The best thing about going to college in New York City is how easy it is to score internships at really awesome places. Most of my internships turned out okay. I worked at one men’s magazine where I got to dress some super hot models plus a celebrity or two, and the first ever photo shoot I went on was in the woods in upstate New York (we were going for a preppy-guys-in-the-woods vibe). The great thing about doing an away shoot — we drove like an hour to get there — is that you overhear all sorts of juicy industry gossip. The photographer on this shoot was a cute guy (super famous), skinny and kind of nerdy, and he had a huge Adam’s apple. He was having relationship problems due to the fact that he is a total, uncompromising top, he said, and the guy he was seeing wasn’t so into that. So that was funny for the whole bus to hear about.
If you want to know the truth, there is something very glamorous about being a fashion intern. You are constantly surrounded by beauty and beautiful people, by beautiful clothes and rich people. But all that is pretty shallow. At the end of the day, being a fashion editor or a fashion intern is just a job like anything else.
Most internships don’t pay. They offer college credit and maybe a recommendation if you really blow everyone’s socks off (or just blow them, too, I guess). Some places, like Condé Nast, offer a daily stipend to offset the cost of commuting or buying lunch. When I interned there my stipend was $12 a day and I worked full-time, everyday, for two and a half months. I thought I would get my check at the end of the internship, and technically it did come at the end of my time there. BY ABOUT TWO YEARS.
Mind you, I never worked at this Condé Nast publication for the money. I didn’t even know about the $12 daily stipend until I showed up on the first day and filed my paperwork. I just wanted to work in fashion and I was so excited to be at Condé Nast — to feel fabulous while I scanned myself into the building every day and to be among the glamazons.
At the end of the internship, my cohort and I all asked our editor about the stipend, and he told us it would be coming. Isn’t it funny how whenever people owe you money the check is always “coming” or “in the mail” or “you’ll have it soon”? Anyhow, I thought it would be okay and I just let it go and forgot about it.
A few months later, I emailed my editor just to check-in and see if the paperwork had been processed. He responded right away and told me he walked it over to HR. Oh, okay. Several more months pass and I send him another message, which is met with the same response. I do nothing else.
One day, nearly a year later, I got a text message from one of the people in my cohort, another working class college student who worked all year and saved up all her money so she could intern in New York in the summer.
“Hey, did you get your check from Condé yet?” she asked. No I did not.
“Of course not,” was all she texted back.
And that’s when I started to get angry. It wasn’t because I needed the money or because I was behind on my bills or because doing that internship set me back financially. I loved working at the magazine and I learned a whole lot, and no monetary value could make up for the richness of the overall experience. But now it was a matter of principle. They promised I would get paid, I signed a piece of paper that said I would be paid so I want to get paid. Plan and simple.
Long story short, after several dozen phone calls and email exchanges, finally, two years later, I got my $600 check. I’m not so sure about all the others.
The problem with the whole experience is that most people who intern in fashion almost always come from money. You have to have money or look like you come from money in order to be taken seriously in this business, because it is a shallow world that’s all about what pieces you’re wearing even if you mix thrift store stuff with designer labels. I wasn’t about to let them get away with thinking that just because I’m a young college student interning at a fashion magazine in New York City that I’m automatically a rich bitch, that they could get away with not paying me. That’s really what angered me the most.