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How to Become a Lingerie Model

Raven Le Faye & Victoria Dagger; Photo, Max Johnson; Hair, Erin Lopez

I know some of you are curious. I've seen you asking on Treacle's Tumblr. You know you've got what it takes to be a lingerie model, or you think you might, anyway, but you have no idea where to begin. Well, I'm no agent, but I am a designer who also happens to do a fair bit of modeling, so these are my suggestions for you lovelies who would like to model for lingerie designers. This mostly applies to working with independent designers, rather than large corporations – you'll need to be agency signed to get in with them.

Victoria Dagger for Dark Garden; Photo, Mariah Carle

The good news is that being a “good” model is not just about having a pretty face and a nice body (whatever that means): there are, in fact, actual skills and abilities involved. Believe it or not, not everyone who is “pretty” is photogenic, and a lot of girls who photograph exceptionally well are relatively unremarkable in real life. Of course, without going to Shallow Town, there are still some physical requirements. A proportionate, standard sized figure is necessary to fit into designers' standard sized samples; clear skin will make photographers more willing to work with you, especially on an ongoing basis; and you should keep yourself generally well maintained (this includes things like your hair cut and color, clean and trimmed or manicured nails, no habitual giant bruises, scratches, or sunburns, etc). No, you don't have to look like a Victoria's Secret model, unless you want to model for Victoria's Secret.

Other physical traits beyond that will depend hugely on the demographic of the designers you're trying to model for. Look at the types of models currently being used in the lines you're interested in modeling for. Are you the same body type? Age range? Do the models all have a certain “look” for a particular line? Tattoos and facial or body piercings will hold you back from a good amount of vanilla modeling gigs, but certain lines embrace the “alternative” look. Same with figure quirks --- if you're small busted or full figured, look to model for lines that cater to that niche. A lot of independent designers are also far less concerned about height, especially for photo modeling (as compared to runway).

Dwoira Galilea for Dark Garden; Photo, Joel Aron

Of course, as the old saying goes, it's not what you know, it's who you know. Independent designers often cast people they already know who like to model for them. In my experience (and maybe it's just my San Francisco lifestyle), creative people enjoy having creative friends. So designers, therefore, have no shortage of talented, attractive friends already willing to model for them, and there is a big advantage for us in working with a known entity. For me, since I consider my brand a bit of a “lifestyle brand,” knowing the model carries a lot of weight because I know they are a strong representative of the brand. That said, smart designers know they can't use the same few faces all the time, so the following are some skills and tips for making yourself more attractive to us. (As an aside, we also don't have a lot of money, so expect to get paid in the form of “good, clean, fun” and narcissistic fulfillment. Possibly trade or maybe champagne and cookies.)

Victoria Dagger for Dollymop for Dark Garden; Photo, Chris Gaede; MUA, Wendy Tran

My previous article, How to Have a Boudoir Photoshoot, mentioned a lot of basics of posing and shoot prep. The more you shoot, the more the posing concepts become muscle memory and instinctive. The next step is learning not just how to pose attractively, but how to convey a specific mood with your face and body language. Since lingerie is also known as “intimates,” a blank fashion face won't fly – some feeling of intimacy and connection with the viewer is necessary. Practice in front of the mirror to build up a versatile range of facial angles and expressions, and study lingerie catalogs and photoshoots for posing ideas. Make sure you think about your poses in relation to the garments you're supposed to be modeling. You want to make sure at the minimum that you're not covering the garment much, and, preferably, that you're actually drawing attention to the design features. Follow your favorite models on Facebook or their web portfolio and try to analyze what you think is effective about their work.

Victoria Dagger; Photo, Mask Photo

Being a self-sufficient model is the biggest in you can have for a designer. Like a lot of creatives, we're busy and sometimes easily overwhelmed. If you're high maintenance and need a lot of coddling, unless you really knock our socks off we'll just cast someone with a more professional attitude in the future. The more multi-talented you can be, the more bookable you are. Learn how to do your hair a few different ways (hair stylists are always the hardest to book; they have less need for portfolio images and often have salon jobs); invest in some photo-ready makeup and play with it in your spare time; have a variety of shoes and accessories for styling shoots, etc. The tools for this go in your “shoot bag,” which you should always always have prepared in case a booked team member has to cancel at the last minute. I've had to cover for other models more than once, or been stuck without my makeup bag at inopportune times. Prepare for the worst. It's also a big time saver when you can do these things for yourself: expect to spend at least an hour, each, on hair and makeup if you're working with professionals. As I mentioned in my article on multitalented pinup artists, contemporary model Morgana has become very popular with a lot of UK designers because they know she does the work of essentially an entire photo team, by herself, and she does it up to the same standard.

