Fashion Modelling – Some Truths

Model wears Amore & Sorvette

Model wears Amore & Sorvette

It worries me, and also others, when we see a lot of rubbish being written about fashion modelling.  And it worries me too, that some people put their lives, their money, and their health, seriously at risk just in the pursuit of trying to be a full time “fashion model”.

Here are some real truths that I will try and spread out across the net and hope it saves someone somewhere some misery but also inspires someone else to beat the odds:)

If you know of anyone thinking of becoming a “fashion model”, please make sure they read this. I have been incredibly lucky but for every one of me, there are many who have ended up disillusioned or worse as they fell into one of the many traps waiting for them!


You may be walking down the street tomorrow and be approached by a scout, and within 6 months be on a runway in Milan.  Yes, trust me it does happen.  It is though, very very rare and the following is some insight and information that I hope may help young female and males thinking about pursuing modelling.

Think carefully why you want to be a model!  If it is to get rich, expand your ego, or have a jet set easy style life – forget it!  You may get rich but unlikely, you may be jet setting but it may not be that easy to start with, and modelling is not there to make ‘ego-heads’ any bigger.

Types of Modelling
There are many, many different forms of modelling; fashion, glamour, commercial, promo, on site eye candy, specialist, etc. All have very different requirements eg. High Fashion – you have to meet stringent height and body requirements, Headshots/Studio – height does not matter, General Photographic – you just have to be pretty and or/have a good body, Promo/Live Work – sex appeal, Glamour – well, you need a fuller figure and be prepared to strip!

Agencies will have you on their books on what work they think they can get for you and hence money for them. If you have an amazing face for cover work and also a great body and walk for runway then all the better. If someone only has potential in one area, eg. facial, then obviously the chances of getting on someone’s general books are limited.

A middle ground agency though, will try and hire a wide spread of model types so they can cover many different client requirements but, if they spot someone that can transform themselves into quite a few different looks and take on many different types of work then it’s a win win situation for both model and agency. The top fashion agencies however, are focussed on only fashion/ad campaigns/shows/editorials etc and generally will only hire tall lean models. Other agencies will hire for other markets and may even have children and pets.

I am going to skip “glamour” in the sense on large boobed topless low end work and all of the rest of this article will be about “fashion modelling”.

The best way to work as a successful model is with a good agency. The agency will promote you and find work for you and you will be working in a known environment.  Remember: it is an industry about money and commerce. Most modelling is about selling.  The Client pays the Agency and the Agency pays the Model, then the Client gets money from the sales of their product. You have to have the qualities that will work successfully within this framework and deliver results – the result being a satisfied Client.

To be a successful fashion model is so much more than having just “looks”.  Being very pretty or cute is not enough.

Body Requirements
For high-end fashion work, which will include runway, you generally just have to be tall with 5ft 9/10 being the normal minimum. Other aspects are bust no larger than 36 and same for hips. A standard dimension for a runway model is around 34 24 34. Waists can vary from 22 to 27ish but 24 is good. Slim thighs are very important with an inside leg length 34-36+. Tummy should be reasonably flat. Posture is important with not rounded shoulders, collar bones towards the horizontal. Body proportions should look good, slim rear, crotch gap present, slim knees and calves, clear consistent skin and no large cellulite.

Remember: there are many forms of modelling and you don’t have to be long and lean necessarily, unless you want to do top runway modelling in which case sorry, you just have to be that despite what people may say, it just not going to change!!

You either have it in your genes or you don’t. If you are not naturally built long and lean- DONT try slim right down from where your natural body needs to be just to get the work. It can literally destroy your life trying to, then staying down at that abnormal weight for your body is a challenge. You just have to be born with the right genes – sorry but it is true.

In addition:
• Your body needs to look and be fit and healthy and strong. Modelling can be very punishing on the body and one needs to be physically pretty fit with good stamina and muscle strength. Visually it helps if the body looks toned.  If you think successful working models are deep in drugs/anorexic/bulimic etc, you are only kidding yourself! To survive times like fashion weeks, one has to be in peak health and nutrition. As with all walks of life, a few will go off the straight and narrow! The one vice, and really bad habit, that many models will have is smoking and this is purely to help keep their weight down.

• You must be flexible. It helps if your body is flexible – to get into and hold some awkward poses.

