Become a Fashion Stylist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a fashion stylist. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in fashion.

Should I Become a Fashion Stylist?

Fashion stylists coordinate outfits from an array of clothing and accessories. They may dress mannequins for retail store displays or photo shoots and assist store customers with choosing clothing and accessories to complement their body type and lifestyle.

The work environment is often fast-paced with travel possibly required or even relocation to major cities for work opportunities. Stylists must keep up with frequently changing fashion trends and may need to put in extra hours to meet deadlines.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degree recommended
Degree Field Fashion merchandising
Experience 4-5 years of personal or on-set fashion styling
Certification Professional certification available from the Association of Image Consultants International (AICA)
Key Skills Visual accuracy, creativity, attention to detail, spoken and written communication, interpersonal skills, time management, analytical mind, problem-solving ability, Microsoft Office software
Salary (2014) $50,904 per year (Median)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn an Associate's Degree

Many employers prefer a minimum of an associate's degree for fashion stylist positions. Several colleges offer two-year degree programs in fashion merchandising, which can provide aspiring stylists with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the industry. Classes include the science of textiles, history of fashion, visual merchandising and retail buying. Programs may involve experiential learning, such as speaking with local fashion businesses and attending fashion meetings. Students may be required to complete internships and/or assemble portfolios before graduation.

Success Tip:

  • Create a portfolio of work. Many employers require applicants to submit portfolios that display a variety of previous fashion styling work. If degree programs do not require students to create portfolios, making one is still a good idea. Fashion projects completed as part of course requirements can contribute to this professional collection of work. Uploading the portfolio online may provide opportunities to connect with possible employers quicker.

Step 2: Gain Experience and Network

Fashion stylist positions often require at least four to five years of experience, though some require upwards of eight to ten years of work in the fashion industry. Entry-level fashion retail jobs can help aspiring stylists gain perspective on how various elements come together to create unique, ready-to-wear looks. Stylist jobs often require skills in multiple departments, so experience in areas like children's, men's, and intimates are good preparation. Entry-level jobs can also help individuals network and make contacts in the fashion industry.

Success Tip:

  • Join a fashion organization to stay current in industry trends. Stylists need to ensure they are up-to-date on ever-changing fashion looks. Joining a professional organization, like the Association of Image Consultants International (AICA) or the International Fashion Stylists Association (IFSA), can connect individuals with resources including the latest fashion news, professional development training opportunities and fashion industry events. The IFSA coordinates a major annual conference that includes lectures and workshops directed by fashion stylist leaders.

Step 3: Earn Certification

Gaining certification demonstrates expertise and credibility in the fashion industry which can expand career opportunities. The AICA offers certification at two levels: First Level Certification (FLC) and Certified Image Professional (CIP). Stylists must pass an exam covering technical aspects of apparel image and business topics, as well as provide a portfolio for review to earn the FLC credential. One year later, a stylist can earn the CIP by passing a more intensive portfolio review, in addition to demonstrating completion of continuing education and involvement in professional activities. The Fashion Image Institute offers courses that satisfy continuing education requirements that can also lead to additional certifications, like the Certified Fashion Stylist credential. It also has a course in bridal styling that results in the Certified Image Consultant designation.

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