Wardrobe Stylist Hopes to Dress With Greater Success


Don’t get Michele Gampel wrong. She loves being a wardrobe stylist. After all, how many American women would spurn the opportunity to earn as much as $1,200 a day shopping at Barneys, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s?

Gampel concedes that styling is almost a dream job. Her bookings take her to Hollywood movie sets for promotional shoots and gorgeous outdoor settings for commercial work. She hobnobs with movers and shakers. Her research consists of poring through the world’s top fashion magazines and consulting with leading designers’ reps.

But there’s a money problem. Only a handful of top stylists earn more than $150,000 a year. Most freelancers such as Gampel scramble from job to job for a third of that figure. Pay is unpredictable. Health insurance and retirement benefits aren’t among the profession’s glitzy perks.


To supplement her income, the fortysomething West Hills resident has been teaching at the Make-Up Designory in Toluca Lake and at the Learning Annex. Still, she said, she’s not making enough to support herself and her two boys, Jared, 11, and Landon, 7.

So Gampel is mulling other options. Should she start a business? Venture into other fields? How can she markedly increase her income and benefits?

For help, she consulted counselor Paul Tieger, author of “Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type” (Little Brown & Co., 1995).

“I absolutely love my work and being around the creative energy,” she told Tieger. “It’s in my blood. But when I walk away from this at the end of my career, what will I have to live on other than memories?”

Tieger analyzed Gampel’s personality type. He told her that she was an “ESFP” (extrovert, sensor, feeler, perceiver) who thrives in stimulating, unpredictable, high-energy social settings. Because of this, she’d profit more from expanding her current job functions than from striking out in a new vocation. “We’ve got to get you into a much larger arena,” Tieger said.

Gampel was eager to learn how she could attract new clients and raise her professional profile.

Assisted by a bevy of experts, Tieger had these suggestions to help Gampel transform herself into “Michele Gampel Inc."--a highly visible, intelligently marketed commodity. If she could become the Jake Steinfeld of styling, the Martha Stewart of wardrobe wizardry, Gampel could significantly increase her income, the experts said.

* Diversify. Gampel should consider venturing into TV and film costuming, suggested costume designer Erica Phillips (“Cable Guy,” “Total Recall” and “Robocop”). Gampel restricts her styling stints mainly to print ad and commercial jobs. But TV and film work would offer longer assignments and union benefits.

TV costume designers earn $1,500 to $3,000 a week. Their counterparts in feature film earn more than $3,000. Because Gampel doesn’t want to leave her sons for extended out-of-town assignments, she could focus efforts on trying to land costuming jobs with sitcom productions, said designer Michelle Cole, a four-time Emmy nominee.

Sitcom work usually has shorter hours and is conducted at local sites, Cole said.

“She can get up to speed quickly by hiring seasoned costume supervisors who’ll assist her with the nuts and bolts of the business,” Phillips said. “That’s what other stylists who’ve entered the business before her have done.”

* Tap new markets. Celebrities aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a wardrobe stylist’s wizardry, said Anthony Mora, a West Los Angeles-based media relations expert. He suggests that Gampel consider two new avenues: working as a “corporate stylist” for high-paying business clients and becoming a wardrobe guru who could reveal fashion secrets of the stars to laypeople.

Gampel could perhaps give styling consultations to trial attorneys, after determining the looks that judges, lawyers and juries find most persuasive. She might help wardrobe-challenged buccaneers in the high-tech world dress appropriately. And she could teach salespeople how to dress for success.

Gampel might create a packaged product consisting of a book, workbook, audiotapes or videocassettes that teach step-by-step professional styling techniques. She could market the product through infomercials, catalogs and on the Web. Gampel also could offer consultations by mail or on the Internet, where, for a fee, she could evaluate clients’ looks from photographs and offer suggestions for enhancement.

* Go national or, better yet, international. “High visibility can generate increased income, power and privilege,” says Irving Rein, professor of communications at Northwestern University and co-author of “High Visibility: The Making and Marketing of Professionals into Celebrities” (NTC Business Books, 1997). Rein said that during image-building campaigns--in which unknowns shoot to fame through media manipulation--professionals must successfully sell themselves as products.

