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Getting Started as a Model

If you ask a little girl what she wants to be when she grows up, there is a good chance she will say “I want to be a famous model!” When she becomes a teenager, the childhood dream accelerates as pages from Vogue, Glamour and Elle decorate the walls of her bedroom. And for the very determined, the fascination will gain momentum and ever so gradually, a sense of urgency will emerge. At its pinnacle, her fantasy will ultimately beg the question, “How do I go from dreaming about being a model to actually becoming a model?”

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The Three Types of Modeling in the U.S.

The first thing to understand about becoming a model is there are different types of modeling. The type with which the layperson is most familiar is “High Fashion.” High Fashion modeling encompasses designer runway shows, the advertising photos you see in top-ranked fashion magazines, spokesmodels for glamorous products and of course, the “Cover Girls (boys)” who grace the front pages of elite fashion publications.

The second type of modeling to which one might aspire is known as Commercial Modeling-National. Commercial Modeling on a national level includes advertisements for everyday household products, restaurants, chain stores, adult beverages, food items, and the like. These print images are found in down-to-earth magazines such as Good Housekeeping, People Magazine, Redbook, as well as hundreds of others. Opportunities at a national level also include catalogs for major department stores, brochures, and online-marketed goods and services.

The third type of modeling is Commercial Modeling-Local. Local commercial models will do photo shoots for photographers intending to sell photos online as stock inventory or in need of models for other purposes. Sometimes the shots will be for smaller businesses, a local line of products, tea-room modeling or fashion shows in a variety of events, such as a bridal fair or car show. Models also work for national brands in need of local talent to promote their products i.e. energy drinks at state fairs, military bases, special events, conventions, and sport’s games.

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Why Do You Want to Become a Model?

If you desire a career in modeling, the most important question to ask yourself is, “Why do I want to become a professional model?” If your reasons include, “It looks fun!”, “My friends all say I should be a model!” or “I want to be on magazine covers!” you will need to brace yourself for a strong dose of reality. While those reasons are all valid explanations for wanting to become a model; the only answer that matters in the real world of professional modeling is “I have what it takes to be a model and therefore, I am marketable.”

Modeling is a unique career because it is all about your physical appearance. Unlike other industries which offer advancement for working harder, attending higher levels of education, or earning additional certifications, the world of modeling is not flexible. Ironically, the modeling industry will take you and your appearance, literally, at face value.

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Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Successful Model?

It has never been easier to ascertain your suitability for a modeling career than it is today. Historically, the industry mandated jumping through expensive and arduous hoops before an aspiring model could make their way up the chain, only to find out that they stood no chance of succeeding as a model.

Today, each category of modeling mentioned above, High Fashion, Commercial-National and Commercial-Local, has a distinct standard for acceptance and success. If you are taking the first steps towards a career in modeling, it's best to investigate the specifics of each category so that you can make the best use of your time, money and energy.

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High Fashion: Standards & Requirements

High Fashion Is Highly Competitive & Rigid

Of all the types of modeling, High Fashion has the most rigid and easily determined standards. Although there are always exceptions to the “rules,” there are some basic truths about the industry that are indisputable: you must be tall and thin, period. You may have read about or heard interviews with models who have defeated the odds, but the cold, hard reality is that for every single exception there are literally thousands and thousands of hopeful individuals who failed. And, while the world of fashion has seen an influx of plus-size modeling, the demand for models who break the mold has not yet permeated the traditional model.

While this may sound both discriminatory and cruel (muck like the world of horseracing and jockey selection), there are reasons for the rules. For fashion designers to truly show off their work, those wearing the pieces must not detract from the lines and subtleties of the clothing. Further, the taller the model, the greater the material exposure and the sleeker the fashion will present and cast itself as finely proportioned.

