If you photograph people, you will quickly realize how certain outfits can drastically alter the entire look and feel of the project. However, you may not be able to easily pinpoint why something doesn’t look quite right. Enter your secret weapon — a wardrobe stylist. Wardrobe stylists (sometimes referred to as fashion stylists or simply stylists) are garment specialists.
Table of Contents
- What Does a Fashion Stylist Do?
- Getting the Best Wardrobe Stylist for A Shoot
- Sourcing Wardrobe Stylists
- Choosing a Stylist
- The Cost of Hiring Wardrobe Stylists
- What to Expect When Hiring a Stylist
Many have studied fashion design, giving them extensive knowledge of fabrics and cuts plus a feel for how they work on the human form. Wardrobe stylists know how to wear, combine, and adjust any wardrobe piece to create the perfect clothing story for the project. It’s the stylist’s job to be up-to-date with fashion and styling, even knowing how clothing is worn in certain situations and by certain people. They provide various kinds of clothing that are appropriate for each type of shoot.
Alice Timms, a wardrobe stylist based in London, explains:
There’s a lot of different styles of photography, like lifestyle photography and fashion photography. Likewise, within styling, there are many sub-specialties. So someone who works in fashion might not know how to style a lifestyle shoot, which is more costume-design as opposed to trends and current fashion-based.
What Does a Fashion Stylist Do?
Wardrobe stylists go by many names — fashion stylist, fashion editor, costume stylist, etc. However, it is important to note that no matter what title they go by, they are distinct from fashion or costume designers and image consultants. A stylist carefully curates different clothing items and accessories for editorial features or print and tv ad campaigns. On the other hand, designers will work for a fashion brand to conceptualize and create individual clothing items and accessories while image consultants will work with individuals (such as business professionals) to organize and refine their personal wardrobes.
Wardrobe stylists are an integral part of a larger creative team. They need to collaborate with the photographer and director, the client and fashion designer (who can sometimes be the same person), the hair stylist, and the makeup artist. Together, they will decide on and execute the specific look for that project. Michael Leckie, a fashion and lifestyle photographer based in Arseley, United Kingdom, says:
It’s a collaborative relationship and the wardrobe stylist is there to help facilitate the photography process. Wardrobe is a key piece that makes the final shot. Before the shoot, the photographer and client should discuss a mood board with the stylist that will showcase the look and feel of the images. Then the photographer should expect the stylist to provide options to play with. A stylist must use their knowledge and experience to meet expectations and even elevate them. Then, during the shoot, the stylist has to understand the shoot requirements and angles, jumping in to adjust items to sit correctly and look flattering.
Every day and every job is different for a stylist. So they need to be prepared for anything. For example, on-set sizing adjustments, managing the schedule and other styling crew, swap-outs, and handling accidental spills or stains.
Having a background in fashion design prepares you for wardrobe styling to some extent. For example, what I learned while studying included understanding how something is made. So if an item needs to be altered on set, I know how to do that. Knowing how the darts work, so that you can pin things or cut things in the right place and adjust it to hide the seams. I can also make garments and have often done so, especially if we can’t buy or borrow what we need. – Aice Timms
Getting the Best Wardrobe Stylist for A Shoot
Sourcing Wardrobe Stylists
For the novice photographer, finding and choosing a stylist may seem daunting. Especially when every influencer and their designer dog seems to be a fashionista these days. You can find a good stylist either through word of mouth or an industry database. Another way that is more tedious but may be worth the time is to look at styling credits on other photographers’ Instagram posts or in magazines. You can then do some sleuthing to find that stylist’s website and check out their portfolio. Important information to note is their home city, the quality and style of their portfolio, and who they have worked with before.
Choosing a Stylist
The more critical part of this process is assessing and choosing a final stylist. If you have found a few through trusted recommendations or a vetted database, then your choice may come down to cost and availability. However, if you found a stylist through any other means, you will need to carefully assess them to decide if they will be a good fit for the project:
- View their website and portfolio to see if their style is a good fit for your project.
- Find their recent work (often you can see this on Instagram) to ensure they are still active in the industry and keeping up-to-date with trends.
- Look for evidence of someone who consistently puts together strong and cohesive looks.
- Ask for references and talk to them – try to identify reliable, organized, punctual, and professional stylists.
Look at the stylist’s portfolio and consider if it suits the project brief. For example, you’re going to want a stylist with good knowledge of sportswear for a sports shoot. Also, it’s worth considering their taste. Even though it is often difficult to pinpoint since we all work to the brand’s or client’s brief, if you find a stylist whose “taste” in clothing suits you, that would be great. – Michael Leckie
Alice adds that experience is another element you should assess when it comes to picking out a stylist:
Look at how experienced they are. Most people who haven’t been styling for long might not know all the tricks and knowledge you have built up through experience. It also depends on the kind of shoot you’re doing. If you think things will be tricky or that there may be unexpected curveballs, it’s always good to have someone with the experience to handle it.
