So you’ve caught the modelling bug but you’re not really sure how to move forward. Whether you’re interested in following a career in modelling or if it’s something you’d like to do in your spare time it’s important you know some of the inside info before you start out.
Firstly, a little bit about me… (Feel free to skip if you want to get straight to the tips!)
My name is Lucy Scarfe and I am a professional* model based in London, UK. (*I feel like I’m at the stage now where I can call myself a professional as I have been doing paid assignments for various brands/clients for the last 8 years or so!)
I was born and raised in Norfolk. My parents weren’t in the entertainment or fashion industry and so when I discovered my love of modelling/acting I had to learn how to make it in the industry by myself. I remember when I went to see my career’s advisor at school and told her that I wanted to work in the entertainment industry and she told me, ‘Sorry, but I don’t have any information on that, perhaps you’d like to be a drama teacher instead?’ I realised then that I would have to go it alone. I knew I should surround myself with the arts so I decided to join my local amateur dramatics club to help with my confidence and to meet like-minded people. I also started dance classes and got more involved with my school productions. After some online research, I begged my mum to let me do the Summer School at The Sylvia Young Theatre School in London and she agreed. It was a fantastic experience and I learnt a lot! When I returned, I finally got the courage to audition for my school’s annual Christmas pantomime and I ended up with the lead role! I realised then I was going down the right path. After completing my A-Levels in Art, English Language & Literature, Theatre Studies and Performing Arts, I decided to enrol in a Foundation Degree in Performing Arts in my local city Norwich. To be honest, the course wasn’t quite for me and I decided to leave just before the end to move to London. I knew that London had more opportunities for me and acting/modelling is one of those rare jobs where you don’t actually need a Degree to ‘make it’ in the industry. (Don’t get me wrong it’s great to have a degree as a back-up plan, so if you’re studying right now keep going as you never know if you’ll want to fall back on it later)
Soon after settling in London, I began approaching agencies for representation. I remember sending out a mass email to as many agencies as I could and getting very little response. I just didn’t have the experience or portfolio at this point so I then knew what I had to do…
I think it’s good to point out before we begin that there is no ‘proper’ way of getting into the industry – but these are the steps that I took. Also it’s important to note that unless you are Cara Delevingne or Gigi Hadid a lot of models have a second job to help them get by. (Bills have to be paid!) Don’t feel ashamed to work part time in a restaurant or shop whilst you’re following your dream. Often models like to find other flexible work within the industry like being an actor, dancer, singer, stylist, photographer, musician, writer, artist etc. It’s great because these skills often overlap in the creative industry and are an additional way of getting your foot in the door. I, myself do stand-in (body doubling) for actors in movies as a side-line career. If you can find a job that works around being a model then it will take the pressure off your ‘ordinary life’.
Ok, so I know what you’re thinking…
Where do I begin?
Well firstly there are a few things you need to consider.
What kind of a model are you?
In the modelling industry, there are different types of models, it’s important to establish which one you think you might be:
These are the kind of models you will see in a typical issue of Vogue or Elle. They are usually very tall and slim. To be a female editorial model unless you have a really unique look you should really be a minimum 5ft 9in in height. For a male usually 5ft 11in minimum. Basically the taller the better. The biggest designers in the world use fashion models like Armani, Marc Jacobs, Prada, Gucci etc which is why only the best, most elite models will ever make a career in this sector of the industry. Whilst being the most financially rewarding it’s also the most challenging and ideally you have to have the whole package – a great body, symmetrical face, defined cheekbones and the jawline of a god.
A Runway/Catwalk model is similar to a fashion model height wise, but you’ve got to learn how to walk properly. It’s not as simple as it sounds. Professional runway models walk effortlessly in heels and in sometimes ridiculous outfits and manage to keep a neutral expression. It can be hard. Also, it tends to be more about the clothes the model is wearing and less about the model. The model is the mannequin and although their look should embody the brand they should not draw attention away from the clothes. (Unless you walk for Victoria’s Secret that is!) Oh and you have to fit the designer’s clothes to be booked for the show, so if they don’t fit then it’s likely they will look elsewhere.
