Fashion School Confidential: 10 Lessons I Learned as a Fashion Student

With four years of FIT under her belt, in addition to several internships at Conde Nast and Hearst, this writer has more than a few helpful hints and hilarious anecdotes to share with anyone who's ever considered swapping 'real college' for fashion school.
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With four years of FIT under her belt, in addition to several internships at Conde Nast and Hearst, this writer has more than a few helpful hints and hilarious anecdotes to share with anyone who's ever considered swapping 'real college' for fashion school.
Jil Sander livestream in a FIT class (Photo: Kieran Dallison)

Jil Sander livestream in a FIT class (Photo: Kieran Dallison)

For the last several years, our contributor Misty Sidell has braved the sometimes-harsh elements of the fashion biz while simultaneously attending classes full-time as a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Now, the recent grad has done her time and lived to tell the tale--albeit with more than a few sob sessions in Conde Nast bathrooms and paper cuts inflicted by fashion week invitations. And with four years of FIT under her belt, in addition to several internships at Conde Nast and Hearst, she's got more than a few helpful hints and hilarious anecdotes to share with anyone who's ever considered swapping 'real college' for fashion school. Read on, little ones...

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You will find other people who have befriended Style.com:

Though sad to admit, I think Style.com was my best friend in high school. I’d run home to greet it each day after school and would even talk to it through its forums, where I’d post comments under the username ‘marcisagenius.’ That’s actually how I figured out that I was pretty good at writing about fashion. So imagine how I felt one night when, while attending a dorm party at FIT, I heard in the faint chime of Style’s video intro in the background—-something I could probably identify from a mile away. I followed the song and found a roomful of girls in studs and circle skirts, Solo cups in hand, watching Tim Blank’s backstage dispatch from Olivier Theyskens’s latest collection for Nina Ricci. I was in the company of other kids who were friends with Style.com too.

Givenchy, 2011 Couture (Photo: Style.com)

Givenchy, 2011 Couture (Photo: Style.com)

You know you’re knee-deep when the models start to speak:

While most FIT students aspire to be designers, marketers, and editors, there are also those who aspire to be...models. This became entirely apparent during fashion week two years into my education, when models would smile and wave from their teetering positions atop a presentation platform, and then bend down to inquire about next week’s homework. Surreal? I think yes.

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You will have to work in order to work:

This is something that many people don’t realize: You will need to work for free--for many years, in fact--until you are given the opportunity to actually work for a paltry entry level salary. It will legitimately require your blood, sweat, and tears--like, so much so, that you will employ tactics to try to make the process slightly less painful. In my time interning, I always managed to identify the least-trafficked office bathroom in which to cry, and figured out how to wash my face afterwards so as not to smear my eyeliner. And yes, I really did bleed. After opening more than 800 fashion week invites in a week, my fingers began to crack and bleed from the envelopes’ harsh adhesives. I’d bring smatterings of my mother’s miracle La Mer into the office to minimize scarring, so Victoria Bartlett wouldn’t wince at the sight of my hands when I interviewed her backstage days later. And the idea of small strains of my DNA sauntering into the Proenza show on the back of slightly-soiled invites offered a bit of consolation too.

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A dance party is almost always an excuse for runway revelry:

FIT is a dry campus, so when each of us moved into apartments off campus for our sophomore year, it meant that we didn’t have to play the quiet game in order to sip on Bacardi and Bordeaux. We. Threw. Fashion. Ragers. What is a fashion rager, you ask? It’s when you dress up to fit some ridiculous theme like “The Blood Clot” and dance to runway music downloaded off of The Fashion Spot. Alexander Wang’s remix of Major Lazer’s "Pon de Floor" was our biggest hit, created for his football-inspired collection, which was the apex of sportiness that our clique (which some referred to as the ‘glamily’) encountered. Christmas events weren’t simply called a holiday party, but rather a ‘Nativity Rave’ where boys dressed as Jesus. And I made a crown of gold dreidles to resemble those Vanessa Traina-popularized Givenchy headbands. Want proof? Watch this video.

Balenciaga, Fall 2010 (Photo: Style.com)

Balenciaga, Fall 2010 (Photo: Style.com)

Runway makeup will hit the street, but only on 27th street:

Have you ever spotted totally bizarre makeup on the runways and thought to yourself, 'no one would ever do that in real life!'? Well... you're sort of wrong. There's a small segment of the population who actually do adopt these looks, and all thirty of them attend FIT. For a while in 2010, there was a troupe of people roaming the campus with blue and yellow eyebrows in homage to Balenciaga. Same goes for black, green, and yellow lipsticks—all hues I’ve spotted while hurriedly running to class. On a smaller scale, less than a week after Lagerfeld’s jade-inspired collection for Chanel hit the runway, droves of girls somehow tracked down the same mint-green nail polish. But don’t think they’d still wear it today—they’ve since moved on.

