When it comes to careers, it’s hard to find one more glamorous than that of a fashion editor. After all, these are women and men whose job descriptions consist of previewing collections, predicting trends, and telling everyone else what to buy — in other words, they shop for a living.
Whether it’s in a Fashion Week street style snap or just an #OOTD Instagram shot, perfecting a fashion editor's personal style isn’t just an exercise in creative freedom; it's also a smart career move. But, there is a not-so-secret downside to nailing this dream gig: salaries in the fashion field are often shockingly low. (Unfortunately, we’re not just referring to meagerly compensated interns).
Entry-level market editor jobs can start at $25,000, which makes it nearly impossible for that editor to independently support herself, and paying full price for a $3,000 handbag she featured in her magazine is highly unlikely. This irony is long-established within the fashion industry. So, how do fashion editors afford their fancy gear? We polled a few top editors to find out — and, as it turns out, the secret lies in off-the-books perks.
It’s common knowledge that brands often give editors discounts and gifts with hopes of product coverage, but many who work outside the industry don’t realize how common — not to mention extravagant — these freebies can be. As one online writer admitted of her near-daily PR swag, “It's very generous and can sometimes make you feel guilty.”
Gifts can range from minor items — like cupcakes or a T-shirt — to a too-good-to-be-true piece, like a limited-edition designer handbag. While the theoretical goal of PR companies is to achieve product placement, the timing of their gifting can vary.
“There's definitely a mix of pre- and post-coverage gifting," a fashion editor told us. "More gifting occurs after writing about something, and that's often the case for pricier gifting.”
Even if the gift doesn’t make sense for a publication, it’s a not-so-subtle step toward strengthening the brand-publication relationship. According to the same editor, “Beauty products and gentler-priced jewelry are the kinds of loot that comes in by the bagful before anything has been written or discussed. I don't specifically cover beauty or accessories, if that says anything.”
Another digital editor from a different major fashion magazine agreed. “I receive a lot of off-brand products in the mail with the hopes that we'll cover it. It doesn't make sense. We cover luxury, not Kohl's.”
Regardless of whether coverage follows, it’s an unstated rule that gifts won’t be returned. Instead, they’re often incorporated into editors’ closets. Many of the fashion folks we talked to admitted that about two-thirds of their wardrobes came from freebies. One editor broke down her current outfit as proof: “Right now, I'm wearing one item I got at a discount through work and three pieces I got for free. I'd say that's pretty common.”
Interestingly, the most frequent form of swag doesn’t align with fashion at all. Most of the editors we polled said they don't remember the last time they bought beauty products — despite the fact that they never cover them. One editor said, “I haven't purchased anything other than my foundation at Sephora in years. Everything else I get for free: Chanel blush, organic shampoos, designer nail polish, Tom Ford lipstick, Dr. Jart masks. I have an entire closet filled with beauty products at home, and I'm not even a beauty editor.”
As you'd expect, the most popular time of the year for gifting is right now: the holidays. Handbag labels have been known to distribute styles to top editors, and clothing brands often provide discount codes or VIP cards for websites. These aren’t your average discounts, either; the press rate is typically 30-60% off retail. Perks like VIP shopping cards and private access to designer sample sales suddenly make that Mulberry dress or ASOS haul more wallet-friendly.
Every editor we talked to admitted they receive more gifts than they can possibly use. As one writer put it, “To explain all the swag, I jokingly assured my boyfriend early in our courtship that I don't secretly have a shoplifting problem.”
While some editors admitted to “hoarding products for the future,” most said any unwanted freebies go to family, friends, and colleagues. (Some magazines have a “free wall,” where writers and editors give their stuff away to others in the office.)
The obvious benefit of receiving amazing perks is a closet stocked with designer clothing, so most editors we talked to believe this helps reconcile the meager salary issue. A fashion news editor summarized it perfectly:
“Yes, there are lots of perks in the industry — gifted clothes, occasional travel opportunities, dinners, and drinks — but the way I see it, that helps make up for the fact that most fashion jobs pay shockingly little, considering the hours and effort involved. For me, it's a worthwhile tradeoff, but I know many women who eventually decided they'd rather have a big apartment, filled with clothes they bought themselves, than a tiny studio filled with gifts and freebies.”