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How to Become a Wardrobe Stylist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a wardrobe 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 Wardrobe Stylist?

Wardrobe stylists coordinate outfits from an array of clothing and accessories. They may work as freelancers, acquiring clothing to meet the needs of a film set or photo shoot. Wardrobe stylists may also work full- or part-time in retail settings to assist store customers with choosing clothing and accessories to complement body type and lifestyle. Some may work as personal assistants to help individuals build a fashionable wardrobe closet. The work environment is often fast-paced, and stylists must keep up with frequently changing fashion trends. Keen competition may exist for freelance positions.

Job Experience

Experience in retail fashion and a portfolio of work are often necessary to become a wardrobe stylist. Some employers prefer individuals with an associate's degree in fashion design or fashion merchandising. The following table describes the common qualifications and requirements that employers listed in job postings for fashion stylists during October 2012:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Associate's degree not required, but desired by some employers
Degree Field Fashion design or merchandising
Experience 1-3 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
Additional Requirements Portfolio; some travel may be required

Step 1: Earn an Associate's Degree

A formal education is not generally required to become a wardrobe stylist. However, courses in fashion design give students a better understanding of both the creative and business aspects of the fashion industry. Many colleges offer at least an associate's degree in fashion design or 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.

Success Tip:

  • Create a portfolio of work. Many employers require applicants to submit portfolios that display a variety of previous wardrobe or 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.
  • Complete an internship. An internship as a wardrobe stylist gives prospective stylists a chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at the fashion world. While internships are often unpaid, they can often be used to satisfy school requirements in addition to providing experience with the day-to-day skills needed by a wardrobe stylist.

Step 2: Choose a Desired Career Path

Several types of wardrobe stylist positions are available, and deciding which one best fits with a person's career goals is a significant step in finding a job in this field. Some jobs require stylists to work more independently, while others must be more collaborative. For example, jobs as personal image consultants involve working one-on-one with individuals, helping them shop, manage their wardrobes and choose the colors that work best for them. Alternatively, jobs as wardrobe stylists on advertising campaigns or film productions require working with several different people during various projects. Others may choose stylist positions with clothing retailers to outfit store customers. Either way, stylists must be able to communicate effectively with either the clients or directors.

Step 3: Gain Experience and Network

Wardrobe stylist positions often require at least a year of experience, though some require upwards of five years of work in the fashion industry. Entry-level fashion retail jobs can help aspiring stylists gain perspective on how various elements come together to create unique, ready-to-wear looks. Stylist jobs often require skills in multiple types of clothing, so experience in areas like children's, men's, and intimates can be good preparation. Entry-level jobs can also help to 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 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 industry expertise and credibility. 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.
  • Use marketing to find clients. Regardless of which type of wardrobe stylist a person decides to become, marketing and word of mouth are crucial for success. Most wardrobe stylists have their own websites with portfolios of their previous work. These websites give stylists the ability to showcase their experience to future clients.
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