Photo: Miranda Kerr by Greg Kadel, Numero #114

Photo: Miranda Kerr by Greg Kadel, Numero #114

You will not find a boyfriend:

I’m going to state this really clearly so that none of you think you are exceptions to this rule: If you go to FIT, you will not find a college boyfriend. Contrary to the experiences that you might encounter at what we like to call ‘real college,’ fashion college is not for lovelorn dreamers. Beware: You are entering a convent. I’m not quite sure why they even offer free birth control at health services. But if you are truly desperate, there are only three types of men available, which I will outline below.

1. Party promoters. This is the youngest and most metrosexual kind of creeper. They will hang out around the freshman dorms at night during orientation and will try to lure you to parties. Then they will try to take your virginity. Do not oblige.

2. Dog walkers. No, not the professional kind. I'm talking about the truly unique types who buy girl-magnet small dogs to try to lure you into conversation. You can spot the really desperate ones when they ditch their teacup poodle for a three-legged amputee to hop up-and-down 27th street alongside them. Stay away.

3. Construction workers. FIT borders the new up-and-coming NoMad neighborhood (that's North of Madison Square Park), which is full of construction sites. And when it comes to preying on society's most weak and vulnerable, the contractors of these projects are deceptively intelligent--they’ve chosen FIT as their favorite place to sit outside for an ogle over lunch break.

Photo: Annie Leibovitz for Vogue

Photo: Annie Leibovitz for Vogue

It's possible for you to fail gym:

The most bizarre part of FIT’s curriculum is that you are required to take gym class--two semesters’ worth, to be exact. I know--why on earth would a fashion school require the world’s least athletic to actually break a sweat? To riff on the MET's recent exhibition, it’s an impossible conversation. You're offered choices like Afro-Carribean dance, kung fu, stress management (how is this a sport?), and fencing—the latter of which requires that you actually put on that white spacesuit, Son-of-Sam mask and all. For some reason, I mindlessly decided to enroll in jazz dance in homage to Fred Astaire. Little did I know that my final exam would require me to perform a number choreographed to Michael Jackson’s "Thriller." Anyone who knows me will attest that I’m a tad bit awkward and thoroughly uncoordinated, so you can guess how that performance went down. Yes, I failed--and almost failed tennis, too, after I hit the ball forward with my racket, only to see that it had somehow landed behind me in the middle of a test. I actually passed that one, but only because I was the only one in the class who was able to properly pronounce Novak Djokovic--and that was only after his nearly-nude Vogue editorial had piqued my new-found 'interest' in the sport.

Famous coffee drinker, Mary-Kate Olsen (Photo: Getty)

Famous coffee drinker, Mary-Kate Olsen (Photo: Getty)

Your coffee budget will exceed your food budget:

Sure, food gives you energy--but not as much as a venti latte does. And that is the type of energy you'll need to juggle three internships, two jobs, and twenty credits. So hopefully you like coffee, because you are about to spend a lot of money on it. If you try to bunk this rule freshman year by purchasing your own coffee machine, prepare to engage in a game of cat and mouse with your RA--they are contraband in the FIT dorms. Of course, being the rebel that I am, I decided it would be a good idea to try it out anyway. So for a year, I would sprint down my hallway to obtain some water from the bathroom, and then sprint back and hide behind columns in an effort to avoid getting caught. Believe me when I say that this would not be fun for most people—I’m not normal, and therefore, wouldn't recommend it. Just go to Starbucks and eat some crackers if you need some solid food.

Rick Owens, Fall 2012--not available for stealing yet (Photo: Imaxtree)

Rick Owens, Fall 2012--not available for stealing yet (Photo: Imaxtree)

The whole place is a Rick Owens fan club:

You guys, everyone loves Rick Owens. Sure, we love Phoebe, Karl, and Marc too, but judging from the amount of black, grey, and leather floating about FIT, you would think Rick Owens had a divine intervention at some point in the admissions process. It got extreme: People actually started stealing from Century 21. One afternoon a meet-up with one of my coolest friends gave way to conversation about his incredible new coat. Yes, it was rogue Owens--and soon, other people started showing up in their rogue ‘finds’ too. Word of stealing Rick Owens from Century 21 spread like wildfire and became one of FIT’s biggest trends for 2010.

The author

The author

You will dress really weird for a little while:

Moving to New York and attending FIT is a giant ‘fuck you’ to anyone who was ever mean to you for being into fashion. So it only makes sense that your wardrobe will reflect that stance for a time. You will undoubtedly start to wear mismatched hosiery, tattered chiffon, and see-through shirts. Your parents will freak out and will try to haul you to the mall during Thanksgiving recess--just try claiming ‘artistic expression,’ and keep going with it. You can even show them this article and say, “Look! She ended up fine.” Everyone else will try to dress weird too, and you will try to outdo them and end up looking even weirder in the name of ‘avant-garde.’ But fear not: This will provide you with amazing photographic evidence to prove to your future kids that yes, you were once cool, too.