How to Become a Stylist, According to 8 People Who Did It

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Is fashion or styling your passion? Or maybe, you’ve seen those stylists perform their art somewhere or to someone, and you asked yourself, “How do I become a stylist? Is it easy? Will I be able to do it?”

“How do I even start?”

Let’s hear it from eight experts:

David Zyla

david-zyla

Emmy Award-winning stylist | Author, Color Your Style

My best initial advice to someone who wants to go into styling as a career is to see everything one can: movies, television, plays, fashion shows, red carpet arrivals, etc. this is where you get your knowledge, vocabulary, and taste. Also, I suggest that you:

Learn the basics

Classes in color theory and art history are the building blocks of all good design. Knowledge of the power of using and combining colors is essential. Besides, the study of line and proportion are crucial when choosing and fitting clothes.

Do it

We learn so much by doing and can create an optimal set of skills. Go shopping with a friend, design a play or video. Working with modest resources and a limited budget teaches us how to make wiser decisions and what the most essential elements of an outfit are.

When styling an individual, take advantage by not only asking questions but also by listening to the verbal and non-verbal signals. It is a skill that will serve you well in all future.

Come up with your own theory

What do you offer as a stylist that no one else does? Replying “I have great taste” at an interview with a potential employer is not going to cut it.

Crystal Cave

Crystal Cave

CEO & Founder, Crystal Cave Style | Founder & Director, Poppy Row

There are so many paths to becoming a stylist. There are also many options within the field, so there are many ways to go about that. Depending on your interest and skill set, you can go in a few main directions: costuming, commercial styling or personal styling.

Commercial styling is what it sounds like, for brands – either product based brands or celebrities. With this, the major areas you’ll find a lot of work would be cities where they have entertainment – think NY or LA. It typically takes time to start as an intern and move to an assistant. Depending on who you connect or work with, it can take time to move up the ranks.

If you’re going the commercial route, I’d suggest going to a school like I did- The School of Style.

What was even more beneficial than the education was the emails with job opportunities that they sent out after I completed my program. I created a template email with a quick snapshot of my background. I would also update my resume when I did new projects.

Within two months, I had a wholly redone resume with work experience in the field since I applied to new intern opportunities consistently. It helped me meet people in the industry, which within a few months, created it where I was working in both NY and LA continuously without having to do much myself.

Personal styling is working with individuals to help them develop their style.

It is the easiest way to start making money as a stylist (and can also help pay your rent if you want to be on the more commercial styling side). There are many things you can do within this realm from personal shopping, style development, and closet cleaning.

With the increase in digital technologies, it’s easier than ever to be mobile and develop a personal style business with clients across the globe. Still, it would ultimately depend on 1) your client and 2) the type of services you want to offer. With personal styling, it’s more important to know the business side of it as this requires you to operate more like a business.

For myself, I found having an undergraduate degree in business and marketing helped me tremendously get started in styling. Styling is a large part having business savvy- from managing a budget to marketing to networking – and just a small part having good taste. Having good taste plus knowledge of clothing is only a small part of the bigger picture when it comes to styling.

If you’re interested in either commercial or personal styling, a degree from a fashion school isn’t necessary. However, taking some certificate programs, like the School of Style (which can be done entirely only), will set you up for success with learning the fundamentals, so you get off to a great start.

Shaunya Hartley

Shaunya Hartly

Style Evangelist | Co-founder, Shaun Leon Beauty

Learn everything you can about the industry. Research the biggest names in the industry. Do case studies on them, read up on how they got their start.

Learn everything you can about the industry

There are so many ways to educate yourself in the industry. There are classes, webinars, seminars all on how to get started in the industry. Take those classes, buy books, ebooks, but the best education is getting hands-on experience. Assist or intern if you can and try to assist stylists in different genres.
Research the biggest names in the industry

Research wardrobe stylists in your local area

There are different types of stylists; some are just editorial and work mostly at digital and print publications. You have a stylist who works on commercials, and you have stylists who work in entertainment.

They are always looking for assistance, and it isn’t glamorous, but you learn a lot.

When I started, I would call and email stylists and ask to assist. I also reached out to Stylist Representative Agencies and asked to be placed on their assistant list. I assisted for 2 to 3 years before striking out on my own. I assisted stylists in different genres to learn the different scopes of managing budgets, requesting clothes, dealing with celebrities versus models versus civilians.

Going from being a Stylist Assistance to full-fledged stylist can happen in various ways.

