When most people think about a career in fashion, they think only of being a designer or a model. Fashion, like any creative industry, is hugely competitive. Luckily, for fashionistas and garmentos, there are many different jobs in fashion to fit a variety of personalities and skill sets.
It's important to note that while the glamorous fashion jobs like designing and modeling get all the press, it's only the very top tier of those people who actually make money. It's much easier to make a decent living on the business side of fashion. (See also: 6 Job Perks That Can Lead to a Dream Career)
Here's a list of fashion jobs that may or may not involve sewing.
Fashion buyers are responsible for keeping the sales floor stocked with clothes and accessories that will sell. Although it sounds like a fun shopping gig, buying is high-stakes, speculative work. Buyers have to anticipate what customers want before they even know they want it. This means that buyers have to place orders for their winter inventory in the dead heat of summer and hope that the customers, and the weather, will line up in time for Thanksgiving.
In addition to deciding which trends will be big three months from now, buyers work with suppliers to translate the high-fashion styles that are shown on the runway into affordable and wearable clothes that can be mass-produced for their customers.
While it's true that buyers are professional coolhunters, they are also expert data analysts. The mark of a successful fashion buyer is not objective good taste; it's the sell-through rate of their inventory. Fashion buyers must work with the sales force, study sales records, and maintain a detailed purchase database to make sure that their store or department always has a high percentage of product that will sell at full price.
2. Costume Designer
Costume designers create the personal style of every character and provide a key element to the overall look of films, television shows, plays, and operas. Depending on the budget, time period, and complexity of a project, costume designers might make every article of clothing from scratch, or they might assemble the wardrobe from existing garments they have purchased or rented.
To quote Judith Bowden: "The main job of costume design in a production is to provide physical and emotional support to every actor through the clothing he or she will wear to enhance characterization. The design must provide strong visual support for the story, concept, and context of the play as a whole. It is my role to ensure that the costumes reflect the visual style of the production and help actors portray their characters on their journey through the play's action."
The best costume designers are obsessive researchers of history, and not just the history of fashion. When it comes to characters, clothes really do make the man. Costuming can be storytelling. It can show the audience everything about the external life experience of a character, as well as reveal his secret, interior world.
3. Design Assistant
Design assistants are the worker bees of every atelier. Fashion designers are responsible for the creative vision of a brand, but design assistants can be called upon to be responsible for everything else. This job can include sewing garments, making patterns, fitting models, sourcing fabrics, tracking samples, supervising production workers, going to trade shows, coordinating schedules, and managing the studio.
Assisting is not all schlepping. In fact, it's often an important career steppingstone. Immediately after Alexander McQueen's death, Sarah Burton, his longtime assistant, was named the new creative director of his fashion house.
4. Editorial Assistant
If you've watched The Devil Wears Prada, you've seen the G-rated version of this job. If you're lucky, you will get incredible hands-on experience learning how to produce a fashion magazine from start to finish. But, if the job were easy, everyone would do it. Editorial assistants have to be super organized, enjoy scheduling like it's a hobby, and have the stamina to constantly work long hours to meet deadlines. Also, you have to communicate well in person and on paper, and be a grammar nerd.
5. Fashion Journalist
Fashion journalists are writers who cover the fashion industry. While fashion journalism used to be a super-VIP club of well-connected it-girls, young writers can now break into high-profile magazine and blogging work based entirely on their fresh fashion criticism. If Tavi Gevinson can cover New York Fashion Week as a 12-year-old, what's your excuse?
6. Fashion Publicist
Publicists are responsible for maintaining a brand's image. They build relationships with editors, journalists, influencers, and celebrities to make sure that their client stays in the public eye. To that end, publicists are one part crisis management, one part cruise director. They are the keeper of the guest list for publicity events, the maker of the all-important seating charts for fashion shows, the issuer of news releases, and the procurer of swag bags and gift baskets. More importantly, publicists are tasked with getting their brands the most press for the money. Publicists do this by convincing actors to wear their client's clothes on and off the red carpet, by working with product placement companies to get their brand featured in films and TV shows, and of course introducing their designer to style influencers who will talk up the brand to the public in magazines, blogs, and TV appearances.
