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Learn the Basics of Fashion Consulting

Rachel Zoe, Kate Young, Petra Flannery, Anna Bingemann all have something in common.  They are some of the most famous fashion consultants, (also known as image consultants or personal stylists) in the world today.  Yet, they didn’t become successful overnight. Becoming a fashion consultant takes hard work, perseverance, talent, and an eye for fashion. And, while you may have a fondness for seasonal color changes in clothing, an eye for enhancing a client’s personal image through their wardrobe, and a burning desire to surround yourself with name-brand attire, you must have extensive knowledge of the fashion and retail industry to succeed in this competitive field.

Fashion consultants help clients promote their public image through their wardrobe by evaluating their body type, personality, and career goals.  They must have a great personality, be good communicators, and fashion-conscious problem-solvers. So, if you want to join the ranks of the glamor-centric professionals, you must start where all other fashion consultants began, through rigorous training and a good education. 

Get to Know the Job & the Industry

Thanks to the popularity of hit stylists like Rachel Zoe and her reality TV fame on The Rachel Zoe Project, the fashion consulting industry has become hugely popular among potential fashionistas.  The saying goes, if you can’t make the fashion or wear the fashion, at least you can dress those who can.  As a fashion consultant, your primary career goal is to assess your client’s personal style and glamor goals and dress them accordingly. 

You may work with individuals who want a full wardrobe overhaul to match a new life goal, post-baby, or for a job promotion. However, during certain times of the year, such as prom, wedding season, or other special events, you may work with individuals or a group to make their day uniquely special. And, whether you live and work in an urban area, a fashion mecca, or a small-town environment, with the proper training you can have a successful career as a fashion consultant.

But, it’s important to understand the misconceptions about how to enter the field of fashion consultant.  You won’t start at the top, dressing the most popular Hollywood star attending the Oscars.  Most often, you will start at the bottom as an assistant, and work your way up. Or, you may enter the field as a freelance consultant, and earn a reputation for styling friends, family, or clients for much less (sometimes for free) than a professional who has been in the industry for years.  And, fashion consulting isn’t easy, but takes great color sense, constant scrutiny and research, and talent, and will often include long hours, stress, and travel. The field is also competitive, and not everyone is suited for doing what it takes to gain consistent employment in this field.

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Develop Industry Specific Skills & Knowledge

There are several necessary skills you must acquire to become a professional fashion consultant. You must be both fashion-conscious and have a passion for styling people. You must be willing to network with other professionals in the fashion industry in order to obtain samples and pieces for your collection. Therefore, strong communication skills and customer service capabilities are vital. You must also have a creative eye and the ability to create your own style as a consultant. After all, if you don’t look good then how will clients trust that you can make them look good? Often your clients will choose you because they desire your aesthetic in style. You need to be able to identify colors, patterns, and brands all by name, and according to their history. Knowing what colors were hot in the fall of 2015 is essential to not making a faux pas for fall 2016.

It’s essential to know what colors are in the year’s palette so you can help your client stay on trend. Knowledge and use of the Pantone Color System is imperative. Pantone is the company that establishes the color of the year for the fashion industry. For example, for 2017 the color of the year is Greenery 15-0343. Pantone also provides extensive color pairings ranging from transitional colors to special collections, such as Forest Floor and Deep Rooted for the Greenery color scheme. This information is golden for any fashion consultant who wants to choose the proper, in-season hues for their clients.

While getting a degree in art and design is not a requirement to enter the field as a fashion consultant, it will improve your credibility, provide fundamental knowledge, give you a good understanding how the industry works, and open doors to networking opportunities.

After all, gaining a network of professionals in the fashion industry is paramount to helping you achieve your fashion consulting goals. 

There are a variety of options for consultants, from certificate programs in image or fashion consulting, to associate or bachelors’ degrees. Some positions, however, require a bachelor’s degree in art, fashion merchandising, marketing, or a closely-related field.  Coursework at any level will teach you the essentials, such as the importance of color; color theory; fashion history, cycles, and trends; sourcing locations; building your business and portfolio; how to analyze body types and facial features; merchandising; marketing; and textiles. While attending school, consultants may have the opportunity to gain much-needed experience by taking advantage of any internships or apprenticeships offered through college or certificate programs.  They might work in retail, or intern at a fashion magazine or for an established fashion stylist who is looking for an assistant.  Websites like Free Fashion Internships, Fashion Jobs, and The Loop at great places to start looking for internships if your school doesn’t offer these programs. 

