When I left my fashion design career in 2002 to start my style consulting business I said that I believed, one day, hiring a stylist would be a commonplace and as normal as hiring a trainer at the gym or going to a nail salon. Remember, long ago, only people with money hired trainers and there weren’t several nail salons in your town? Nowadays, especially with technology and phone apps, everyone can get a trainer to some degree and it’s not only the rich and famous who can access a trainer at the gym. And with cheap manicures, what was a luxury long ago, now is accessible to everyone. In fact, can you not imagine getting a manicure regularly?
In the past 18 years that I’ve been in business as a stylist, I’ve seen my profession boom. Not only has it become more commonplace for people to actually hire a stylist but, again, with technology people of all means can get some form of style help, be it via a website, phone app, or with in-person help. Hiring a stylist isn’t anywhere near as commonplace as going to get a mani/pedi at the place on the corner…yet I think, in time, it will be.
In addition, becoming a stylist has become one of the most sought after professions in the fashion industry. Everyone wants to call themselves a stylist and because anyone can wake up tomorrow and just call themselves one, they can. In fact, a client of mine recently said to me, “Do you know how many people are dying to do what you do for a living?” However, because of the fact that anyone gives themselves the self-appointed title of ‘Stylist’ without any credentials, skills, or education, I can only imagine how confusing this must be for the consumer who is on the search to hire one. If you have been looking to hire a fashion stylist, here are some tips and advice on how to make sure you’re hiring one who can actually do right by you.
Stylist is a name we go by, but we also go by many more
I have been called so many things. I’ve been called an image consultant, style consultant, personal shopper, and stylist. I don’t bother correcting anyone when they call me any of these names because there really isn’t a proper term to describe what many of us in the profession do. However, there are some subtle distinctions you on which you should be clear. While I for one could call myself all of the above, typically, image consultant is a very broad profession. People with very public careers, like politicians and celebrities, hire image consultants who work with a team to help shape the public image of these folks, especially when something goes terribly wrong. Additionally, many image consultants are trained and qualified in the area of etiquette, public speaking, media training, and other areas of visual communication. However, not all image consultants specialize or are required to have training in any of these areas. Image consultant is a broad term that can have many different meanings.
Personal shoppers are not stylists, typically. Personal shoppers usually focus solely on the shopping aspect of a client’s needs. They usually don’t do at-home appointments, closet edits, or anything beyond helping a client shop. This is only a fraction of what a stylist can do for you. Personal shoppers can either work for a store or independently. They also can be hired for things beyond fashion, like shopping for gifts and other non-fashion items. I knew a personal shopper who was hired by a corporation to handle all the gift buying for clients and employees during the holidays.
Style consultant is another tricky term, simply because many retailers have started calling their sales associates style consultants. It’s irksome because usually a sales associate in a store isn’t trained beyond doing typical sales associate things- like ringing customers up, stocking the floors, selling and cleaning out dressing rooms. Style consultant is a made-up term that had no meaning in the retail world but some personal stylists use the term style consultant in lieu of stylist. When I started my career I used the title Style Consultant but abandoned it once the term was usurped by retailers and online fashion sources.
Stylist is also a tricky term, as there are many different types. There are editorial stylists, celebrity stylists, and personal stylists. Be clear on which type of stylist the person is before you want to hire them. I’m a personal stylist, meaning that I am not a celebrity stylist (though some of my clients are very public and well known in their professions) and I don’t do any type of red carpet styling. I’m also not an editorial stylist. Editorial stylists are stylists who work with magazines, with photographers or to help sell a product. Editorial stylists often create beautiful imagery with their talents, however, they are usually not as adept with real-life, day to day styling that sells the person, not the product. Some stylists do wear many hats and will do editorial styling, some celebrity styling, and personal styling, but I am usually a bit wary of these types of stylists. If I was looking to hire a stylist I’d want one who is more of a master in their one area and who stayed in their own lane. Don’t be wooed by someone who is a celebrity stylist just because they have gotten stars ready for the red carpet. There is a good chance they don’t have the same skill set for your needs.
Of course, there a plenty of other names that I’ve heard, including fashion consultant, wardrobe consultant, plus many more.
Be clear on your needs
This leads me to my next point: Be clear on your needs. What are you looking to accomplish and what is it that you want a stylist to do for you? To invest money in a stylist there has to be a good enough reason to do it. Let’s be honest, everyone loves a makeover and most people would love the opportunity to have someone come in and help them redo their closet. However, when a person actually picks up the phone and hires me it’s for more than just a “wow, this will be fun” reason. There has to be a bigger reason, a goal, or something at stake. Often, people hire me when in some form of transition or when there is a “cost” involved, that their image and style is playing a key role in the achievement of their particular goals. For some, the issues have been that their lack of style sense has been taking up too much time and they want to simplify, and, for others, the goals have been to get a promotion, get another job, and for far more serious reasons. Hiring a stylist is an investment, a wise one, but few people will do it unless they really have to. What is your reason? A good stylist will be able to hone in on this.