7. Fit Model
If you have the right measurements, you can work as a fit model. Fit models are literally human mannequins for clothing manufacturers. Before putting a garment into production, a designer will use a fit model to ensure that the piece will be flattering and wearable by actual humans with similar proportions.
Fit models are chosen for their specific measurements, but this doesn't mean that they are just Barbie dolls in the flesh. Designers depend on fit models to tell them if a garment is uncomfortable and to demonstrate how the garment moves on the body.
Perk of the job: free clothes. Downside of the job: human pincushion.
8. Hair Stylist
If I could switch lives with one of my friends, I would switch with my friend Eric because he gets to travel constantly for a creative job that he loves. A scion of a hairdressing family, Eric started styling hair professionally as a teenager. He decided early on that he didn't want to cut hair in a salon, and instead, do editorial work exclusively. Foregoing the stability of salon work to hustle for freelance magazine jobs was a risky financial move, but it paid off handily. Eric works with the best photographers, models, and editors on the planet. (If you have seen the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, then you have seen Eric's work).
Hair stylists are part of the creative team who create the mood or storyline in advertisements, fashion shows, and editorial content. Don't believe me? Try and imagine what the Victoria's Secret catalog would look like without the models' sexy hair. You can't. The angels' hair is part of the brand's narrative.
Hair stylists who want to work in editorial have to be extremely self-motivated and flexible. It's a freelance job that can require traveling for work at a moment's notice.
9. Makeup Artist
As with hair stylists, fashion and media makeup artists work with designers and editors to create a cohesive look for a brand or story. Although editorial makeup is usually the supporting character to the star clothing, occasionally makeup becomes the featured look of a season or part of a brand's permanent identity. For example, most people will never be able to afford a Chanel jacket, but, for the past two decades, legions of budget fashionistas have paid homage to the fashion house by wearing Chanel's iconic Vamp nail polish.
Do you love jigsaw puzzles? Are you a perfectionist? Patternmakers are the magical elves who can take a 2D design concept and translate it into a blueprint for a 3D garment. Patternmakers are a critical part of the production process. The ideal pattern is a clearly drawn document that sewers can easily follow without wasting time or fabric. A poorly drafted pattern can cost a company millions of dollars by not only slowing down the production line and squandering materials, but by being a dud on the sales floor. Mismatched patterns, bad button placement, and gaping pockets are all problems on finished garments that should have been resolved in the pattern-making process.
11. Production Manager
Production managers are the logisticians of the fashion world. They oversee the physical manufacturing process of textiles and clothing. Production managers work with suppliers and stores to ensure a quality finished product. In addition to being in charge of quality control, they supervise the supply chain and the workflow. It is their job to ensure that the clothes are made on schedule, on budget, and under ethical labor standards.
Production management is a high-pressure, technical job within a creative industry. Since production managers are the ones responsible for fixing production issues, they have to be IT troubleshooters, have excellent people skills, and be wizards at budgeting and scheduling.
12. Retail Sales Clerk
Although many people see retail work as a minimum wage, summer job for teen mallrats, retail sales can be a lucrative and fun career. When I worked at Nordstrom, I knew clerks in Men's Suiting who turned down promotions to management positions because it would mean taking a pay cut. In high-end stores, it is possible for a sales associates to make six-figure salaries working on commission. However, the threshold you have to meet to keep those top jobs is high. For example, in the early '90s I had to sell ,000 in merchandise per month to keep my job in a sought-after department at Nordstrom. While I would argue that high-end retail is one of the best jobs a person can get without a college degree, it's not a job for dummies. Many top shops like Chanel and Prada have language requirements: you have to be bilingual in Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, or Russian to be considered employable.