• You need to keep hair/stubble free in terms of arms etc and between the legs or if you don’t like being totally bare down there, just a really tiny vertical line, no more. Any sign of hair peaking out is a real no no.

• Your diet needs to be sensible and balanced. Depending on each model’s genes/build, some will be more careful about the calories they intake than others and each person will balance cals vs exercise differently. Yes models will tend to keep their bodies on the pretty slim side of an already slim body…but healthy!!

• You need to be able to walk properly.  Get your walk checked out by someone who knows – this is vital.

• You require natural poise and grace.

• Your skin needs to be good, free from any endemic problems. Pay great attention to looking after your skin

• Your hair needs to be in really good condition.

• Your mental attributes are also very important!

• You need to be confident. Confidence in oneself as a person. If you have low self confidence – forget modelling!!!!  Also there has to be a lot of confidence about the body. No one body is perfect but you have to feel good about what you have. You have to wear your body with pride. You have to be very comfortable with changing in front of other models, crews and anyone! You cannot afford to be shy or prissy front or backstage. Your body is a part of you. In modelling, you should expect to be seen and shot pretty naked if required. Make sure you are not only mentally comfortable with this but you have actually done it in front of some friendly people before trying it in front of professionals. “Fashion photography” has always had fuzzy boundaries and it will always be so as long as fashion is about visual appeal and human beings. A model can be in the finest garments on the runway in Milan and also naked in Purple magazine or Numero or many of the others. There is also exciting work in many different areas and ways in arts, science and adventure. It is always though YOUR choice what work you accept.  In general, be prepared to show your personal and body confidence and wear it with pride at all other times and whether a model or not, it will change your life. A photographer said to me “The way the female body has been presented over the years, and genres have made for many ingrained moralistic and nervous approaches to any sight of parts of the body not normally seen in an office but in essence the female form is always the natural wonderful beauty that it is. Those that see it otherwise and those that feel it must be hidden at all times and not celebrated, are living with their eyes closed and their minds warped by conventions that repress the soul” – this I may add, was a female photographer.  To be disconnected from your own body is to be disconnected with life.

• You need to be intelligent. You need to be aware of what is going on around you and why, and be able to figure it all out! Don’t believe that all models are airheads. Many are A graders.

• You need to be articulate. You need to be reasonably well spoken and to be able to speak clearly and pleasantly in order to get on with people.

• You will need to know about designers and photographers, stylists and editors.

• The ability to get on with people and not let others demean or weaken one’s confidence. It is very important that you can get along with many different types of people of all ages, sexes and nationalities. You will meet so many types and you have to not let people get to you or lose your cool with anyone. Reputations are very important. You need to be known as someone that people love to work with, someone that is not only professional but a delight to work with. Also you need to have a massively thick skin and not let any criticism knock you to the ground or any snide bitchiness reduce you to a wreck. You need to keep that inner core of confidence no matter what is thrown at you.

• The ability to deal with competition from others and rejection. Even if you are super hot, there will be castings where you are rejected as you don’t fit what that particular client is looking for. There can be lots of rejection and you have to deal with it. If you have problems with criticism, if you have low self confidence, if you get angry a lot, do not think about modelling.  Never criticise anyone except constructively when asked.

• You need massive amounts of resilience. Modelling can be very hard and wearing physically, and mentally. You need to be very resilient! To be able to work in cold and rain after no sleep for days, to have to travel and work and stand in strange positions for hours, to be pushed to the limits of your physical and mental strengths without breaking down and whinging, crying or getting angry.

• The ability to go without sleep and not get sloppy, annoyed and/or unprofessional.

• The ability to keep to time and find ones way around the world and cities. It is vital that models can get themselves around and on time.

• The ability to ward off guys and to hold your drink well. As a model, you will be the target of many guys, some in positions of power and some not. You need to be able to handle all with class and tact. You need to be able to hold drink – there is nothing worse then a professional model being drunk and sick and people taking pictures of it!

• You need a sense of mind to avoid the drugs that are everywhere. Drugs are all over the place – anyone trying them is doomed! You need to have the inner strength and wisdom to avoid drugs like the plague.

• You must be financially and contractually aware. You need to be able to understand finance and be able to read and understand contracts, or rich enough to hire accountants and lawyers.

• The ability to keep a sense of proportion about it all and to lead a balanced life!

• The ability to be very self contained to be away from friends, family and loved ones for periods time.