World-famous expert, Paul Fisher has demystified the world of High Fashion modeling in two television shows: “Remodeled” and “I Can Make You a Supermodel”. His journey began in 1987 when he founded IT Models. His career and notoriety in the industry grew to remarkable highs when he represented supermodels such as Naomi Campbell, Carol Alt, and Stephanie Seymour. Fisher recommends that anyone interested in the world of High Fashion take a measured approach when assessing their own chances of success in the industry. Anyone who is serious about a career should begin by taking the following steps:

  • Research the Industry:

    At this juncture, you must treat the industry as any other you would consider entering. You must do your homework. Fisher advises, “Find this out: Do they want what you have? What are their clients looking for?” They way to research the industry, per Fisher, is do a thorough survey of the website “models.com.” At the site you will find the following categories:

  • Become a Statistician:

    Chart the height, weight, hair color, age, shoe size etc. of the top and up-and-coming models. Find out which agencies are representing each model. Read about what the clients are looking for; what the designers want to see; and who the photographers clamor after for photo shoots.

  • Analyze Your Data:

    Make charts and/or graphs. Then determine if your appearance, thus far, is meeting the profile of the successful model. If the answer is yes, go on to step 2. If not, you will want to investigate other options in the industry.

  • Take Pictures Without Make-Up:

    Ask a friend or family member to photograph you. Find an area with a neutral background and without distractions. Wear a bathing suit and include full body shots from front, back and each side. Also, take head shots. Do not enhance or edit the photos in any way, shape or fashion. If you have long hair, pull it back in at least one head shot.

  • Submit Your Photos to the Top Agencies:

    According to Fisher, the next step is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. You are to send your photos to the nation’s top modeling agencies. Before doing so, review their websites thoroughly; there may be a process you’re required to follow. Be sure and follow it exactly as indicated. They receive thousands of photos; be sure yours is one they look at because you followed the rules. At this point, it is a waiting game. It could take some time. But ultimately, you will find out what the top modeling agencies think about you. With regards to High Fashion modeling, Fisher says, “Send them your picture. You will hear back from them. If you do not hear back from them, don’t model.”

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Commercial Modeling: National

The wonderful news about the world of Commercial Modeling on a national level is that clients are looking for real people; people who are young, old, tall, short, thin, heavy, etc. The one most important thing about this branch of the industry is that you have an agent.

Securing Representation from an Agent or Agency

To be prosperous as a Commercial Model doing national print work, you must have an agent who is successful; the key idea being–the agent is successful. But how do you find a successful agent?

  • Scour the Internet

    All successful modeling agents have websites showcasing their models and the client accounts they have represented. Scrutinize the quality of the website; as in any industry there are unscrupulous imposters who will take your valuable time and money if you are not careful. Vet the agencies which appear to be of the highest caliber. Google their name; find out if their claim to any fame can be legitimized. Watch any YouTube videos which discuss the agency. Make a list of the agencies you verified as trustworthy and affluent.

  • Dissect Each Website for Direction

    The fact of the matter is this: if you can make money for an agent, they will want you. The professionals in this industry are not trying to make your dreams come true; they are businesspeople working to make a profitable living. But unlike High Fashion representation, agencies will vary in what they are looking for in a model. A good analogy is the literary agent. Some agencies deal only with romance novels or mysteries; others may work only with biographical manuscripts. The same can be said of agents and agencies. They may represent every look or be in the market for only a few particular types. It is your job to find out the agency’s process.

    Next, take your list and methodically examine each website. Look at everything. Finally, go to the section on becoming part of their talent roster. It may be entitled “Contact Us” “Recruitment” “New Talent” or even “Become a Model.” Again, before you go any further, make sure you are dealing with a reputable firm. Otto Models, a California-based agency has this warning prominently displayed on their website:

    The above paragraph is some of the best advice you will ever receive with regards to agencies. Reputable agencies do not try and sell you photo shoots with “their photographers” or ask for any money from you for representation. Parents should always be the one to contact an agency on behalf of minors; and under no circumstances should nude photos be solicited.

  • Follow Directions

    Each agent will have their own method of processing new talent. Make sure you follow their instructions thoroughly. Most will ask for photos and your vital statistics such as age, weight, height etc. Do not be deceptive. The worst thing you can do is be dishonest about any aspect of your appearance. Remember, this is a business and no one wants to hire a liar.

Website Platforms

You may come across websites which offer to assist you in finding an agent. They serve as the platform on which you showcase your photos. As with your agency search, approach with caution. Find out what is in it for the website. Make sure the service is reputable. Do not do anything which hints at being improper or a scam.

