A Day in the Life of a Fashion Assistant

by Rachel on May 24, 2010

People are always interested in my stories of working at a magazine, and I don’t blame them. With everything from “The Rachel Zoe Project” to “The City” and of course “The Devil Wears Prada,” everyone wonders what it’s really like. Well…let me answer some of those questions!

“How’d you get that job?”

When I was a junior at MSU, I applied for hundreds of internships, most of which I found on ed2010. I applied and applied and didn’t hear back from 99.9 percent of them, but ELLE responded. I flew to NYC two days later to interview — I think the fact that I booked a flight had a big impact on them — and didn’t hear back that I had gotten it until April. I went to NYC three days after moving out of Sigma Kappa and I worked my ass off that summer (literally, I came home 20 pounds thinner). I just knew that was my one shot. I have never, ever worked that hard in my life. (And for free!) But it was worth it because at the end of the summer, I was up for a job with them…had I not had to return to school and, you know, graduate.

So at the end of senior year, after I won the Howell Essay Contest for my essay on racism/sexism in the media’s coverage of the election, and jumped through 400 hoops to get my scholarship check, I went back to NYC with an internship at Self Magazine. After about four weeks at Self, my old boss from ELLE came calling. Their assistant was leaving and I was there and ready to go. And so I went!

I always told people internships were key to getting a job and they were…three years ago. A ton has changed in the magazine industry since then and a lot of my friends who graduated six months after I did had four or five great internships and never got jobs. It’s crazy. But an internship did get me my job. “A million girls would die for that job.” Yep…yep, I know. I was one of the lucky ones.

“So…what do you do all day?”

Nearly every day, I’d wake up at 5:45 so I could go to the gym. Well, first things first, I’d check my Blackberry to get an idea how much of a shitstorm I was in for that day. After shower, breakfast, etc. I’d hop on the train and then check my Blackberry as soon as exiting the subway and regaining a signal to further understand the conditions of the incoming shitstorm.

Once I got into work, I’d get the interns started on assignments in the accessories closet and then it was anything goes! 95 percent of my job was done at my desk so I rarely left it; if I did it was to go to the closet. And when I was in the closet, I had my Blackberry in hand. (I don’t think I’ll ever lose the Pavlovian response to panic when my Blackberry goes off.) The closet, by the way, was not all white and lights like you see on TV. It looked like a Salvation Army…but with thousands and thousands of dollars worth of accessories.

My exact tasks on any given day depended on what we were working on, but my overall job was to get in/return all the accessories samples the stylists used for photo shoots. Easier said than done — we were generally working on several shoots at once and each typically involved thousands of samples, which were quite often going to and from foreign countries. My job involved a ton of logistics. I was constantly stalking Luis, our messenger coordinator, begging him to let me know when the Louboutins would be delivered to me. If it was faster to send an intern, I’d send one in a car with instructions to scurry as fast as her little heels could carry her. (And when I was an intern, oh, how I scurried.)

The most exhausting/stressful part of my job was keeping the stylists happy; sometimes I had to basically promise my firstborn child to PR companies to get what the stylist wanted. (Which they often didn’t end up shooting anyway — soul-crushing.) And working to keep people happy is hard; it puts you in a constant state of insecurity and self-doubt.

I also had to track all those samples and make sure everything came back from the photo shoots; with grabby celebs or tons of greedy people on set, it didn’t always happen. The days the trunks came back from a big photo shoot, I went to work with a big knot in my stomach.

The other big part of my job was getting insurance on all the fine jewelry and coordinating the guards for photo shoots; it was complicated and just something that could not be messed up. If, say, a $40,000 ring went missing, it needed to be insured. My bosses had a lot of trust in me to get it right.

Besides doing that stuff, I was also the personal assistant for two of my bosses, so that meant booking flights and cars and doing their schedules for Fashion Week. Luckily, they were amazingly cool, low-maintenance, and reasonable. They did everything they could to protect me from the crazy stylists or editors and they really worked with me as much as possible. This isn’t to say I never got my shit chewed out; I did. But when it came from them, it was pretty much always justified. (Although sometimes other editors just tortured me for fun.) They were awesome women and I learned so much from them; I will always be grateful for being able to be their assistant. I was really, really lucky.

When my friends visited the city they would ask if they could meet me for lunch but I never actually went to lunch; I always ate at my desk. Sometimes a PR company would take me out to breakfast which was always really nice, but I was stressed the entire time, worrying that all hell was breaking loose in the office. I didn’t want to be away from my desk.

“So do you work like 9 to 5?