Commercial Model (Me!)
This is my sector, it’s much more laid back as you can be pretty much any age, size or height. (Yippee!) Sometimes Commercial Models are also called ‘Real Models’. To be an ideal commercial model whatever your age/height/look you should have good hair, skin and teeth in this field as your assignments will often include being the face for those everyday, high street brands or house hold products! Your job is advertise the product (whatever it is) and to make people want to buy it. (That’s why commercial models are always smiling!) I believe this sector of the industry holds the most regular work for models. Companies are always going to need their products advertised / modelled. TV commercials, magazines, catalogues, clothing websites are some of the jobs you should expect to undertake as a commercial model. Tip: Having acting experience helps if you have to audition for a role in an advert.
Plus Size Model
Plus Size modelling has really made its mark in the industry over the last few years. Many designers have recognised the need to use plus size models in their campaigns to target their ‘normal’, every-day consumers. Plus-size clothes wearers can relate to plus size models and are more likely to buy from a brand where the clothes are advertised by a model who are more their size. Most agencies nowadays have a plus size division as the work in this field is increasing. Plus Size in the ‘modelling world’ surprisingly starts from a Size 12 upwards. (That’s the industry for you!)
Another specialist type of modelling but there’s work out there for it, certainly. If you think you’re too short to model, perhaps being a petite model is for you. Pretty much every high street clothing store sells petite clothes and someone has to model it. Petite models rarely do runway modelling so if you’re short and are hoping to walk for Ralph Lauren’s new season collection, I’m afraid it’s probably not going to happen! However, commercial modelling may also be a great alternative for you with a lot more opportunities.
Pretty self-explanatory! If you’re a child model (under 18) will need a parent or chaperone to legally accompany you on shoots and castings. There’s a lot of work out there for child models. Particularly, if you’re confident, have lots of personality and are comfortable working around new people. (If you’re a red-headed child that’s a massive bonus!) There are agencies that primarily represent child models too.
Lingerie / Swimwear Model
Lingerie and swimwear models tend to be a bit curvier and more voluptuous than editorial models. Think Marilyn Monroe, slim but curvy (if you get what I mean!) Swimsuit models make great fitting / showroom models too, which I’ll get on to later! – Oh and glamour models!
A genuine interest in fitness is normally required, especially if you’re booked to model for a sports brand or health / fitness magazine. Fitness models obviously need be athletic, have a great physique, be toned and for the men, muscly. Someone who is a dancer, personal trainer, athlete or regular gym goer would be ideal as a fitness model. Plus if you’re a fitness model on Instagram you’re likely to get sponsored by weight loss or fitness companies too. These companies often pay fitness models to promote their products, (it’s a great way to get free work out clothes, supplements or protein powder!) There are agencies that specialise in representing fitness models too.
If you’re browsing magazines at your local newsagent, you’re sure to spot a glamour model gracing the cover of a lad’s mag or two! Glamour models, like swimsuit/lingerie models have great bodies, with curves in all the right places! Playboy, FHM, Loaded etc are the kind of magazines glamour models can expect to get photo shoots for. As a glamour model your job is to allure the reader so if you’re shy and aren’t comfortable with your body, then this isn’t the job for you. Tip: Glamour modelling is potentially the riskiest side to the modelling industry so if you’re planning on going down this route, please proceed with caution!
Sounds dodgy but it’s not! Have you ever been told you have nice hands? Feet? Eyes? Or teeth? If so, perhaps parts modelling would be right up your street. I know models that specialise in just being a hand model! (Crazy, right?!) But think about it there’s so much potential photographic work for hands. Holding technology, eg: phones, laptops, tablets. Or modelling nails / jewellery. Even holding food, perhaps for a cookery book or food commercial! If you’re thinking of becoming a parts model, its integral that you look after your best feature as it’s your main money maker! (I read that the Fairy Liquid Hand Model makes up to £5,000 a day!)