Aspiring fashion consultants should also consider gaining industry certification from organizations such as the Association of Image Consultants International. Applicants for certification may be required to pass a written exam as well as submit a portfolio of work.  It should be noted that every three years, professional consultants must complete continuing education courses to maintain their certification.

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Build Your Brand & Portfolio

Your Client List Will Grow Hand-In-Hand with Your Brand & Industry Connections

Fashion consultants sell their services based on appearance, brand connections, and resources. All of this can be presented in a package via a professional portfolio. Just as any artist, you want to create your portfolio to showcase your best styling work. However, you want to go a step further by organizing your portfolio according to your consultant aesthetic. For example, Rachel Zoe made boho chic popular thanks to her personal style aesthetic of bell bottom jeans and fur vests. In the same way, you want your professional style to shine through in your portfolio. This will help your clients determine if you are a right fit for their style needs, as not every consultant can serve every client. 

Your portfolio should include photos of styles and clients, as well as samples of fabrics, color patterns, and jewelry and accessory samples, if possible. In fact, your portfolio should be less of a photo album and more of a box of collected and curated fashion and style items. Use plastic bags to help organize jewelry pieces. You should also post your portfolio online on your business website in photo form. You may also want to create a video that showcases your portfolio in a more realistic format. 

In order to grow your business, you must develop a brand.  Your brand is the cohesive feeling and style that encompasses your fashion consultant business. It will evolve over time, but in general, it will hold true to a set of fundamentals, such as your mission statement. 

Advance your knowledge by learning all about the latest brands, as well as how to pronounce their names. The CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc.) is the premiere place to begin. The board of directors includes Michael Kors and Vera Wang, while the committee features members like Georgina Chapman, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Derek Lam, Ashley Olsen, and Tory Burch. Gain membership in the CFDA to keep abreast about the latest up and coming designers and fashion trends. 

You should also strive to attend the annual CFDA Fashion Awards, which is the ideal place to network and gain exposure for your talents. The CFDA also stages the New York Fashion Week for men, so if you are considering styling for male clients, this is a must event. The CFDA features a production directory of sewn goods and jewelry available in New York City. As you build your catalog and collection for styling clients, this resource is an excellent place to find the best manufacturers in the business. 

An efficient way to network on a global scale is via social media. These days you can create a social community on Instagram, YouTube, or your personal blog that allows you to showcase your capabilities as a fashion consultant. It also gives you an affordable platform to market your skills that you control. Gain a large enough following and you can go viral and become famous for your fashion consultant ways. This is a fast and somewhat unpredictable way to get your career rolling. However, for those with strong social media skills, not to mention stand-out styling capabilities, this can be an excellent way to build your business. 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not include fashion consultant or stylist in their occupational handbook. However, industry sources suggest that earnings for fashion consultants or image consultants vary, based on geographic location, education, years of experience and industry.  Hourly earnings can range from $50 to $500 per hour.  Some freelance consultants charge a flat fee of $100 to $200 or more, plus expenses for their services.

Get to Know Our Experts

Jason Nik

  • Title:
    Fashion Consultant and Life Coach
  • Company:
    N/A
  • Where:
    Palm Springs, CA
  • Experience:
    11 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I had always been intrigued by fashion. In high school, however, I was always giving relationship advice. My advice became so requested, and I became so busy that I eventually decided to start charging for my time. It was in undergrad that I discovered the career of Life Coaching, and realized that I had been doing that all along. Not only did I love helping people with fashion, relationships, confidence, and achieving their goals – I was great at it. So I stuck to it and officially became a Life Coach. I knew understanding people would be extremely beneficial to my career so I went on to earn a Masters in Psychology.

    On an average day, I meet clients to find out what their specific goal is and work to achieve that goal. On rare occasion, that will consist of redoing their entire wardrobe, but mostly I will show clients what changes they can make to the wardrobe they already have and make them stylish and confident. Everybody can become confidently stylish, my job is to help them discover how.

    I love helping people. That is what makes me so passionate about what I do. Opening people’s eyes to their true selves. Whether it’s in fashion, dating, or confidence.

