Model Career

Model CareerModels display a wide variety of products and services in print, such as magazines and newspapers; televi­sion; and live marketing. Industrial models are used in all advertising media to sell every kind of product or service imaginable. Fashion models display clothing and fashion accessories in fashion shows, apparel cata­logs, and retail stores. A small segment of the model­ing field is devoted to posing for commercial and fine artists.

The U.S. Department of Labor classifies models with other workers in occupations bearing on personal appear­ance. Also in this group are product demonstrators and product promoters. Of the 120,000 people working in these three fields in the United States, only about 2,200 work as models.

Model Career History

As long as there have been artists, there have been mod­els who posed for them. In earlier times, many of these models were the friends or relatives of the artist. Wealthy patrons also posed for artists to have their portraits painted. Actresses, actors, society personalities, and other celebrities were among the first models.

In 1858, Charles Frederick Worth, an English tailor, opened a salon, or fashion house, in Paris and became the first dressmaker to display his designs on live models.

The history of the photographic model is compara­tively recent. Although the modern camera was invented by George Eastman in 1889, its possible uses in commer­cial advertising were not realized for more than 20 years. Shortly after the turn of the century, when the ready-to-wear clothing industry began to grow rapidly, businesses discovered that a picture could sell more products than text, and fashion professionals realized that live models boosted clothing sales more than mannequins. Con­sequently, advertisements began to feature pictures of young women who seemed to endorse a manufactur­er’s product. As commercial photography continued to grow and develop, so did the career of the photographic model. Today these models can be male or female, and of every age, race, and color, depending on the wishes of the advertiser.

The story of fashion models begins in Paris, where they were first employed more than a cen­tury ago to display the exclusive clothing designed by French dressmakers for wealthy women. Before 1900, U.S. fashions were, for the most part, copies of the French originals, and it was sel­dom considered necessary for copied clothing to be shown by live models. Shortly after World War I, the U.S. garment industry created some original designs. These garments were mass pro­duced. As these fashion houses slowly multiplied, so did the number of models needed to show new clothing designs to prospective buyers. In the past 40 years, the U.S. garment industry has assumed world leadership in the production of clothing, and increasing numbers of models have been needed to display these garments and the fashion acces­sories that go with them.

Model Job Description

Model CareerModels generally are grouped according to the medium or media in which they work. For instance, models who perform with move­ment in fashion shows and for retail stores (on the floor) are known as fashion models. Those who pose for art­ists are known as artists’ models, and those who advertise products and services in print are known as photographic models. In large cities there are modeling agencies that specialize in handling petite, plus-size, specialty, character, beauty, photographic, and high fashion models.

The work of artists’ models is to pose for an individual artist or for a class of art students. When posing, models must stand or sit in one position for several hours at a time. A quick break for relaxation is usually given once each hour. Often the model must pose on a platform under hot and bright lights and sometimes wear little or no clothing. One job may last a day, while another may last for several weeks.

Photographic models pose for photographs. Their job is to lend attractiveness to an advertisement and enhance the desirability of the product. These models encounter a great variety of situations in their work. One series of photographs may be taken in a studio under hot lights with the model wearing a heavy fur coat. Another may be taken outdoors in midwinter with the model wearing only a bathing suit. One job may last only an hour, while another may require an entire day. In their work, models may travel to other states or even to other countries to be photographed in beautiful, unusual, or exotic settings.

Rarely do photographic models work full time. Days or weeks may pass between one job and the next, espe­cially if they work on a freelance basis. If models contract with a modeling agency, however, their schedule may be fuller because the agency will be able to secure modeling jobs for them.

The photographic model who has some acting ability may secure a job in a television commercial. These ads are usually videotaped or filmed. Although television modeling is very lucrative, it is very difficult for the aver­age model to break into this field, mainly due to lack of training in acting.

Specialty models must possess particular features that are photogenic, such as hands, feet, legs, hair, lips, or ears that will help sell specific products.

Fashion models differ from the other types of models in three basic ways. First, the models usually work for clothing manufacturers, fashion designers, or depart­ment stores on a full-time basis. Second, they do not merely pose in one position, but walk around and assume a variety of poses in their display of the clothing. Third, they often speak to prospective purchasers to inform them of the model number and price of each garment.

Some fashion models may be employed by cloth­ing manufacturers as showroom and fitting models. In many large department stores a staff of full-time models, known as floor models, is employed to promote the sale of various garments or accessories. The store may have a regularly scheduled style show during the daily lunch hour; at other times, models may walk throughout the store showing apparel and talking with customers about the garments and accessories being worn. Those models hired by a distributor to hand out free product samples, such as perfume or food, are known as sampling demon­stration models or product promoters.

