Love Fashion? Here’s How to Make Money as a Personal Stylist
Do you pore over the latest issue of Vogue as soon as it comes out? Do you look at people around you and think, “She’d look so much better if she did her hair this way instead?”
If so, then you may have dreamed of becoming a personal stylist -- someone who gets paid to put together outfits and looks for other people, helping them to feel their best.
Most personal stylists run their own businesses and have a stable of clients whom they assist with organizing clothing, determining complementary shapes and colors, shopping for new pieces, and assembling modern looks, sometimes complete with hair and makeup.
Though it’s not always as glamorous as it sounds, it is possible to create a career as a personal stylist. We spoke with three personal stylists to learn what it takes:
What You Need to Become a Personal Stylist
Besides a passion for style and clothing, you don’t need any formal training or licensing to become a personal stylist. You do, however, need a few important sets of skills:
An eye for style
Sarah Dahlquist started her personal stylist business, DahlStyle, 12 years ago.
For aspiring personal stylists, she recommends “at least three years of retail experience ranging in different departments -- petite, plus, misses etc. -- to get experience working with different body types.”
Jennie Stierwalt, who started Your Best Self Stylist after working in boutiques for nearly 12 years, added several other skills to the list: “Understanding of colors and skin tones, knowledge of current styles, experience dressing mannequins and people, brand knowledge, and an eye for proportions and balance.”
Because, bottom line, the most important skill you need as a personal stylist is knowing what looks good on people of all shapes and sizes. That’s what they’re paying you for.
“It's NOT just about putting together a cute outfit. You need to be able to understand what will work the best for your client’s body type as well as their personality,” Dahl says.
Even if you have the best eye in the world, it’s going to be tough finding (and pleasing) clients without solid people skills.
“To be a good stylist, you need to be able effectively communicate with many different personality types… and be able to counsel others through their insecurities,” Dahl says.
Skyler McCurine of Le Red Balloon, agrees: “You don’t just see people changing or trying on clothes, you see their scars, sometimes emotional, sometimes physical… It requires empathy to understand what they’re dealing with.”
A business mindset
Being a personal stylist isn’t just playing dress-up; it’s a business. To be successful, you definitely need “business skills and an entrepreneurial spirit,” Stierwalt says.
She also recommends brushing up on your social media marketing skills: “Get familiar and experienced with all these networks so that when you start your own business you can have amazing marketing and professional material.”
And like any small business owner, you need to be flexible and adaptable. “Things are always changing, clients’ requirements, demands, opportunities, “ says McCurine. “It all happens so fast.”
How to Get Clients as a Personal Stylist
So you’ve got the skills and experience -- now how do you find your first personal stylist clients?
Ask family and friends
Everybody knows someone who could use some help with their personal style. Make some business cards and a basic website, and start asking your network to spread the word.
If your friends or family aren’t interested in an-depth consultation, McCurine suggests asking “if you can style them for an event or even a night out.” Her first client was a friend of her dad’s.
Work in a local boutique
Not only will working in a boutique “familiarize you with brands and styling,” it will also allow you to “build a client base in your community,” according to Stierwalt.
And she would know: Her first client found her while she was working as a merchandiser in a high-end boutique.
“I think being personable, knowing what looks good on people of various shapes and ages and dressing the part are all ways to attract your first clients -- organically!” she says.
Reach out to other stylists
As in any field, networking is key. If you’re just starting out, it’s smart to reach out to stylists you admire so you can meet or perhaps even work with them.
“Research people in your field who align with your values, and watch (and if you can, meet) them to learn how and why they pursued their passion,” suggests McCurine.
Work for an online personal stylist company
If you’re having difficulty finding clients, or simply want the stability of working for someone else, consider applying at one of the online styling companies that’s popped up in recent years. Companies like Trunk Club, Stitch Fix and Keaton Row hire personal stylists from all corners of the country.
How Much Money You Can Earn as a Personal Stylist
There’s no concrete number for how much you can earn as a personal stylist -- though of course, you can raise your rates with experience.
With your first clients, you might not be able to charge at all. “Offer your services for free until you have enough experience to charge for them,” says Stierwalt.
Once you have a few clients under your belt, many personal stylists “charge anywhere from $60 an hour to $200 an hour,” says Stierwalt. “Some charge by project as well: from $500 to $2,000 per day or project.”
As you can see, there’s a huge range of rates, depending on who your clients are and what services you’re offering. Though it may be difficult when starting your business, this wide range is ultimately a good thing.
“You can earn as much money as you'd like. You want to start out affordable but once you get knowledge and experience, the sky’s the limit!” says Dahlquist.
You can also expand upon your personal stylist business with other services. “The more avenues you pursue, the better chance you have at earning a better income,” says McCurine. “I don’t just style, I also coach, mentor and speak.”
Is Becoming a Personal Stylist Right for You?
If you’re passionate about helping people look and feel their best, then this career might be a good fit for you. But you need to remember it’s about much more than just fashion; as with any other entrepreneurial venture, you need to have business skills and a strong work ethic.
“It's not as glamorous as you think -- it's challenging work… It takes a lot of energy to do this well,” warns Stierwalt.
And the journey to success will be challenging. It’ll be easy to start comparing yourself to other stylists and feel like you’re never going to be where you want to be. You just have to “follow your passion, build a great support system around you and never stop learning and never give up,” says Dahlquist.
We all have our own journey and in time you will figure out how you, your personality, and values will carve out a niche just for you,” says McCurine. “Until then remember, you’re not failing, you deserve to be doing great work that you love, and focus on the why behind your calling.”
Your Turn: Do you love fashion? Have you ever wanted to become a personal stylist?
Susan Shain (@Susan_Shain) has been working seasonal adventure jobs and traveling the world since 2008 — all on a strict budget. Follow along on her blog at susanshain.com to learn how you can do the same.