Entering the fashion industry has always presented a unique set of challenges, and in many ways, it’s no different for young people breaking onto the scene today. Early career-professionals are tasked with finding their place and establishing a name for themselves, and with pressure to fit in, this is no easy feat. Often taking roles as freelancers, associates, and assistants, young professionals manage the expectations of the industry on a budget. With rapidly changing trends, steep prices, and traditionally low pay, finding balance can be a process.
But our current climate does complicate things. As the fashion world strives for progress on issues like inclusivity, representation, sustainability, and economic barriers, young people in the industry are at the forefront of holding it accountable. While they are often drivers for change, they are also affected by the same problems they hope to remedy. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re left to navigate these challenges amid dwindling job opportunities.
Facing these circumstances, entry-level professionals in fashion have had to become mindful and resourceful. Using their experiences, they have adapted habits to manage the struggles of making it in fashion. Teen Vogue spoke to some of these creatives about how they develop their style and careers in the fashion industry, even against the odds. Each person is shown with one item that they feel represents them, showing just how meaningful fashion can be.
Here’s what they had to say:
Item of importance: “A ring that my grandmother gave me. It was a pair of earrings that she had made into rings for me and my sister and it’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. I am very sentimental and can easily attach meaning to different things, but this is hands down one of my most important belongings. I love that it ties me to both my grandmother and my sister, two of the most important women in my life. It is a great reminder of their love that I get to wear everyday.
Her personal style: “My personal style is constantly evolving, [and] I never want to limit myself to one aesthetic. So many factors affect what I wear, but I try my best to never let what other people think be one. Clothing in my size from my favorite designers unfortunately … continues to be a dream and not a reality. There are so many things I would buy if it came in my size, ranging from a set from Outdoor Voices to a skirt from Chopova Lowena. It’s hard to truly develop your personal style when so much of what I want to wear won’t fit me.”
Her shopping philosophy: “In the past few years I have made the shift towards curating a sustainable wardrobe by purchasing pieces from slow fashion and designer brands. I quickly learned that this takes a lot of time and money, and while the fashion industry is glamorous, the salaries aren’t always of the same caliber. Trying to maintain a certain image in this industry can quickly add up. It’s important to remember that fashion is cyclical and something you have in the back of your closet or find at the thrift store can probably be used to keep up with the latest trends. I keep a list of the items I want to buy and save up for them.”
Item of importance: “I’m originally from the Dominican Republic and this necklace was my mother’s first big purchase after moving to the states in 1996. I think it signified a future with more possibilities for me and for her. She handed it down to me when I was 7-years-old and I haven’t taken it off since.”
Her personal style: “Like most from my generation, I developed my sense of style on the internet. I would spend hours on Tumblr looking up random imagery and watching indie movies. I also inherited the ability to turn a look with minimal resources from the women in my family.”
On fitting in: “Whew. Well … this industry is exclusive by design. So yes, in the beginning I wanted to fit in desperately. But that got exhausting really quickly. It helped that I had a family and mentors reminding me who I was. I buy things that I know I love. I try not to impulse buy or buy ‘in season.’ If I think I need something, I’ll wait and see if I feel the same in a week or two. And if I can help it I’m buying vintage or second-hand.”
Art director and designer
Item of importance: “I found this jacket in a vintage store, it was in really rough shape when I bought it and after much love and use, the material on the sleeves started to tear. I was heavily in denial about the end of this jackets’ journey, [and] I decided I definitely could not part with it. I brought it to my mom’s go-to tailor and they remade the jacket from scratch — the buttons are still from the original.”
Her personal style: “Personal style should be deeply personal. I like to ask myself what my point of view is and what I’m trying to communicate about myself through this look. I think personal style fluctuates and it’s something that should take time and change/evolve with you. There’s no better way to start a day than to be dressed feeling your best. I’m trying now to focus less on whether or not I have the newest, coolest item and put more thought into the overall longevity of the item, is it versatile? Am I comfortable wearing it?”
How she achieves her look: “Sample sales are huge! I’m very thankful to live in a city where the sample sale opportunities are bountiful. Aside from sample sales, I’m a huge sucker for a well-curated vintage spot. Overarching personal philosophy for shopping is: Do not buy if you don’t love, do not buy if you cannot see yourself wearing it a lot. Right now I’m looking for a suit set, or I’m always on the hunt for the perfect trousers, the crisper the front pleat is, the better.”
