There is loads of information on how to become a personal stylist and plenty of examples of people who have built successful personal styling careers. There is very little written on the world of commercial wardrobe styling. Because of this, people often assume I take on personal clients because I am someone who shops for a living, but the fact of the matter is that personal styling is a complete different skillset than what I do as a commercial wardrobe stylist.
As a commercial stylist, I’m communicating with the producer, photographer/director and the ad agency prior to the shoot. Everything is so fast moving in advertising, I usually start getting information at the last possible minute, at most one week prior to the shoot. I’m often on a conference call to go over the layouts and direction of the project, then I’m giving a list of talent and their sizes. I almost never see anything more than a headshot of the bodies I’m shopping for prior to going out to shop, and often have to shop for 10 or more people with only a few days prior to the shoot. There are certain “rules of thumb” that I need to follow when I’m shopping for projects because there are certain things that across the board never look good on camera. For example, no heavy prints, nothing that is billowy in shape, NO LOGOS. Beyond that, I have to also think about the client requests. I’m often shopping within specific color guidelines, for the opposite season of what is actually available in store, and for particular demographic for the product we’re trying to sell. These are just examples, the list of what I need to consider when I’m scanning through a store can even be longer than this. You can equate it to an actor remembering a script before they go on stage. If you get it wrong, say you buy the wrong size pants for one of the talent because you misread your notes, buy pinks and maroons even though the client requested no red because that is the competitor’s brand color, then all of that work you put into finding those items gets wasted. You now not only can’t use those garments, you also will need to do more returns once the project is over, on top of having to shop more for the correct items. It is critical that you are organized and accurate notes before you shop and it helps to have most of it memorized so that you don’t look suspicious having to read your paper over and over again while you pass the employees.
A personal stylist meets with the client, they get to see their body in person, and they discuss with their client what they’re hoping to achieve with their look. It’s a much more personal connection with a lot more communication from beginning to end. You really get to learn throughout the process what the client likes and dislikes, and you’re able to see what works on their body. If items don’t work, you often have the option to go out and shop some more.
I like to think of commercial shoots with the same type of weight as a wedding day. Unless there is a fitting prior to the shoot (often for television commercials they ask the actors to come in the day before the shoot to makes sure the wardrobe fits and is liked by the agency) it’s a one and done deal. You HAVE to be prepared with a ton of options and sizes to make sure there will be plenty of things that work because you can’t tell the rest of the crew to sit tight on the shoot day so that you can go grab some more options. Today is the day. Commercial shoots generally cost on the low end $25,000 to 1 million dollars for a television commercial. If the wardrobe is off, the shoot is off, and a painstaking amount of money is lost because you didn’t come through with your end of the deal. Being prepared for every little hiccup that could come your way is what the experience stylists get paid to do. The easiest part of the job is putting together outfits, the hardest part is knowing what to prepare for because there will be hiccups.
There are also different goals for a wardrobe and personal stylist. For a personal stylist, you really want your client to look and feel great, and most of all be happy with the outfits you curated for them. For a wardrobe stylist, it’s not about the outfit that looks the best on the talent, it’s more about the outfit the works the best within the total concept of the campaign. It may have to do with the story that each garment is telling, or the color palette of the overall look. Unlike what the personal stylist is considering while shopping, the current trends may not matter, the cute heels aren’t speaking to the right demographic and the perfect fitting jacket that works beautifully with the story and fits the talent like a glove actually has a logo on it that hasn’t been approved by the legal team.
If you’re still with me after reading all of this I hope you can see that wardrobe styling and personal styling are two very different jobs. I think it would be hard to be really great at doing both types of styling. I have never dipped into personal styling because my interests lie in telling the story through the wardrobe. It is still important that I have an understanding of trends and fit, but I like the challenge of executing it within a larger concept. I also have no interest in “fixing” someone’s style. When I see someone who’s style is all over the place I take a mental note of what that is saying about that person. How to go about changing their look so that they feel great is not where my passion lies, it’s rather all about the stories we can tell through what we choose to wear.