Hello! This is my first time writing for Foundations Revealed, I hope that you will find the two-part series I am writing on interning both interesting and informative. I have previously been described as ‘getting around’ in the corsetry world due to the amount of placements I have undertaken, and this is my opportunity to tell you lucky readers all about it!
There are several points I am going to cover in Part 1, all relating to ‘why, when and how?’ I will also be including my personal 'how-to' guide covering what I consider to be the best ways to go about securing an internship. I want to state, right here, right now, that by no means will reading this secure you an internship - but it should help point you in the right direction.
Where have I interned?
Interning has taken me to different areas of the UK but, as of yet, not abroad. This is partly due to cost, but by no means should this limit where you choose to apply. Interning can be a pricey affair as you often have to travel far while also shelling out for accommodation and any expenses you may have. You will be working for next to nothing, and it is a process that will often cost you. However, it is important to take into account what an incredible learning experience interning can be. In my opinion, this is invaluable.
My personal ‘corsetry quest’ began as a curiosity sparked off by having just completed a module at university: ‘corsetry’. This module was the most simplistic you could imagine; an eight-day course covering the basics. We began by learning about the different types of components used, fabrics, and methods of stitching. At the beginning of the module we were able to try on corsets that our visiting tutor, Jo of Rawhide Corsets, had brought in. I kept looking at myself in the mirror, really in awe that I could get that shape out of my body. Fascinated, I decided there and then that I was going to do everything in my power to be known in university as 'the corset girl'.
Google was my next port of call. I think the search was ‘vintage style corsets’. This led me onto Miss Katie’s website. Miss Katie specialises in the vintage look, including ‘retro-fetish fashion’ and burlesque wear. "Wow!" I thought, as I gazed at the bridal corsets which she supplies to Lulu and Lush, and Fairygothmother. The corsets that I saw on her site were just so awe-inspiring to me. They had the vintage ‘pin-up-y’ look while also boasting celebrity clients and having previously worked at House of Harlot, I was intrigued. Furthermore, she was based in one of my favourite places – London. I didn’t see there being any harm in writing to her - the worst she could do was turn around and say no, or not reply. I heard back after a couple of weeks, saying that she was interested and we set a date for a two-week placement.
‘It’s who you know, not what you know’ is a phrase I am forever hearing from friends and family, and one I have to admit I agree with to a certain extent. Who you know obviously helps, but if you don’t know anything and therefore can’t deliver, then that is equally as bad in my opinion. I imagine it could also be quite embarrassing.
My mum had been chatting to one of her friends in our village in Oxford about how I was getting really into corsetry, reading up on it and how I had just done an internship In London. This friend happened to say that she had a friend called Julia, who only lived round the corner from me, and she would put me in touch. From this sparked my month placement with Sew Curvy and Clessidra, which would later lead to both part-time employment and a brilliant contact and friend. I have learnt over time that all corsetières and designers work differently. Julia is a perfectionist, her work is flawless, and by working with her these skills rubbed off on me; another invaluable lesson learnt from a wonderful lady.
The next internship I undertook was for Rawhide Corsets and The Couture Company. Jo (of Rawhide) regularly takes on students for placements in her two sister companies. She believes that this helps them to improve their skills whilst building up their CVs. Experience in the fashion, costume and design world is a highly sought after necessity. The garments and accessories Jo produces are fun and absolutely gorgeous. I was able to assist her with a couple of brilliant photo shoots and build-up my petti-coat making skills – never a bad thing!
The summer of 2012 was a busy one for me, juggling placements while still teaching myself as much as I could about corsetry. I even accepted my first commissions, including that of a Boylesque dancer. It was also the summer I helped at the opening of Sparklewren’s Birmingham boutique. It was a truly brilliant few days, and afterwards I contacted Jenni (Sparklewren) to see if she needed a ‘Saturday girl’. She did, and my year's placement at Sparklewren began.
An awful lot can be learnt in a year, even only by giving up a day a week. I thoroughly enjoyed going in on a Saturday, whether I was opening the boutique or working alongside Jenni. She has been an absolute joy to have worked for. I think this is partly because she finds my sense of humour funny. For my final year project I had to collaborate with a company in industry and I was lucky enough to be able to work with Sparklewren alongside the exceptionally talented Glo and Bri (InaGlo Photography). I have included a couple of pictures of the final outcome.
So this all sounds very cheery and very upbeat... and for the best part it was. However, interning is a commitment and you have to accept that if you have made a commitment to be somewhere early on a Saturday morning - even though it’s dark and raining and maybe you went out the night before - you still have to be there. Like many a thing in life, you get out what you put in. Lots of effort equals lots of rewards.
Why have I interned?
Why does anyone want to intern? I think that we all have our own personal reasons, despite the fact that some of them may overlap. I interned to gain experience, to make contacts (and friends) and so that when I was in university I could be 'the corset girl’. To succeed in the industry, a CV full of successful internships and a list of positive references is an absolute key feature to make yourself stand out.