There is no formal educational training to becoming a stylist, but I studied art with photography as a discipline. Some stylists have a background in art, fashion design, costume design, fashion merchandising which is a plus.

Still, when you are an assistant, they are looking for someone with mental and physical stamina. They also want someone who takes the right direction, has excellent organizational skills and compliments the stylist by making sure everything from pre-production of the project to post-production runs smoothly.

In the editorial world, there could be an opening that they can recommend for you, and you go from intern to fashion assistant or fashion associate. In the freelance world, a stylist might have you work with a new client.

You can even start looking to build your clients by reaching out to decision-makers like publicists, agents, record label executives, or contacting celebrities directly- which is very easy through social media.

You can also build clients if you see celebrities in the early stages of their career and reach out and say you want to get on their team and start working with them while they are still in the infant stages of their career.

Develop social media specifically to your styling career

Document your work as well as what inspires you. Follow people whom you admire, also who can put you in the right doors. In this industry, there is nothing wrong with asking to get your foot in the door.

Reach out to any and everyone who is in the industry. Stay disciplined and stay professional.

Alexis Lopez

Alexis Lopez

Master Hairstylist | Gordon Salon Educator | Floor Lead, Gordon Salon

“If you love it, you can do it.”

People often ask me, “Did you always know you wanted to be a hairstylist?” And honestly, the answer is “No.”

Growing up, I was drawn to anything creative, and when it came to academics, I struggled to keep up in certain classes. Looking back on those days, I never imagined that I would be a master stylist at 25, an educator for my salon’s incoming artists, and a location team floor leader.

I remember talking to my dad about future plans and one thing he said really stuck with me. “No matter what you decide to do, make sure you love it. Work is probably 90% of your life, so you should love most of your life.”

My dad encouraged me to apply for the vocational beauty school program through my high school which allowed seniors to go to high school for half the day and then complete half the required cosmetology hours in the afternoon. As soon as we started practical work in class, I fell in love.

If you are a creative soul looking for an inspiring career, pursue cosmetology

The schooling breezes by full time for a year. The licensing follows with a blink of an eye, and you have so many options of where to go from there. I chose a team-based salon that was fueled by advanced education and supporting their stylists to grow in their own way.

Through a job fair, I met my current boss and everything he shared about Gordon Salon checked off all the marks on my list. When you are looking for a salon position, you need to figure out if you want to be in a team-based environment, make a commission, be departmentalized, rent your own space, work from home—wow, that’s a lot of options, isn’t it?

It is so important to interview or shadow different salons and spaces because each one is different.

Stay with the times

Continue your education by continually taking classes, watching almost every tutorial video you can, find inspiration on other stylist pages, and stay creative. It will help you create your “brand” through social media.

Everyone will always need their hair done, but there are plenty of options. Social media skyrocketed my path when I hit the floor. I loved to share my work on my pages and in turn, people were finding my work and booking with me (even if they didn’t live close) making me 90% productive on average weekly.

Create “your style,” and you will attract the clients that you want from anywhere. You get to do what you love, and the clients love their hair.

Holly Pistas

Holly Pistas

Artistic Director | Master Stylist |
Makeup Artist And Vomor Extensions Educator at Gordon Salon

If you are a creative person, then you will have likely had experiences throughout your life that have led to what you will become in your adult years.

For me, it was appreciating the beauty of people. The little details. I used to draw eye shapes all the time. I would sketch them on school assignments, notebooks, anywhere I could. I also loved styling my hair for school dances and other occasions and was fascinated by colors and the artistry of makeup.

After high school, I did not see myself going down the traditional college path.

I did go to community college for a few years just to get a head start on something, but it was not an experience that I enjoyed. I took some time off to get a job to start saving some money. At that time I worked for a salon as a front desk coordinator and worked my way up to being a spa manager. Being surrounded by the industry, I observed a lot of stylists doing all sorts of amazing things on their clients.

One day, I decided to style my mom’s hair, solely on what I had observed at work. My mom had said “I feel good, and this looks really nice!” and I responded, “I feel good making you feel good, and this was fun!“

From then on, I never looked back. I knew what was going to make me happy in a career. I started beauty school within the next few months to start my journey as a cosmetologist.

I found a great salon to start working at the front desk while I was completing school. In the meantime, I got to observe and learn from my teammates, practiced on mannequins and my friends and family. It was a great opportunity to get to know the ins and outs of the salon and create relationships with our clients.