All fashion models employ certain techniques to dis­play their clothing in the most effective way. Immacu­late grooming is basic for most models, from the proper application of makeup and hair care to the smallest per­sonal details. Models must walk gracefully with an erect carriage and master the techniques of pivoting to show the sides and back of a garment. They must know how to carry their hands and arms gracefully, as well as the body positions needed to emphasize certain details of their costume. They also must be able to call attention to accessories, such as purses, jewelry, and gloves.

Some fashion models do not work regularly but are called only for special style shows or certain buyers’ showings. Some prefer to freelance since they may have other jobs or responsibilities. The most successful models work in all areas of the field, from live fashion modeling to print work to video and film modeling, as well as act­ing and live industrial and promotional presentations.

Model Career Requirements

High School

There are no standard educational requirements for models. Most employers of photographic models prefer at least a high school education. Courses such as sewing, home economics, and photography are helpful. Classes in dance, fencing, Asian arts such as tai chi, and other studies that focus on body and movement control pro­vide a good foundation for modeling. Public speaking and business courses are helpful since models often work as freelancers.

Postsecondary Training

Many employers of models state a preference for col­lege graduates with the ability to communicate well and with a general cultural background. Academic courses may include art, drama, art history, photography, his­tory, English, speech, or debate. Some models take special courses in sports or physical fitness, such as dance, swim­ming, skiing, skating, aerobics, or horseback riding to get into and stay in shape and develop physical coordination, suppleness, and grace. As models often keep track of their own expenses, a basic knowledge of bookkeeping and mathematics also is helpful.

Other Requirements

There are significant differences in the requirements neces­sary for each type of model. The major requirement for the fashion model is, of course, physical appearance. Although most people think of all models as being young and slen­der, that is not necessarily the case. No set standard exists for a model’s physical description because many different body types are needed. Many garment manufacturers seek female fashion models who are between the ages of 16 and 30, between 5 feet 8 inches and 5 feet 11 inches in height and wear from a size six to a size 10. Male models generally must be between 6 feet and 6 feet 2 inches in height and wear a size 40 or 42 regular suit. People who fail to meet these specifications, however, should not feel that there are no possibilities for them in this career; after all, garments and other fashion items are made for people of all sizes and types. Also, atypical models who do not necessarily possess classical model features, proportions, or body types, but display interesting or unusual personal style, increasingly are being seen on runways and in photo advertisements, reflecting designer, commercial, and public acceptance of cultural and physical diversity and individual expression in fashion.

Because some fashion houses create styles for people of middle years whose weight is closer to average, more mature looking models sometimes are needed. Other firms that specialize in evening clothes often require models of above average height to display their garments. Companies that produce junior sizes require models who can wear those sizes without alterations. Those that manufacture misses’ or women’s sizes may seek models who can wear sizes eight, 10, or 12. They also may seek full-figured models who wear sizes 14 or larger. Petite models are 5 feet 5 inches and wear uneven sizes such as three, five, and seven.

The basic requirement for photographers’ models is that they photograph well. It must be emphasized, how­ever, that not all attractive people have the qualities that commercial photographers require. Many times charac­teristics such as wholesomeness and sincerity, as well as freshness of face or manner, are as important in this field as good looks.

Modeling is a particularly fatiguing occupation because it requires many hours of standing and walking, or sitting or standing still in uncomfortable positions. Thus, good health and physical stamina are important. In addition, those people interested in being fashion or photographic models must be prepared to give up most of their social life and limit their diets. To maintain their figures and appearances, they will require many extra hours of sleep each night and will need to avoid rich foods and beverages.

Another important requirement is immaculate grooming. Fashion and photographic models will have to spend more hours than the average person taking care of their skin, hair, nails, and general physical fitness. Espe­cially important to fashion models is the ability to walk gracefully while carrying their hands, arms, and torso in a poised and chic manner.

Most fashion and photographers’ models must have special training to meet all of the above requirements. Entering a reputable modeling school to learn the skills and techniques of modeling or enrolling in a good charm school to learn makeup application, appropriate cloth­ing, and the proper ways to walk and stand are also help­ful and can be a shortcut into the business.

Exploring Model Career

If you are an aspiring model, you should read about the modeling industry and contact modeling agencies to gain an understanding of what their needs may include. Experience in fashion modeling may be obtained in home economics courses as well as from local fashion shows. Many fashion design schools stage fashion shows for their students’ designs and need amateur models to donate their time.

Model CareerYou may want to talk with the buyer or fashion direc­tor of a large local store or seek the advice of a commercial photographer, who often help new talent get started, about your opportunities for a successful modeling career and the special areas for which you may be qualified. Model­ing agencies also may be approached for their opinions. It is important to assess your chances for meaningful work before moving to a big city or investing in expensive mod­eling classes, photographs, and wardrobe.


