Representing the creative future

The Stressed Stylist on memes and the ugly truth of fashion styling

We spoke anonymously with the creator of the viral fashion meme account and talked about the most problematic parts of the industry

The job of a stylist is notoriously one of the hardest career pathways in fashion. A big part of a stylist’s and fashion editor’s journey is assisting, and anyone who has worked on a set or in a PR firm is aware that being a styling assistant is not a glamorous position. Kind email after kind email to beg for a “must have” look from a PR that has a list of ready-made lies to give in return, travelling around the city on cramped buses and trains with hands full of heavy bags, making sure not to lose the tiny box with a hand-made golden ring that “perfectly encapsulates the vibe of the shoot”. In the best-case scenario, the fashion assistant receives some cash, a sandwich the model didn’t want to eat, and, of course, a bit of “exposure”! No complaints, you signed up for this, you need this experience to network and progress. Styling is as exhaustive as it gets and it must be one of the most underestimated and ignored professions in our industry, often seen as frivolous and easy.

The horror stories of patronising mistreatment or irrational requests are so frequent, that it has become a norm for fashion assistants to feel humiliated, not so talented, or not worthy of more. The toxic hierarchy of the editorial world means you rely entirely on your superiors to advance your career. This makes it impossible for this cohort of the industry to speak up. A wave of confessions did happen some years ago, but the narrative was again shoved under the carpet as the pandemic turned freelance gigs into a rare, precious opportunity one could not risk losing in the name of working rights.

It makes total sense that styling-centred meme accounts became the only medium to express frustration. Cleverly put in images and text, and protected by anonymity and humour, one can scroll through and relate to the bitter truths of fashion. Memes have been the main communication channel for creatives to laugh-cry about the industry’s core issues for quite a while. Some might call it a coping mechanism. Former stylist Tallulah Harlech talked with one of the most viral meme accounts Stressed Stylist over Instagram DMs about how memes help fashion professionals cope and the creative process behind the content which ‒ just like the part of the industry it covers ‒ is not as appreciated as it should be.

TH: OK so, what got you started on the idea to create Stressed Stylist?

SS: It all started as a joke. I am a devoted meme lover so one day I decided to give it a try and created an account to share them. I was blown away by the response. Stylists are often neglected in the fashion industry and outside of it most people don’t even know this job exists, so maybe in a way other than becoming a community for people who do this job, my page has also risen awareness and created a more public platform for us.

“I feel like memes are a way to escape from everyday stress, a lot of other people who work in the fashion industry DM me to tell me they are “so relatable”, and they make them laugh through the pain.” – The Stress Stylist

TH: I understand; stylists are the silent magicians whose names aren’t ever remembered beyond the inner sanctum of those in fashion… I always think of that when I look at iconic images by Avedon or Penn. Their names are remembered and revered, as are the models’, but never beyond that. 

Have you noticed a difference in recent years with the type of memes people suggest you use? Where are the sorts of things you get DM’d about by other stylists?

SS: Some memes go viral and become a trend and some are evergreens. I try to do a little of both, keeping up with what is new but also I have a king of the archive where I keep all of the famous memes images I know and might use again! I feel like memes are a way to escape from everyday stress, a lot of other people who work in the fashion industry DM me to tell me they are “so relatable”, and they make them laugh through the pain. It’s quite hard especially for freelancers to make a living in this industry, being overworked, underpaid, having to constantly chase payments… And with the pandemic, it was a true struggle for many people. I was surprised to see how much I connected with other people in the industry simply by making memes. I feel like memes can really bring people together somehow.

“It’s quite hard especially for freelancers to make a living in this industry, being overworked, underpaid, having to constantly chase payments…” – The Stressed Stylist

TH: You’ve created a wonderful community out of a kind of comedic pain we’ve all related to. What are your thoughts on styling as one of the main jobs in fashion? Would you recommend it to people who think they want to get into it?

SS: Styling is a beautiful creative job but unfortunately extremely overlooked. I went to fashion school and we didn’t have any class on that, it was never mentioned even though it’s one of the main jobs in fashion. I started as an assistant for a stylist I met totally by chance, and that’s how I learned that this job existed! I wish more people inside and outside of the industry could acknowledge and appreciate the important role stylists have in creating the inspiring images we see in fashion magazines, and the iconic looks of celebrities of the past and present.

“I love this job but sadly, I feel like it’s one of those jobs that’s only accessible to the privileged. ” – The Stress Stylist

I love this job but sadly, I feel like it’s one of those jobs that’s only accessible to the privileged. Not everyone can afford to go to fashion school (especially when most of them are private) or to spend months or even years working as an underpaid intern when the cost of living keeps getting higher and higher everywhere. I was lucky enough to have a family that supported me during fashion school and while I was assisting, but I know I am privileged for this. I hope this will change and interns will stop being asked to work for free or for ridiculous pay, it’s unfair how this is so normalized, especially within creative jobs.

That said, I think it’s a beautiful job that can be very rewarding and fun, even more so when you get to work with passionate, inspiring, creative people. It’s not easy to earn your spot in the industry and reach financial stability (I’m still struggling with this myself), but whenever I meet anyone with the same passion I encourage them to give it a try!

TH: What are your favourite Stressed Stylist memes you’ve posted in the past and why do you love them? 

Within creative jobs a lot of people expect you to work for free, especially at the start, taking advantage of those who are trying to build a portfolio, mentioning exposure as an incentive. I really hope this will change because it is honestly very unfair to expect people to work with no compensation. As we said, this makes the job accessible only to those who can afford not having an income. It does make sense to work with like-minded people for editorial projects, to practice and bring new ideas to life, but when it comes to brands it’s something I don’t condone.

It is very surprising to me that even though the stylist has a key role in any fashion production, we are often not credited and overlooked. It’s funny because celebrities never forget to give credit to their “glam team” but very rarely tag their stylist, who put a lot of effort and research into the looks they wear. I’ve been seeing some improvements in that area, so hopefully, it’s getting better and stylists will get the recognition they deserve.

E-commerce shoots are long and repetitive and boring, there’s very little creativity involved, just product codes and very basic photography. It’s something I think nobody enjoys doing. But it is usually many days of work so it does pay quite well at least!

Sometimes the client wants to be involved in every decision during a shoot and doesn’t seem to trust the team they hired. I was joking about that and how sometimes it’s really painful because their taste doesn’t align with what you had in mind. But of course, it’s part of our job to make the client happy so you always have to listen and do your best to make it work.

That is a meme that someone else made (he is tagged in the post) and I think it is hilarious. As stylists, we request looks by season and by number. For example, the now infamous Balenciaga look 22 is the 22nd look to have walked the runway at their show. The meme jokes about requesting specific looks and getting other looks confirmed, which happens quite often! It’s a struggle only stylists can understand.

With that post, I was joking about clients not being loyal. It happens often that someone you’ve been working with for years stops calling you back. I think it’s quite normal for a brand in an industry like fashion, which changes so fast, to want to work with different people for different seasons and projects… It still hurts though! But no hard feelings!