Career Guide for Models

Models help demonstrate products to create a demand for them. They display clothing and accessories. Models also promote beauty products including fragrances and cosmetics. Competition for modeling is very high.

In this free career guide, we will teach you how to have a successful career as a model.

Model Summary

  • Despite faster than average growth, keen competition is expected for modeling jobs.
  • Most jobs are part time or have variable work schedules, and many jobs require frequent travel.
  • Formal training is limited and education beyond high school usually is not required.

Working as a Model

Models create public interest in buying products such as clothing, cosmetics, food, and housewares. The information they provide helps consumers make choices among the wide variety of products and services they can buy.

Models pose for photos, paintings, or sculptures. They display clothing such as dresses, coats, underclothing, swimwear, and suits, for a variety of audiences and in various types of media. They model accessories, such as handbags, shoes, and jewelry, and promote beauty products, including fragrances and cosmetics. The most successful models, called supermodels, hold celebrity status and often use their image to sell books, calendars, fitness videos, and other products. In addition to modeling, they may appear in movies and television shows.

Models appear in printed publications, at live modeling events, and on television to advertise and promote products and services. Most modeling jobs are for printed publications, and models usually do a combination of editorial, commercial, and catalog work. Editorial print modeling uses still photographs of models for fashion magazine covers and to accompany feature articles. Commercial print modeling includes work for advertisements in magazines, newspapers, and billboards. Models advertise merchandise and appear in department-store catalogs, mail-order catalogs, and on the Internet.

During a photo shoot, a model poses to demonstrate the features of clothing and other products. Models make small changes in posture and facial expression to capture the look desired by the client. Photographers instruct models to pose in certain positions and to interact with their physical surroundings. Models work closely with photographers, hair and clothing stylists, makeup artists, and clients to produce the desired look and to finish the photo shoot on schedule. Stylists and makeup artists prepare the model for the photo shoot, provide touchups, and change the look of models throughout the day. If stylists are not provided, models must apply their own makeup and bring their own clothing.

Live modeling is done in a variety of locations. Live models stand, turn, and walk to demonstrate clothing to a variety of audiences. At fashion shows and in showrooms, garment buyers are the primary audience. Runway models display clothes that are intended for direct sale to consumers or are the artistic expressions of the designer. High fashion, or haute couture, runway models walk a runway before an audience of photographers, journalists, designers, and garment buyers. Live modeling also is done in apparel marts, department stores, and fitting rooms of clothing designers. In retail establishments, models display clothing directly for shoppers and may be required to describe the features and prices of the clothing. Other models pose for sketch artists, painters, and sculptors.

Because advertisers often need to target specific segments of the population, models may specialize in a certain area. For example, petite and plus-size fashions are modeled by women whose size is smaller or larger than that worn by the typical model. Models who are disabled may be used to model fashions or products for disabled consumers. “Parts” models have a body part, such as a hand or foot, which is particularly well suited to model products such as fingernail polish or shoes.

Almost all models work through agents who provide a link between models and clients. Agents scout for new faces, advise and train new models, and promote them to clients. Clients pay models, and the agency receives a portion of the model’s earnings for its services. A typical modeling job lasts only 1 day, so modeling agencies differ from other employment agencies in that they maintain an ongoing relationship with the model.

With the help of agents, models spend a considerable amount of time promoting and developing themselves. Models assemble and maintain portfolios, print composite cards, and travel to check out potential clients, or “go-sees.” A portfolio is a collection of a model’s previous work that is carried to all go-sees and bookings. A composite card contains the best photographs from a model’s portfolio, along with his or her measurements. Increasingly, composite cards are being sent electronically to clients and printed portfolios are being replaced with digital portfolios.

Models must gather information before a job. From an agent, they learn the pay, date, time, and length of the shoot. Also, models need to ask if hair, makeup, and clothing stylists will be provided. It is helpful for models to know what product is being promoted and what image they should project. Some models research the client and the product being modeled to prepare for a shoot. Once a job is completed, models must check in with their agency and plan for the next appointment.

Work environment. Many models work part time, often with variable work schedules.

Models work under a variety of conditions varying from difficult to glamorous. Models can work in a comfortable, climate-controlled studio or outdoors in adverse weather conditions. Schedules can be demanding and sometimes stressful. Yet, successful models interact with a variety of people and enjoy frequent travel. They may meet potential clients at several go-sees in one day and often travel to work in distant cities, foreign countries, and exotic locations.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Formal training is limited and education beyond high school usually is not required.