Item of importance: “This stack is a part of me – it doesn’t come off. The Regina bracelet was given to my mom as a gift when I was born. The other two I got for myself. I feel like my style and what inspires it changes every few months, if not every day; the only thing that truly stays the same is my left wrist.”
Her personal style: “Something I’ve come to learn is that style isn’t about labels or price tags – it’s about how you carry yourself.”
How she shops: “Does shopping your friends’ closets count?! My primary wardrobe is made up almost entirely of basics. A lot of blue jeans and black tees. I have a love/hate relationship with shopping —a trouble in committing to anything financially but my usual safe pieces. I really don’t buy much. I’m lucky to have a roommate with an incredible, eclectic sense of style and clothing to match. If I’m ever after a certain color or silhouette or energy that I don’t have, I go to her.”
Fashion associate for Elle Magazine
Item of importance: “I chose these pants because they describe the range of my style perfectly, and they’re by a brand I really love. Duckie Brown is NYC-based and creates some of the most progressive and well-made menswear in the world right now. These pants definitely air on the side of outrageous, but I love to incorporate pieces like this into my everyday wardrobe. I would wear these to a dinner party and also to the bodega to run errands.
His personal style: “A lot of my personal style comes from going to Catholic school and being used to a uniform. I went totally in the other direction for a while, but now I find myself falling into a uniform from time to time. There have definitely been moments where I felt pressured to dress a certain way or present myself a certain way in certain spaces. At the end of the day, I’m where I am because of my intellect and talent and I always remind myself of that, and that while dressing is an amazing outlet for self-expression, it’s not the be all end all of being a professional in this industry.”
On the work: “I love seeing what part my work plays in making a shoot come alive. I grew up digesting fashion images that drew me to work in the industry in the first place, and when I can see my work come alive in any shape during a photoshoot, I feel such an intrinsic reward. More than that, I love the way fashion uses its platform to express different points of view. I also take joy in finding and supporting new designers/creatives.”
Fashion assistant at Vogue
Item of importance: “I chose this item because I wanted a piece that would remind me of the new home that I had created within Mexico. This poncho embodied the culture of Oaxaca, the state in Mexico that I was studying in, and can be worn and styled in many versatile ways. This poncho means so much to me because I truly loved Oaxaca and every piece of culture and authenticity it had to offer; it truly became a home to me and this item brings me back there any time I see or wear it.”
Her personal style: “I developed my own personal style by mainly staying true to my comfortability, seeing how others put their own styles together, and [learning] that I can always mimic and personalize them in my own way. My personal style comes from putting together items in a different way that matched my personality and not from how I want others to perceive me. I try to make sure that I am comfortable in what I am wearing, yet still very stylish at the same time.”
On feeling pressure of comparison: “A lot of times I see people wearing designer pieces that I pressure myself into wanting just so I can fit in with the crowd or feel included. I sometimes would feel like I have to look polished and chic each day, even if that’s not how I felt like dressing. It was very easy for me to snap out of this by looking at myself and realizing that being included and trying to keep up with others wasn’t necessary for me. I am very secure within my own style; trying to fit in with what everyone else is wearing or buying is not always what fashion is about. I had to tell myself to just be me and not allow pressure to change the way I express myself through my clothing.”
Item of importance: “I stumbled upon the Janet Jackson t-shirt at the legendary Metropolis NYC store. I was on a shopping assignment for DOCUMENT Journal, my employer at the time. The minute I laid eyes on the piece, I was unable to focus on anything else but [marveling] at how brilliant the shirt appeared to me. The following week I purchased it. The emotional value of this shirt is transcending because I wore it from very pivotal moments in my life [like the] Met Gala 2019 and Japan 2018 to smaller, more intimate moments like a friend’s birthday party or the beach.”
His personal style: “I developed my personal style through trial and error honestly! It took countless moments of experimenting to finally look within myself and appreciate what will look good on me and how it will look good. I experimented a lot with silhouettes and proportions. I pay closer attention to how clothes will lay on my body. Sometimes I may buy items in a smaller or larger size to ensure it fits my frame as I intended to be. I believe the industry itself along with the sense of instant content from social media certainly builds moments of pressure to look up-to-date and consistently stay up-to-date. Investing more pieces that I know will matter not only this season but will in the future allow me to remain true to my personal style.”
Why he loves being a stylist: “I love how fashion is an orbit composed of escapism. I like how [in] my role as a stylist, I am formulating images/moments that spark conversations. I think constructive escapism is something we need during these times.”
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue