It's the most wonderful and — for many reasons — stressful time of the year again for fashion insiders everywhere. For outsiders who aspire to be insiders, however, the magical parade of beautiful collections and glamorous street-style snaps can inspire a deep desire to be involved, and a pang of jealousy towards those who are. And for those willing to start at the bottom, that dream can become a reality.
Fashion week — or fashion month if you count all four: New York, London, Milan and Paris — is a well-oiled, if slightly flawed, machine. What you don't always see on Instagram stories is the army of assistants, interns and volunteers the industry relies on to mitigate chaos every season. The relationship between established folks looking for help and the students looking to provide it is, ideally, symbiotic: Working professionals can offload tasks, and aspiring professionals get firsthand experience and a piece of the fantasy.
Every new season, editors, stylists, influencers, publicists, photographers, casting directors, producers and designers look for temporary help. These seasonal opportunities are almost always reserved for fashion students and young people looking to get a foot in the door. It's a mixture of curiosity and excitement that draws hopefuls to want to work during fashion week in any way they can, and in turn, it's this enthusiasm that brands and established professionals count on: No task is too small or job is too simple, folks are just happy to be there.
There are several ways in which aspiring professionals can be a part of fashion week. Carla Isabel Carstens, fashion career coach and founder of FreeFashionInternships, tells Fashionista that many PR firms and brands offer fashion week-focused internships, as they are usually looking for help with shows and fashion week-related tasks. Universities based in or near cities with fashion weeks — such as New York's Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Parsons, Pratt and LIM — also usually have formal or informal programs linking students with opportunities to volunteer as dressers, production assistants, runners, etc.
"We always encourage our BFA students to get involved with New York Fashion Week — attend shows, help out and above all take the opportunity to learn about the industry," says Marie Genevieve Cyr, BFA Fashion Design Program director at Parsons, who notes that successful alumni, like Lazaro Herrnandez and Jack McCullough of Proenza Schouler, will sometimes invite students to volunteer or attend shows. Students can also reach out to brands and service providers directly to offer their help, though it's important to note that these volunteer opportunities are, more often than not, unpaid.
Most of these internships and opportunities get posted on internship listing sites, or they might be shared informally on Instagram and other social media. Hoping to find eager young followers, designers, publicists, stylists and others often post seasonal opportunities on their social media as fashion week approaches. Instagram is also a good resource to find production companies or other service providers, as they are almost always credited when a brand posts about its shows. Just scroll down and do some gentle stalking — but do your research to make sure the person you're contacting is legitimate.
Tori Olegario is a Fashion Business Management student at FIT. This season, she is volunteering for Ulla Johnson, Dion Lee, Coach, Private Policy, Saint Sintra and New York Men's Day, all of which she came across by emailing KCD, a worldwide fashion services agency. This is Olegario's second season volunteering — last season she assisted at Coach — and she says it's a good way to network with industry professionals and build out your resume early on in her career, something Carstens agrees with. Volunteering also allows aspiring professionals to get involved in the industry when they have no experience or network to rely on; it's a solid first step for those able to commit.
"By becoming involved through internship placements, attending shows, helping out backstage and with press, students gain real-life experience of the industry," adds Jane Francis, associate director at Parsons' BFA Fashion Design Program.
When it comes to getting any job or internship, your network matters. This is particularly true in fashion, where word of mouth is a primary method of seeking talent or getting hired, and it has to start somewhere. "These week-long experiences can help you get your foot in the door, and lead to longer-term internships that will make you a desirable candidate for full-time employment," says Carstens, adding that it's also a low-risk way to help you deduce whether or not fashion is the industry you want a career in, and if so, in which field.
This is arguably the biggest benefit for most aspiring professionals participating in seasonal or temporary work for fashion week. "I expect to gain firsthand insight on the production of a successful fashion show and all of the factors that go into it," Olegario says, adding that she also hopes that it will inspire her in choosing a future career path. There is no better time than fashion week to intern or assist if you'd like to know if fashion is for you, as the short-term nature of the commitment allows students to offer up their time more liberally while having a hands-on work experience during the busiest time of the year. You end up with some true insight into the realities of working in fashion.
