Fashion Careers: Guide To Fashion Stylists

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One of the more glamourous job titles in fashion, there is much more to being a stylist than just having a great sense of style!

When you see celebrities and high profile people at events looking spectacular, it is more often than not, the work of an exceptional stylist. As a stylist you may work with actors, TV presenters, musicians, politicians or famous influencers. You must be able to curate the perfect outfit for the occasion, taking into account every tiny detail that could make or break a look. 

Becoming a fashion stylist is one of the most desirable and sought-after careers in the industry. It can also be highly competitive but, for those with drive and creativity, the opportunities are out there! If you’re excited about aesthetics, up-to-date on the latest trends and confident in your sense of style, a career as a fashion stylist could be perfect for you. 

Learn more about what it means to be a stylist!

WHAT IS A STYLIST?

A stylist is a professional who curates looks for another person or brand. As a stylist, you’ll be responsible for all aspects of a person’s visual aesthetic. You’ll need to create and maintain a curated image for someone, by designing and coordinating what they wear, and how they wear it!

Not only will you be in charge of creating a visually appealing outfit, but it must also match the requirements of the occasion or event. You could be working with anyone from the most famous celebrities, to models on a photoshoot, to someone who just wants to look their best for a specific event. This means you could be putting together outfits for the red carpet, a fashion shoot or even runway shows. Whilst you must ensure that the outfit is suitable for the event, you also want to make sure it stands out (for the right reasons of course!).

Stylists are employed everywhere, from magazines to advertising campaigns, music videos to concert performances, political campaign trails to red carpet events. It is common for stylists to work on a freelance basis, however some may work in-house for fashion brands or retailers.

TYPES OF STYLIST 

  • Personal stylist
  • Ecommerce/digital stylist
  • Photoshoot stylist
  • Runway/fashion show stylist
  • Product stylist
  • Film/TV stylist

You may choose to specialise in one particular area of styling or work in a variety of sectors. It’s a fast-paced, challenging role: deadlines are tight and standards are high! You’ll need to thrive on being busy, quickly solving problems, working with others and using your creative skills to make it as a fashion stylist.

When they’re doing press and red carpet, celebrities are trying to communicate an image that will help to promote a film, themselves as actors, or as business people
Kate Young, Fashion Stylist for Margot Robbie, Dakota Johnson, Selena Gomez and Sophie Turner

WHAT DOES A FASHION STYLIST DO?

The role of a stylist is extremely varied. As a stylist, you could be working on an almost endless number of projects, from professional photoshoots, magazine features, advertising campaigns, music videos, album covers, TV show appearances, stage outfits for a tour or red carpet events. You could also work as a wardrobe stylist for a movie or TV show, creating costumes for characters alongside a costume designer.

When you consider the number of jobs you could be involved in, it’s no surprise that to be successful, you’ll need to know the fashion industry like the back of your hand. 

Some of the key responsibilities of a fashion stylist include:

STAYING ON TOP OF TRENDS

Staying on top of trends in the styling world is essential. To do this, you will need to spend a significant amount of  time researching new styles, as well as analysing the current industry landscape to predict future trends. This aspect of the role can be incredibly important, as many clients will want to set trends and be ahead of the curve in terms of their looks.

Basia Richards is a fashion stylist who's worked for celebrities including Selena Gomez and Victoria Justice. Speaking to Teen Vogue, Basia said  "I spend a lot of time on a computer doing research. I'm researching different looks, making appointments, gathering all the pieces for a look. It's a lot of screen time!”

As well as researching online, you’ll need to watch runway shows, visit brand showrooms and attend fashion industry events to keep on top of what’s going on in fashion and culture. Building a network of designers and brands can help you develop an expert level knowledge of products. 

To truly stay on top of trends, you should also have a good understanding of the history of fashion. As they say, fashion often repeats itself. Understanding key references, styles and trends from past eras can be helpful for inspiration and context. 

IDEATION AND PRESENTATION OF LOOKS

When you have been approached for a styling project, you will usually be given a brief. This may entail what event the look is for, the kind of style/aesthetic to be achieved and any other requirements. 

You can utilise your research to put together ideas for your client. You may want to create mood boards to help them visualise a look or inspire them to share your vision. You should also be prepared to add additional context, reasons behind your choices whilst taking into account their ideas. Styling, truly is a collaborative process.

PRODUCT SOURCING

Once you’ve finalised your ideas, you’ll need to source the products to make them a reality. At this stage, it helps to have a network of brands and retailers you work closely with. You will need contact PR agents, brand showrooms and designers; finding, borrowing and buying clothes, shoes and accessories to bring an outfit together. For borrowed outfits, it will be the stylists responsibility to ensure items are returned safely and in good condition. Failing to do this can restrict your ability to work with certain brands in the future and can impact your reputation. Some brands may also choose to gift items, depending on your client. 

