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The Training Required - Knowledge of Illustrating - Qualification for the Classes of Fashion
Writers - Incomes to be Earned
Since the days when Lamesangere (who may justly be styled the first fashion writer) edited the " Journal des Dames ei des Modes," kept the accounts, superintended the engraving of the plates, and visited the theatres and all places of public resort in order to "write up" the ladies' dresses, a great change has taken place in the world of fashion.
Fashion writing is now a profitable profession for women, albeit the life is an extremely strenuous one. Holidays are conspicuous by their absence, and should the writer be attached to a daily paper the small hours of the morning frequently see her at her post. As a matter of fact, burning the midnight oil and cancelling social engagements are among the minor annoyances that the work entails. An iron constitution is indeed a sine qua non, for there is no class of writing that sooner reflects ill-health or nervous strain.
On the other hand, this is p, profession in which there are many compensations, for, provided one is suited for the work by temperament as well as constitution, it provides enjoyment and excitement together with pleasant intercourse with men and women in many interesting walks in life.
Fashion writing, unlike many professions, is one that cannot be entirely taught. It is the art of writing lightly and attractively regarding dresses, so that the readers shall desire to possess them, and utilise the ideas in their own toilette. The true art of the fashion writer lies in the power of making the dresses and accessories of the toilette fascinating and attractive, which can never be accomplished unless the writer really understands and is interested in her subject. Many fail because they labour under the erroneous impression that there is nothing easier than to write fashion articles, a fact that is brought home forcibly to the editors of ladies' papers by would-be contributors who assure them with the utmost naivete that, although they have never studied fashion, they are sure they can write on it far better than So-and-so, naming, in all probability, one of the most eminent authorities on the subject.
Tact, energy, and vitality are three qualifications always appreciated, for the writing of shop notices is by no means the least important part of the work. The proprietors of the vast emporiums in the metropolis do not care to encounter a " tired " personality, whose manner, it may be unconsciously, indicates that she is bored by her visit. Naturally they prefer one who is interested in their specialities, appreciates the colour schemes, and is quick to notice any little detail being exploited for the first time, and which, if mentioned, might attract clients. She must be thoroughly au courant with "the latest" from Paris, Vienna, and other fashion centres.
The very best training for the work is a subordinate position in the office of a ladies' paper, or assistant to the editor of the fashion pages of a daily or weekly. In both cases the remuneration, if any, will be nominal. As a matter of fact, a premium has sometimes to be paid, while at others the services have to be given free.
Should the aspirant for fashion writing fame have a thorough knowledge of shorthand and typing she might be able to obtain a position as secretary to an editor of a paper, or section of a paper, at a salary of about 30s. a week. Should she in times of stress, of which there are many in a newspaper office, prove her value, her salary would soon be increased, probably to £2 10s. Later on, provided the paper is a weekly, weddings may be entrusted to her. This is a feature which has been the first rung in the ladder to many women now earning good salaries.
Having proved herself capable, she will then be allowed to try her hand at writing a shop notice from a catalogue, and should she possess the special " intuition," she will doubtless be given to this work frequently. When the rush for the Christmas number comes, and everyone is working at the highest pressure, the editor's secretary frequently obtains her first opportunity of visiting the West End shops, and writing notices. Should her effort meet with the approval of the "powers that be," it will be " the turn in the tide of her affairs which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." When a vacancy occurs, she will be given the position of writer of shop notices. Should her ambition soar no higher than this, she will earn from three to four pounds a week, but it must be noted that these positions are few and far between, for which reason it is ever advisable to endeavour to obtain a fashion article on a local paper, as by this means experience is gained. Editors on the London papers are chary of appointing a fashion writer who has not done similar work on a minor paper.
Neither must it be forgotten that during the years she has been serving her apprenticeship - it may be from five to six - (one never encounters a fashion writer of standing under the age of thirty), she will have acquired an insight into the working of a newspaper, she will have learnt proof -correcting, and, it is hoped, will have realised by experience that it is a mistaken policy to worry an editor over the minor details.