The approximately 2,200 models employed in the United States work in a variety of settings that require differ­ent skills and qualifications. Fashion models may be employed by apparel firms or retail stores; photographic models work through one or more agencies for a variety of clients. High fashion models usually work in major fashion centers such as New York, London, or Paris. Large cities generally offer more opportunities for modeling work than small towns.

A large percentage of those in the modeling industry do not work full time as models, since there are far more applicants than assignments. Therefore many models have other means of supporting themselves. Models gen­erally choose part-time jobs, especially those with flex­ible schedules or evening work, in order to be available for auditions and assignments. Many work as restaurant servers, though individuals with special skills or training may find other work. Some work in sales, which allows them flexibility in schedules and number of hours.

Starting Out

To gain employment as an artist’s model, men or women may apply directly at various art schools, cautiously check newspaper want ads, or apply at the state employ­ment office.

Graduates of modeling schools may be aided by school placement offices in securing their first job. Another pos­sibility for the prospective model is to register at a mod­eling agency. Aspiring models, however, should be wary of disreputable agencies or schools that promise jobs for a fee toward the purchase of a portfolio of photographs or a contract for modeling classes. Legitimate agencies and modeling schools are listed in industry publications. Choose a modeling agency certified by such bodies as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) or check with your local Bet­ter Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce to make sure the agency or school is licensed by the state educa­tion department before signing an agreement or paying money to an agency or service that promises jobs.

Many agencies select only those people with qualities they feel will be demanded by their clients. If accepted by an agency, the future model’s composite card and photo­graphs are placed on file and the model will be called for a job when the agency feels they have one for which the per­son is qualified. In return for the agency’s services, models pay 15 to 20 percent of their earnings to the agency.

All models who wish to have a career in modeling are required to have a collection of photographs to show pro­spective employers. These photographs should include at least one head shot and several full-length shots in vari­ous kinds of situations and garments to show the model’s versatility and ability to sell whatever he or she is mod­eling. Photographic models must have multiple copies of these photographs to leave with potential employers. The back of each picture should list the model’s name, address, a contact phone number, height, weight, and coloring, along with clothing and shoe sizes. This picture will be placed in a file along with pictures of many other models. When someone of this type and size is needed for a picture, the model may be called to pose. Models include tear sheets in their portfolios from the assign­ments they have completed. These sheets prove to pro­spective employers the model’s experience and ability.

Aspiring models who plan to seek work in a large, unfamiliar city should go there prepared to look for a job for at least three months. They should have enough money to support themselves and pay for such modeling necessities as a fashionable wardrobe, professional hair and beauty care, adequate diet, and such incidentals as additional photographs or special short-term training.


The modeling profession has no standard line of advance­ment. It is rare for artists’ models to advance in the usual sense of the word. It is to be expected, however, that the better art schools and the more successful artists may pay higher hourly wages to experienced models.

Advancement for fashion or photographic models takes the form of increased income and greater demand for their talent. However, their careers usually are short. The model who works in the field for longer than eight years is considered highly unusual. Certain physical changes and lifestyle often make it difficult for older people to compete with younger models for the same type of assignments.

Even a high degree of success can lead to the shortening of a model’s career. When models appear too frequently on magazine covers or in features, the uniqueness of their look becomes familiar, and they are passed by in favor of models who have not received such wide coverage. Also, models who become identified with one particular product, such as a line of makeup or shampoo, may find it difficult to qualify for jobs with other employers.

Most fashion and photographic models must there­fore learn a marketable skill or profession to which they may turn when they can no longer continue modeling. Many fashion models gain enough knowledge to move into fashion design, advertising, public relations, or retailing. Others attend special schools between model­ing assignments to learn business, technical, or voca­tional skills. Still others go to work for modeling agencies or open agencies of their own. Modeling can be a gateway to consulting jobs in the fashion and merchandising field, and some models serve as board members of fashion magazines. Other models become actors and actresses. Well-known models may develop their own line of cos­metics or other products.


Earnings for models vary according to experience and depend on the number, length, and type of assignments he or she receives. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2004 models overall typically earned a median salary of $20,980 a year. The lowest paid 10 per­cent earned less than $13,790, annually, while the highest paid 10 percent earned an annual salary of $35,730. How­ever, top models have the potential to earn much more. Female models working for agencies make $75 to $200 an hour. Hourly wages are higher for photographic models working in large metropolitan cities such as New York, Miami, Los Angeles, or Chicago and for models who are in great demand. Top photographic models signed to exclusive contracts with cosmetic firms may earn $1 million or more per year. Male models generally earn less than their female counterparts, for similar work. Almost all models work with agents and pay 15 to 20 percent of their earnings in return for an agent’s services.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that median hourly earnings of models were $10.50 in 2004. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.16 per hour, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $17.17 per hour.

