The Devil Wears Prada supplied us with 110 minutes of fashion-themed entertainment, but it also gave us a skewed view of what it’s like to work in the industry. Can the world of fashion be intense? Sure. Is there tedious work for newbies in the field? Absolutely. Will you encounter insanely-demanding execs you’re convinced morph into werewolves when the moon is full? Yeah, you probably will, but the truth is there are Miranda Priestly types in every industry, and fashion is no exception.
Your experience in the fashion world will depend largely on where you work and your particular role. Whether you’re just getting started with NYC fashion recruiters to land your dream job or you’ve been working in the field for years, you’ll find nuggets of wisdom about what it’s really like to work in the fashion industry below.
Reality Check: What You Can Expect Working in Fashion
1: You’ll do grunt work at first. When you first start out, you’ll probably be fetching coffee, cleaning up meeting rooms before VIPs arrive, schlepping up and down flights of stairs all day, and organizing mountains of clothing samples every month. As with virtually every industry, your first months on the job will be spent proving yourself. Expect grunt work. Do it with a smile and a “yes, ma’am” attitude, and, soon enough, you’ll get the opportunity to show what you’re really made of.
2: Fashion Week lasts for a month. If you work in women’s fashion, just go ahead and block out the months of February and September (and part of October) on your calendar (or January and June if you work in men’s fashion). Those months will be a blur of logistical planning—booking flights, hotels, meals, meetings, and transportation, and figuring out how to get the boss from New York to Paris, London to Milan, and back to New York in one piece.
You’ll do all this while trying to get your own work done. Fashion week (err—month) is generally insane, and it will test the limits of your patience and sanity. The good news is that it gets easier. By the end of your first year, you’ll feel like a pro. While it can be nerve-rattling and exhausting, it’s also fun and exhilarating. The bonus: Fun parties and plenty of champagne.
3: Strangers will think you’re shallow: Tell someone you work in fashion, and the typical response is, “Oh. So you … like … shop all day?” There’s a common misconception that people who work in fashion only care about shopping, hair, and makeup—like teenagers who never quite grew up.
Fashion is (or at least should be) an art form. At its best, fashion reflects the times, is inspiring, and makes a political statement. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Even so, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll find yourself justifying your career choice to family, friends, and even acquaintances and strangers who don’t understand that fashion is a serious business; which brings us to our next point.
4: Fashion is a business! Every single fashion company, designer, fashion staffing agency, etc. is running a business, with all the parts of running a legit company. While some people may trivialize fashion as silly and superfluous, they might be surprised to learn that the global fashion industry is worth more than the GDP of the U.K. In 2011, the apparel, global textiles, and luxury goods markets had a combined value of more than 3 trillion dollars.1 Again, fashion is serious business.
5: Fashion is a female-dominated industry. You’ll spend much of your day interacting with women when you work in fashion. Know this in advance, in case you’re a woman (or a man) who finds interacting/collaborating with women challenging, or you prefer interactions that are more gender-balanced.
6: Companies tend to promote from within, which can make landing a job challenging. People will almost always hire their friends and promote colleagues internally first. This is the case in many industries, and it’s especially true in fashion. This can work in your favor after you get your foot in the door since you’re bound to make friends and establish connections who can help move you up the ladder.
It’s getting in that’s the challenge, and this is where NYC fashion agencies like The Fashion Network can be invaluable—they have the connections to help you break into the fashion industry, whether your goal is to become a designer, a buyer, a retail manager, or a visual merchandiser.
7: People who work in fashion dress normally. While there are always exceptions, for the most part, people who work in fashion are not decked out in head-to-toe designer fashions every day. Working in the industry usually involves a lot of running around, so (fashionable) comfort is key.
8: Your friends will constantly ask you for fashion advice. They’ll assume you know anything and everything about fashion history, the latest trends, and where to find the best designer steals, and they’ll insist on dragging you around on every fashion excursion from the moment you start your new career (if they don’t already). Prepare for your friends to call you asking what to wear to a bohemian wedding, a rooftop cocktail party, or a political fundraising event.
9: Fashion allows you to unleash your creativity. Fashion is an art form, and art is subjective. What one person sees as hideously unflattering, another person sees as bold and expressive. The most important thing is to believe in yourself and your work, and you’ll shine.
10: Not everyone in fashion is a size 2. It’s a myth that everyone who works in fashion is rail thin and never eats, but we won’t lie—it’s hard not be body-conscious in this industry. Thankfully, fashion is evolving and incorporating more “plus-size” (read: normal-size) models, but, for the most part, skinny still dominates. In general, most people who work in the industry look a lot like everyone else.
11: You get a lot of free stuff. Some of it is junk—gimmicky trinkets and cheap makeup bags—but other things like luxury face creams, perfumes, and clothing samples can actually be quite nice perks of the job.
If you work in PR and marketing, beware of promising PR coverage in exchange for free loot unless you want an aggressive PR department on your tail harassing you about writing up that piece about their product. Whatever your specialty, there’s always the option of hawking freebies on eBay for some extra cash.
Top 3 Misconceptions About Working in Fashion
- Working in fashion is one glamorous party after another. While it’s easy to make fashion life look chic on social media, working in the industry is far from a never-ending stream of celebrity-studded parties and chic runway shows. Tons of planning has to happen behind the scenes to make fashion events happen—that means hustling, deadlines, and sleep deprivation. The reward: seeing your designs come to life or the piece you wrote published in the latest issue.
- If you work in fashion, you must be a designer (and master seamstress). Jobs in fashion are broad, from marketing and PR, to buying, styling, and design. Yet, tell people you work in the industry, and you’ll hear “You’re a designer—where can I find your clothes?!” The majority of those who work in fashion don’t actually design clothes.
- People who work in fashion don’t eat—like, ever. Working in fashion can be stressful. Thankfully there’s a constant stream of goodies and grub streaming in from companies looking to promote their goods. It’s a myth that people who work in fashion don’t eat.
For more than 15 years, The Fashion Network has recruited the most talented and qualified candidates for clients in the fashion and retail industries, and we’ve helped countless job seekers find their dream jobs in fashion. Our team of seasoned fashion and retail job recruiters will find the perfect match for you—whatever your needs.
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