Just because you’re a tad older, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a model. In fact, I genuinely believe it’s easier to gain work as a mature model than as a younger model as there’s less competition around. A mature model starts from 30 years + (Yep that young) and they can expect to gain work until well into their 80’s/90’s! Mature Models can get booked for well paid campaigns and tv commercials. Many brands like to use older models as they are more relatable to the public. A lot of family tv commercials tend to have parent / grandparent models. Now I’ve told you, you won’t un-see it! Mature models also fall into the commercial model category.
When you’re at a trade show, convention or live sporting event and you see a model promoting a product or service, that’s a promotional model. It’s one of the easier areas of the industry to get work in and it’s possible to make a regular wage from it. A model from a sales background would make a perfect promo model as you may be required to talk about the product to potential buyers. Someone who is friendly and approachable would be an ideal promotional model. Promotional models can be referred to as brand ambassadors.
Fitting / Showroom Model
A fit model shouldn’t be confused with a fitness model. Many people may not realise that there are models who specialise in working behind-the-scenes with garment manufacturers. Their job is to make sure the sizing and fit of an item of clothing is maintained during the manufacturing process. It’s an important job that requires models that are of the same dress size all over. No particular size… you can be a size 6 or a 26 but you have to be that same clothes size all over your body. If your waist size is not in size proportion to your hips size then clothing manufacturers can’t use you as a template size for their clothes. This type of modelling doesn’t require you to be editorial-looking as any photos taken won’t be seen in public but you will need to be able to maintain your measurements to secure a regular gig. You will be expected to try on a lot of clothes and comment on the fit and feel of them. Showroom models are very similar but their job also includes showcasing the clothes to multiple clients in a day.
Instagram Model / Influencer
I can’t believe I’m actually doing a section for this but social media is expanding like never before and many unsigned models are finding paid work through sites like Instagram. What was once just a sea of mindless selfies is fast becoming a money-making machine for people all over the world. Many guys and girls who wouldn’t ordinarily be signed to modelling agencies can make money and secure sponsorship deals purely down to what they post on social media. Instagram models use their popularity and creativity to try and sell a product or service. They may get compensated in exchange for gifted products or paid per post/ad. The more genuine followers and public engagement you have the more companies will organically approach you about being an influencer / ambassador for their brand. It’s all about YOU reaching THEIR target audience. Technically speaking, YOU are the brand/product. And you need to market yourself and your profile in that way if you want to go solo (ie without an agent). Also, having a blog or website link in your instagram bio is a great way to gain interest too. Tip: Buying followers won’t increase your social engagement and companies are quick to spot the fakers! If you want to try your luck at being an Instagram model, then remember that you’re your own manager and whatever image you put out there of yourself is there forever, so remember to have some integrity in what you’re posting!
Now that you’ve decided what kind of modelling you’d like to pursue (if I’ve forgotten any, feel free to message me)…let’s talk about what the next stage is.
So you’re set on being a [fill in the blank] model. But where do you begin?
Which agencies are legit, which are scam artistes? Well, if you’re based in the UK like me would recommend you buy the book called ‘Contacts’ published by Spotlight. It’s a great book that lists all the genuine modelling/acting agencies in the UK. If you’d rather not invest though, have a look on google but believe me there will no end of modelling / talent agencies you’ll need to sift through.
But can you just join an agency without professional photos? Well in some circumstances, yes you can particularly if you’re young. BUT only if you have the look the agency are looking for at that very moment. Eg. Remember when Georgia May Jagger’s smile was all over the Rimmel adverts?! Yes, well having gappy teeth became the in-thing for a while. If you’ve got the look the agency are after at that time you may be in with a shot. If not, don’t despair as there are other ways to get noticed.