Another crucial element to working with a stylist, especially for a shoot where the client doesn’t provide the wardrobe, is to find someone who has built strong relationships with designers and brands. This is because they need to source items from various people and places. They could source better quality items at lower prices if they have strong professional relationships with desirable designers and brands. Otherwise, they will have to buy items outright or rent them — which could add to the cost of your shoot.
The Cost of Hiring Wardrobe Stylists
By now, you should be wondering how much does it cost to hire a fashion stylist? There are a few options for payment when it comes to hiring a wardrobe stylist. Most stylists will fall into one of three categories:
Hourly rate — a set rate billed per hour of work done for the project.
Day rate — a set fee for each day on the project, including days for prep and wrap-up.
Project rate — a flat fee for the length of the project (AKA a buy-out) or for being on call for a certain period (a retainer).
I charge day rates: $650 per 10-hour day for stills shoots and $850 per 12-hour day for video. The amount of talent and shopping the job requires will determine the amount of prep and wrap days. At the very least, one prep and one wrap day are expected in addition to the shoot days the job requires. — Tammara Kohler, Fused Fashion
In general, editorial assignments pay less while commercial projects pay the most. The rate of the stylist (hourly, daily, or per project) will depend on the scope of the job, their experience and training, and location. When budgeting, remember to include funds for the fashion stylist to acquire all the necessary items for the production. This amount is over and above the stylist’s fee and should include covering any incidentals (where an item cannot be returned for a refund due to loss or damage). Windermere, Florida-based wardrobe stylist Tammara Kohler says,
A photographer should expect to provide ample budgetary guidelines to successfully cover all of the shopping needs for the shoot, as well as give the stylist clear-cut direction on the number of options they would like per talent or per look.
What to Expect When Hiring a Stylist
During pre-production, you will work closely with your wardrobe stylist to communicate and develop your vision for the project. The better briefed the stylist is about the project, the better the final results will be.
Stylists expect open dialogue and communication with the photographer on the direction of the shoot. They also need to know the client’s requirements regarding the wardrobe. The stylist should be able to deliver wardrobe options for specified looks under the direction of the agency or photographer that are on brand and on target with the shoot’s overall direction. — Tammara Kohler
Your stylist will have to put together a few different, but cohesive looks for each character/person featured in the shoot, often using mood boards. You should expect your stylist to source all items needed. They can do this by borrowing pieces from designers in exchange for the publicity your project will give them. Or, they can buy and return items from retail stores. In both scenarios, the stylist would be responsible for ensuring every item is returned and undamaged (or cover the cost of replacing any damaged items). Also, they will help decide exactly what will need to be procured and what items you will require the talent to provide.
You will want to determine if they want to rely more on the talent’s own wardrobe with supplemental shopping or use more options bought by the stylist with the talent bringing back up wardrobe options. — Tammara Kohler
If you arrive on set early enough, you may catch the fashion stylist arriving loaded with bags and packages. Usually, the stylist has one of the earliest call times on set. They will need time to unpack, steam, and arrange the clothes before the talent arrives. Steaming can be particularly time-consuming but it is necessary. Once the talent is dressed, adjustments may need to be made. For example, pinning certain areas for a perfect fit and lint removal. Then, while the talent and photographer do their part of the job, the stylist will observe and be ready to step in at any moment to make adjustments or change out accessories.
Throughout the shoot, the stylist must be extremely organized and work closely with all crew to stay on schedule. They will also facilitate a positive and seamless working relationship between photographer, client, and model, proving vital to the project’s success. And when the project finally wraps, the stylist will need to re-pack all clothing items on set. This is often more difficult than it sounds. They handle delicate items that need to be returned to their original owners (a store, agent, or designer) in their original condition.
After the production, the stylist manages the logistics of cleaning and returning the pieces to the suppliers. This includes managing shipping and repair or replacement costs. They must also have ample insurance to cover any expensive items (such as jewelry or couture pieces).
It’s important to note that a stylist needs prep and wrap days to get everything ready and returned. Even on a simple one-day shoot with one subject or talent, the stylist needs to prep and wrap. – Michael Leckie
At the end of the day, not having a stylist on your project puts pressure on the rest of the team. Other team members probably aren’t as versed in fashion and styling. This means that small details go unnoticed on the day of the shoot, but become painfully obvious during post-production. A stylist’s job is to notice these small details and make changes where necessary. An experienced stylist can do this quickly, saving the rest of the team a lot of time and hassle. So to avoid unnecessary stress, it is best to hire an experienced stylist.
A good stylist will also ensure the shoot stays on track and that the creative vision comes to fruition. They will focus on translating and elevating the vision for the project, leaving you free to focus on creating the images. Investing in a professional stylist is investing in the future success of your production and the quality of the final product your client receives.
About the Author
Born and raised in South Africa, Dominique Kilkelly has lived her life as a nomad. She currently resides in South Philly with her husband, Daniel, and grumpy old cat, Kit. After studying English Literature, Art History, and Linguistics she worked as a writer and then content director for an SEO company in South Florida, and she is currently an editor at Wonderful Machine. This article was also published here and shared with permission.