What Interning at a Fashion Magazine Is Really Like

From The Devil Wears Prada to Sex and the City to The Hills to Ugly Betty, the jobs and internships at fashion magazines have been glamourized onscreen over and over again. Key word: glamourized. You might imagine a fast-paced office full of Proenza Schouler-clad waifs who skip meals and go to fancy charity galas, leaving the grunt work to their interns, but that's actually far from your typical fashion magazine experience. Read on to see what fashion magazine internships are really like – plus advice on how to land one from interns who have done it.

What types of fashion magazine internships are available?

Not everyone who works at a fashion magazine necessarily works directly with fashion. Here are a few common types of internships and responsibilities:

  • Fashion closet interns: Track clothing samples, pack and unpack for photo shoots, and create storyboards
  • Beauty closet interns: Call in products, organize the beauty closet, and update press contact lists
  • Editorial interns: Do research, transcribe interviews, and pitch story ideas
  • Web interns: Research, interview, and blog exclusively for the magazine's website
  • Photo interns: Do research, scout locations, and purchase props

Editorial makes up one of the largest sections of most magazines. The department is responsible for the cover story, other long stories (called “features”), interviews, as well as shorter FOB (“front of book” – the first few pages of the magazine) pieces. Features interns are typically assigned to an editor who covers just one or two topics, like health or love.

You're more likely to get hired if you specify exactly which section of the magazine you'd like to intern in, so make sure to think carefully about your interests before you apply for a fashion magazine internship.

What does a typical day look like?

A typical day at a magazine begins at about 9 or 10 a.m. Most magazines group interns by department, so fashion closet interns will work in or near the fashion closet, features interns will sit at desks together, and so on.

You'll start the morning by checking your e-mail to see if any editors or other staffers need help with a project right away. Keep a close watch on your e-mail throughout the day so you don't miss any urgent messages about assignments or meetings!

The bulk of your day will be spent assisting your editor with any tasks that need to be completed. These tasks vary depending on your type of internship, but expect to be juggling several projects with different deadlines at once. For example, a features intern might start a research project that's due the next day, but then suddenly be asked to transcribe an interview due at 2:00 that afternoon. Before she can finish the transcription, she might be asked to run an errand to pick up a vase for an upcoming photo shoot. If it sounds hectic, well, it is. Magazine internships are fast-paced; the environment isn't conducive to slacking off.

“The office was very chaotic (when we had samples being delivered), but I learned so much in the short amount of time that I worked there that it was worth it,” says Itopia Mills, a Florida A&M University grad who interned in the fashion closet at O, The Oprah Magazine.

Midday, you'll be given a short break for lunch. Interns can eat in the magazine's cafeteria (imagine a super chic version of your college's dining hall), grab takeout from a nearby, cheap lunch spot, or bring their own lunches. Some days, you'll be able to hang out at lunch with the other interns. Other days, it's probably best to eat lunch at your desk in order to keep up with tight deadlines.

Worried about becoming your editor's personal Starbucks assistant? Don't sweat it – of the half-dozen interns Her Campus talked to for this article, only one said she ever had to get coffee... and that happened exactly once.

Your day will probably end around 5 or 6 p.m., although you might be asked to stay a bit later on busy days, like right before an issue closes to be shipped.

What did past interns do at their internships?

An internship is a big commitment. Before you apply, get the scoop on how four former magazine interns spent their days:

  • “I did a lot of research for articles and interviewing professionals (such as doctors, nutritionists, and sex therapists) on different topics,” says Dani Most, a recent Florida State University grad who interned in the features department at Cosmopolitan. “I also spent a lot of time around NYC getting stories for sections like the 'guy confessions' or doing polls to accompany articles. That was a little scary at first, but it always ended up being a fun thing to do, especially since we did those in pairs with another intern. We were encouraged to pitch ideas to the appropriate editors whenever we had one and we almost always got a response.”
     
  • “No day was really the same,” says Marissa Barker, an NYU grad who interned in the fashion closet at ELLE. “There were days where I stayed inside all day to make sure everything was there for style shoots and to e-mail PR companies and fashion houses to deliver whatever we needed for the issue. Other days, I would go to a shoot to help out with whatever they needed, or run errands all day. There were times were we would stay there until much later than everyone else in the magazine because things needed to get done. It wasn't work that we could get done at home, like I imagine the editorial team doing.”
     
  • “As an entertainment intern, I would research celebrities, TV, music, and movie news for the magazine, write memos for the staff on entertainment news and the important news of the day, transcribe interviews, do general administrative tasks like organizing and archiving for the editorial team, and occasionally help other sections of the magazine with research,” says Aubrey Nagle, a Drexel University grad who interned in the features department at Seventeen.

But not all interns had such wholly positive experiences.

