A career as stylist

Payal Chanania
print   ·   T  T  

Have a passion for style, a yen for panache and the knack of presenting things pleasing to the eye? Do you hanker to portray people, their hair, pictures, food and other things in the most chic and graceful manner?

The world of styling offers the freedom to unleash your artistic impulses and let your creativity flow. It is not just about clothes, dressing or makeup. There are different fields to showcase one’s creative talents with exciting little-known career paths like styling food items, photos, editorials, off-figures, hair, products, soft goods, bedding, tabletops, sets, locations and so on.

Styling is all about flaunting the best aspects and camouflaging the flaws – be it in people, clothes, hair, food or any product or item.

What you can do

Personal fashion styling is by far the most coveted choice – stylists work as image consultants, overhauling people’s wardrobes till it flatters their body shape, colour and lifestyle. They provide advice on the styles, cuts, fits, designs and accessories that accentuate the positive attributes of clients to suit their image. Some fashion stylists work behind-the-scenes concocting the entire fashion and beauty look for runway shows, music videos, advertisements and movies. Wardrobe stylists decide the ideal outfit and appearance for actors, models, musicians, dancers, newsreaders, corporate personalities, etc.

Luxury retail stylists work in department stores and high-end boutiques, suggesting appropriate clothing and accessory options to customers that will suit their personalities. Editorial styling is all about designing innovative concepts, choosing models’ clothing and accessories and organising photo shoots for fashion magazines, catalogues and other print media. Then, there’s the off-figure styling or still life styling for mannequins or pictures. Visual merchandising stylists deal with displays of products in stores or even for pictures or catalogues.

Photo styling is another ‘invisible’ profession that requires a lot of planning, preparation and precision to make everything in photo shoots look very natural and graceful.

Hair and makeup styling is about making people look beautiful – in professional salons and spas, modelling agencies or film shoots. Both these career options deal with the style, cut, colour of hair and kind of makeup depending on appearance, hair texture, skin type, latest trends and personal requirements. They also recommend products and techniques for good skin and hair care.

Food styling deals with presenting food in such a way that it looks fresh, delicious and tempting, even if it may not be so! It is all about look – not taste – for close-up photo shoots for restaurant menus, cook books, advertisements and magazines. Food stylists use all sorts of sneaky tricks like paints, soap, wax, lipstick, powder, etc. to make food visually appetising, even if it may otherwise be inedible.

What it takes

There are no specialised full-term styling courses per se. Basic background education will stand you in good stead, but remember styling is more about aesthetics and personal flair than book knowledge.

However, it is recommended that stylists establish their credentials with say, an allied course in fashion design, cosmetology, hair styling, beauty, visual merchandising or culinary arts as the case may be. Some institutes offer diploma/certificate courses in styling as well.

Aspiring stylists first start as interns, apprentices or assistants with established stylists (to learn business tips and develop contacts) and slowly work their way up the chain. If you aim to be a stylist, ensure that you compile an admirable portfolio over a period of time and always stay updated on the latest industry trends and style techniques.

On the personal front, styling requires a strong aesthetic sense, creative spirit and eye for small details. You have to be extremely passionate about what you do – clothes, hair or food! A distinctive personal style, natural flair, adventurous out-of-the-box thinking, visualisation skills and self-motivated focus are imperative for this challenging profession.

Effective communication and interpersonal skills are essential as styling requires dealing with all kinds of people on a day-to-day basis. It is mandatory to have the ability to relate to clients, understand their needs, overcome unreasonable demands and subtly influence their opinions without letting one’s personal tastes overpower others’ wishes. Negotiation, organisation and networking skills are very useful as well.

What’s in store?

Different kinds of stylists are employed in fashion houses, retail stores, modelling agencies, publishing companies, advertising agencies, event management companies, restaurants, food companies, salons, spas, movie/television/theatre productions, etc. Most stylists work freelance, but it takes a long struggle before they gain recognition and establish themselves. Salaries vary depending on speciality, expertise and experience, but once established, the sky is literally the limit!

Styling is a young industry that is booming the world over as more and more people and companies seek professional assistance to make themselves or their products look good. Competition is cut-throat – only those with true artistic vision and ability to experiment and go beyond boundaries to create a unique dream-come-true look can survive.

Payal Chanania

Where to study?

Istituti Callegari, Mumbai -

National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi, Bangalore -

Pearl Academy of Fashion, New Delhi, Chennai, Jaipur

Jawed Habib Academy, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata - dotcom/JawedHabib/ academy.html

South Delhi Polytechnic For Women, Delhi -




Recent Article in EMPOWER

Negotiation tips from your ‘friends’

With creative leadership and good negotiation skills, the six stars of “Friends” got exactly what they wanted, making them the highest-paid ensemble cast in the history of television »