A focus on sustainability in the fashion industry, has also brought a new parallel to this aspect of styling. Many stylists will now also need to be comfortable sourcing vintage items and looking through designer archives, whilst still managing to create a fresh and on-trend look.

CONSULTATION

Much of styling involves working with other departments, providing consultation and advice to help them achieve a desired end result. You may consult with art directors on photoshoots, helping to implement their vision for the shoot through the looks you put together. You may also have to work with hair and makeup teams, and models to provide direction that will allow the correct message to be conveyed visually.

PERSONAL SHOPPING

Personal shopping is another aspect of styling that sees you work one on one with a client, usually in a retail setting. Sometimes personal stylists work in-house for a retailer and appointments can be booked, whilst others work directly for the client. During a personal shopping trip, you may be tasked with finding a singular look for an event, or a complete wardrobe overhaul for the upcoming season.

BACKSTAGE SUPPORT

If you’re styling a photoshoot or fashion show, you’ll have plenty to do backstage. Along with organising all of the looks, you’ll be steaming, pinning, fitting clothes and products to models to make sure they match your vision. You might also plan and advise on makeup and hairstyling to compliment your looks.

TRAVEL

Whilst some of the time, you’ll be based in your studio or office, you will need to regularly travel to events and set locations. Stylists are needed on the ground to ensure the look is put together properly and that adjustments can be made if necessary. 

Not only will you need to travel for photoshoots and events, but you may also need to travel to brand showrooms when sourcing products and to meet clients to discuss the project. International travel is common in this industry. 

WHAT MAKES A GOOD FASHION STYLIST?

Styling is hard work, but it can also be incredibly rewarding seeing your ideas come to life. Fashion styling is a fiercely competitive field; you’ll need confidence, determination and drive to succeed, but with this also comes great opportunities for professional growth and development. 

You must be adaptable when working with different clients and on different project types, whilst still maintaining your personal style and expertise. We look at the essential skills that make a great fashion stylist!

FASHION STYLIST SKILLS

1. Attention to detail

It almost goes without saying that you need a good sense to style to be a stylist, but attention to detail is the key to looks that hit the mark, and those that don’t! 

You will need to have an eye for visual composition, proportions and understanding which items complement one another. You will also need to take into consideration factors such as hair, makeup and accessories. It is ts often these tiny details that pull a look together. You must be careful not to over or under-style a look, striking a carefully considered balance between the two. 

This attention to detail also stems to the wider industry. You must identify small micro changes in trends; the ways in which consumer behaviour is changing, which items will be the next big thing and those that will fall out of fashion.

It’s hard to tell you exactly how I do what I do. It’s a gut instinct
Kate Young

2. Ability to build relationships

Building a strong network is absolutely vital to becoming a successful stylist. Meeting others in the industry helps you make valuable connections, and build a positive reputation. As a stylist you will work with clients, designers, retailers, art directors and more. You must be able to build constructive working relationships with a wide range of people in order to be able to achieve yours, and your client’s, vision.

Having a strong network within the industry also means that product sourcing will become an easier task. More brands may be willing to gift or loan items; you may also simply be aware of more fashion brands presenting more options for your clients.

In addition to this, stylists often rely on word-of-mouth to reach new clients.  Whilst you might get some attention from a client appearing on a red carpet or fashion magazine, most of your new business will come from friends and colleagues of your current clients. Building meaningful relationships within your network makes these recommendations more likely.

"A lot of this industry works by recommendations," Basia says. "Work for a stylist, become their assistant. The key is to develop a relationship with these stylists so they can recommend you.”

3. Adaptable

Personal style is great but as a stylist you must always keep your client in mind. Make sure you refine your own aesthetic view as a stylist, combining your distinct style with a person’s sense of self. Not only will this earn you a reputation as a great stylist, but it will help your clients to feel confident and authentic in the look (which is often half the battle).

You should also be adaptable to different event types. A look created for a red carpet event will be very different for one created for a daytime TV appearance. Think about the season, the location of the event (outdoor/indoor?), movement required. Often red carpet dresses are incredibly restrictive, for an event where walking or dancing is required, this may not be the best option!

3. Commercial Awareness

As a stylist, you will need to have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of designers, brands and trends. Not only will this help you to source clothes but it will help you to pull together looks and ideas. 

You’ll need to be able to forecast new trends and predict the future direction of the industry, utilising commercial data and other subtle signals. Without a good commercial awareness of the industry, this will be much more difficult to do. It also helps to have a good working knowledge of photography and lighting as this can be very helpful on set, understanding how outfits are likely to look in images.

4. Organisation and Time Management

A styling career is exciting and varied, but this also means it can be hard work. You’ll need to have a good work ethic and focused mindset, with an ability to meet very tight deadlines. Being able to multi-task is also important, especially when you’re working for many clients. Good project management skills will also serve you well.