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Commercial Modeling: Local

This type of modeling is difficult to do at a professional level. “Professional,” meaning the job you do to support yourself to make-a-living. Depending on the town or city in which you live, you may find work doing the following:

  • Working for local photographers
  • Posing for newspaper advertisements
  • Representing local businesses in their brochures, menus or catalogs
  • Modeling clothes for a local department store
  • Modeling for restaurants (Tea-Room Modeling)
  • Modeling or posing for art schools and schools of photography

Local modeling is typically done for fun or as part-time work. If you have an agent, however, you should never accept a job without their consent and knowledge.

Get to Know Our Experts

Brittany Hudson

  • Title:
    Plus-Size Model
  • Company:
    Self-employed Freelance Model
  • Where:
    Portland, Oregon
  • Experience:
    1 year in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I graduated from Southern University with a BS in Biology. Then the National Institute of Health awarded me a grant to do research at Oregon Health Sciences University. During my time as a research assistant, I decided to do a photo shoot with a photographer I met on Model Mayhem. I used those photos for my very first comp card and submission for Portland Fashion Week. I knew I wanted to get into the fashion industry, and I went to the first mixer to network. From there I met everyone involved with the fashion industry, and I made sure I learned as much as I could from each person. Then I walked for Betty Jean Couture, met many women in the industry, and learned about pageantry. This is in a nutshell how I became Miss Northwest Plus USA. My average work day starts with working out, checking my emails, and monitoring all my social media sites. Social media allows me to keep updated on current events, and the interaction with my peers provides inspiration and knowledge about the latest fashion trends. I enjoy showing that curvy confident women can be models, and inspiring others to promote positive healthy body images. Modeling allows me to be artistic, explore the fashion industry, and express myself through my apparel.

    Advice

    Keep up your appearance

    Always take care of your skin and appearance. Health is a very important part of modeling. Make sure you have a daily skin routine, drink lots of water constantly, and eat healthy foods. Never let your dress size or zip code define your success; however, proportions are very important since sample sizes are not generally tailored for that model. A model (standard and plus) must be able to wear the sample size garments.

    Follow the trends

    The major keys to success are research, practice, network, “it” factor, proportions, and personality. Research the different fashion shows in your area, and figure out when the next event will happen. Follow those fashion figures on their social media sites, and keep up to date on the events in your area.

    Be business savvy

    Make sure to always be conscious of your budget, because modeling is very expensive. The best way to get around that for photo shoots and wardrobe can be doing trade for print (TFP); this allows you to work with photographers for free and you have access to the photos. Also, search for new photographers looking for practice shots for little to no cost and it will build your portfolio. Whenever working with anyone in the industry make sure to always have a contract signed and rights to your images; if it’s the first time working with a photographer, have someone come with you. Safety first. Also, when a contract is involved, it is best to have someone with your best interest at heart and/or even legal experience to read over contracts before signing.

    Danine Manette

  • Title:
    Media Model
  • Company:
    Freelancer
  • Where:
    Berkeley, CA
  • Experience:
    4 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I obtained my Bachelors from the University of California at Berkeley and my Juris Doctorate from the University of California. I have been doing Professional Modeling for the past 4 years, although my full-time career is in Criminal Investigations. I read over criminal cases and contact witnesses in the morning, attend a commercial casting or submit photos to a casting agent around midday, interview witnesses, serve subpoenas, visit crime scenes or review autopsy photos in the afternoon, and appear as a media pundit on HLN’s Dr. Drew Show in the evening.

    I like that every day is a new and different experience for me. What’s interesting and fun about modeling is that it is at times overwhelming yet amazing that a high power entity or corporation has selected me to be the face of the advertising campaign for their product or service. Although modeling might seem glamorous and exciting all the time, the shoot conditions are not always ideal and there is tons of stand around time while you are waiting for the production staff to set up the perfect shot. Also, sometimes outside shoots have to be done when the lighting is best, which is oftentimes in the early morning hours when it’s freezing cold outside.

    I wish I would have gotten an earlier start. I never really had confidence that I could do this type of work, as I internalized all of the bullying and negative comments made about my appearance growing up. I would have never in a million years thought I could be successful in modeling because women who look like me were never really featured in media or ad campaigns.

