So you want to be a vintage model?

by - 08:00

Vintage Modelling

Today I thought I would share some information on what it's like to work as a vintage model. I've been modelling on and off for around 3 years now, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to try and answer some of the questions that I would have liked to know the answers to when I was just starting out.

I'd just like to preface this by saying that I'm certainly not the foremost authority on this kind of thing so I'd advise that you also do some research elsewhere if vintage modelling is something you'd like to get into. Vintage modelling is completely different to mainstream modelling, so I am in no way qualified to comment on that, and this is based on my own experience of modelling so may not be representative of every experience. If you have any other questions about either my personal experience of modelling or about vintage modelling in general, please feel free to ask!

so you want to be a vintage model? | helen mae green for ell wormald portraits


1) How do I become a vintage model?
My first experience of working as a vintage model (outside of having pictures taken for blogging and at re-enactment shows) was with a photographer who had previously spotted me at re-enactment and wanted to arrange a shoot in our own time. If you're seriously interested in becoming a vintage model, I would not necessarily recommend this as a route in - you could attend re-enactment shows for years and never get any work out of it, not to mention that many (or even most) of the photographers tend to be amateurs. I did not start attending re-enactment with the intention of becoming a model - that's just how it worked out.
Personally what I would choose to do would be to get a portfolio set up, and start soliciting work from there.
2) So how do I set up a portfolio?
There are several websites where you can host a portfolio. My portfolio is hosted with Purpleport, but you could also try Model Mayhem. You may need a print portfolio also, although I've personally never had anyone ask to see hard copies of any pictures. Physical portfolios usually follow a certain format and you can find this information online. If you choose to go with an online portfolio, you will usually need some good quality pictures to start off with, in order to get your portfolio approved.
so you want to be a vintage model? | helen mae green for retro-images.com


3) Where do I get pictures for my portfolio?
You could either pay to have a professional photographer take some for you*, or take some yourself (unless you know a photographer or someone else who can take some good quality pictures for you for free). Be aware that the photos will usually need to be of a certain standard, meaning that you may not be accepted if you apply using mobile phone selfies, for example.
*If you engage a photographer to take some portfolio shots for you, make sure that you have the right to include them in your portfolio, and find out what information you might need to include in order to do so. For example, I have worked with some very flexible photographers who will allow me to use their photos as and when I like (usually with appropriate credit) and others who will not allow me to use their photos at all. This will depend on a variety of factors, which I will discuss later on.

4) Now that I have a portfolio, how do I go about getting work?
I'm not sure how the process works with Model Mayhem if you're hosted by them, but on Purpleport you can either message photographers directly or send out general casting calls (where you can provide information on your availability, levels, rates, etc). 
Because I've also been studying and working while I've been modelling, I usually let the work come to me - photographers have contacted me either through Purpleport or via email to set up shoots. I would consider the amount of work I do to fall somewhere between casual and part-time - so if you're trying to make modelling into a job by which you can actually support yourself, I would recommend actively chasing work.

so you want to be a vintage model? | helen mae green for steve bond images

5) How much will I get paid?
It depends. To begin with, you will probably not receive any money in payment for your work. This is for two reasons - firstly, you will need to build up a portfolio, and it's normal to receive either money or images, but not both. Therefore you will need to work in exchange for images (often described as TF, or some variation such as TFCD, which stands for "trade for" or "time for" - meaning that you will receive images by way of payment). 
The unfortunate truth is that you will probably have to be prepared to work TF for quite some time before you can begin charging. Once you begin working for pay, you would usually charge by the hour. Rates vary according to the standard of the model and the levels the model is working to (this sort of equates to how much clothing you are willing to take off and the style of posing you are willing to do). I charge a flat rate because I normally only work to "fashion" (i.e. I keep all my clothes on) with discount for block bookings of a half or full day. Rates are also sometimes negotiable - so you could charge less in order to secure a booking - and you can also work part paid - where you receive some money and some images.
so you want to be a vintage model? | helen mae green for woodphoto.co.uk


6) What do I need to take to modelling jobs?
 I have a kit which I take along to all my jobs. It generally contains:
  • Spare tights/stockings - in case of ladders or in case a particular pair doesn't go with an outfit
  • Jewellery and accessories- either items to match with specific outfits or a selection to go with a variety of things
  • Makeup - items such as lipstick and powder which might need refreshing during a shoot, or any makeup I need to change my look during the shoot
  • Baby wipes - have a multitude of uses from cleaning yourself up if you get hot in the studio or dirty on location, cleaning the bottoms of shoes, even taking off makeup in a pinch
  • Tissues, lip balm, feminine hygiene products etc - any essentials for my own comfort
  • Hair spray, hair grips, teasing brush etc - anything I need to fix or change my hair during the shoot.
  • Change of underwear if necessary - in case a particular outfit requires a particular colour or style of underwear (e.g. a strapless bra or white/nude items to go under a light coloured dress)
  • Business cards - so I can provide the photographer with my details
so you want to be a vintage model? | helen mae green for paulina czochra


7) What is the difference between vintage and pin-up modelling?
It depends who you ask, and there is some degree of crossover between the two styles. I do some pin-up modelling although I consider myself to be primarily a vintage model. As far as I'm concerned, vintage modelling consists more of portraiture which includes a model who is dressed in a vintage style, and which may also include photography techniques designed to mimic old photographs (for example through lighting or composition), while pin-up modelling mimics pin-up artwork from the 1940s and 50s such as Gil Elvgren portraits. Pin-up involves a certain style of dress and of (often more suggestive or sexy) posing which is very specific to the pin-up style. To illustrate this, you could compare some of my work which I would consider to be in a vintage style, to these images which show the models used for Gil Elvgren's paintings.
8) Is there a height restriction?
Not usually. Vintage and pin-up modelling tends to be more accepting of people of different shapes and sizes (at least in my experience), however you may occasionally find that certain jobs will require models of 5'6" or above, or 5'10" or above. I'm 5'5" so I can't take these jobs on, but I don't find it a huge problem.
9) Is there a size restriction?
Again, not usually. Sometimes companies will asks for models of a particular dress size, but this is based on the size of the clothes they require modelling and not to do with discriminating against anyone based on body type. Like I mentioned above, vintage and pin-up modelling tend to be more inclusive so you do see models of all kinds of different heights, builds, body types, skin colours, etc.
so you want to be a vintage model? | helen mae green for steve bond images

General Tips and Pointers
  • I have learned everything I know about modelling on the job, so be prepared to listen to what photographers have to say so you understand how things work and you can improve your posing.
  • Practising posing in front of a mirror is really helpful for learning what poses and what facial expressions look good on you.
  • Learn to do your own hair and makeup. I've worked with makeup artists and hairdressers on shoots but the majority of the time I have to so my own styling. I'm less than amazing at doing my own hair, so I've learned a few hairstyles which I know will work most of the time and I just use those with different accessories etc. 
  • Don't let anyone push you to work to levels you don't feel comfortable with.
  • If you get paid for a job, check the money you've been given before leaving.
so you want to be a vintage model? | helen mae green for ged carton photography



Image credits (excluding header image):

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2 comments

  1. This is excellent, practical, detailed information. Thank you very much for sharing your know-how and experiences with us, dear gal. Even though I don't consider myself a vintage model, I do get questions on the topic from blog readers sometimes and in replying to those queries, I will point them towards your great post from now on.

    ♥ Jessica

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