The fashion intern manual
For all the girls and boys who dream of a lap of fashion luxury and a respectable career, there are a few guidelines you should keep in mind to ensure your success in this cutthroat industry. Follow these rules, and you’re sure to have a positive internship experience.
1. Have realistic expectations
First of all, do not expect anything glamorous. Leave any and all expectations involving flights to Paris for resort shows or braiding Anna Wintour’s hair at the door. An internship is still an internship. Chances are that during a typical day, you’ll be soaked from running out in a rainstorm to pick up samples 30 blocks away or panting like a dog after hauling them to and from magazines just to be on time for the shoots. If you’re not doing that, you’ll be in the office steaming dresses, signing out samples and inputting credit information. If that sounds glamorous to you, then I take back what I’ve previously stated about glamour.
2. Know your place
Never think that you’re too good for any task. As an intern, you’re at the bottom of the proverbial fashion totem pole. Your day might not be entirely filled with errands, but the vast majority of your responsibilities are going to have you thinking, “I go to Wash. U. I’m better than this. I’m capable of so much more.” Your bosses know. They’ve been in your position, and they’ve probably thought the same thing. Just know that you are a huge asset to the company, and by doing these seemingly meaningless chores, you’re actually making the company run that much smoother. Always maintain a positive attitude.
3. Be indispensable
My supervisor at a past internship once told me this while I was working in the public relations office of a major fashion house: It’s tremendously important to go above and beyond your explicit duties. So much so that once you walk out the door, your supervisor feels that they need you back. Always anticipate what is going to be asked of you next. A sixth sense isn’t required, but if the clothes you picked up from Marc Jacobs are wrinkled, you should steam them before you’re asked.
4. Be nice
Though this might sound obvious and simple, I can’t stress enough the importance of tact. In the fashion industry especially, everything and everyone is connected. Your reputation and the way you present yourself will follow you throughout your career. Watch what you say and how you act. Concentrate on what you’re doing, and don’t be affected by the sometimes ruthless people you encounter—including other interns. Make sure that when you walk out the door, there are only good things to say behind your back.
5. Learn from others
You’re surrounded by some of the industry’s most creative masterminds. The biggest learning experience in any given internship comes simply from observing. By observing, you’re learning how problems are solved, how the day-to-day schedule runs and how to work as a team. And if you have questions—ASK!
6. Be meticulous
Because the industry is so detail oriented, everything is done to surgical perfection. Pages need to be lined straight in the press book; fonts need to be a certain way; address labels on envelopes cannot be crooked, and everything needs to be sent out on time.
7. Don’t get discouraged
It’s important not to feel defeated if you make a mistake—learn from them, and don’t make them again. Interning is essentially a learning experience. Your supervisors don’t expect you to do things perfectly, but they do expect you to learn from everything they teach you. Don’t get disappointed if they don’t congratulate you for doing something well—you should be doing everything well. Smile through challenges; never fear them. The fashion industry is fast paced and cutthroat, so make sure your daily ensemble always includes a thick skin.
Once you’ve finished your internship, keep in touch! This industry is all about who you know, so be sure to maintain a strong relationship with all your previous supervisors and use them as resources in the future. Shoot them e-mails once in a while, propose a lunch or coffee date to catch up or drop by to visit them at work. (But call before you do so you don’t seem presumptuous!) Network, network, network…politely!