlessness will get you far. And if you don’t have it, fake it.
Fashion is one of those industries everyone wants to work in (or thinks they do) so distinguishing oneself is important. Once you get your job go above and beyond to show how hard you not only can work but want to work. Stay late. Anticipate supervisors’ needs. Pitch ideas if you think they’ll be welcome. Hard work does not go unnoticed at any level. Likewise, laziness is just as hard to miss.
Fashion has reached this funny point where a lot of people are making whole careers out of posting photos of themselves on the internet wearing clothes. It’s very hard to break out as a star in this category and join the ranks of established self-stylists like Rumi “Fashion Toast” Neely and Susie Bubble. And I admire what they’ve accomplished because it’s not easy at all. Aspiring personal style bloggers actually go hang out at Fashion Week even though they don’t have show tickets because they want to get photographed by street style photographers and become known in this way.
Getting any kind of following via internet photos of your personal style is like becoming the next Jennifer Lawrence. A lot of people want it, only a handful get it. So unless you’re really passionate about making a career as an internet clothes-wearing personality, be wary of making this your sole aspiration. You don’t know if it will lead anywhere and people who might give you actual jobs might just scoff at your attempts and pass you off as an ego they don’t want to deal with. I think, with the rare super promising exception (Alexander Wang’s niece) you’re better off pursuing other avenues.
This is Alexander Wang’s niece. She really does stellar things with proportions.
5. Prepare for someone to be very mean to you.
A lot of people I know who have worked in fashion for a while have dealt with a devil in some sort of designer clothing. It may be that super mean people are a little more tolerated in the worlds of fashion and publishing than other industries. It may be that these fields attract a particular kind of miserable person who is determined to make everyone around them as unhappy as they are. Or maybe these people are extremely OCD and get angry when everyone around them isn’t also OCD? I don’t know. Whatever it is, if you encounter someone who tries to terrorize you, know that it has nothing to do with you, and don’t let it bother you. Also, if it’s really, really bad, quit! Look for another job and go somewhere you’ll feel happy every day. And if you feel like you can’t quit because you haven’t been there a year? Just quit! I know a few people that bounce around all the time and always land at high-profile companies. As a mentor of mine once said to me, “Fashion is like speaking Arabic. Once you know it you can always get a job.”
By this I mean, don’t be ALL fashion. In fact, even if you’re not a fashion person at all you can still work in the industry. You might find that it actually helps you because it sets you apart. I think it helps to keep a healthy distance from Fashion. If you’re a slave to the machine — LOVE everything by Hermes and Marc Jacobs and think everything Balenciaga does is just so directional, etc. — how are you keeping it fresh? Fashion thrives on the new, the next, the different. Remember that the industry, at its heart, is comprised of a group of wildly creative misfits that want to either make us see beauty in a different way or just terrifically confuse us. So don’t be afraid to be yourself and hate things that are ugly that everyone else loves. Fashion always needs reasons to move forward.
Working in fashion is very different from liking Project Runway a whole lot. If the industry were a sprawling urban area, Project Runway would be a suburb. But push forth on that commuter rail (hey look, this shit isn’t always fun) and in the heart of this business you’ll find a small yet very expensive and refined city filled with fetishized stores and designers and eccentric people you never would have known about had you not started working in this field. Some of what you discover will be fun and delightful, some will be boring and questionable, and some will be horrible and disheartening. You might get to this place and realize you don’t like it. You might get to it and feel like a whole world of creativity and exclusivity has been opened up to you. But unless you already pick up French Vogue every month and saved up for Prada’s flatforms, I’m guessing that whatever you think fashion is, from the outside, is not really what it is.