    I don’t have any dislikes, though I think it is funny when people make assumptions of what I do based on TV and film. For example, a lot of people watch these makeover reality shows and assume that’s exactly what being a fashion consultant is all about. They think I’m going to raid their closets, toss out their clothes, and then we’re going to go shopping. There’s so much more to the kind of Fashion Consulting that I do, which is part of the reason I classify what I do as a Life Coach. I’m not simply updating their wardrobe to what’s trendy; I’m working with the individual client to understand them and find a style that is authentic to them.

    Advice

    Why are you different?

    You’re not the only Fashion Consultant out there, so ask yourself what is it about you that makes you stand out from the rest. Why do potential clients want to go to you and not someone else? Clients come to me because they know I’m a Life Coach, they know about my background in Psychology, and they know that I won’t simply follow trends with them. I will find the style that always remains true to who they are and raises their confidence to new heights. Find what makes you unique so people want to hire you.

    Do some learning

    A formal education in Fashion Consulting can always be a plus, but it’s not necessary. If you learn better on your own, study on your own. If you learn better in school, go to school. Whichever method best teaches you the ins and outs of being a Fashion Consultant — follow that method, because ultimately that is what will give you the best education.

    Shari Barnett

  • Title:
    Talent Management & Event Staffing
  • Company:
    Productions Plus – The Talent Shop
  • Where:
    Detroit, MI
  • Experience:
    27 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I graduated from the Parsons School of Design in New York City with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design. As a consultant, every day is different, which makes my days exciting. On a given day I could be working on concept/story boards, researching trends, scheduling client meetings or presentations, placing store orders and working with talent to confirm accurate alterations and overall look.

    I like that every day is different – it never gets monotonous. I love the development and creative input at the beginning of the season when we merge the “hard properties” of an auto show display with the soft lines of garments to meld into one cohesive look. What I dislike is that there never seems to be enough time in a day to accomplish everything I want to do.

    Advice

    Networking and self-promotion are key

    This doesn’t always come easily for a lot of creative people, but it is a necessity in making a name for yourself. Network and get experience in any way that you can – whether you intern, volunteer or are hired on multiple jobs. Build your resume with various experiences so you completely understand every aspect of the industry. I have done everything in my career from retail, packing boxes, dressing runway shows in NY, working in a designer showroom, designing from concept through to production, worked in factories in Asia, and traveled Europe for trends. Nothing is beneath you, experience is everything!

    Open yourself up to various avenues

    Learn about other industries and be inspired by them (even something like architecture can inspire fashion and shouldn’t be ignored). Know what is trending in the world as this will influence fashion as well. Meet and listen to people in all walks of life and various careers as you never know what link will help you on your path.

    Educate yourself

    Whether it’s a formal education or on your own, learn every aspect of fashion. Even if you don’t sew, know how a garment is constructed, finished and how it wears. Know your fabrications inside and out. Learn and know the importance of good tailoring and what an impact this can make on a single garment or look. Always read about what is current in fashion. I am grateful to have had such a strong foundation with my education, and it has served me well. However, if you supply yourself with the information that you need and never stop learning, you can be successful.

    Vincent Dolliole Jr.

  • Title:
    Fashion Consulting
  • Company:
    StyleBadassChick
  • Where:
    Vancouver, WA
  • Experience:
    1 year in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I graduated from the Aveda Institute and am currently going for an AA in Business Administration. Today, I am a fashion consultant and blogger. The average workday for me is spending a few hours researching and roaming sites, such as Pinterest. Then I will usually head to the mall with a client or have a Skype session.

    What I like most is seeing that giant grin on the face of a client who can’t stop smiling due to how amazing I just made them look. As for dislikes, it would probably have to be when a person isn’t wanting to be cooperative or step out of their comfort zone by trying something new. I also wish I had known from the beginning just how much self-promotion it would take to get a decent amount of business.

    Advice

    Look around you

    Start taking notice of the people around you and how they’re dressing. Get into the habit of seeing someone and thinking about what you would do to improve their outfit.

    Get the knowledge

    A high school diploma is probably the bare minimum. A degree in fashion marketing or design would be nice. It also helps to have some experience in retail. If only everyone knew what working retail is like…

    Get word out

    Maybe start off by offering someone, such as a friend, fashion consulting free of charge. Find a way to start getting the word out about it. Use your connections, or start making some if you don’t have any. Another option could be to write a book; having written one instantly adds more credibility to you as a professional.

    Fashion Consultant Infographic