Those who are interested in getting work as a model often wonder what kind of fame and fortune awaits them. It’s easy to picture a glamorous life, full of designer clothes but the reality can be a little different, as there is a wide spectrum of work in the modeling industry – from the supermodels earning millions to those who are barely earning at all.
Modeling is not a straightforward profession to describe. There are a lot of different facets of the industry, depending on which direction you want to go in. If we were to simplify it as much as possible, we might say that a model’s job is to look as good as possible to promote clothing and lifestyle items. However, this really is too simplistic and ignores a lot of the more complex aspects of the job.
Before we can even get on to discussing model salary, we should start by defining the two main ways that people get work in the industry. The first is through an agency, which you may well be familiar with as a concept.
The model has an agent who is assigned to find them work. They are often on the books with a number of other models who may have similar or different looks to theirs. A client will get in touch with the agent and request a specific look; it is then the agent’s task to offer models who they think will suit the brief. If the client likes you, and you are available, then you may get the job. You will, however, have to pay some of your fees over to your agent in return for their work.
The other type of modeling work is freelance. If you are a freelancer, you are solely in control of finding your own work. This means that you may have to work harder to find jobs, as clients are not likely to come directly to you. You will have to seek out opportunities and castings and put yourself forward for them, which may mean attending a lot of auditions without getting in. The benefit, of course, is that you get to keep the full fee that you are paid.
It is debatable whether a model can earn more as a freelancer or with an agency. It may well be down to either personal preference, or whether you can even manage to get signed with an agency at all. Competition for these spots is fierce and you may be dropped from your agency if you do not perform well.
Generally speaking, the highest-paid models in the world are signed with agencies. After you reach a certain level, you may be working so much that you do not have time to look for opportunities. This is when it will be useful for you to have an agent doing it for you!
There are a huge number of modeling niches to choose from. We will do our best to cover as many as possible here, though be aware that there may even be more if you want to find a very specific niche.
- Runway models
These models walk the catwalk in designer clothes during events. You must be able to change very quickly backstage (and not be embarrassed about others watching you change), and prepared to wear outlandish, revealing, or unflattering clothes. You are a vehicle for demonstrating the fashion, and it is not about you. You must have a strong walk, you must be tall and slim, and you must fit the sample size clothes that the designer creates. Your job will likely take several hours, from hair and makeup through to rehearsals and then the show itself, which can be over in a matter of thirty minutes or less. Some models are paid as much as $20,000 per show, while others might not be paid at all, depending on the designer.
- Editorial models
When you open the pages of a fashion magazine, you will see editorial spreads that are used to tell a story about clothing or showcase new trends. Editorial models fall under different requirements for catwalk models and will be paid differently. You can expect around $100 per hour if you are doing well. Starting model salary may be much lower, even $20 per hour, and you may have to work for free at first to get your portfolio.
- Commercial or advertising models
This type of modeling can be very well-paid, with an average of $200 per hour. Again, you may earn less for smaller brands, or more for nationwide campaigns. You will need to learn about the different types of payments offered on advertising shoots, which can cover different regions, different media, lengths of time, and so on. A clever agent or model negotiating for themselves can make a successful advertising campaign continue to pay the longer it is shown.
- Catalog models
When you shop online or through a catalog, you will see models wearing the clothes to demonstrate how they look. This can be very steady work as you will be called back in for new product releases and can shoot hundreds of looks a week. You must conform to standard sizes, and usually, a more generic look is preferred – so if you have a striking or outlandish face, you may be better off working editorially.
- Fit models
Fit models are used to determine the fit of clothes and make sure that they look correct. You may be able to double up this work with catalog work. For a fit model, your face is not at all important, only the precise sizing of your body.
- Parts models
Hands, feet, arms and legs, lips, eyes, hair, even parts of the torso – parts models work with just a small portion of their body rather than the whole thing. They may cover more than one part, or focus on just the part of their body which is most attractive. A hand model salary could be very different from a foot model or an eye model, so it is difficult to put a figure on this. It is very niche work and requires hard work, physical discomfort, and determination to succeed – as well as being extremely protective of the part that you model.