13. Retail Store Manager
If your dream is to one day open your own store, you should learn the ropes on someone else's dime. Managing a store will not only give you on the job training on how to set up and run your own shop, it will also give you an overview of the fashion industry.
Great managers will not only be able to tell you what sells and why, they will also be able to tell you how to increase sales. When I worked in active wear, my manager noticed that a lot of our customers were elderly or had mobility issues. They weren't buying tracksuits for working out; they were buying them for comfort. When she rearranged the racks on the sales floor to improve wheelchair access, our sales went up by 10%.
Many corporate chains will groom and promote their best managers to executive and buyer jobs within the company, but beware! While this job can be the first step in an amazing business career in fashion, at many companies wage theft is baked into the store manager job description.
14. Street Photographer
Scott Schuman is the Cinderella of fashion photography. Schuman started out on the business side of fashion before accidentally becoming the darling of street fashion. Eleven years after taking his first photography class, Schuman's blog, The Sartorialist is hugely influential, and Schuman has become one of the best-known fashion photographers on the planet.
Although his critics love to complain that Schuman was already a fashion insider before he took up photography as a hobby, there are many people who have similar business connections, but not his gimlet eye. Due to the success of first generation street fashion photographers, a blog as a personal portfolio is now a viable way for emerging artists to catch the eye of potential employers.
Stylists like Rachel Zoe have made their name dressing celebrities for the red carpet, but her job entails so much more than acting as wardrobe guru to the rich and famous. To quote stylist extraordinaire, Sally Lyndley: "Stylists work with creative teams including photographers, design teams, or art directors to create a vision for an image or a brand. At the same time, we also face the challenge of making the clothes look awesome (regardless of their quality)."
16. Social Media Assistant
The fashion industry has always been linked to images and marketing, so it makes sense that everyone in the fashion industry, from the most established fashion houses to upstart designers, understand that social media is a powerful advertising tool. If you are good at curating photos and charming in 140 characters, the job of social media assistant is a great way to get your foot in the door.
Since traditional print campaigns can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, it used to be easier to overlook brands that lacked the advertising budget. Because social networking platforms have a global reach, it's now possible for even the smallest companies to sell to a huge number of customers. Research shows that if you follow a brand on Instagram, you are 53% more likely to shop with them.
Inventive social media campaigns have recently started getting the praise they deserve (and book deals for the social media smarties). For example, it has recently been pointed out by feminist publications like Bustle and Jezebel, that McCall, your mom's favorite sewing pattern company, is killing it on social media.
17. Textile Designer
Textile designers create the 2D repeating pattern for fabrics, carpeting, wallpaper, vinyl flooring, upholstery, and pretty much any other textile you can think of. Although this is a creative job, textile design is highly technical. Textile designers have in-depth knowledge about all aspects of the physical production of textiles: types of fibers, weaving looms, dyes, printing methods, and special processes such as stone washing.
Although most textile designers work for large textile manufacturers, fashion designers will often employ textile designers to create custom fabrics for their fashion and home lines.
18. Visual Presentation
If you have ever been stopped dead in your tracks by a store window display, you've seen the power of visual merchandising. Great visual presentation is both aspirational and practical. For example, it's easy to see the target customer of Anthropologie through its store design: affluent, Gen-X women who like to travel. The company isn't just selling clothes and home accessories; it's selling a lifestyle. But even the most fantasy-driven store décor must also be super-functional. If the customer can't see herself wearing the product, she won't buy it.
Visual presentation is no longer just about store display. Museums, libraries, and other public spaces are now hiring visual merchandisers to design art installations to showcase their collections. This is a great job for creative night owls because all the magic happens when the store is closed. If you don't like burning the midnight glue gun, this job is not for you.
Do you work in fashion? Please brag about (or complain about) your fabulous job in the comments section.