5 Strategies to Avoid Ageism In Your Fashion Job Search
Ageism in fashion is a legit problem. Depending on who you ask, some people claim that once you hit 35, you’re considered old in our industry. YIKES!
While age discrimination is technically illegal*, it’s pretty hard to prove and you likely won’t have any recourse. No brand is going to come out and say, “we didn’t hire you because of your age.” Instead, you’ll often just get a boilerplate response of, “we found a more qualified candidate.”
So, How Do You Avoid Ageism When Looking For A Fashion Job?
You of course want to follow standard job hunting tips like using keywords and results driven achievements on your resume, personalizing cover letters, and showcasing a relevant portfolio.
But beyond that, there are simple changes you can make to avoid “aging” yourself. You can also consider options outside full-time employment where ageism is less prevalent. We’ll get to other options in a second, but first, let’s look at 5 strategies to make yourself look a little “younger.”
1. Use a modern email address
The first thing that gives away age is a dated email provider like Yahoo, Hotmail, or especially AOL. I’m sure your old dial up memories are just as fond as mine, but it doesn’t belong in your email address.
Set up a free modern email account with gmail and avoid kitschy monikers like “fashionista4life.” Instead, choose something professional such as firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Omit graduation dates
You’re not required to put your graduation date on your resume, and in some states, it’s illegal for an employer to ask.
So skip this detail and instead just include the school name, your major, and any notable details like cum laude.
3. Only include 10 years of work history
While your work experience may be vast and impressive, showing too much indicates you’ve been in the industry for a while and that you’re an “older” candidate.
Like dropping a cute style from the range, axing work history may feel like killing your darlings. But including experience beyond a decade can be just as damaging as producing a design that won’t sell.
So simply remove anything that dates past 10 years, and don’t include “more work history available upon request.” That’s just putting up a different kind of red flag!
4. Remove “dated” projects from your portfolio
I’ve seen 100s of portfolios since I began my fashion career back in 2008. (Yep, I’m in the “old” category too!) And let me tell you, “dated” projects stand out worse than a close-but-not-quite-matching zipper.
Not only do styles look old, there’s just something about the sketches, low resolution scans, and outdated imagery that gives it away.
For specific tips on creating a standout portfolio that attracts brands, check out my free portfolio guide. It’ll show you how to get yours done this weekend.
5. Show that you are tech savvy
While showing tech savvy isn’t as easy as taking a graduation date off your resume, it’s arguably one of the most important things you can do to prevent ageism.
Unless you’re applying for c-suite roles, you’ll need to know Adobe Illustrator and Excel (for tech packs). Depending on the brand, you may get bonus points for having 3d skills or PLM / PDM experience.
Make sure to include relevant digital skills in your portfolio, such as fashion flats, tech pack screenshots, and other work. (And yes, it’s ok to use self-directed projects.)
An Alternative Way To Avoid Ageism In Fashion
Sometimes, no matter what you do to prevent it, you won’t get picked because of your age. Even if you made it to the interview stage, you may get judged solely on how old you “look” or your higher salary requirements. It’s unfair, and I feel you. (I started going gray at 30 and refuse to dye!)
So What Other Options Do You Have? Freelancing.
Freelancing is a great way to avoid ageism in your fashion career. Now, I’m not talking about months long temp-job freelancing where you work 40 hours a week for one brand. While those kinds of opportunities are a great match for some, you’re just as vulnerable to ageism as you are with full-time employment.
Instead, I’m talking about true remote freelancing where you work with a variety of clients on your own terms. Brands that hire freelancers care more about your skills than the fact that you’re old enough to remember rotary phones. I know from my 10+ years of experience freelancing and the ~500 freelancers I’ve coached, some who see success well into their 50s and 60s.
If you want help getting started, my free guide on becoming a fashion freelancer will show you how to figure out pricing, present yourself, and find clients.
*The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. (Source)
Heidi’s Freelance Guide (it’s free!)