• The ability to take and understand direction when on a set. The ability to move slightly all of the time and work around a shot – to give the photographer that something new, every moment. The ability to give life in your eyes and body. No one wants to work with a wax dummy.

• The ability to act.

• The ability to cope mentally with very strange locations and shoots.

• The ability to cope with having your hair messed with!

First Steps
Your aim should be to get on the books of a good agency, there are numerous ways to make the first steps:

• Send just a few pics online to agencies. There are quite a few really good agencies that will take pics online. These don’t have to be professional shots, just follow the guidelines on their sites.

• Go to top Agencies ‘open call’ sessions. Look neat and wear simple yet effective clothes to show off your figure; a white T and jeans are fine. Don’t plaster on your make-up, and make sure you can walk!

• Entering bona fide top competitions. Keep eyes and ears open in papers/TV and on the net. Beware of low life competitions. Avoid entertainment focussed shows such as ANTM, BNTM etc- this is generally NOT a good way to try and get into modelling. Also, don’t take what you see on these shows as representative of normal modelling, some parts are more realistic than others!

• Get some good shots done of yourself by a friend or someone that really knows about photography. Avoid amateur pocket cam pics. There are people around that will offer to shoot a portfolio for you and use their contacts to get you seen by agencies. Beware: some are just out to photograph young girls, some are out to get material that they will then sell without you getting anything and some will charge you a lot of money and walk off with it! There MAY be some reputable ones out there but go by word of mouth. The key thing is not to get ripped off, exploited or get into any dangerous situations. Never reply to dodgy requests for “models”! Be VERY careful. PLEASE make sure you know the person or have numerous bona fide references from others who have worked with him/her. Don’t part with serious money or your dignity/safety. Never go alone to someone you do not know.

• Networking. Make any website you have look slick and clean and only have your best shots on there. Never have personal contact details on a website such a phone number or address or anything that could be used to find you physically.  Test shots of you blasted on the public web rarely help getting on the books with a good agency. Having a private HQ good selection you can refer them to though is a good idea.

• Go only to bona fide well known castings. Look for adverts, calls for castings – search the web and MySpace for opportunities for castings, shows, photographers wanting models. BUT use your head and research each one very carefully. Be very careful. A lot will be a waste of your time or a clothes off job.

• Place yourself at the front row of concerts or TV shows or events and get noticed!

• When out and about in major cities or at events, look and act well. There are model scouts out there – some actually out there to do that and others just on their way home but may see you. It DOES happen! I know of someone very close to me who has been seriously spotted and offered contracts twice.

A TOP agency will NOT, I repeat will NOT ask for a joining fee, nor any significant monies of any kind at all. Some middle agencies will and you have to use your judgement and research how much of a rip off it might be. At the low end, there are many ‘so called agencies’ that will take your money and do nothing for you so BEWARE. Some agencies will insist you take their modelling course; again this is a bit of a cheek.

Don’t be fooled by the names of some agencies that sound good, make sure you are dealing with the proper agency and not a name-alike. If an agency says they want to have you on their books and they want you to sign ‘a contract’, research them well – get a copy of their proposed contract and see what type it is; ‘exclusive; or ‘non exclusive’ and what the small print says. I cannot stress how important this is.

Above all, it is best to get signed up with a good reputable agency and/or work with well known photographers and NEVER work with any strange person off the net etc. Not only is it dangerous, it is useless usually.

An agency will take you on based completely on the gut feel of the selection people. There will be little logic to it!  If you have not got the look, the body, the movement, the edge, the “je ne sais pas” that a selector feels in his or her gut, then there is no arguing or feeling hard done by. Don’t be put off by initial rejections though and give it all you have for some months. It can take effort, research and determination. Don’t just fritter time and money away on hundreds of pay sites.

Model Earnings and Finances
Okay, some advice from me on this as there seems to be many myths around this:

Generally speaking, fashion modelling is not something that can sustain a good life – it can be sustainable, but only for some. Yes, there are some models worth over $20M and quite a number over $10M and more making a decent living but there are also many many models not making ends meet at all. Wanting to be a model to be rich, is the wrong reason to be modelling.

The agency does work FOR YOU and as such, you effectively have to pay them. They rake off a large percentage of the money they charge and receive in from the client, this can be as high as 70%. In addition, the agency will have spent money on your behalf and all of those costs, admin, printing etc, will be charged to you. You will normally have to pay all your own travel and accommodation and living.

