The Business of Plus Fashion: The Plus-Size Fashion Stylist by Bette Tilch @ ElegantPlus.com

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The Business of Plus Fashion:
So You Want to Be a Plus Fashion Stylist?
by Bette Tilch
ElegantPlus.com Guest Contributor (August 20, 2007)

 
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Plus Fashion Stylist, Bette Tilch on set
Plus Fashion Stylist, Bette Tilch on set
creating wind for Plus Model, Mica

 

As a wardrobe and fashion stylist, I’m always being asked about what I do and how I got into this business. To most people, this seems like the perfect dream job. You know … great clothes, famous people and the fun and excitement of being on the inside of a fashion photo shoot.
 


There are many and varied types of “styling”, such as set styling, prop styling, food styling and, of course, wardrobe and fashion styling. Any time someone needs something to be photographed, taped or filmed, chances are that there is a stylist involved. Specifically, a fashion stylist is responsible for choosing and providing the wardrobe for a fashion shoot, an ad shoot or even accessories to supplement inventory for a catalogue shoot. Fashion stylists also work with celebrities, on videos, TV commercials and on films (they are usually called costumers or wardrobe assistants on films). They sometimes use their own vision to determine the look, but more often than not, they work as part of the creative team to decide the “look” of the particular situation. If it is a commercial, an ad or a catalogue shoot, the client or his representative has creative control and the stylist must provide wardrobe to their precise specifications. A stylist is expected to work on set to ensure that the wardrobe looks it’s best at all times. S/he should have the equipment to steam/press, make repairs and sew, clamp, tape and pin the garments to ensure a perfect and flattering fit. The stylist will also use his/her own resources and contacts to obtain wardrobe, often borrowed from designers and boutiques or rented from costume houses.It is an exciting and interesting job, but it’s also a lot of really hard work. Fashion styling is a highly competitive business and the reality is there is no guarantee that you can make any money doing it. The first realistic hurdle is that to be successful you really must live in New York City or Los Angeles … it’s where the work is. Unless, of course, you are one of the fortunate few hired by a catalog company, television show or large retailer with a high volume of photo shoots. There are a handful of salaried styling jobs within large companies. Usually located at the main corporate headquarters, these positions aren’t necessarily tied to New York or L.A. and can be anywhere in the country. Because catalogers and department stores have such a high volume of catalogs and advertising circulars to produce these offices can have several stylists on staff who are kept very busy week in and week out. Many of the same talents and skills apply, but, unlike freelance fashion stylists, networking, portfolios and client acquisition are not central to the corporate stylist’s success. The trick is to find the position and get hired in the first place.

Most people don’t realize that I work freelance. This is the more usual situation for a stylist. Mine is not a salaried “job”. I am in competition with other stylists for every individual paid project (called a gig) and it’s totally up to me to find my own clients, build my own relationships, wow them with my portfolio, and negotiate my fees. I am not salaried and I don’t get medical benefits. Clients don’t even hold out my income taxes when I get paid, so I have to handle all of that financial stuff on my own. I have to be a skilled entrepreneur/ business owner, a team player and a sales/marketing expert as well as a creative person …. all rolled into one.

Most stylists, like me, got their start by knowing or working for someone in the fashion business. Very few stylists have been formally trained in fashion school or through any certification programs. A friend, who is a fashion photographer, asked me to help out with wardrobe and provided me with some coaching. I loved it and discovered that I have the “eye”. I had finally … after a long career in business … stumbled on my calling! But, as mentioned above, those business skills have also come in handy but in a new, creative way.

What I did next took time and money … but then what start up business doesn’t? I spent my time and money learning my craft and building my portfolio by working on numerous “test” photo shoots which means NO PAY. A savvy new stylist pays attention to the quality of the models and photographer in these collaborative test shoots to get the best images possible for her portfolio; but beginners need to be realistic about the quality of their own work and usually must start testing with newer fashion photographers and non professional models. I learned that the more I tested, the better pictures I got and was able to attract increasingly better photographers who would work with me. I did a lot of networking/making contacts, finding sources for wardrobe, marketing my services, and building a good reputation. A new stylist can’t expect to work for pay for at least the first year or two. Once you are established each paying gig must be negotiated separately with the client, and can range from a few hundred dollars for a small, single day shoot with a smaller client to thousands of dollars for large multi-day, corporate or celebrity shoots. How much you can get paid depends on your negotiating skills, the client, the job and the quality of your portfolio.


Storyboard from a fashion shoot
Photographer’s storyboard laying out the shots along with
magazine images to show the model and crew
the look they are going for.

Over time, I’ve learned how to consult with photographers, clients and art directors to determine the “look” of the shoot, how to go out and find the right garments and accessories, do fittings on the models and make the final choices. I’ve learned to clamp, pin and tape garments (on the side away from the camera) to make everything fit like a glove and to keep an eye on it all during the shoot to make sure there are no gaps wrinkles, lumps or pulls. I can now steam a garment in about 30 seconds, make quick temporary adjustments with the flick of a wrist, use any accessory multiple ways, and make quick decisions about what looks right and what doesn’t. When necessary, I can even bolster the confidence of a nervous model while I help her get dressed. Most importantly of all, I’ve started to build a network of contacts and repeat clients so I can get paid work.

A surprise benefit … I’ve lost weight and am down 3 dress sizes without dieting from all the extra physical activity! It’s all the lifting and carrying of the wardrobe, shoes, accessories, racks and equipment. I must stand on set or location for hours at a time. Sometimes we hike into the location … up in the hills, across the beach or into the woods. Yes …it is that physical!

After all the long hours and hard work, the pay off for me is seeing the results … the actual finished pictures. I love to start with a concept and bring it to fruition. It is usually very collaborative and if everyone on the team is good at what they do and are working as hard as I do, the results can be amazing! Seeing my name in print for the first time in a magazine editorial made me realize that I had become a professional fashion stylist!

Today, a large portion of my work involves plus-size fashion. It seems that I have a reputation for knowing how to flatter the plus figure. I’ve found that, unlike the slim bodies that typical straight sized models have, plus models’ bodies come in different shapes … not just different sizes. So I’ve learned how to deal with differences in each model. Sometimes it’s things like large thighs but a small waist and chest, or too much around the tummy and chest but slim legs. And I also need to adjust for proportion too … perhaps a girl’s legs are short and her torso is long and she’s needs to look longer legged. I know how to balance the proportions of the body, play up the assets and disguise the problems. I can do this with the wardrobe’s cut, color and fabric … they all can have an impact.

I’ve had dozens of plus models hire me to help them put together looks for their own portfolio shoots and have been hired for personal wardrobe consultations as well. I have worked for clients who sell great plus fashions such as Kiyonna, b&lu, alight and Dulce, to name a few. Although I work in the world of regular size fashion too, my favorite shoots are with plus models … they are so beautiful and represent the average to large sized woman so well. I am proud to be at the leading edge of the plus fashion industry.
 

About the Author
  
After years in real estate and banking, Bette Tilch has been working as a freelance fashion stylist since 2001. She works primarily in the print and web (advertising, catalogs, magazine editorials) media but also offers personal styling services for working and aspiring plus models.

One of her specialties is working with designers and retailers who sell plus-size clothing lines. She has worked as a stylist for plus apparel companies like Kiyonna and has participated in a holiday plus fashion editorial for Elegant Plus with photographer Sita Mae Edwards.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Chuck, and her Siamese and Balinese cats. When not working, she loves to travel. She can be contacted through LinkedIn.
 

 

 

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Key words: plus-size fashion, fashion stylist, plus models, fashion styling, fashion careers, photo shoots, fashion shoots, fashion photography