The best way to get a good aptitude and experience in styling is to start as an assistant. This means working for someone who has experience as a working stylist on a set. This is really how you begin to make your career happen. Almost all stylists started once as an assistant in one way or another. Your job as the assistant may vary from job to job and person to person. Styling is such a huge job sometimes it is difficult or impossible to be handled by just one person. On larger jobs I sometimes work with two assistants.
For the most part, when you assist you are responsible for the care and handling of garments. When I assist this means that I will pick up the packages from showrooms a day or two before shooting, keep track of them on the set, and return them safely and packaged correctly to their lenders. It sounds like an unimportant job but usually I am responsible for thousands of dollars of merchandise.
On the first day of assisting I usually get an email the night before with the list of pick ups that will need to be made the following day. This usually includes the name and address of the showroom, a phone number, and a contact person at the office. I call it the ‘amazing race’ day because a lot of times the offices are tucked into odd corners of Manhattan in large buildings with no names and no numbers. Sometimes for pick ups I must scavenger around for a service entrance. Sometimes you walk right in and a neatly packaged bag is right there waiting for you. I try to map out where I am going before hand—beginning uptown and working my way down. I usually carry some ridiculous looking cart around but it is all about efficiency and reliability. Assisting is not the part of the job where you really need to look good.
On your first day of assisting remember to be comfortable. Don’t, I repeat, don’t wear heels. No matter if you swear you wear them every day all the time. I guarantee someone will laugh at you. And you will regret it. Assisting is literally a manual labor job. Although I never advocate looking sloppy, be sure to wear something you are comfortable in.
The second day, usually the day of the shoot is the most critical. I begin by getting on set 15 minutes prior to my call time. Personally I am an unusually prompt person. I find it works for me in my life to always be early. I begin by unpacking the garments and accessories being careful to keep them arranged by showroom. Everything will need to be returned as it was borrowed—in its original packaging. Clothes are hung up on garment racks, accessories laid out on the table so that the stylist is free to walk over to a neat visual display to pick from. The bottoms of shoes are covered in tape so they may be returned without scuffs. All garments are steamed and pressed. You will also be responsible for knowing and having they stylists’ kit at all times.
As the stylist puts together looks be careful to keep track of what garments went where and where they need to be returned to. Usually the showrooms supply you with a list of items borrowed so you can reference, but sometimes I take a picture at the beginning of the shoot so I can remember what I have and where it goes. As you get to know the brands and designers this will become easier. At the end of the shoot you will be responsible to packing up and cleaning. As I said, everything must be returned as it was borrowed. I try to even return it in the same tissue paper.
The third day is returns. Items borrowed will need to be returned to their respective showroom. I try to directly drop them off to the person I took them from. Sometimes you will be required to sign them back in. After they are returned I report back to the stylist I am working for to confirm who and when I returned the items to.
Assisting can be a lot of work with little to no pay but it really is the best way to get your foot in the door on a real set. And you will learn a lot, believe me.