What’s made it easier today for people to achieve “well-knownness,” as historian Daniel Boorstin calls it, is the proliferation of media channels. Gampel could advertise her styling expertise on TV, radio, video, cable, satellite feeds, magazines, billboards and the Internet.

Still, the venues that boast of the largest audiences or the greatest prestige are hard to conquer. Gampel may be great at wardrobe styling, spin doctors say, but that’s not enough to land her in Vogue or on “Oprah.” She would have to develop a unique persona and message, as have others who have risen to national attention, such as Anthony Robbins, Susan Powter and Mr. Blackwell. And she would need to come up with story ideas, or angles, that fit the medium she’s pursuing.

Other ways Gampel could publicize her name and styling skills would be to write educational articles or syndicated columns about dressing professionally, initiate a wardrobe tip of the day e-mail list and hold desktop videoconferences for potential clients.

* Address the masses. Gampel could enlarge her client base by offering seminars, workshops, panel discussions and lectures. But first she should polish her presentation skills by conducting free speaking engagements, said Mark Sanborn, president of Sanborn & Associates in Highlands Ranch, Colo., who’s been a professional speaker for 27 years. Gampel shouldn’t be afraid to hire a drama coach to hone her speaking abilities, said Dottie Walters, president of Walters International Speakers Bureau and co-author of “Speak and Grow Rich” (Prentice Hall, 1997).

When she’s ready to speak professionally, Gampel could create an eight-minute demo videotape to show to potential booking clients, Walters said. She should customize her speeches for each audience she faces, added success strategist Peter Lowe of Tampa, Fla. And once she’s managed to rack up 100 engagements that have earned her $2,000 or more in fees, she’d be able to register with speakers’ bureaus, which could land her additional jobs, Walters said.

* Create an online “calling card.” A well-designed Web site could serve as a cyber-billboard for Gampel’s services. Businesses could book Gampel for speaking engagements through the site; laypeople could request consultations.

Gampel told Tieger she’d like to teach online. Although she’s thinking about launching her own virtual school, experts suggested that she first consider affiliating with an organization already operating online classes. Gampel would receive straight fees of up to $2,000 for each class taught, or a percentage of tuition collected for her sessions, while learning how to conduct interactive sessions.

But if Gampel is determined to set up her own teaching site, she should first read manuals such as “Creating the Virtual Classroom: Distance Learning with the Internet” by Lynette Porter; “Building a Web-Based Education System” by Colin McCormack, et al.; and “Web-based Training Cookbook” by Brandon Hall (all published by John Wiley & Sons, 1997), said Mauri Collins, instructional designer at the Center for Learning Technologies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

* Write a book. “Writing a book is almost like adding ‘PhD’ to your name, for the media,” Mora said. “When they have the choice of two experts, they’ll tend to go with the person who’s written a book.” Mora has followed his own advice, writing “The Alchemy of Success” (William Zinn, 1997), which explains how professionals can increase media exposure by becoming authors.

Gampel shouldn’t simply write a generic manuscript about styling tips, said agent Sheree Bykovsky, the author of 12 books, including “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published.” She should scan bookstore shelves to see what’s already been written on the subject, then come up with a fresh angle, instructive in nature, that would be of interest to a wide audience.

At first, Gampel may choose to personally handle her own marketing, or even hire an assistant to help her make calls and mail out queries and publicity kits. But eventually, she may want to hire a publicist to wage a full-blown media campaign. Publicists don’t come cheap; they typically charge $3,000 to $5,000 a month for their services and would ask Gampel to invest between $2,000 and $10,000 for a professional-quality press kit that includes photos, articles and testimonials about her.


Ready for a Change

Name: Michele Gampel

Occupation: Wardrobe stylist

Desired occupation: Wardrobe stylist with greater success and more exposure

Quote: “I love my job. In fact, I’d love to be a wardrobe stylist who works three weeks out of every month consistently. But unfortunately, I don’t think that exists.”

Coach’s recommendations: Expand current vocation. Write, lecture and teach. Strive for national recognition.

Meet the Coach

Paul Tieger is a nationally recognized “personality type” expert and the co-author of “Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type,” which has sold more than 500,000 copies. In the last 20 years, Tieger has trained hundreds of counselors, outplacement consultants and human resource specialists in the use of personality type for vocational assessment.