You get what you pay for
This is not to begrudge those stylists out there who are just starting out. In fact, I feel bad for any new stylist trying to carve out a career for themselves. The industry has become so glutted with poorly qualified and fashion wannabes that it’s hard for many to stake their claim. Plus, we all have to start somewhere and it’s smart for a young, aspiring stylist to charge less than the seasoned stylist. The good news for the consumer is that, because there is always a new stylist entering the field, there is a chance to get one on the way up, who is skilled and will charge you less. At this point, I sit at the higher tier of the price range. However, I’ve also earned the right to charge as much as I do. While I was good when I started, I am a better stylist now than I was 18 years ago. The question you want to ask yourself is if you want to be a new stylist’s guinea pig? Again, it might be a wise move if they have natural talent. However, regardless of how early on they are in their career, don’t be willing to tolerate a lack of professionalism, poor business skills, and be wary of any stylist who isn’t handling their work as a business. Even when I was a newbie I handled my business professionally.
This is a business, make sure your stylist handles themselves this way
I think we typically give a free pass to creative types who don’t handle their work in a business manner. Few believe that a creative person also possesses the ability to also have a business mind. Yet, I think we should expect a business sense from anyone who is a stylist. If a stylist doesn’t have a clear system, professional materials and doesn’t communicate in a professional way I wouldn’t hire them. Most people only see the public side of a stylist’s profession, which looks fun. However, every hour that a stylist is working with a client is an hour spent doing follow-up, administrative work, record keeping, and other less savory tasks. My least favorite time of the month is when I have to send out client statements. I’d rather do anything than fill out forms.
When I am hired by a client they enter into my system and they get clear direction from me from the start, including a very detailed intro email of what to expect, how to prepare, a contract, forms to fill out, every client has their own notebook on my iPad with copious notes, and clients on retainer get monthly statements from me. You should expect this level of professionalism from any stylist that you hire.
What are the stylist’s credentials?
If I had a nickel for every time I heard that someone decided to become a stylist because people told them they always dress well, that all their friends ask them for fashion advice, or because they’ve had a passion for fashion their whole life and that becoming a stylist seemed like the best way to gain entrance into this profession, well, I’d be a rich woman who would never need to style another woman again. It takes a whole lot more skill than being a well-dressed friend’s go-to fashion expert to be qualified to style others.
Now I’m not saying that a successful stylist has to have two decades worth of fashion training, like I do, to be a good one. However, what I am saying is that a stylist should have a respect for their profession and a desire to learn beyond the basics of good fashion sense. This is not nearly enough to be qualified. Even I, who wanted to leave my fashion design career and start working as a stylist, went back to school and took classes on image consulting before starting my business. In addition, please be very cautious of any stylist who merely has a media presence and no qualifications beyond that. Just because a stylist creates a pretty blog of outfit photos or gets sponsors to make them look qualified doesn’t mean that they have any experience. In this day and age, it is very easy to pull the wool over the eyes of many consumers. This leads me to my next, very important, point.
It’s about you, not about them
A good stylist often has a media presence, but not all do. Speaking for myself, I am a published author, I’ve done over 100 television appearances as a style expert, I write a successful blog, have written articles for major magazines and websites, and have been quoted in tons of major publications as an expert. However, while my media presence may make me visible, I keep this world and my private client world very separate. In fact, there are some clients who hire me who have no idea who I am publicly and some don’t even know that I’ve written a book or that I have ever been on TV. When I work with a client, it’s about them, not me.
Stylists have to earn a living and we often do it in many ways. Some of us get spokesperson roles, monetize our blogs, write for other publications, and more. Stylists who have a presence like this aren’t bad and all of us have to do what we have to do to promote our businesses and create multiple income streams to sustain. In addition, when a stylist does become well known, media and sponsored opportunities come quite naturally. However, I have met so many “style experts” out there who are all flash and absolutely no substance. Here they are giving style advice having never once zipped a woman into the back of a dress. Just be careful. While media and stylist work can go hand-in-hand, a good stylist may not necessarily always the one who is constantly on TV.
Don’t be afraid to back check
Like anyone you are looking to hire, if you feel you need to get references from a stylist then ask for them. It doesn’t happen often, but when I do get asked I am happy to oblige. Not only am I confident in my work but I also feel this shows a sign of loyalty in my clients who would happily share a testimonial with someone. A stylist should not only be willing to supply these.
Make sure they are advocating for you
There are many ways you want to make sure a stylist is advocating for you and is on your side. The first is that you want to be clear whether or not a stylist is in cahoots with a retailer. Now, I know there are many stylists who accept a kickback from a store, like a commission, on what a client purchases at the retailer they bring their clients to. This is actually more commonplace than you would think. For me, it has been my policy from the start never to accept a dime from a retailer for bringing my clients to shop with them. I see this as a conflict of interest because women are already so distrustful of salespeople at the stores. If a client found out that I accepted commissions based on the clothing that my client purchased I’d worry that a client wouldn’t trust me. I want a client to trust me 100% so I don’t accept commissions, ever. Be clear if it is okay with you if your stylist accepts commissions from retailers and don’t be afraid to ask.
