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Fashion stylist

Exploring the role, qualifications and career challenges of the fashion stylist.
A collage of six fashion displays of clothing, gloves, hats and shoes.

A fashion stylist is a person who does most of the work before the cameras start shooting, whether for a magazine, film, television series, fashion show, or a personal client.

Fashion photo stylist is the term used to specify the stylist who works with photography. Whether styling for a photograph or a fashion show, a stylist must be aware of the latest trends and bring great resources and a strong personal style to every event. Fashion shoots, photography sessions of models, and fashions are a team effort, and the stylist’s role is critical to its success.

Responsibilities of the fashion stylist

Stylists are responsible for selecting and assembling the garments and accessories needed for the event and preparing the people involved in the event, such as the models, dressers, makeup artists, hair stylists, and lighting designers. Stylists must make decisions in minutes, quickly determining, for example, how various items of apparel are to be combined and accessorized to show each off with the best features.

Stylists also handle a myriad of details, ensuring that the right sizes and colors are available for each model. If the models are celebrities, the appropriateness of the apparel for each of their images becomes an additional factor. Stylists must be diplomats to win the cooperation of everyone involved in an event. In addition to magazine work, stylists may find employment with advertising agencies, working on print ads or television commercials.

A female fashion stylist working on a fashion shoot in a photography studio.

A stylist works with models and photographers, selecting garments on a fashion photography set.

Qualifications

Do you have what it takes to pursue a career in fashion styling? Following is a list of qualifications for a fashion stylist:

Education

A bachelor’s degree in fashion design, fashion merchandising, fashion journalism, fashion communication, photography, visual arts, or a related field is preferred.

Experience

An internship with a photographer or stylist is an excellent way to build one’s résumé for employment in this industry. Some fashion stylists begin in visual merchandising or as an assistant to a stylist. Fashion stylists are often chosen based on the look of their “books,” large volumes of tearsheets, or samples of work, from published print or Internet work to Polaroid or digital images that illustrate work they have done with different photographers and/or models. Digital portfolios and computer-aided design skills are beneficial.

Personal characteristics

The attributes of successful fashion stylists include:

  • having a network of professionals in photography, hair and makeup design, and the modeling industry
  • a keen eye for detail
  • the ability to apply visual art principles to print work and photographs
  • effective verbal, written, and visual communication skills
  • strong time-management skills
  • the ability to work well under pressure, whether with deadlines or uncontrollable factors, such as poor lighting during an outdoor shoot or models who miss their flights.

Career challenges

Fashion stylist positions are often only available with large companies or as freelance work. It is a growing, exciting, and potentially profitable career track. Fashion stylists face many challenges, including quick decision-making and coordinating a multitude of details.

Because stylists must ensure that the correct apparel is available for the right models, they must do a great deal of preplanning for the expected and the unexpected, such as broken zippers, a late hairstylist, or models with attitude. “Plan ahead and be prepared for anything” is a motto for successful fashion stylists. Stylists must also work with all types of people and be able to motivate everyone involved in the shoot. It is not enough to have the vision; it is as important to have the skills to implement the vision.

The next step, features an interview with free-lance wardrobe stylist, Lauren Schugar.

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Careers in Fashion: Design, Development, and Promotion

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