The law has recently changed in regards to interning. It is common hearsay that fashion interns are treated awfully and that doing work for free is an exploitation of a vulnerable group of people (often students who don’t think they can say no). But this did come to light as very real happenings. I myself have friends who have interned for large designer fashion houses and have been shouted at because they ordered the wrong skinny latte with half froth and a shot of one too many soy milks.
When interning now, money has to change hands. This is unless the intern is a student on a mandatory work placement of less than a year. This is organised through their university or education establishment and is required for their course. Alternatively the individual may also work for free when working for a charity organisation, or that they are simply ‘shadowing’. Shadowing means that the intern themselves is not carrying out any work, simply watching. To clarify what the ‘exchange of money’ means is that the employer has to offer some kind of payment. This often means that the employer or company are paying for their travel expenses and for their lunch. Most of the time this equates to about £10 a day.
As a result of this, not all designers and companies will now take on interns that have graduated. There are of course still exceptions.
Rosie’s how-to guide to secure a corsetry internship
I believe that a how-to-guide is needed because so many people don’t realise that they are able to secure internships which would benefit both them and the companies they intern for. I also believe that by writing this I will be helping out the designers quite a bit. Having interned for a fair few myself, I have learnt the common pet peeves, and the thoughtless ways some people go about things. So, I am hoping that this guide will work for both parties. I have compiled this guide from my own experience, by no means am I saying that they are gospel or that they are definitely correct for everyone’s personal situation. I believe that these things are relative, but that this should point you in the right direction.
- Approach companies off your own back- they’re not going to come to you!
Very few designers or companies will advertise for interns. This does not mean that they would not consider taking on an intern, or that they are unable to be reached. Search their website or Facebook page for an email address or phone number and get in touch with them with your suggestion of interning.
- Be polite, friendly and personable
When you are getting in touch, whether by email or phone, it is important to remember that the majority or corsetry companies are run by one person. This means that if you succeed in securing your internship, you will most likely be working directly with this individual. In your email you need to project across the fact that you are friendly enough, and have the people skills, to work in this environment. Basically, being grumpy gets you nowhere!
- Show that you have researched into their company, and back up anything you have to say to them with examples
This may sound ridiculous to say, but make sure you address your email to the correct person. Find their name and address it to them! This not only shows that you care, but that it is their company in particular that you want to work for. By leaving an email without specific details, it gives the impression that you have sent the exact same email out to multiple companies. By doing this, you are unlikely to have any positive feedback. This equates to the fact that if you show you care, the chances are that the designer will reciprocate. Moreover, if you have been drawn to a particular designer then give them the reason. For example, you may write to Rawhide and say that you have seen their shoot with a circus theme twist and this is what drew you to them.
- Know your stuff, and if you don’t, then research until you do
Again, this may sound like a bizarre one, but you would be surprised. If you are interning for a company they expect you to do some learning on the job, but this has to be beneficial to them as well. Make sure that, if you are looking for a corsetry internship, you know about corsets. What is a busk? What are the basic differences between Edwardian and Victorian corsets? And would you be able to lace a corset onto a body if asked to on the spot? These few fundamentals can all be learnt prior to the internship, but could be very embarrassing if it looks like you haven’t bothered to do your research.
- Be persistent and show determination, but not to a point which may cause annoyance
Yes, persistence can work, but it can also cause great annoyance which will result in a miserable internship either way. I knew of a girl who sent the same email to a costume company every day for two months before they replied. Persistent? Yes. Annoying? Yes. Believe it or not, corsetières have lives. Some of them have families, houses, friends and even social lives to think about when they get the chance. This isn’t to say give up, it is to say cut them some slack as well. Don’t expect a reply within the next couple of days. My personal rule is to give it around 10 days before sending what I like to call a ‘follow-up’ email. This email is not a copy and paste of the original you sent, but a polite reminder and a check that the email did reach them. If you get to the end of the month without a reply, send a final email saying that you hope you haven’t caused any inconvenience and that you hope to possibly hear in the future. The chances are you probably won’t, but at least you have the peace of mind that you couldn’t have dealt with it in a more polite way. So to conclude this point: it isn’t simply a matter of ‘don’t give up’, it’s knowing where the line is and when to stop.
- Be positive and realistic if a designer or company doesn’t want to take you on as an intern
This is very similar to my previous point. Not every corsetière will want to take you on. It may take over a year until you find one that does. Please don’t take this personally. Some companies have a policy to not take interns on at all and now, with the new law in place, this has increased. Keep upbeat about the whole situation, I have had many rejections along with my successes and it hasn’t all been plain sailing. The thing that differentiates you is the way you’re able to come back from your set-backs.
- Follow your dreams
So I am aware that this sounds cheesy, and I’m not one to normally embrace cheesiness, but this is something I really believe in. If you really want something, you really have to follow it. If you think a corsetry internship is for you, then pursue it. Someone will want you eventually.
I sincerely hope that this has been an interesting and insightful read. Part two will be following shortly in which I discuss how I feel interning has benefitted my career as a corset designer, and alternative ways to gain further experience and progress both professionally and socially.
Here is a final theory I picked up along my path of corsetry internships: the best corsetières have fringes (bangs) - and by best, I mean every corsetière I have ever worked for! I myself have had a block fringe for years now, so maybe it’s a sign?