Some naive new models are over the moon when their agencies fly them into a major city and put them up in a model flat. It all seems great however, some weeks/months later with little work captured, the bill arrives from the agency for all of it, plus admin, plus the model has racked up more expenses with much travel to castings and go sees.  It is easy to go into debit as a new, not very successful model.

The amount a model gets paid is determined by many, many factors. The two primary ones being:

1. The type of work.
2. Your track record/how in demand you are.

Type of work – generally the money goes from high to low in this order:
Exclusive campaigns;
General advertisement/commercial work;
One off shoots- hair etc; and

It is a fallacy to think that a model has been paid large sums to be in a top publication like Vogue. Again, it depends on who you are, but generally editorials are seen as good show cases for us and as such, the magazine is in some senses “doing you a favour” by featuring you. It is a privilege. (Some do pay quite well though).

It is a fallacy to think that a model you have seen on a major runway, has been paid a lot for that walk. Being in shows in NYFW/LFW/MFW/PFW does not necessarily mean you are going to be rich. Some of these shows do not pay any money, especially in MBFW. Some will instead pay in trade or you can even do a show with nothing (however, some shows will pay a reasonable amount, and prestigious shows will pay a well known model, a nice sum).

Just because a well known model does not walk so many shows one year, or misses some key ones, or only does one, does not necessarily mean she is out of favour – often the reverse. She can be either busy doing more lucrative work, or not need the money for the hassle, or be on a semi- or complete exclusive deal.

It can happen that an unknown model who works a lot for catalogues will have more money at the end of the year then a fashion model you may recognise and has been on the NYC and Milan runways. However, for some, the earnings will be large. A model who has a campaign and does other media large advertisement work, plus is on demand for her runway work, can pull in very large sums.

Remember: when you hear that a model got $xxxxxxx for some work, question – was that her in-hand money or before deductions? It may still seem a very large sum, but also remember that income is not regular and neither is the job for the next 40yrs!

I keep getting questions about modelling at 15/16, with people asking me, is it really possible for someone that young to be in school one moment and on the runway in Milan the next, or is that just a fairy tale of dreams. Well, yes, it does happen! Should every hopeful 15yr old think this might happen to her? No. It is extremely unlikely in the whole stats of how this works. You have to be already with an agency, be of the right height and build, have the right face, be lucky, have supportive and understanding financially astute parents, be mature and poised for your age, have a really good head on your shoulders but most of all, have a really special something.

Should 15/16yr olds walk the main runways? Should a 16yr old do 70 key shows in just over 4 weeks? If she can, then yes is the answer! Age is not the issue. It is silly to put a gate based on age as to whether someone can have this amazing experience. Every person is different and some at 16 can handle it with ease while some at 19 will not cope. Is putting a 16yr old on the runway sometimes in see through or skimpy clothes exploitation? Not at all, see the joy and smiles and know her bank balance and you will know who is exploiting who:) A body does not become OK to be proud of at one day of age.

Can a 16yr old really model Haute Couture and the top designs with grace and professionalism and look the part and do sensual and wild also? Oh yes, the right 16yr old can.

Can a 16yr old do intense modelling and keep up with studies – yes:) ALL good agencies will work with the model and parents to keep his/her education going as this is so important to that ones life.

Those that think that a 16yr old should not, cannot really, model high fashion and work so hard and enjoy it all, just learn what you are talking about and if in doubt get to know models such as Frida.

Never get hung up on how young a model is, just see if she can do it and whether it is doing her any good. If yes, then yes then. No one suddenly becomes “right” for this job on a certain day in their life.

Many agencies will now take on girls at 14 but will carefully nurture and “develop” them.

Beware: if you are thinking of being a fashion model – you can end up seriously in debt, have a broken family, broken mental and physical health and ruin your life and future!

I may have painted a too dark picture but I really want ‘wanna-be’ models to know what to watch out for and that, generally, the path is not paved of gold unless you are talented AND lucky.   Taken as part-time, occasional work, fashion modelling can be great fun, but if you want it to be your full time big career, just bear in mind all I have said.

The flip side to all this, is that if you are in the right place at the right time with the right agencies and are good and you work at it hard, you can have absolutely amazing times, travel a great deal and end up not too poor.

Written by Just a Model.

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