Some advice I could give is, no matter what stage you start, you never know when one of those people you’ve met will soon someday be in your chair as your guest.

Treat every moment as a learning opportunity. Leave your ego at the door. Technology is always changing, and we always have something new to learn, which is so exciting.

In discovering my skills, I also discovered my own style, which has certainly evolved over the years. For a long time, I was really into 1940s hairstyles and would dress the part at work. I think a lot of my clients appreciated the time, effort and technique of my look (pin curls, victory rolls, winged eyeliner, and red lipstick).

When I look back, I really think that did help me build my books to the amazing clientele that I have today. My style has since changed, but my love for past era styling is still strong.

To anyone who is thinking of starting a career in cosmetology, just start.

Find a salon with a great in-house education program that will give you the opportunity to consistently grow your skills. Practice. All. The. Time. Put intention into your work. Connect with people. It’s more than just a technical service. You can change lives. And that’s an incredible feeling.

Lifestyle Photo Stylist | Stylist Educator 

Partner with a photographer to style photos

You can collaborate, so the pictures do not cost you money. There are always photographers who wanted to “test” and do personal projects to add to their portfolio as well. Look at a range of photographers in terms of their style, lighting, type of photography to make sure it is a good fit for your style.

When getting clothing/props etc. for your photoshoots – look for collaborators for that as well (again, no cost). Stores, designers, etc. would also love photos for their website, Instagram, and Advertisements. It’s a “win-win” for everyone!

Although you are all collaborating at no cost to any of you, make sure you have a contract/agreement in place, so you all have what you have “promised” one another, and you keep it professional. You want to establish yourself as a business/professional.

Set up your styling business as a business

Make sure you set up a bank account and credit card to be used within your business. Don’t mix your personal with business finances.

Set up a simple website (or dedicated business Instagram) with photos

Don’t be concerned that you don’t have a lot of photos to start – have a variety, get your images out there and keep “testing” with more photographers to get more pictures.

Reach out to businesses that always need updates of photos

For example, if you want to be a Food Stylist, reach out to restaurants (who usually need new images for their Instagram account!) and offer to style their photos with great plates, florals on the table, etc. Charge for this service (even if you start small). It could become a great, niche business for you.

Tip: Look in “legal notices” of newspaper/website for new business (restaurants). They are just starting out and really need styled images as they launch the restaurant & you can grow with them – doing ads, menu images, etc. You can do this with any new store or shop – clothing, home decor. Keep an eye out for new businesses – they need your styled images & talent!

Go where the photographers go

Go to conferences, meetups, Photo Groups (like PUG) Expos – everywhere that photographers go and meet them, learn from them, and offer to help them.

Diane Pollack

Diane Pollack

Founder, Stylempower

The term stylist has now become very broadly used. Some salespeople are called stylist, there are editorial people called stylist, there are personal shoppers called stylists, and there are fashion curators who do a combination of shopping and putting together looks including items from the customer’s closets.

If you are looking to be an editorial stylist or perhaps a celebrity stylist, then you may be best starting off as an intern or assistant. Here you will learn the ropes, build a portfolio, and can then go on to do it for yourself or a company as the lead.

If you are looking to be a personal shopper/stylist, most stores will want you to come in with a book of clients as this is often more of a commissioned job. Here you can also start as an assistant. However, they are now beginning to be more of a broad range of what this position entails, including digital stylists, so you need to check with the store to see what the qualifications are.

For a digital stylist, there are many platforms where you can create curated looks. Getting your images out there can be helpful to all types of stylists.

When I started my business focused on closet rejuvenation, I offered my service to a few people for free in return for written recommendations that I could post on my website. Further, from there, you can provide a well-priced service to get more recommendations and get the word out.

I also offered my services in school auctions to get free publicity, donate for a cause, and hopefully get the purchaser to talk me up to the other parent.

Elizabeth Kosich

Elizabeth Kosich
NYC-based Image Stylist

I am a NYC-based image stylist and, at mid-life, went back to school to get certified in styling. Deciding on a career change mid-life, I went back to school at 48 and graduated at 50 from NYC’s Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in Image Consulting.

I am now a NYC-based personal stylist, working with private and corporate clients on wardrobe and editorial fashion styling.

Going back to school was a massive undertaking, but necessary to evolve myself personally and professionally.

I had to juggle night school and weekend classes while committed to a full-time job, so the workload was tremendous but worth it. I managed to fully reinvent myself at midlife and am now doing what has always come naturally to me. Now at 50, I am living my most authentic life.