At the age of 19, Ashton Kutcher was “discovered” in a bar in Iowa, and later signed as a model for Next. Marilyn Monroe began her modeling career when she caught the eye of a commercial photographer while working at the Radio Plane Company. Whether posing for Vogue or GQ, walking the runway during Fashion Week, or modeling clothing for Target online, modeling is a sought-after, dream career that can lead to a more high-profile, lucrative stage or film career. There are many types of modeling and ways to establish a career without being tall, rail-thin or have rippling muscles.
There are no standard educational or training requirements to become a model. Modeling is a visual career, so meeting the image requirements of the company, client, product or medium is more important.
Many models start as children, gaining experience and exposure as clothing and/or print models or by entering pageants or other competitions through the years. There are a number of modeling schools and courses to learn the proper way to stand, walk, and work with a camera and photographers.
Since modeling is visual, an aspiring model should invest some time and money learning how to care for skin and hair, proper diet and exercise, how to dress and where they might best fit in the fashion and modeling industry.
There are many types of modeling careers for men, women and children of all ages, body types and personalities.
1. High Fashion Modeling. High fashion models are those who appear in magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle Magazine, and walk the runway for couture designers like Calvin Kline, Versace and Channel. They make high salaries, travel the globe and are sought after by designers to wear their clothes on the runway and in print. Female fashion models are usually between 5’9” and 6’0” tall with measurements of 34-24-34, and start their careers before the age of 21. Male high fashion models are between 6’0” and 6’2” tall, wear a size 40 Regular jacket, and begin their careers no later than 23 years of age.
2. Runway or Fashion Show Modeling. Versace turned the tables when he started using Cindy Crawford, a print model, on the runway. These “supermodels” do it all—runway, fashion shows, print, television and film.
3. Glamour modeling. Glamour modeling includes modeling that is more sexual or exotic in nature, like lingerie and bikini modeling. There are no height or weight requirements, and glamour models have more curves than high fashion models. There are plenty of photographers looking for glamour models, and it is the easiest way to get started in the industry.
4. Petite/Plus Size Modeling. Many designers include petite and plus-size fashions in their collections and need attractive models in those sizes. Plus-size models are between 5’8” and 5’10” tall and wear a size 10 and up. Petite models are between 5’2” and 5’6” tall with petite, well proportioned body types.
5. Child/Teen/Mature Modeling. These models work in runway or print, and represent the particular style of clothing for these age groups. Photographers need parental permission to work with models under the age of 18. These models usually work in catalog modeling for products that appeal to a wide customer base.
6. Body Part Modeling. Some models look great in full-length photographs but may have a body part that doesn’t photograph well. Body part models usually specialize in one part of the body—hands, feet, neck, legs or ears. A photographer may shoot a photo of the fashion model and then use a body part model to replace photos of their hands, feet, etc. Hand models are the most sought after body part model.
7. Fitness Modeling. For this type of modeling, you need a toned, tight, athletic body with six pack abs.
8. Commercial or Showroom Modeling. This includes everything else, and is used to sell a product, service or idea.
Investment and Earnings
The cost to break into a modeling career depends on the path you choose. If you’re discovered waiting tables and end up with a modeling contract with a major magazine or designer, the cost can be minimal. Others start by entering pageants and competitions or making the rounds of modeling agencies. The cost of entry fees, pageant gowns, jewelry, hair stylists, makeup artists, accessories, personal trainers, gym memberships and any other goods or services needed to achieve the right body type and look varies greatly. Modeling hopefuls need a portfolio of professional photographs, which can be expensive. Travel costs, moving to New York or another high-fashion hub, modeling lessons or coaching can all add to the investment in a highly competitive industry.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011 data reported the median annual salary of all model categories at $32,920 or $15.83 per hour. High fashion models working for top modeling agencies can make between $150 and $300 per hour. Agencies who book top models charge a fee to the client and model for representation, which can reduce the actual earnings amount.
You can be lucky enough to be discovered, come up through the ranks by entering and winning beauty or fitness contests, or gain notoriety by becoming a celebrity sports or entertainment figure. For most aspiring models, breaking into the business takes perseverance, a lot of hard work with a personal trainer, coach and making the rounds of modeling agencies. Some are “discovered” while pursuing an acting career or by catching the eye of a photographer, agent, fashion designer, advertising person or someone connected to the industry. Being at the right place at the right time, perseverance and confidence are all factors that can launch a career in modeling.
The Internet has created a new demand for models for online advertising, video and digital photos for use in websites, blogs, and Internet marketing. Anyone can start a blog or website to promote them as a model, upload a portfolio and use social media to make contacts and generate interest.
Your resume should highlight any modeling work or anywhere you have been seen—in print, on the runway, in a pageant or competition—and any awards. Your portfolio is more important than a paper resume, since it shows how well you fit the type of modeling an agent or employer needs. Print ads, photographs and video and links to Internet modeling are all part of a model’s portfolio.
A model’s personality, ability to project a certain look and mood, and smile should come through in an interview. Employers are looking for “the look” but also the personality or “aura” of a model which adds mood and excitement to a photograph, print ad or fashion show.
Building a reputation, being good at what you do, media buzz and building a fan base can catapult a modeling career. Working for the most prestigious designers, fashion magazines or agencies can move a model to the top and increase his income. Many famous actors and actresses started out as models. Modeling can be a satisfying career or a stepping stone to the arts, film and stage, or other related fields.
Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR, spent over seven years as a human resources director and is a career coach, consultant and freelance writer focusing on how to land your dream job in a tough employment market.