"Working in fashion seems so glamorous," Carstens says. "Students typically underestimate the level of commitment and grit it requires to be successful." One quick PSA? It always sounds prettier than it is.
Assisting PR agencies and volunteering backstage at fashion shows are not the only opportunities that arise during this season, though. Aspiring professionals looking to get some hands-on experience front-of-house can work with busy attendees like stylists, editors and even influencers. Alexander Roth, a content creator, art director, and creative producer, often hires paid assistants to help him during fashion week. He usually hires through word of mouth from mutuals or by posting on Instagram asking his followers, which other influencers do as well.
The tasks range from handling item returns and pick-ups and overall organization, to attending events with him and capturing and posting content, which allows the hires — often students — to see the inner workings of attending fashion week events as an actual job. They can also observe the myriad ways in which one can work in fashion, witnessing exchanges with producers, agents, publicists, stylists, designers and more. They also get to build a relationship with people like Roth, who tends to call back assistants for shoots and other editorial and styling work off-season, helping them build the start of a solid network. "They're meeting all the people I'm meeting, the PR people, the editors, other influencers, stylists, models, etc., and that gives them a chance to build a connection and move up on their own from there," Roth says.
It's worth noting, though, that most of these opportunities are location-specific, as they're limited to the cities in which fashion weeks happen. Even though the pandemic has made industries like fashion more open to remote work, most fashion week-specific opportunities are still geographically-challenged.
"Some remote opportunities for those individuals who have previously interned with a company or brand have emerged," Carstens mentions, adding that there is an openness to continuing working with interns at a remote capacity since they are already vetted and trained. But the reality is, "the most manpower is needed at the show, so the most opportunities that exist require that you physically be there." Checking in guests, dressing models, helping with seating, managing cars for VIPs, doing item pick-ups and drop-offs, etc., are all tasks usually reserved for interns or assistants that require a physical presence. A few tasks could be taken up remotely, like managing RSVP lists, but "you only need one or two interns supporting that task," Carstens says.
It is worth mentioning that New York is not the only city that hosts a fashion week in the United States. From Los Angeles to Nashville to Atlanta, many cities host seasonal fashion events, so if you can't make it to NYC, there may still be worthwhile opportunities to get hands-on experience and build your resumé locally.
Volunteering or assisting seasonally is not for everyone, though. Many of these opportunities tend to be unpaid and oriented towards students and young aspiring professionals who have the freedom to adapt to the inconsistency of the schedule. Plus, they're not advantageous for everyone. Tabitha Sanchez, a Los Angeles-based stylist, argues that fashion week-specific opportunities are not always worth it, as the brevity may not allow for the most in-depth experience. Sanchez also mentions that this system often exploits those willing to work for free in exchange for "experience."
Carstens adds that she has seen a lot of companies "take advantage of these week-long opportunities, slap a $1000 price tag on them, and market them to students," explaining that some third-party companies offer fashion week programs and charge a fee to place you in an internship. It's important for aspiring professionals to do research to make sure they're going to be working with someone reputable. Always reach out to the companies and individuals directly, and remember that if something sounds too good to be true, there's a good chance it is.
As the industry continues to grow, there are now countless career paths to follow, and fashion week is a good time of year to learn more about them. While some of us only had "The Devil Wears Prada" and "The Hills" to help us imagine our future careers, today's career-minded folks have a variety of ways to obtain insight into the world of fashion. From following the TikToks and Instagram stories of your favorite fashion personalities, to putting in the work as an intern or volunteer, there's more access than ever into this once-exclusive industry. Just remember, even if "a million girls would kill for that job," finding the opportunity that's right for you is more important than any glamorous party or fashion-show seat.