Ask Alexandra: From Finance to Fashion

Ask Alexandra is my advice column. Have a question you want to ask me? Fill out the form here.

fashion jobs, styling jobs, fashion school, how to become a stylist

Since we are talking about styling, here is a great shot by legendary stylist Edward Enninful, shot by Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia.

Hi Alexandra,

My name is Nadia, I am 29 from Morocco and passionate about fashion. I resigned from a corporate job in banking in Abu Dhabi to go back to school and study to be a fashion stylist (actually to study to become a designer as I am not sure you need to study to become a stylist and only very few schools have styling degrees.) I feel that spending 3 years back at school is not necessary but I don’t see another way to follow my dreams, as no magazine or art director would give me a job with a CV reeking finance and management but no experience in fashion except a blog that I started in January 2014 ( I also feel that a design degree could also help me in in setting up a small business in case I don’t manage to become a successful stylist. There is no going back to my old career and job as I can’t live a single day more without being dedicated to this dream, what would you advise a person like me who realize at almost 30 that she wants to be a stylist? Thanks in advance for your response.

fashion jobs, styling jobs, fashion school, how to become a stylist

Hi Nadia,

I’ve met a lot of people in your position, especially when I was teaching the summer school at St. Martins, and it never ceases to amaze me that anyone would want to give up a high paying job for a low paying job (they both have crazy hours and I’m guessing are both very competitive.) While everyone says your job should be something you love, I know a lot of people who have “normal” jobs, that they don’t hate, and their lives are focused on… their lives. What they do outside of work – which, let’s face it, is the important stuff.

You say you can’t live a day more without being dedicated to the dream of fashion? Remember that fashion is not all it is cut out to be. I’ve been in it for fifteen years and the glamour wore off very quickly. For the past ten years I’ve been more dedicated to my dream of sleeping a lot, hanging out with my family, snuggling with my dog, staying in five star hotels, and having the occasional night out with my friends. Don’t be fooled into thinking that achieving this dream is going to give you happiness.

But since you seem pretty gung ho on getting into fashion, then I am going to start by suggesting you look for a finance job in fashion. If you have any finance skills that are transferable to a fashion business, you will probably get a decent job. Maybe it won’t be so creative but you will be working in fashion. And then you can get a feel for what it is all about, and decide if styling really is your thing. And if it is, then you will know people already, and it will be much easier to get your foot in the door.

fashion jobs, styling jobs, fashion school, how to become a stylist

BUT, if this isn’t an option, and you are dead set on becoming a stylist, then here are my suggestions. First of all, you are right to do a degree because you need to learn some skills and you’ll network with people. Secondly, you are right that no magazine is going to give you a job with no experience, and to be brutally honest, no magazine is going to give you a job until you’ve got a LOT of experience. These are highly competitive jobs and usually they go to the children of rock stars or socialites. Expect at least 2 years of working for free before you make any decent money in the styling world.

fashion jobs, styling jobs, fashion school, how to become a stylist

Also, you can’t get a styling job without a portfolio, and your portfolio needs to be AMAZING. So start doing some professional shoots with a pro team and don’t model yourself, because if you are modelling – then how are you styling at the same time?) Re-evaluate your blog – if you want to turn heads, you need better photography and a better layout. I know my blog isn’t the best looking site in the world, but I’m selling opinion, not “styling.” Look at some of the top bloggers in the world, make your site look like theirs.

fashion jobs, styling jobs, fashion school, how to become a stylist

Try and stay open minded at school, maybe you will realize your skills lie elsewhere. There are a lot of jobs in fashion, and styling is one of the least glamourous. Do you like schlepping suitcases of clothes around town and getting paid peanuts?

Finally, don’t presume that starting a small design business can be a last resort. As you may know, I have a small design business, and we are BUSTING OUR ASS to make it work and we have orders from Barneys and Bon Marché in Paris and I still haven’t taken one cent of salary. This is not a plan B, it is a plan AAA.

fashion jobs, styling jobs, fashion school, how to become a stylist

One last thing to note: while I hate when people say they have a “passion for fashion” (it’s the rhyming thing that drives me nuts) I can tell you that passion will get you a long way. If you are driven, motivated, hard working, resourceful, and a little bit talented (and a little bit lucky!) you may just make it. Best of luck!

Further reading:

Fashion 101: What Does a Stylist Do?

  • Vianney

    Dear Alexandra, always a pleasure to read your sharp comments. I work in heavy metal and can’t stand the smell of it all anymore… Making furniture and metal structures is not so glamourous anymore … And it surely doesn’t pay as well as finance, especially in France. Therefore I thought i could become a teacher in interior design, industrial design or metal technology . What would you advise me ?
    Vianney de Seze – Furniture craftman…

  • Erinnnnn

    This question really resonates with me. I’m 31, working in Finance as well, and, for the past year, have dipped my toe into styling. I have been extraordinarily lucky to have some local stylists and media personalities supporting me though I’ve done so little to deserve it!

    In my opinion, age doesn’t really matter…in fact, the older you are, the more time you’ve had to gain confidence in your opinion of style and really determine what you want to see. I can’t quit my day job yet (I’m a little too risk-averse), but kudos to those who can – it shows you really want it. More than anything, start networking and let people know you are interested. PR companies advertise some of their fashion events open to the public on facebook or twitter – go, dress great, and talk to people. You never know who will be there.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Great tips, and I agree on some levels about age. The only downside to starting older is you are less likely to want to work your ass off for free. And that’s expected most of the time, but way more palatable when you are 21.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Vianney – teaching is a fantastic job. It provides security, good hours, it’s stimulating, and there is the opportunity to get a job that allows you a sabbatical, which is the holy grail of the work world. I highly recommend you start looking at schools in France that require teachers or technicians in furniture design or industrial design.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Good to hear you are so happy Hamideh. You “survived” the tough start and it sounds like you are very satisfied about where you are, which is a good thing. Nice to hear a positive story!