How to Become a Fashion Consultant

01

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.

02

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.

03

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.

How to Become a Fashion Consultant Resources

  • Interview with Sara Rotman, Creative Director & Fashion Branding Expert

    Tammi Edwards
    Tammi EdwardsJun 16, 2012

    As Sara Rotman was rising through the ranks of corporate America, she quickly learned that if she wanted to reach the pinnacle of her industry she would more than just design talent. She would also need to become business-savvy, something she learned and handled with ap...

  • Interview with Abi Ferrin, Fashion Designer

    Tammi Edwards
    Tammi EdwardsJul 02, 2012

    When you read about the reality of fashion design, from the perspective of our featured artist Abi Ferrin, you may be surprised. To the outsider, the field may appear to be filled with glamour and glitter; but to those who have worked their way to the top—it is seriou...

  • Networking for Fashion Merchandisers: Beginners Guide

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJun 12, 2017

    There’s little doubt that in fashion merchandising, as is all areas of the fashion industry, networking for marketing purposes cannot be overlooked. Networking is not always a priority. It takes time and energy, and after a long week at work or school, the last thing ...

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