Recently, we asked people who've worked in the fashion industry to enlighten us with their secrets and stories from on the job. Here are some of the wildest, saddest, and most honest responses we received.
1. "The more prestigious the job, the less it pays."
"The industry almost killed my love of fashion. I studied fashion in Paris and worked in marketing and e-commerce for designers and brands there. I was literally running the entire e-commerce and customer service departments on my own on an illegal internship contract and was paid 800€ per month. Another position paid 550€ per month for full-time work taking care of e-commerce and press for a famous, luxury designer. Luckily I could move in with my partner, or else I wouldn’t have even been able to afford food. Now, I work for a low-cost clothing company and actually can afford to live. But I guess I’m able to say that Beyoncé wore clothes I sent her?"
2. "I've worked in several fashion photo studios, and one gross thing that happens is that the bathrobes models wear off set are NOT WASHED."
"I worked in a very well-known luxury brand's studio for almost 5 years and the robes were washed THREE TIMES MAX. Most of the models know to bring their own robes at this point, and I always tell new models if I can."
3. "Each client is different. Some are easy to work with and some are very difficult and demanding. There’s one A-lister who doesn’t like when you look at her unless you’re working directly with her, and has other weird quirks. You eventually get to know them really well and learn what they like and dislike and you can maximize those things in their favor (for example: 'So-and-so hates the color purple so never pull that color garment' or 'So-and-so refuses to wear silver jewelry,' etc."
4. "I dress band members for music videos and tours. I usually give them 2-year era shifts — like every 2 years, they change their *vibe*. If their style was punk one year, the next year they're more boho."
"If they seemed fratty-looking, the next era's outfits are more country jeans and modest. It keeps them relevant and shows the crowd that there's a new album or song coming. A strong example of this is Miley Cyrus. She has a bunch of 2-year shifts in her 'brand.' Remember when she was raver girl before she was rock 'n roll?"
5. "My best friend is a fashion stylist. She works with A-list celebrities for different events and red carpets. She started as an assistant to a major stylist. She made $50 a day and worked her ass off. She got one free meal a day and her gas was paid as well (we live in LA). This was considered 'good' as a lot of the interns don’t even get paid. Eventually she worked her way up to $100 a day."
"She works sometimes 13-hour days doing fittings, running errands, and picking up and returning garments and accessories to the designers. Some designers gift the celebs clothes and accessories, and some must be returned. If the celeb doesn’t want or like the gift, then the stylist can have the clothes. This was a major perk for her. Sometimes she’d sell the gifts online to make extra cash —other items she’d keep to build her own clothing kit."
6. "One time, I was told that I was being 'treated' to a trip to Paris with the sales team to sell the collection to Paris clients. The brand didn't even book me a room or a bed to stay in for the week, so I had to sleep on the floor. Unpaid. Didn't even have enough daily food budget to feed me properly."
7. "The way models are cast is gross. They're not seen as people when they're presented to high-level leadership in corporate settings."
"They're nitpicked to death on their waist size, teeth, skin color, hair, hands, nose, chin, ears, fingernails, etc. It's disgusting, and as a plus-sized woman, it's made me cry many, many times."
8. "I've worked for a few fast fashion brands in India, and we just recreate knockoff pieces in our fabrics and prints that we bought from China. Initially, I used to change things in the designs here and there so they didn't look exactly the same, but when new management took over, they put an end to that. The pieces were to be EXACT — We can't even call ourselves 'designers' anymore since our job forces us to copy and STEAL."
9. "I work as a model, and the most interesting thing to me is that my perception of high fashion vs. commercial completely flipped after working in the industry."
"High fashion brands have been unprofessional, offered low pay, treated me as less than human sometimes, and in the end, either didn’t credit me or miscredited me. Commercial brands have been nothing but kind, and offered high — sometimes ridiculous for the work I was doing — pay, full lunches, asked me what I thought or how I was feeling and went out of their way to talk about working with me, and recommend me for other jobs. Previously, I thought of high fashion as something to strive for, like the ultimate 'cool' milestone. Now, I think it is generally pretentious and completely reliant on name in order to have artists, models, and creators agree to work within it."
10. "I worked for a VERY well-known fashion jewelry designer for several years and it was the most toxic and harmful environment I had ever experienced. While most of the staff was amazing, the designer herself was physically and (mainly) verbally abusive."