However, what you might get from a stylist are perks. These perks can include things like a bigger discount on clothing, stores opening early for you, the best salespeople who will come in just for you and your stylist, and more. This is the benefit of working with a stylist. It means is that a stylist has nurtured such positive relationships with these retailers and sales associates that they get these perks and is passing them on to you. A good stylist always passes the perks to the clients and doesn’t keep them for themselves.
The other way a stylist should advocate for you is privacy. If a client is on my blog it is with her permission, and I always change the name and don’t show faces. Additionally, while a stylist may reference you as an example with other clients or in a blog post, they should never reveal your identity. This is something I am incredibly strict about. There is a stylist-client privacy rule that should always be respected.
A stylist should also advocate for you by listening. I always say that this profession is 99% psychology and 1% fashion. If a stylist you hire pushes things because they are “trending” or is all about the fashion and not you, they’re not a good stylist. A good stylist listens and helps you create a personal style that is reflective of you, not what is getting thrown down the runway. Also, while all stylists have a certain aesthetic, they should be able to create an individualized look that is reflective of your style, meaning that they don’t create a cookie-cutter look for everyone they work with. Even if something is not my personal taste or style aesthetic I will certainly suggest it to my client because it is right for them. Additionally, a good stylist should have an intuitive sense about them when helping to develop your style, which comes partly from being good listeners and partly from just having an outrageous skill set for their craft. A good stylist advocates for you by being able to keenly focus on exactly what your style is without you having to reveal all that much.
Lastly, a stylist advocates for you by really respecting their job. This goes back to my point about it being about you, not about them. It was only recently that I felt comfortable enough to call myself a successful stylist. Working my way towards this success has been something I’ve taken very seriously and, believe me, it has been a tough climb, just like any entrepreneurial endeavor is. A stylist should not only work hard for you but should take their profession and commitment to you seriously. Again, don’t accept a flighty, half-committed stylist simply because you assume this is how people in fashion behave. The successful people, with the credentials and knowledge in this industry, work extremely hard.
Make sure your philosophies match
The last point is looking for a stylist where your philosophies match. You need to feel drawn to a particular stylist for a variety of reasons. First, you should be able to connect well with this person. I am not saying you will be best friends, but you should feel comfortable being with them. Stylists will invariably see your vulnerable points, see you in your underwear and you will probably be revealing some highly personal information with them. Some of my clients have become wonderful and dear friends while my relationship with others has been strictly professional. Either way, I connect with each of my clients on a pretty personal level. You should feel this level of comfort with them.
Next, every stylist has a different philosophy on style and getting dressed and, while I have my own, I respect the point of view of my peers. The goal for you in finding the right stylist is to feel like the philosophy and approaches that your stylist has resonated with you. Now that this profession is more commonplace, I’ve been hired by many clients who have worked with other stylists in the past. It’s always so interesting to hear, via my clients, how these other stylists worked. Some approaches of my fellow stylists I’ve highly disagreed with, to the point of shock and disdain, and other approaches I’ve found quite interesting.
Lately, a lot of clients have come to me via my blog after seeing how I style outfits in my posts. For them, something resonated and they felt I could best help them. This is a great way to seek out your stylist. Most stylists have a blog or a Pinterest page. Look to these sources, read their writing, get familiar with their philosophies to see if it is a match for you. Long ago, when there really was no social media like there is today my clients didn’t have access to these platforms when they called me. In most cases, my work came strictly through referral. While a referral is still the number one way I grow my business, it has been interesting to see how many new people have reached out solely through seeing how I style looks in my blog.
Services that stylists offer
Like the fact that stylists can go by many different names, the services that a stylist can provide can vary. I am an all-inclusive stylish, meaning that I will do everything from style development, shopping with clients, closet edits, color analysis, and outfit styling sessions. One thing I want to make very clear is a stylist is not an organizer unless they claim to be one in their credentials. While we often come in to help you weed through your closet and give you ideas on how to better manage the clothing, don’t welcome us into your messy closet expecting us to organize it for you. Yes, some closets that I’ve worked in have been outrageously disorganized and have taken multiple hours to cull through, but if you are looking for someone to come in and clean your closet but not necessarily advise you on style, consider an organizer, not a stylist.
Regardless of the services that a stylist offers, they should be presented to you in a professional manner and the stylist should have enough sense and skill to know what services are right for you and how to either package or present how to move forward. This goes back to my point about a stylist running themselves a business. When you call on them to inquire you should feel like you are calling a seasoned business professional, not an inexperienced person who seems to be winging it.
If you’ve been staring at your closet and can’t find anything to wear, are worried that your professional image isn’t getting you where you want in your career, or are in transition and feel that your look needs an upgrade, it might be the right time to hire a fashion stylist. Yes, it can be an investment, but never once has a client told me it was a waste of money. In fact, in the end, they usually wind up saving thousands of dollars because of the style direction they have received. As you begin your research for your own stylist, I hope these tips and my advice will help you. Always remember, a good stylist will respect you, their skills, and their profession.
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