    Advice

    Consider freelancing

    I really didn’t need an agency in order to procure work. Although it was good to start out with one in order to learn the ropes, given the current resources and casting sites available online I really don’t see much need for mainstream agencies any more. I was booked for very few jobs when I had an agent and had to pay them 20% of my earnings. Working for myself, however, I have booked almost 70 jobs in 4 years, and I get to keep 100% of my earnings. That’s not bad at all!

    Be confident if modeling is your passion

    Never, ever, assume that modeling is not for you simply because you feel you are too short, too fat, too old, too dark… There is an entirely new modeling category known as “lifestyle modeling” which I am a part of. Advertisers have figured out that consumers are more likely to be influenced by people who look like normal, everyday human beings as opposed to people who are rail thin, with sunken cheekbones and are 50lbs soaking wet.

    Make connections instead of taking classes

    Try to connect with someone in the field. I have taken several children and young women in under my wing and all have since launched successful modeling careers of their own. I do not recommend those so called modeling schools because, from my experience, they simply take your money and schedule you for classes, which seldom lead to any real gigs.

    A step by step for first-timers

    First step is to locate a photographer and have them take some plain, straight-forward headshots, with minimal make up, and a full body shot taken without posing or trying to look super cute is optimal. Next, research modeling agencies in your area that specialize in your age group, as well as online casting agencies, and determine which ones are the best suited for you. Be sure to read the agency reviews, and if possible, connect with someone in the industry who can help direct you. Finally, submit your photos to the agency, as well as set up a casting profile with an online site. If you end up being selected and signed by an agency then that’s great until you decide you no longer need them. If you are not selected by an agency though, continue to submit yourself for casting projects with the online sites, which, as in my case, actually end up being more lucrative.

    Tiffany Bobb

  • Title:
    Owner
  • Company:
    T. Victoria Accessories
  • Where:
    Central New Jersey
  • Experience:
    4 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I received an AAS in Fashion Marketing and Management from Berkeley college. Upon graduating, I worked as a visual merchandise coordinator. I traveled to many department stores in NJ and flew around the east coast for shop installations. I lost that job in 2008 and started doing background extra work on films and television. I researched commercial print modeling and stumbled upon body parts modeling. There are model jobs for pretty much every body part, and I’ve always had nice hands. I took some simple shots of my hands with my photographer and submitted them to agencies. Within a few weeks, I was sent out on castings. In 2011, I began my jewelry company after a few months of making my own accessories. My days are never “average” because I have two very different careers, and every job is different. My agents email castings or ask my availability for certain dates. Different clients need different things. The day before the shoot, my agent emails my call time, shoot location, and any information about what clothing items to bring. Some clients ask me to get a manicure before the shoot. Others have a manicurist on set. It’s much easier to do hand modeling than face modeling, because you can see your hands and have better control of what they look like. I move my hands very slowly, so the photographer can tell me when to stop and hold a pose. I’m sometimes kneeling or laying under a table with my hands poking through a hole. I had to draw a leaf in a commercial for New York state tourism. I had to pull the applicator from a lip gloss for a L’Oreal commercial featuring Beyonce. I have to have a steady hand and a good grip.

    The work itself is pretty easy. I like being on set and meeting new people. It’s also fun to talk to other models. In my life outside of the entertainment industry it’s difficult to relate to a lot of people, because nobody else does what I do. Most people talk about their jobs and complain about working. My career allows me to have a significant amount of downtime compared to the average job.

    The fear of scratching my hand is minor compared to the fear of breaking a nail. Work and castings are spontaneous, so I have to always be prepared. A broken nail could put me out of commission for 2-3 weeks.

    Advice

    Be realistic

    Everyone needs to be realistic about their age, what they look like, and their type. To the average person who thinks “modeling” is strutting the runway and doing editorials in Vogue, there are so many other aspects of the business. Commercial print modeling has room for many types, but you have to have the correct pictures. Go through a magazine and look at the ads. The people modeling for a restaurant or a food product aren’t always glamorous. Either you want a career, or you want to boost your ego. If you aren’t the bikini model type, you don’t need bikini photos. You also need to keep the makeup very light and natural.

    Model Infographic