I worked “9 till I’m done.” Some (blessed, blissful, rare) days that meant 6:00. Most days it meant 7:30 or 8:00. Plenty of days it meant 9:00 or 10:00; I wasn’t usually there past 10, although it did happen. (And this was my experience as the luckiest assistant; most assistants were there way later, and at other magazines, they assistants were regularly there until midnight and later.) Around 6:00, we’d often like stretch, drink a Diet Coke, put on a Britney video on YouTube, and then say, “OK…time to start the night shift!” My bosses were super cool and reasonable women so it’s not like they wanted me to be there all night; it was just the nature of the job. But it was so frustrating to never know when I’d be leaving. Last-minute shoots popped up all the time so I might think a day was nearly over and then…nope! Wrong! We’re shooting in Paris tomorrow and we need everything from Fendi that literally was just on the runway in Milan. And it’s fur, so it’s going to have to clear customs. And Europe is several hours ahead so everything is closed for the day. And…go!

Not every day was crazy and there were some times when we literally had nothing to do for an entire week. We’d organize the closet for hours and then just gossip at our desks. What sucked about this is that we always knew the next big thing was coming. It was a calm before the storm and we just had to wait it out. A week later, things would be out of control again and it was like, “I wish I could have been working on this last week.”

Some days I was just astounded by the amount of things I would accomplish. That work ethic is something that also sticks with me and it was hard for me to slow down and get used to a world where things don’t happen immediately.

At the end of the day, I’d take the train home to my apartment and make dinner, make my lunch for the next day, and then just hang out with my roommate for a couple hours, usually discussing our lack of boyfriends and lack of money before going to bed around 10:00 so I could get up early to work out. Occasionally we did things on weeknights, but usually I didn’t want to risk being tired at work the next day. I needed a ton of energy to get through a day.

“How much did you make?”

Taboo? Yes. But if you want to work at a magazine, you need to know. I started out at $23K + overtime. In New York City. Now, the thing was, you could make a lot money working overtime. But it also meant that you were…working a ton of overtime. So it was like, “Oh, great, I’m not poor this week…but I hate my life.” Also, right around the time I left, they were really threatening our overtime. (And this was an industry-wide thing.) In the interest of not laying anyone off, we were discouraged from working overtime. But…we had to work overtime. The job just couldn’t be done in 40 hours a week.

So that’s the low-down on a typical day, but there are a lot more questions to answer…like the more fun, gossipy ones! I’m going to post on that throughout this week because I’m sure you’re dying to know some juicy stuff. And yeah, there will be no sugarcoating it…fashion girls don’t really go for extra sugar, you know? Too many calories.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Julia @ www.britbride.com May 24, 2010 at 7:41 am

Fab post. I used to be a fashion assistant at London Glamour, so I know where you are coming from. It will be a useful post for people starting out to see its not all glamour and parties!

Julia
http://www.britbride.com
.-= Julia @ http://www.britbride.com´s last blog ..Marathon Training – WEEK 4 – and an announcement =-.

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2 Abby May 24, 2010 at 9:08 am

I SO know what you are talking about when it comes to long hours. I interned at People’s Revolution in the summer of 2008 and I don’t think I ever worked a 9-5 day. Its great you’re writing about this because so many people want to get into the “glamourous” world of the fashion industry. However, many don’t realize how you need to pay your dues before that is even a remote possibility. Love this post and your blog!

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3 D May 24, 2010 at 10:48 am

awesome post, i LOVE the variety in your posts now! what was your decision to leave based on?

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4 MelissaNibbles May 24, 2010 at 10:56 am

But did Meryl throw her coat at you?

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5 Rachel May 24, 2010 at 11:16 am

@Melissa and @Rachel… I will answer all those questions throughout the week! There is seriously so much to say I had to break it up!! :)

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6 Rachel Marlena May 24, 2010 at 11:13 am

Did you face a lot of pressure to be thin there? I know you have mentioned before that it was not a particularly healthy environment in terms of body image/food, but did you PERSONALLY get pressure or was it just an industry-wide accepted notion?

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7 Janna May 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm

I always wanted to intern at a fashion magazine! Just to see what it would be like.

Excited to read more :)

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8 Bukola November 9, 2010 at 8:04 pm

You’re lucky you got a job in NYC straight out of school, most people don’t. I interned at ABC and Fox News Channel and interviewed at top places, but no dice. Oh well. I notice a lot of companies are always looking for interns- they use them all year round. I think most places just use interns to do the grunt work they don’t want to do, instead of hiring full-time or part-time people. Especially with all the layoffs and the recession.

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9 Rachel November 9, 2010 at 8:49 pm

That is DEFINITELY true. When I worked at ELLE and they started cutting our overtime, they were just like, “Hire more interns.”

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10 Rachel June 6, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Hello Rachel! I loved your post, and I was wondering what you majored in during college? I know it is a personal question but I am currently a high school student and very much interested in going into this profession! Thank you so much!
-Rachel

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11 Rachel June 8, 2013 at 7:50 am

I majored in journalism!

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