Working very much behind-the-scenes and without cameras documenting the process, fit modeling is an invisible but invaluable segment of the fashion industry. Each Friday in the coming weeks, we'll share the stories of eight fit models, past and present, who will divulge the fascinating minutiae of this little-known but very integral (and well-paid) line of work. Next up: An in-demand model who you might recognize from Bravo's Hamptons-based reality show "Summer House," Jaclyn Shuman. You can read the rest of the models' testimonials here.
Clients, past and present, include: Alexander Wang (denim, knits and T by Alexander Wang), Aerie for American Eagle (swim, underwear, bralettes and sports bras), Helmut Lang, Amsale, Mara Hoffman, Grey State, Byron Lars (dresses), Adore Me (intimates and swim), Love Shack Fancy, Hanley Mellon, Fleur Du Mal (swim and intimates), Under Armour, Haute Hippie, Heroine Sport, Ivory Row (cashmere sweaters), Kimora Lee Simmons, Cade, Beyond Vintage, Amuse Society (swim), Nicole Miller.
"When I was younger, I was very skinny, so I was always trying to lengthen my pants, shirt sleeves and dress hems. My mom was a store buyer and an amazing seamstress, so I sort of started learning about fit and design from her when I was growing up. She would help one of her friends who owned an eveningwear and wedding boutique in Orange, Texas, so sometimes she would have me try things on, even if they weren't the right size, just for hemming.
I've always wanted to be a fashion designer, and I moved to New York in 2007 with an apparel design degree. I was in fashion for about six years on the other side, doing design, before I got into fit modeling. I was a designer at Golden Touch Imports, designing for private label brands, and when the fit model was out on vacation, they said, 'Jaclyn seems to be about the same size.' They ended up getting rid of the fit model and using me as the showroom model and in ads for department stores, but on an assistant designer salary, which, at $34,000, was much lower than a fit model's. I reached out to a few agencies and found out that an in-house fit model's salary usually starts at $150,000 — and this was nine years ago! I tried to negotiate my salary; I thought a fair amount, with the fit modeling I was doing, would be $80,000; they offered me $38,000. So, that's when I started to look elsewhere.
I left and went to Club Monaco to do technical design, which is the team working with fit models one on one. A lot of times, technical designers are the liaison between the designers' creations and the factories' limitations. At Club Monaco, they'd fit on a size 6, and if [samples] came in smaller, they'd fit on me. Everywhere I've been [as a designer or technical designer], they ended up using me as a backup fit model.
I thought about leaving New York; I still didn't know if I wanted to go into fit modeling and give up on my design dreams just yet. But I'd learned from my experience that typically, designs don't stay true to what the designer sketched, based on what the business side wants — what consumers want, what's more sellable. Designs get watered-down, embellishments are decreased or you have to use to cheaper materials. I decided if I wasn't making a certain amount of money or at position level I wanted, I'd change my career. I then went to the business side, and was an account executive for Jean Paul Gaultier for the Aeffe USA showroom. That lasted a year, and was not my cup of tea. As a side job, I was a fit model for a couple different designers starting back while at Golden Touch.
I started working with True Model Management and I signed a per-client contract in 2014. If True introduces me to a client, I work through True, but if I find my own clients, they don't take a commission; True usually books 50 percent of my work and I book the rest, but it varies. For example, I picked up Alexander Wang, working on their T line, as well as their denim and ready-to-wear knits; that's 13 hours a week, and I was unable to work with some of my smaller clients, so I was able to set those clients up with other models looking for more work that are known as my 'body doubles.' I decided that if I I made enough money fit modeling in my first year doing it, I'd give it another go. Every year, I've doubled my salary.
I learned so much from being a technical designer at Club Monaco that I use in my work as a fit model. I also listened to Club Monaco's fit model talk about how she approaches and evaluates a garment during a fitting — not only how it fit her, but keeping in mind that even for fit models, no body is perfect. You need to know what your restrictions are, what specs are a little over or under; maybe you have one shoulder that's more sloped than the other. I've just been around it for so long, and I learned a lot about patternmaking so I'm able to speak on a higher level to the patternmaker. I have some companies (and not small ones!) that I've helped with their patterns and sent comments [about fit adjustments] to China, India, Italy, Bangladesh ... wherever their production is.
Some clients find me to be short; some think I'm tall; others think I'm busty; some think I have bigger thighs; others think I have smaller thighs. It's just about being aware. It can get confusing when you're working with seven different clients in one day. It depends on each company's aesthetic, and their typical consumer's body type. It's about how I carry my body circumference, too: [A model can have] a 34-inch bust and be broader than me so they're an A-cup, whereas I carry it more in my bust. There are some clients that don't want to work with me because they don't like a bustier girl.
I see a lot of clients a couple of times a month; some smaller ones I see a few times a year and others I see every day. If you're fitting for multiple categories within one specific, bigger brand, there are more structured timetables: denim fitting gets 20 minutes, "soft dressing" [knits, tees, etc.] gets 30 minutes, intimates get 25 minutes. When it's a smaller company and you're only fitting intimates, say, they're just fitting as much as they can. The part that's most stressful to me is just getting to each client and not being late. I've gotten to a point where I'm not able to give my clients as many hours as I'd like to.
I've also found that a larger size 4 is the most in-demand; I have a smaller frame, so I would sometimes try to eat more to put on weight in order to get certain clients. But that doesn't work. Really, the best thing for a fit model is to have a healthy diet and exercise regimen, and then to maintain a weight that's more natural for your body as opposed to gaining or losing weight to keep clients. I'm very lucky that I've mostly stayed the same shape and it hasn't been hard for me, but I know for other fit models, there's constant monitoring of eating, exercising, having to measure yourself everyday. For me, I measure myself every Sunday and Thursday. Your weight doesn't even matter: It's all about your specs. For certain clients, if my waistline is too small, I'll drink half a Diet Coke to fill me up.
When customers are shopping, it's about knowing which brands fit you. The fit for a certain brand isn't going to change much over time, unless they change their fit model. If a fit model maintains her measurements and shows up on time, a brand will try to keep her, because your customer relates to that sizing. A contemporary brand's size 2 is usually a designer size 4, and mass market runs on the larger end. There is no [standard] body out there, so you're not going to have an exact fit across the board for every brand. Plus, every designer has a different aesthetic of what they want their clothes to look like on a certain body. As a fit model there are brands out there that I can't wear. If a garment just doesn't measure to spec, it's a factory error; it's nothing about the design or fit model measurements.
It's awkward when a brand decides to go with a different fit model. Some clients will let you know a few weeks in advance, and say: 'We really love working with you, we think you're great, but we've decided to go in another direction.'
People get confused constantly about fit modeling: they think of runway and print modeling, no one really thinks about or knows what a fit model is. Most of the time, people think you're a fitness model, like you're in workout videos. A lot of people also don't understand that being a fit model doesn't just mean being a live mannequin. You actually have to give educated feedback with helping the designer, pattern maker and technical designer evaluate the fit of the garment, the movement, the feel of the fabric against your flesh, the different types of elastic being used; maybe the fabrication doesn't work well with the design. Having been a technical designer, this has definitely helped me book the majority of my jobs.
Becoming a designer is no longer a fantasy or goal of mine. I don't have so much of a ready-to-wear, mass market mindset. At one point, I really wanted to do couture eveningwear, and there's really not a lot of money in it. I'm currently am hoping to do something in food and beverage one day."