Ageism in fashion is a legit problem. Depending on who you ask, some people claim that you’re old in our industry after the age of 35. #effyou
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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Not only do styles look old, there’s just something about the sketches, low resolution scans, and outdated imagery that gives it away.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.
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.)
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!)
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.
Beyond avoiding age discrimination, you can earn waaaay more than you can in traditional jobs.
No one has your back, especially in fashion. You have to look out for yourself, and the “older” you get, the more important that becomes. As a freelancer, you’re in control of who you work with, when, and how much you earn. It’s a pretty priceless work-life balance that you can set up for yourself.
*The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. (Source)