Internships have been in the news a lot lately as some interns have been suing their employers for allegedly violating U.S. labor laws by using interns to do work that does not benefit them and would otherwise be done by paid employees.
I did a few internships myself over the years. While they definitely benefited my career in the long run in many ways, being a fashion intern is a mixed bag. Some of my fasion intern experiences were wonderful and some of them were completely hellish. Here are some of the things I did as a fashion intern for a big-time designer in New York City.
I got so much coffee I memorized the coffee orders for the entire design staff, everyone in PR, and half the business staff. It was not a big deal. Coffee is not heavy, and the Starbucks was right downstairs. Sometimes people would ask if I wanted anything and tell me to get myself something while I was there. Usually I did not, because if I drank coffee every time I got coffee, I would have gone insane.
No one at the office was dumb, but a lot of people described themselves as being “not math people.” One day the designer was discussing decorations for a meeting, where they wanted a little fish bowl filled with red roses on every table.
“We have six tables. If we put five flowers in each one, how many dozen roses would we need?”
“Three,” I said.
The designer and the PR women she was talking to suddenly looked at me like I’d grown a second head.
“How did you do that!?” the designer gasped. “Wait—if we wanted six roses in each vase, how many dozen would we need?”
“Still three,” I said.
And from that point on I was the Math Genius. Any job that involved even a tiny bit of math was set aside for me. That was good, because being known for a specific skill set gets you more opportunities. As Math Girl, I did a lot of ordering and picking things up from vendors. One of the other interns had a model-esque figure, so she spent a lot of time standing in meetings trying on clothes for important people and occasionally being used as a fit model in the design department.
Buying stuff was a big part of my job. I bought fabric samples, buttons, ribbon, lunch, Gray’s Papaya, train tickets, etc. I even bought other clothes. A particular pant brand was having a moment, so I went to Macy’s and got a pair. They were then given to the patternmakers to copy.
I spent several days just sitting in super-posh New York apartments waiting for stuff to be delivered to important people’s houses while they were at work. One time I waited 10 hours for a table. Another time I waited 8 hours for a couch. Those were good days, because fancy New York apartments have cable.
Look, sometimes you’re painting a banner welcoming visiting store managers, and sometimes a dog jumps into the paint and then runs little footprints across the banner. Just hope there are multiple interns to disribute the banner-fixing and dog-washing responsibilities between.
The trim designer needed five buttons for jeans and sent me to get some from a guy in the garment district who sold stuff like buttons and zippers. He handed me the buttons, which were free for samples, and gave me a steely look.
“Now are you guys actually going to buy these buttons from me when you produce the pants?” he asked. “Or are you just going to take my free sample buttons and then order them from China?”
“Oh no,” I said.
When I handed the buttons with their ordering info to the trim designer she said she didn’t need it.
“His prices are too high, we’re just going to order them from China.”
Fashion industry gossip
The other interns were fashion school students, which meant their friends were interning all around town. That proved to be a great source of fashion industry gossip. One intern said she had to hide in the closet whenever her company’s name designer was in the building, because the designer hated seeing new people. Another said the design staff at her internship made fun of her clothes every single day. One intern said she thought her company was going out of business, which we all thought was totally ridiculous because it was so successful. But then it did.
Getting hit on at Fashion Week
My fellow interns and I remarked that we had never been hit on so much as when we were backstage at Fashion week, which has always confused me because I was surrounded by much better looking and more successful women. I wanted to say, “There’s a model right next to you, and her father is a rock star. Why do you want to help me stack shoe boxes?”
The weirdest part about getting hit on at Fashion Week is how many guys came up and asked us if we were models, because nothing sounds more like a line than asking a 5’4” woman if she is a model, especially when the room is full of actual, working runway models. Dude, we both know I am not a model because if I were a model I would be six inches taller and not stacking shoes right now.