If you show up late at work because you’re addicted to “Project Runway” and myriad other TV shows that celebrate clothing design and merchandising, you probably have more than a passing interest in fashion. Happily, you don’t have to have drawing, draping and sewing skills to be part of the fashion world, particularly if your taste is impeccable, you can spot polyester just by feeling it and you have big dreams. A degree helps and a community college education can get you where you want to go. Wardrobe consultants have never been in more demand – even Helena Bonham Carter gets help picking out red carpet looks – and you don’t have to live on either coast to help women who long for advice on a topic that perfectly suits your sensibilities.
Prepare on your own
Learn to mix and match colors, master the art of body typing to instruct future clients on choosing the right styles to accentuate their best attributes and immerse yourself in contemporary fashion. It’s hard work checking out runway shows and perusing every fashion magazine on the planet, but you’re up to the job. Read books on fashion selection and become a textile expert. Follow International runway shows-especially in the spring and fall-to see what’s new so you can guide clients. It’s really important to become an expert on which designers are in and which, to quote Heidi Klum, are out.
Add some education
Choose from any type of fashion-focused curricula offered by schools, colleges and universities across the nation, including fashion merchandising, color theory, textiles, marketing and psychology. Grab the business classes you’ll need to run a successful consultancy so you’re able to pitch, bill and manage the expenses you’ll incur as a result of your work. Make connections with local department stores once you’ve had your fill of education so you get the latest scoop on new looks as soon as they hit store loading docks.
Develop a brochure and launch a website that showcases your talents, education and experience attracting clients. Of course you have experience – even if your best clients have never paid you a cent to intercede on their behalf with a big rack of cocktail dresses or business suits. Nobody has to know that a grateful friend is one of your referrals or that the outfit you picked for an aunt landed her a relationship. Pepper all of your marketing tools with your qualifications and education and feature photographic examples of your work on brochures and your website, including the image of your mom in the suit you picked out. Stress diversity, too. Mix those images up using women of various ages and ethnicities.
A typical day
Expect to spend your business day doing the following: consulting with brides and bridal parties on wedding attire, advising executives on dressing for success, shopping with clients to help select the right types of garments, addressing consumer groups and individuals on contemporary colors, silhouettes and trends at symposiums, workshops and classes and accompanying clients to stores so they can try on the looks you chose for them. This is where your contacts at Nordstroms, Macy’s, JC Penney, Ann Taylor and Neiman-Marcus come in: Clients gain confidence when they see that you have access to the newest styles, so explore all aspects of these relationships to build your career and your reputation.
Stay at the top of your profession
Follow trends, attend fashion shows, subscribe to style magazines and pay attention to TV programming that emphasizes celebrity fashion. Offer free image makeovers to potential clients and consider incentivizing existing clients by giving them a free service to thank them for a referral. Contact local lifestyle media and offer your services as a source for reporters responsible for writing about clothing trends and the local social scene. Donate gift certificates for your services to charities you most care about to grab public relations dividends and build your client list. You may be able to write these expenses off by keeping accurate track of such time expenditures.
Diversify for staying power
Research the earnings of wardrobe consultants in your area to determine an hourly baseline so your rates stay in their ballpark until you’ve got a following, at which point you can afford to mark up your services. Stretch your consultancy so it extends outside the realm of wardrobe. Offer other types of services (e.g., makeup and hair consultations, etiquette, enhanced communication skills and other transformational skills) in concert with professionals in these fields. By establishing relationships with nail salons, hair cutters, tanning businesses and small boutiques you increase your value as reciprocity can morph even a start-up into a viable enterprise that benefits all parties. Pitch your own cable TV show. Make a YouTube video. Maximize your social networking connections. Write “how to dress” articles for websites and newspapers.
Focus on the future
Your reputation will be on the line from day one, so as soon as you feel comfortable about the viability of your consultancy, look into increasing your profile, standing and credentials by earning a certification in fashion, wardrobe or styling. Locate resources that grant certifications via your favorite search engine – and set out to prove you don’t have to live in L.A. or New York City to flash a list of loyal clients thanks to your willingness to go the extra mile to become the consummate professional. Do right by your clients and they will reward you for all of your hard work, and never discount the fact that you morphed your passion for fashion into a career that feeds your soul and your stomach.