All of these skills become even more important when running your own business or working freelance.

5. Creativity

An inventive and imaginative mind is key in a creative career like styling. In order to build your reputation as a stylist, your looks need to stand out, whilst fulfilling the brief and making your client or model look amazing in the process!

Not only this but you will need good initiative and problem-solving skills, to fix issues as they appear. For example, if an item breaks on set, you will need to think on your feet to either fix the issue or restyle the look. You don’t want one small problem to ruin an entire event or photoshoot for your client.

6. Communication and Teamwork

Good people skills are another essential for a stylist. You’ll be working alongside many different people every day, and often join new teams for every project you start. You’ll need to build and maintain relationships with important contacts, from new clients to PR teams at brands.

You’ll also have to provide excellent customer service to your clients. "As a celebrity stylist, you'll be working with lots of different personalities and fashion tastes. You want to make everyone happy and make them comfortable," says Basia.

7. Digital Skills

When I started it was all about magazines and wasn’t about celebrity. Now it’s about celebrity and Instagram, and it’s very fast
Kate Young

In an increasingly online world, don’t underestimate the importance of digital skills in your fashion styling career. You’ll need a strong understanding of social media and marketing principles, especially if you want to work with celebrity clients.

IT skills and being able to use software such as the Adobe Creative Cloud software or CaptureOne will help you create an impressive portfolio for potential clients or inspire mood boards for new projects.

FASHION STYLIST SALARY

Fashion styling doesn’t have a traditional, formal career path, so everyone’s career journey will be different. When working as a fashion stylist for a brand salaries usually fall between £18,000 ad £30,000.

  • Junior Stylist = around £18,000 - £20,000
  • Senior Stylist = around £23,000 - £30,000

It’s very common to work freelance as a fashion stylist - once you have built up a good reputation you may choose to set up your own business or consultancy. As a freelance worker, you’ll usually be paid either a daily or hourly rate. This could be anything from £50 to £150 a day, or approximately £7.70 to £8.20 per hour.

Stylists who land large corporate or celebrity clients can also make considerably larger salaries. Some stylists even become famous themselves!

Working with celebrities is one of the trickiest parts of the job. You’ll need a strong professional network, as stars only work with people they know they can trust. ”Celebrities are very private people," Basia says. "They like to have people around them who they're comfortable with.”

HOW TO BECOME A FASHION STYLIST

Within the field of styling, academic qualifications are not usually considered as important as creative and practical skills. It is better to have a portfolio of looks and projects that showcase your abilities as a stylist. Completing a relevant qualification can help you to do this however, through projects and placements.

Whilst experience is key, it’s worth noting that some employers will require applicants to have studied towards a relevant qualification within fashion or communication. Work experience can give you real world skills but combining this with a qualification can help to underpin your practice, as well as developing additional skills.

Qualifications

You don’t need formal training or qualifications to become a stylist, but it can really help you in the early stages of your career. Understanding how the fashion industry works behind the scenes, the history of style, different types of fabrics and products can all come in useful in your work.

A course or diploma can also give you an edge in a competitive field. By understanding art and fashion history, as well as the workings of the industry as a whole, you’ll help set yourself apart from the competition.

It’s really important to be well-rounded, to know about design and art, and fashion. I’m less interested in you knowing what look No.23 from Givenchy this season looks like than I am in knowing you have good taste
Kate Young.

At the Fashion Retail Academy, we have several specialist fashion courses that could help you launch your fashion styling career. If you've just completed your GCSEs, you could study our Level 3 Visual Communiations and Styling, Level 3 Fashion Design or Level 3 Fashion Retail courses. 

If you've already completed college, you could study our Level 4 Fashion Retail With Marketing diploma or our accelerated BA (Hons) Marketing & Communications undergraduate degree.  

Internships and Work Experience

Getting experience and working as an assistant to a stylist means you can learn from professionals, as well as expand your network. Experience in the industry will usually open more doors than a specific course or qualification.

Competition is fierce, so get creative with your experience. Assist with student magazines, start your own style blog or social media account. Employers and new clients will want to see examples of your work in a portfolio or on a website.

Start a website. Start a blog. Show your work. If you don’t want to go that far, do a curation on Instagram of your styled work. It almost acts as your portfolio. It’s important to have something to show to people so that they understand who you are as a stylist,
Erica Wark, a fashion stylist in Canada

At the Fashion Retail Academy, all Level 4 and Undergraduate degree programmes have integrated industry experience with one of our retail partners. This supports your studies with practical skills and real-life experience, providing a valuable boost to your CV!  

If you'd like more information about our courses and all the exciting career options available in the fashion industry, please email our friendly Applicant Services team at info@fra.ac.uk. We're always happy to help!

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