It is not essential for her to be a draughtswoman, but it is necessary for her to possess a certain amount of knowledge regarding technique, and to be able to see at a glance whether a drawing will reproduce well, for it falls to her lot to select the drawings destined to accompany her article. She has also to give ideas to the artists, especially those who are just beginning, the latter being engaged on grounds of economy.
it is essential for her to visit Paris from time to time, and to study the fashions there. The successful writer is not content with chronicling the prevailing modes, but studies those of bygone ages, fully agreeing with Josephine's dressmaker, "who contended that there was nothing new under the sun, and went back to the far past, even to the days of the Greek and Roman ladies, for elegant novelties two thousand years old, which were destined to turn the heads of the Parisian salons and promenades, and to fascinate Parisians of both sexes."
The fashion writer who knows her work thoroughly is able to see at a glance which period has inspired a gown as well as able to predict what will be the next turn of the the wheel of fashion.
Another point not to be overlooked is that the character of a fashion article must be written on lines that will be of interest to the readers. For instance, a high-class six-penny weekly and a penny paper will require different kinds of articles.
Incomes to be Earned
Fashion writers may be divided into several classes. The most highly paid is the writer who has an assured position, and is not exclusively retained by one paper. To-day there are a few gifted women who are earning E1,000 a year, and it may be more, but these are the exceptions. The competition each day gets keener, therefore those who enter the arena now are not at all likely to earn more than £300 to £600 per annum, which will entail their devoting themselves entirely to their profession, abandoning home ties, and personal enjoyment apart from that entailed by the work.
The average income earned by those who are not exclusively attached to a paper is anything from £100 to £500 a year, the latter amount earned by experts who are nearing the highest step of the ladder.
In the second section must be placed those who are exclusively retained by a daily paper, and have charge of the ladies' pages which appear either daily or weekly. The duties of those holding such appointments is the writing or editing of the fashion articles. The salaries carried by such positions range from £150 to £400 a year, the average being from £200 to £250. It should be remembered that frequently the agreements entered into between such women and their employers permit the fashion writers to write fiction for other journals. Many who have commenced their careers as fashion writers have since become editors.
Another section where the salaries range from £100 to £150 a year is that of general factotum in a daily newspaper, or, as it is sometimes called, reporter on social and other events of interest to women. The " shrieks " of fashion come under this heading, and include such things as the advent of any novelty that the true fashion writer regards as outside her province.
Now, although the fashion writer often earns a high salary, the expenses connected with her work are considerable. She has to spend a considerable amount on French and other papers, and it is essential that she be well dressed, and as she has to be out in all weathers she is extremely hard on her clothe, therefore they must be made of the best mate rials, and the cut, of course, sans reproche.
Still there are many women making, as we have seen, good incomes from this work, and it certainly is a calling with many attractions to those fitted for it by capacity, temperament, and constitution.
The question that naturally suggests itself next is, when the first rung of the ladder has been reached, how is it possible to extend the sphere of labour ? There is no recognised agency where vacancies of this character are noted. The advertisements in the daily paper should be carefully studied, as proprietors of important publications sometimes make known their requirements there, not, however, attaching their names. The writer, however, realises from experience that when a fashion article is required on a paper where it forms a prominent feature, it is not announced in this manner. It is given to. a successful writer on the subject, of which there are but a limited number whose agreements with their papers permit them taking additional work. The fashion writer who accomplishes her work in a business-like manner - by which is meant sending in her copy to time, reading her proofs, never shirking any of the minor details connected with her work, and in times of stress being prepared to write additional paragraphs on subjects that are not perhaps within her province - is ever appreciated by the editor and sub-editor, and it is by this means that she is able to obtain more work. It not unfrequently happens that, should the sub-editor later on become editor of a paper, he will use his influence on her behalf in his new sphere, or, through a change of editors, another fashion article may be entrusted to her.