Victoria Dagger for Dollymop Designs; Photo, Lydia Chen; MUA, Chrysalis Rose

Conversely, having an established network of collaborators to call upon is also hugely helpful. Some shoot concepts call for more complicated elements than can be pulled off with just a model and photographer. Knowing reliable photographers, makeup artists, and even other models that like to do trade/portfolio shoots, mesh well with you, and consistently provide high quality work makes it much easier to coordinate a shoot, and designers will thank you for it if you save them the hassle of finding people and managing their conflicting schedules.

Victoria Dagger for Pop Antique; Photo, Bill Clearlake

 If you're not sure where to get started on all of this and have no modeling experience whatsoever, I recommend you make an account on Model Mayhem. For models, it's acceptable to only have snapshots to start with, but avoid candid photos, cell phone shots, and self portraits at arm's length. If you have a friend with a decent camera, ask them to take a few shots of you. Keep your bio text relevant, polite, and grammatically correct. Make sure your listed measurements are accurate. Bust and hips at their widest point, waist at its narrowest, measuring tape parallel to the floor always. If I see a model with unlisted measurements, it equates to them not wanting to work with designers: you shoot yourself in the foot if we have to go out of our way to see if you'll even fit in our samples, because we're just not going to do it. We'll move onto the next profile.

Victoria Dagger and Kelsey Sailors for Dark Garden; Photo, Mask Photo; MUA, Chrysalis Rose

Then, as you build up your portfolio with TFP (trade for pictures) shoots, hang out in the forums, especially the Critiques and Model Colloquy. There you can learn what makes for stronger images and get targeted advice for modeling. Of course, there will also be a lot of threads and responses that you'll have to take with a grain of salt, so develop a thick skin and block out anything that's not actually constructive. (The number of people recommending $30 “corsets” in various threads makes me nauseous just thinking about it.) Browsing others' work, you'll also learn about various genres and niches that appeal to and inspire you.

Victoria Dagger for Dark Garden; Photo, Mask Photo

Last-minute additions based on comments and feedback, aka, things I meant to mention or straight-up forgot, with credits to those who reminded me.
-BE RELIABLE. This goes for any job, right? But when flaky models are the norm, they make you look even better when you actually show up. Consistently. Keep communication lines open if something legitimately arises that prevents you from shooting at your best (temporarily disfiguring or fatiguing illness, losing your job or similar large-scale trauma, etc.) -Sannie, Alisha
-Your ability to get work largely depends on the area you live in, or, at least, are willing to (and do) travel to. -KathTea
-A seamless thong in your-flesh-tone is a must for your shoot bag. Buy several so you're not screwed if one ends up in the wash. -Catherine, Kiss Me Deadly

Are you a lingerie model? What do you think you've done that makes you appealing to designers? Designers, what do you look for in a model?

Marianne Faulkner

Marianne Faulkner is the designer of Pop Antique, a clothing and corsetry line specializing in sustainable materials and comfortable curves. She is based in San Francisco where she earned her MFA in fashion design at the Academy of Art University, and has been a columnist at The Lingerie Addict since 2011.

18 Comments on this post

  1. marisa says:

    I LOVED IT cool and great info! would love to do it someday~tattoos and piercings I have..i like the info u added about the eccentric and diff. styles :)

  2. Rebeka walker says:

    What brilliant advice, so glad I came across this. Really want to get into this part of modelling but feel like I haven’t had the confidence. You’ve given me the kick up the arse! Thank you

  3. Alessia says:

    Where can I find the seamless thong in my skin tone which is closer to white than any nude version I’ve seen? Serious question. I am clueless about where to go (I’m in London). If I can avoid spending a fortune, even better.

  4. LOVE IT! A great article for my clients to refer too! Thanks for your insight! :)

  5. Annie Belle says:

    Thanks for your great post, and thanks to Treacle for always having so many great, engaging posts!

    What sort of make-up would you recommend?

    • Marianne says:

      Thanks! Re: makeup…
      Do you mean brands or style? For style, it’s totally going to depend on the designer for whom you’re modeling. I cover some basics of makeup in a previous article (moisturizer+powder, or foundation, shaded brows, eyeliner, mascara, as a bare minimum so your face shows up): <–if you haven't read it yet, "How to Have a Boudoir Photoshoot."