- Live event models
Live events such as car shows, exhibitions, and trade fairs often need models to attract attention. Sometimes known as grid girls (at car events), promo girls, promo models, or so on, they will work long days and are not always paid well. You will be expected to pose for pictures with members of the public and keep a smile at all times.
- TV models
It’s not as common as it used to be, but gameshows will sometimes still send out an attractive woman to show off the prizes. While we don’t know the difference between the Price Is Right models salary or the Deal or No Deal models Salary, they are likely to be paid well – though not nearly as well as a TV show host. The job may only last for a short amount of time, which also means that the overall salary may not be as high as expected, but it does guarantee more exposure.
- Lingerie models
It’s worth noting lingerie models as a separate category because they can often earn as much as double as their fully-clothed counterparts while undertaking the same kind of work (such as runway, editorial, commercial, etc). Victoria’s Secret model salary is one of the highest in the industry.
The working environment can differ greatly from day to day, as well as from job to job. This is because the work is different every week! You might be shooting a swimsuit look in the Bahamas and having a great time, or shivering in Canadian snow without a coat to get the shot.
One thing is for certain, and that is that models have to look after themselves. You will sometimes be given refreshments and looked after by a runner or assistant, but not always. You may have to supply your own food and drink, keep yourself warm and dry, or simply endure physical discomfort until the work is done.
If you are not cut out for this kind of environment, you may not succeed. Walking away from a set because you’re too cold or tired may affect your reputation, which is everything in the fashion industry.
Factors Affecting Model Salaries
There are a great number of factors which might affect your salary. They include, but are by no means limited to, the following:
- Gender – Male models tend to earn less, as a rule.
- Time spent working – You may not even be working one day a week, or you could be working seven days a week, depending on how good you or your agent is at getting bookings.
- Industry-level – Indie and small brands are sure to pay less than the bigger fashion houses which are already well-established with a good budget, meaning you can’t earn as much at the start of your career.
- Location – Working in one of the fashion capitals of the world (London, New York, Paris, Milan, etc) will likely get you a higher model salary than somewhere where modeling is not as well-established.
- Your appearance – You may be judged to be worth more or less depending on how well you fit the required look and size.
- Negotiation ability – If you negotiate a good contract, you can potentially earn a lot more. If you don’t negotiate at all, you could end up being low-paid compared to your potential.
- Agency – If you are a freelancer or if you have an agent that takes a low cut, or if your agent takes a high cut, then you could be paid more or less.
- Cost of work – Models often have expenses taken out of their salaries. These can include things like flights, taxis and cars, food, accommodation, and so on, especially when travel to another city is required.
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Average Model Salaries
Ziprecruiter’s figures range from as high as $401,500 to as low as $11,000, with an average model salary of $125,457 in the US. Indeed states that the average hourly model salary is $23.55, although their figures do include adult modeling jobs which may skew the number higher. Top-level models can easily command several hundred dollars per hour, if not more, depending on the job and their status. Someone like Kate Moss, for example, has entered a level of fame where her face is instantly recognizable – and for this reason, she will be paid not just as a model but also as a celebrity. Her salary has been reported in the millions on an annual basis, though of course, she is far above the average.
Throughout the US, there are certain areas where you will see higher hourly rates or more jobs available. New York and Los Angeles tend to have the most work, with an average model salary of $25 an hour reported in California.
We can approach the model salary per year figures with a little bit of caution, as they are usually calculated on the idea of a 40-hour workweek at the hourly rate reported. It’s actually rare for models to work this much! That means that the real average model salary per year is likely a lot lower than it appears.
It is possible to make a lot of money as a model – even to become a millionaire. The reality for many models is a lot lower. However, if you are determined to work hard, keep in shape, and push your career to the limit, you could easily earn as much or more than you would in an office job. This is a great motivating factor for many models.
Make sure to have a back-up plan in mind, as modeling often has an expiration date for most models. When you are judged to be too old, your salary will plunge or could dwindle away altogether.
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