Walk in session – A lot of agencies do a walk in session certain days of the week where (you guessed it) you can walk in to the agency office without a booking in an attempt to get signed. It can be a somewhat daunting experience as a newbie as you’re sure to pass some stunning, leggy models in the office collecting their new model cards and chatting with the bookers. Trust me, if you go in there expecting rejection then you’ll survive in this industry. Tip: Dress your usual self go with natural hair and minimal makeup and let your personality shine through. Oh and take some heels with you too as they are likely to take a few polaroid shots of you when you’re there. Polaroid shots usually involve the model standing against a plain backdrop and being photographed from each angle. Eg, Front, Back, Side, Close up of face, profile of face. It’s probs best you have some plain leggings and a vest top with you to show off your figure. If you already have a portfolio of images then take that with you too on a memory stick. If not then best you read the next step…
Test Shoot (aka TFP / Collab Shoot)
Test Shoots are what I would recommend to any aspiring model. I started out doing them and I still do them now. Not only are they a way of practising your craft, but also way of expanding your portfolio. If you are lucky enough to get signed to an agency without a portfolio of images expect your agent to book you on a few test shoots. (These are unpaid shoots where the photographer and model both work for free in return for images) No money exchanges hands and it’s an agencies way of finding out how well you work in front of the camera and to start building a bank of images for your profile to show to potential clients. If you’re not agency-represented then you can use free casting websites such as StarNow.com or ModelMayhem.com to find photographers who are interested in collaborating too. Tip: Instagram is also a great way of messaging photographers you like to see if they are interested in doing a test shoot with you too – just be careful!
BEWARE OF SCAMMERS!
SADLY, THERE ARE MANY SCAM AGENCIES OUT THERE THAT MAY ASK YOU FOR AN UPFRONT PAYMENT TO JOIN THEIR BOOKS.. OR INSIST THAT BEFORE THEY CAN SIGN YOU YOU NEED TO PAY FOR AN IN-HOUSE PHOTO SHOOT WITH THEIR PHOTOGRAPHER (SOMETIMES COSTING SEVERAL HUNDRED OF POUNDS!) THEY MAY ALSO SAY IT’S AN ADMIN FEE BUT I’M TELLING YOU NOW NO AGENCY WHO GENUINELY THINKS THEY CAN FIND YOU WORK WILL ASK FOR ANY SORT OF UPFRONT FEE. SOMETIMES THOUGH AN ADMIN OR A ‘BOOK FEE’ WILL COME OUT OF YOUR FIRST JOB WITH THE AGENCY – THIS IS PERFECTLY NORMAL. MAKE SURE YOU TAKE THE TIME TO READ AND UNDERSTAND THE CONTRACT AN AGENCY GIVES YOU, ITS OK TO ASK QUESTIONS. OR EVEN TO DECLINE AN OFFER. JUST DON’T BE THAT PERSON WHO FINDS OUT THE HARD WAY. Tip: Trust your instincts. If something seems dodgy then it probably is.
Once you’ve started getting a portfolio of diverse photos together you should start applying for your favourite agencies online. Some require you to fill out a form via their website and others may want you to email them directly with your measurements and photos. Best you get a tape measure and write down all your measurements! Don’t guess and don’t lie, they’ll only find out if they call you in for a meeting! If the agency scout thinks you’re model material they will usually ask you to attend a meeting or casting at their office so they can see you in person. Just like a walk-in session, go with any good quality photos you may have and dress appropriately and for your figure. If the agency think your pics say enough, they may sign you without you having to go and meet them. (Bonus!)
If you’re not having much luck with the agencies or you prefer being your own boss there are plenty of models that work as a freelance model.
You can only do freelance modelling if your agent is a ‘non-exclusive’ agency. It basically means you are not exclusive to just model for them so you can join other agencies and find work elsewhere. If your agency is an ‘exclusive’ or ‘sole’ agency it means you are exclusive to them and cannot market yourself to other clients without their knowledge.
So, if you’re unsigned or are with a non-exclusive agency you are entitled to find your own freelance work. How you do this is entirely up to you. I do freelance modelling work and I have my own website with my portfolio on. Remember you are the product so you need to sell your best side to the client. If you’re feeling bold email local designers asking them if they need models for their next campaign. Enter modelling competitions / pageants anything you think will help you gain exposure for free. Apply to your own castings online, StarNow, Model Mayhem, Casting Call Pro (Now called Mandy) and Spotlight are great for this!
I hope I have provided a small insight into the world modelling and the different ways of getting your foot in the door! It’s now up to you to decide what path you want to take. Whatever you decide to do, remember that perseverance is the key and most importantly stay safe! 🙂
Good Luck! x