Models who appear in television commercials are paid according to the fee schedules set up by the two major unions, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Ameri­can Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). Models who speak earn more than those who do not. In addition, they receive a fee called a residual whenever the commercial is aired.

Fashion models who are employed by department stores are called floor models. They work only for special promotions at the store and earn the same salary as sales­people. The rate of pay is generally between $8 and $12 an hour, depending on the size and location of the store and the quality and cost of the merchandise. Models who work for advertising agencies may earn between $15 and $25 an hour. The more versatile the model, the greater the opportunity for employment.

Because they are seldom employed full time, instead earning a high hourly fee on an occasional basis, pho­tographic models may not always have enough money to maintain themselves between jobs. They may find it necessary to seek other kinds of work on a temporary basis. Because it is essential that they have outstanding wardrobes, they frequently work at part-time jobs to buy the necessary clothes for their assignments. Models occa­sionally receive clothing or clothing discounts instead of, or in addition to, regular earnings.

The only full-time employment for models usually is as a spokesperson for a store or company. Full-time mod­els usually receive up to two or three weeks of vacation per year. The perks of being a fashion model include the chance to wear beautiful clothes, look your best, and be groomed by photographers, designers, artists, and hair and makeup professionals. Some models travel to excit­ing places and meet interesting and famous people; a very few may even attain celebrity status. Indeed, today’s fash­ion and cosmetics supermodels have achieved a celebrity status that formerly was the exclusive domain of movie stars. Historically, the industry favors youth, but older models now are being used by agencies more often and the age barrier seems to be coming down. Young people who hope to become models, however, should approach the career with the understanding that competition is keen and that it may take years of work to attain success. But even the beginner, on a local level, can make enough money to make this career worthwhile.

Work Environment

Modeling can be exciting, challenging, glamorous, and rewarding, but also very stressful. Modeling is not a rou­tine job and to be successful, models must have the drive, patience, and self-confidence to adjust and meet new challenges. They also must be able to accept rejection, since many assignments require auditions where many qualified applicants compete.

Models work under a variety of conditions. The art­ist’s model usually works indoors in a loft, a studio, or a classroom. These rooms may be large and drafty with high ceilings and inadequate heating or cooling facilities. The more modern art schools, however, will be com­fortably heated, ventilated, and lighted. This model may pose in ordinary street clothing, in exotic costumes, or in body-revealing attire.

Photographic models may work either indoors or outdoors. There may be times when models are asked to pose in bathing suits while standing outside in chilly weather. At other times, they may model wool clothing in midsummer on hot city pavements. In photographers’ studios, models often are asked to hold a pose for a long period of time while lights and background details are adjusted. Models need patience to wait while problems are solved and many different people offer opinions about any one shot.

Many agency models must carry heavy bags of cos­metics, grooming tools, accessories, and garments as they travel from one client to another.

Fashion models usually work indoors in comfortable showrooms, hotels, or restaurants. They must stand and walk a great deal during busy seasons. During slack sea­sons, there may be little for runway and showroom mod­els to do and time may pass slowly. If they are employed in a department store, models are able to walk about the store and talk with customers. Although they are on their feet for most of the working day, they enjoy a variety of settings and people in their work. Models must enjoy their work thoroughly and not allow themselves to become impatient or exasperated by rejection, delays, or disappointments. Many young persons who enter a modeling career do so because they anticipate that it will be glamorous. Once embarked upon the career, they find little glamour and much hard work. Nevertheless, there are many satisfactions to be found in achieving success in this demanding field. Most models enjoy dressing well and looking trim and fit. They enjoy the excitement of the fashion and advertising worlds. They may find that the people with whom they work are interesting and may have an opportunity to meet or to work with famous or successful persons. Although their careers as models may be short, often they have a worthwhile second career in fashion, advertising, business, or public relations.

Model Career Outlook

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts employment for models to grow about as fast as the average through 2014, but job competition will be fierce because this career is attractive to so many people. The number of fashion models seeking jobs is far greater than the number of openings. A greater number of openings exist for art­ists’ models, but their income almost never is enough to live on. Part-time work is easier to find than full-time work. The number of models working should increase as the economy becomes more global. Models from the United States are in demand around the world. Opportu­nities for male models should also increase as the public becomes more open to the marketing of men’s fashions. Most openings will occur as models quit or retire to pur­sue other employment or interests.

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