"She would withhold paychecks whenever she felt like it, force salaried employees to work 70+ hour weeks, pay hourly employees below the minimum wage, refuse to allow breaks for lunch, and berate employees in front of everyone (including guests, celebrities, stylists, models, etc.) She demanded we schedule last minute photoshoots with less then a day notice, and then freak out when we explained we couldn't get the permits in time — the list truly goes on and on and on. She would have a full on fit and blow up whenever it suited her, and any vacations I attempted to take turned into her calling or texting every other second. I wound up saving one email she sent that started with '*my name*, I am going to fucking murder you!' because something happened while I was overseas. I knew I needed some form of proof that she was abusive in case she tried to fire me. The absolute cherry on top was her having a strong religious belief system that she tried to force on every employee at all times, which was not only uncomfortable but also illegal. My entire time there, I had to tiptoe around her while simultaneously trying to hide that she was a cruelly abhorrent and racist human being from the public."
11. "Because it's a 'glamorous job,' when you are new, you are seen as very replaceable."
"However, once you get your foot in the door at a decent company and make some good contacts, the job offers literally flow in. I've worked in corporate fashion for 7 years and will never be jobless unless by choice — there are always companies that will take me now that I have four famous companies under my belt. It's an incredibly incestuous world since most people job hop, and I know someone at basically every major fashion or retailer in the US at this point."
12. "I worked as a model in New York City in the mid- to late-2000s. I was unhealthily and grossly thin, but I was told by my agency that since I was a little shorter at 5’8.5", I had to be extra thin to make me look taller."
"I counted every calorie and would not let myself eat more that 1200 calories per day. I got down to 103 lbs at my smallest, and was still told that my hips were too wide. One time, I even wrapped duct tape around my hips hoping they would look smaller — I was still told to lose 5 more pounds. I’m 31 years old now — I was 16-19 at the time — and I still suffer from severe body dysmorphia from that time in my life. I’m at a healthy weight now, but I don’t know if I’ll ever fully shake the feeling of never being thin enough."
13. "I like that I can wear whatever I want (See-through top? No problem!) but people also judge you a lot more because it is so open-ended. Some people just wear jeans and a T-shirt, and others are in head-to-toe designer outfits that cost $10,000."
14. "There's way more math than I was expecting."
"For me, I have to cost the garments. This involves working out fabric and trim consumption, negotiating make costs with the factories, and then incorporating all the duties, taxes, and miscellaneous bits and pieces that would come into it. Once I have all that, I need to calculate out a wholesale and RRP cost for the customers making sure that we hit margin targets. There's also all the fabric buying calculations based on orders, budgets, stock takes etc. So much math and spreadsheets."
15. "Retail never sleeps. EVER. There is no downtime and PTO is usually very bad. The jobs almost always involve a LOT of meetings with other teams, so working from home is not usually an option for most positions."
16. "Literal models strut around the office all the time. There's nothing like washing your hands in the bathroom surrounded by 6-foot gorgeous models and then scurrying back to be knee-deep in Excel files and feeling like a troll."
17. "My wife worked in fashion journalism for a time. She attended Fashion Week, red carpet stuff, etc. She can't really watch The Devil Wears Prada anymore. She likes it, but it makes her anxious."
"Like many very desirable industries, it is cutthroat, the pay is low, and as a result, it is populated by a lot of people who don't necessarily care about the low pay for one reason or another (it is their passion, or they are wealthy, or both). It's populated by the wealthy and connected since fashion is a luxury industry, so you'll run into the connected or the big egos in any case. But like music, or Hollywood, or modeling, it's desirable so it's a tough world in which to exist. And the movie does get that part down."
18. "The fashion industry is very female-dominated so I never have to worry about my opinion not being taken seriously because of my gender."
19. "The companies that are easiest to work at are the ones where the founders are no longer involved. If the founder is still the CEO or president, I am not interested. Been there, done that — they are almost always nutcases. Their company is their baby and they don't see why everyone else isn't as obsessed with work as them, and they are major divas."
20. "Kanye West came to the fashion studio one time to see what we were working on. I made him a cup of coffee and he didn't even take his gold grillz out to drink it. I found that really weird."
21. "I’ve done hair for runway and editorial shoots, and it’s a high stress environment. There are plenty of big egos who treat everyone around them like shit, but I’ve also had some incredible experiences — it’s a 50/50 toss-up."