      As for brands, I just wander into the Sephora and state that I'm on a fairly tight budget but seeking makeup that photographs well. (I rarely wear makeup day to day, or at least not more than eyeliner and shaded brows.) I like the Sephora brand color palettes that give you tons of shadows, etc, in trial size, though the packaging is notoriously shoddy and tends to break quickly. Their cream liner, applied with an angled brush, is my go-to for doing cat eyes and similar styles, whereas if I want colored liner or a softer edge I use their retractable waterproof liner (teal's my favorite, the pigment is smooth and strong). I use Clinique for powder, concealer (around my under-eyes), and eye makeup remover. Sephora brand brown eyeshadown to shade my brows (also with an angled brush). Primer under eyeshadow to keep it from fading or smudging. Revlon color stay lip color IF I'm not going to be changing lip shades. My current favorite mascara is, I believe, Buxom, which has a pretty good impact without feeling heavy and making me want to pull my lashes out. I'm terrible about using fake lashes (i.e., I don't), but they do make a big impact in one's appearance – single lashes are often easier to wear than an entire strip.

  6. Alisha says:

    Oh, Marianne, how I couldn’t agree with you more!

    As a designer, the first thing that I look for is professionalism. That is just the most important part of all of it. I have had people flake out at the last minute, and have just been extremely lucky that others could step in to make things work. I’ve had to go out of my way to learn better makeup and hair because of situations beyond my control as the person in need of product shots, and that is completely unacceptable.

    As for body types, I’m really not all that discerning. I have my own standard size chart that I work off of, but it’s not the same the big corporations, and I’m mostly always looking for the girls who have a particular look about them.

    • Marianne says:

      Great point. I’ve edited the post to include it, as not all readers go through comments. Isn’t it funny how professionalism has to be specified? In what other job is that considered a rare and attractive quality, instead of a given? No, ladies, being photogenic is not an all-access pass to rudeness and wasting other people’s time/endangering aspects of their livelihood…

  7. Sannie says:

    Lovely Article! Very helpfull for people who would like to model.

    As a designer the most important thing for me is to work with reliable people. Nothing is more frustrating that to have people not show up at a photoshoot, or not getting any photo’s after the work is done. However I do enjoy working with a lot of different creative people. And am lucky to have so many talented friends.

    You have an impressive portfolio. :-)

    • Marianne says:

      Thank you!
      Excellent points. In my experience, not getting photos is usually a problem on the photographer end (straight up too busy to edit them or didn’t like the proofs), especially if the photographer has contact info for all team members so you’re not receiving the photos through a second party. No idea why a lot of models think it’s acceptable to flake, often with no warning. I feel like I didn’t mention this in the article originally because “show up, be ready, willing, and able to do your job, and do it” should be expected for ANY job, even if it’s a trade gig of some sort. I think there’s this impression that models are compensated just for existing, rather than for skills, talent, or artistry.

  8. KathTea says:

    Haha Marianne! I still recall the MM feedback thread and then people saying I need to lose weight. Anyway, I know I have no weight to lose, it was just the worst possible angle for a photograph…

    Thanks so much for this article, too bad there aren’t any independent lingerie designers that I know of here and Malaysia seems to have HOARDS of glamour photographers… NOT that the genre is bad or anything but as Anita describes it, it tends to be “cheesy” and “beige lipgloss” and so forth. Over here it’s excessively dyed hair, circle lenses, REALLY false lashes and so on…

    However, I am planning to learn to create costumes and clothing… so I could possibly start modelling my own work…

    • Marianne says:

      Yeah, that is definitely NOT the kind of feedback I had in mind. I learned about posing tips and compositional no-nos from the critiques forum; it’s good for weeding through your portfolio and learning not just which shots are good, but why. “It was a bad angle,” doesn’t really fly as an excuse; once you learn more about photography, you’ll be better equipped to find photographers to work with that won’t shoot you from unflattering angles, or at least know better than to add those shots to your port. Remember that your portfolio is as strong as your weakest shots.

      Glamor photography is definitely not my favorite either, but it seems like you aren’t really aiming to be a professional lingerie model, just seeking artistic fulfillment through a variety of genres. Are you thinking of moving to a different region with more of a “scene” eventually? Modeling my own work has definitely been a boon for me as a designer, on a lot of levels.

      • KathTea says:

        Well, I enjoy art and recently I have been heading towards more artistic nude work. Additionally, I am investing in more latex and corsets to model with. So basically I seem to be wanting to break the stereotype with fashion and modelling over here and be different :)

        I ended up putting all those bad shots “in storage” as I learned that my portfolio should be QUALITY NOT QUANTITY.

        I suppose the only “lingerie modelling” I am interested in is corset modelling or pin-up stuff.

        Have I shared my latest stuff with you yet?

        • Marianne says:

          This article is targeted for those who specifically want to work with designers, not just wear lingerie as part of their styling for shoots. A more accurate title would maybe be, “How to Make Designers Want to Work with You,” haha. I haven’t been online much for the past month or two so I haven’t seen much of what you’ve been up to but I know where to find you :)

          • KathTea says:

            Ah… Well, I’d love to model for any vintage lingerie style brands e.g What Katie Did. But first, I need to waist train to get my vintage figure ;)

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