Education and training. Some aspiring models opt to attend modeling schools. Modeling schools provide training in posing, walking, makeup application, and other basic tasks, but attending such schools does not necessarily lead to job opportunities. Agents continually scout for fresh faces at modeling schools, and many models are discovered in this way. Most agencies review snapshots or have “open calls,” during which models are seen in person; this service usually is provided free of charge. Some agencies sponsor modeling contests and searches. Very few people who send in snapshots or attend open calls are offered contracts.

Agencies advise models on how to dress, wear makeup, and conduct themselves properly during go-sees and bookings. Because models’ advancement depends on their previous work, development of a good portfolio is key to getting assignments. The higher the quality of the photos in the portfolio and the more current they are, the more likely it is that the model will find work.

Other qualifications. Models should be photogenic and have a basic knowledge of hair styling, makeup, and clothing. A model should have flawless skin, healthy hair, and attractive facial features. Specific requirements depend on the client, but most models must be within certain ranges for height, weight, and clothing size in order to meet the practical needs of fashion designers, photographers, and advertisers. Requirements may change slightly from time to time along with common perceptions of physical beauty. However, most fashion designers believe that their clothing looks best on tall, thin models. Although physical requirements may be relaxed for some types of modeling jobs, opportunities are limited for those who do not meet these basic requirements.

A model’s career depends on preservation of his or her physical characteristics, so models must control their diet, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep in order to stay healthy. Haircuts, pedicures, and manicures are necessary work-related expenses for models.

The ability to relate to the camera in order to capture the desired look on film is essential; agents test prospective models using snapshots or professional photographs. For photographic and runway work, models must be able to move gracefully and confidently. Training in acting, voice, and dance is useful and allows a model to be considered for television work. Foreign language skills are useful because successful models travel frequently to foreign countries.

Models must interact with a large number of people, so personality plays an important role in success. Models must be professional, polite, and prompt because every contact could lead to future employment. Organizational skills are necessary to manage personal lives, financial matters, and work and travel schedules. Competition for jobs is keen and clients’ needs are very specific, so patience and persistence are essential. State and local governments require models under the age of 18 to hold a work permit.

Advancement. Models advance by working more regularly and being selected for assignments that have higher pay. They may begin to appear in magazines, print campaigns, commercials, or runway shows with higher profiles. They may begin to work with clients who will provide them with more widespread exposure. A model’s selection of an agency is an important factor for advancement in the occupation. The better the reputation and skill of the agency, the more assignments a model is likely to get. Prospective clients prefer to work with agents, which makes it very difficult for a model to pursue a freelance career. Modeling careers are relatively short.

Employment for Models

Models held about 2,200 jobs in 2008. About 18 percent were self-employed.

Job Outlook

Employment of models is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations through 2018. Nonetheless, models should face keen competition for a small number of openings.

Employment change. Employment of models is expected to grow by 16 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Growth in the employment of models will be driven by their continued use in advertising products. Advertisers will continue to use models in fashion shows, catalogs, and print campaigns as a method to increase awareness of their product.

Job prospects. Modeling is considered a glamorous occupation, and it has few formal entry requirements. Consequently, those who wish to pursue a modeling career can expect keen competition for jobs. The modeling profession typically attracts many more jobseekers than there are job openings. The increasing diversity of the general population should boost demand for models more representative of diverse racial and ethnic groups. Work for male models also should increase as society becomes more receptive to the marketing of men’s fashions. Because fashions change frequently, demand for a model’s look may fluctuate. Most models experience periods of unemployment.

Employment of models, which is often irregular to begin with, is also affected by downturns in the business cycle. Many firms tend to reduce advertising budgets during recessions.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Number Percent
Models 41-9012 2,200 2,600 400 16
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Models

Median hourly wages of models were $13.18 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.09 and $17.23. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.32, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $21.10. Wages vary for different types of modeling, and they depend on the experience and reputation of the model. Female models typically earn more than male models for similar work. Hourly wages can be relatively high, particularly for supermodels and others in high demand, but models may not work every day and jobs may last only a few hours. Models occasionally receive free or discounted clothing instead of, or in addition to, regular wages. Almost all models work with an agent and pay a percentage of their earnings in return for the agent’s services. Models who do not find immediate work may receive payments, called advances, from agents to cover promotional and living expenses. Models usually provide their own health and retirement benefits.

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