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Become a Fashion Stylist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a fashion stylist. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in fashion.

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Do I Want to Be a Fashion Stylist?

Fashion stylists coordinate outfits from an array of clothing and accessories. They may be tasked with dressing mannequins for retail store displays or photo shoots. Fashion stylists also assist store customers with choosing clothing and accessories to complement body type and lifestyle.

The work environment is often fast-paced, and stylists must keep up with frequently changing fashion trends. Travel may be required, and some fashion stylists may have to relocate to a major city for work. Some professionals may need to put in extra hours to meet fashion deadlines.

Job Requirements

An associate's degree, experience in retail fashion and a portfolio of work are often necessary to become a fashion stylist. Some employers prefer individuals with bachelor's degrees. The following table describes the common qualifications and requirements that employers listed in job postings for fashion stylists during September 2012:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Associate's degree
Degree Field Fashion merchandising
Experience 4-5 or more years of personal or on-set fashion styling
Key Skills Visual accuracy, creativity, attention to detail, spoken and written communication, interpersonal skills, time management, analytical mind, problem-solving ability
Computer Skills Microsoft Office software
Additional Requirements Portfolio; some lifting and travel may be required

Step 1: Earn an Associate's Degree

Many employers prefer a minimum of a two-year degree for fashion stylist positions. Several colleges offer associate's degree programs in fashion merchandising, which can provide aspiring stylists with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the industry. Classes include the science of textiles, history of fashion, visual merchandising, and retail buying. Programs may involve experiential learning, such as speaking with local fashion businesses and attending fashion meetings. Students may be required to complete internships and/or assemble portfolios by the time of graduation.

Success Tip:

  • Create a portfolio of work. Many employers require applicants to submit portfolios that display a variety of previous fashion styling work. If degree programs do not require students to create portfolios, making one is still a good idea. Fashion projects completed as part of course requirements can contribute to this professional collection of work. Uploading the portfolio online can connect one to possible employers faster.

Step 2: Gain Experience and Network

Fashion stylist positions often require at least 4-5 years of experience, though some require upwards of 8-10 years of work in the fashion industry. Entry-level fashion retail jobs can help aspiring stylists gain perspectives on how various elements come together to create unique, ready-to-wear looks. Stylist jobs often require skills in multiple departments, so experience in areas like children's, men's, and intimates can be good preparation. Entry-level jobs can also help one make contacts in the fashion industry.

Success Tips:

  • Join a fashion organization to stay current in industry trends. Stylists need to ensure they're up-to-date on ever-changing fashion looks. Joining a professional organization, like the Association of Image Consultants International (AICA) or the International Fashion Stylists Association (IFSA) can connect individuals with resources like the latest fashion news, professional development training opportunities, and fashion industry events. The IFSA coordinates a major annual conference that includes lectures and workshops directed by fashion stylist leaders.
  • Earn certification to demonstrate expertise and credibility in the fashion industry. The AICA offers certification at two levels: First Level Certification (FLC) and Certified Image Professional (CIP). One must pass an exam covering technical aspects of apparel image and business topics as well as a portfolio review to earn the FLC credential. A year later, one can earn the CIP by passing a more intensive portfolio review in addition to demonstrating completion of continuing education and involvement in professional activities. The Fashion Image Institute offers courses that satisfy continuing education requirements as well as lead to additional certifications, like the Certified Fashion Stylist credential. It also has a course in bridal styling that results in the Certified Image Consultant designation.
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