22. "I did a runway show where we were styling the half nude models ranging from 13-19 years old. Several football players came back and were eyeing these young women. I told the head designer to do something and she tried to, but they just laughed and continued to invade their privacy."
"Powerful people constantly invade your space and no one does a damn thing to protect these young women and men. They’re simply considered mannequins to display designers' art. It’s dehumanizing for sure."
23. "I nearly always end up having my vacation time changed or cancelled. I cannot remember the last time I took vacation and wasn’t expected to do some kind of work."
24. "Model life is not glamorous at all. Magazine covers pay maybe in the low hundreds if you're lucky because they're good 'exposure.' The only way to make good money is by booking campaigns — and that's super rare — or by doing commercial catalogs, or if you do nudes."
"I knew several young women who were shipped off to New York from foreign countries when they were around 14-15 and haven't been home since. Everyone was starving not by choice, but because we were all broke. It's extremely cut-throat and competitive. People take advantage of you and inspect you like a piece of meat. A lot of people think you're dumb and patronize you. It's not all bad though — you can make life long friends and travel, but it's definitely a lot different than what you see in movies."
25. "Once I graduated with my fashion design degree, I started freelancing for a high-end designer and had some regular work making catwalk and bespoke pieces for about a year. Then, without any notice at all — not even a phone call or a text to let me know — I was dropped by them."
"When I followed up to find out what the hell was going on and why I hadn't been given my brief yet, I was told that they'd taken on unpaid interns to do my job instead. Then two weeks before Fashion Week, they called me up again begging me to work weekends, evenings, and whatever I could offer to get the collection made in time after the interns fucked it all up. I told her to politely fuck off."
26. "I'm responsible for developing and sourcing the fabrics for making the garments you see on the catwalk and in-store. Designers change their mind at the drop of a pin and quite often things will get cancelled or changed up until the night before the show or going into market."
27. "I'm an agent and sometimes, I'll get a call from a shoot asking for a 'differently-abled' model because they 'have an equalities box to tick.' It's vile that what started with good intentions (equal opportunity for all) has become a bureaucratic exercise that reduces my clients to nothing but a box-ticking exercise. All of my clients are beautiful and should be treated as such, not booked just because a director or producer wants to look woke."
28. "The industry is interesting because it's always changing, and it's a mix of intuition and analytics."
29. "I worked on the development side of apparel design, so I worked with the factories to get the clothes made the way our designer designs them. One time, I worked for a month straight because a third of our company left or were fired because our designer was unhinged. You are chastised for the littlest mistakes, and those who last are usually the ones who are very good at deflecting blame."
"Secondly, it's becoming increasingly difficult to make money off of fashion unless you can manufacture a lot of units (like Zara or H&M), so companies have started paying people way less, hiring freelance (so no benefits!), and requesting twice the amount of work for mid to senior level roles! I cannot morally recommend a career in fashion to anyone unless they are very okay with instability."
30. "I'm basically trapped in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York City right now. Most other cities just have a few fashion companies, if any."
31. "It is absolutely true that it’s a small world, especially in fashion styling. Being a stylist is still a relatively new occupation and career path in the fashion world, so it took a long time for it to be taken seriously. Now that they finally are, it’s very easy to burn bridges if you are a poor worker and not 200% committed. People won’t get hired if they have a bad reputation with a previous stylist or client."
32. "The designer and/or brand are usually more than happy to call you at midnight on a Sunday for reasons that can normally wait. The hours are wild (so many all-nighters) and no one gets paid for the extra time they give. It's exhausting."
33. And finally: "I've worked in the industry for close to 20 years and have seen it all. Worker exploitation, low wages, comments from bosses about my body, pressure to strip in the middle of the office to try on a sample, unpaid internships, long hours, mean girl games to the max, and the list goes on."
"I had more than one company retaliate against employees (including myself) for quitting with notice. One even went into my checking account via the paycheck company and rescinded two paychecks after my last day. I had to take them to court to get back the money I had earned. In the last several years I have worked for 'ethical' and 'sustainable' companies and they are just as bad, if not worse, than the rest. I've travelled the world seeing how clothes get produced and it is not pretty, including in the US. Every person who works in the industry knows the conditions that the clothes are produced in and no one cares — they only care about pushing for the lowest price. It's all bullshit."
Responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.