“When I first started my internship in the fashion closet, the magazine was working on August and September shoots. Translation? It was absolutely chaotic,” says Anna*, who worked as a fashion closet intern at a Hearst magazine. “Most nights, I didn't leave the office until 10:30 p.m. Most of the editors would go home, but the interns had to stay… organizing the closet. Since I was commuting during that time, I wouldn't get home until midnight. Whenever one of the editors asked who could come in an hour early the next morning, I felt obligated to say yes—a good intern doesn't say no! As a result, I would go to bed around 1 a.m. and wake up at 5 a.m. so I could [catch] a train. Since we were so busy, and I was the newest, I felt like I shouldn't take a break.”

Anna says her crazy schedule caused her to lose sleep and skip lunch breaks. Sounds like a certain movie, doesn't it...?

Does the experience ever feel like The Devil Wears Prada?

A few tips from former Runway assistant Andy Sachs for your first day as an intern:

  • Know how to spell Dolce & Gabbana.
  • Understand the subtle differences between blue and cerulean.
  • Learn to identify an eyelash curler.

We're joking—no one in the office will be as mean-spirited as the “Clackers” Andy encountered at Runway. But in general, it's probably a good idea to learn as much as you can about your section of the magazine before you arrive for the first day of your internship. That means knowing the section of your magazine inside and out (do they call it “Fashion” or “Style”?) and being familiar with the subjects your section covers often. Fashion interns: be prepared to talk about your favorite trends from the 2014 Fall Fashion Weeks. Health interns: know the difference between SoulCycle and CrossFit!

The magazine industry is small—really, really small. Everyone knows everyone and word travels fast, so there's no room to be unfriendly—it could come back to haunt you in the future. Also, especially at women's magazines, the staff tends to be mostly young (twenties and thirties) and female. They were interns not too long ago themselves, so they're inclined to be as warm and helpful to you as possible.

“Everyone who had seen movies about magazines joked with me beforehand that it would be terrifying, but it totally wasn't!” says Aubrey. “Everyone [in the office] was so sweet and helpful.”

Dani adds, “Everyone was well-dressed, but not as outrageously as I had expected. Not everyone was super skinny, either. The office wasn't full of intimidating, model-esque people.”

While you definitely won't be expected to don size zero Chanel head to toe, it's important to consider dressing professionally. That doesn't necessarily mean full suits—there’s a lot more leeway in the media industry. This guide is a good starting point for thinking about your professional wardrobe. While short shorts, flip-flops, and crazy low-cut tops aren't office-appropriate anywhere, you can (and should!) experiment with fun wedges, bright dresses, and cool accessories at a fashion magazine internship. It's fine to wear heels to the office, but always keep a pair of comfortable flats with you in case you're asked to run errands.

How are interns compensated?

Compensation is a touchy subject right now in the magazine industry. Historically, magazine interns have been unpaid. Recently, however, interns have brought class action lawsuits against Hearst, Gawker, and other companies, stating that the tasks they completed at their unpaid internships were equivalent to entry-level paid positions, and they should have been compensated as such.

According to the United States Department of Labor, unpaid internships must meet the following six legal criteria:

  • The internship has educational value.
  • The internship is for the benefit of the intern.
  • The intern should not displace regular employees.
  • The employer does not receive any immediate benefit from the intern.
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job following completion of the internship.
  • Both the employer and the intern understand that the internship is unpaid.

The majority of fashion magazine internships are unpaid and require you to receive academic credit, although there are occasional exceptions.

How can you land a fashion magazine internship?

If you've ever looked into applying for a fashion magazine internship, you probably noticed a frustrating catch-22: internship listings often ask for you to already have internship experience on your resume.

“If you're trying to get into a national magazine, you should have previous magazine experience,” says Aubrey. “You don't need to have interned at Vogue – just have a regional magazine or at least a campus mag on your resume.”

To beef up your resume, considering starting at your school's Her Campus chapter (If there isn't one, start your own!). You can also get involved with your school's newspaper or magazine. Take on leadership roles (like editing and managing positions) whenever possible to get the most out of your experience.

If you've done awesome work at a regional or campus publication and want to apply for an editorial internship, don't be afraid to show off: attach clips (writing samples) to your application to highlight your strong writing skills! It's tough to stand out in a sea of nearly identical resumes and cover letters, but a colorful, well-written story with your name on the byline will set you apart. Similarly, attach the link to your fashion blog if you want to intern in the fashion closet, or the link to your photography portfolio if you want to be a photo intern.

For more on how to land the job a million girls would kill for, check out this guide to getting a magazine internship.

 

A fashion magazine internship can be thrilling, miserable, and chaotic, all in the span of one day. Yes, you'll have to put up with The Devil Wears Prada jokes from your friends. Yes, you'll have to deal with crazy minutiae the average reader of your magazine would never guess. But in the end, is it worth it? According to Dani, it is.

“The internship exceeded my expectations,” she says. “I was expecting to just answer phones or run errands, but I feel like I really got the experience of the corporate fashion magazine world.”

 

*Name has been changed.