There are many genres of female models. Understanding where you fit can have a huge effect on your success. This post is a prelude to “Positioning: Why so many gorgeous models don’t reach their potential”.

We’ll explain the difference, and many of the qualifications needed for:

  • Fashion models
  • Commercial models
  • And other popular genres including promotional/amateur; fitness, teen/junior and even adult models.


Chasing a career or representation outside of a qualified genre is the #1 mistake made by most models.


The first thing to understand is what these different genres are, and how you may fit into them. Once you have that knowledge you can work towards your chosen field and hopefully stay clear of making mistakes that may close doors.

There are two main genres of professional models and they can be easily classified by their agencies. Both can be very lucrative for those that are successful, yet you may find you are not qualified for either. In fact, most people don’t qualify to become professional models, but that doesn’t mean you cannot model. There are other genres that are easier to fit into, albeit not as rewarding.

The Two Main Genres of Professional Models:

Fashion models.

Modeling agency model portfolio VogueBecoming a fashion model is most aspiring model’s dream. Yet, it’s elusive and has strict qualifying standards. One of the big misconceptions we hear is “I’m going to be a fashion model. I know I’m not tall enough for runways but I’m going to do fashion print.”  This thinking is incorrect. To be a fashion model you must be 5’9″ (5’8″ in smaller markets), have hips no larger than about 35 inches (33/34 is ideal) and if you are not signed by your early 20’s, it will become increasingly difficult.

Fashion models have near exclusive access to many types of work for a simple reason: Certain clients only book through the fashion agencies. Aside from designers, these categories include most major cosmetics, fragrances, and others. If you aren’t qualified to become represented by a leading fashion agency, it’s a waste of your time and resources to try and become a fashion model.

Fashion modeling is extremely competitive. Top talent can make upwards of a million dollars a year. Talent that doesn’t make money gets cut quickly and all of them have one thing in common: They’re exceedingly beautiful in one form or another.

Commercial models.

Modeling agency model portfolio Good HousekeepingYou may have caught in the Fashion Models section above that I used the terms “fashion print” as something unattainable to talent unqualified as fashion models. This is not to be confused with “commercial print”. Fashion print isn’t a commonly used term, but commercial print certainly is and it covers almost every demographic with less stringent physical requirements.

A major commercial agency will cover the entire spectrum of demographics for their clients. They usually have two things in common. They are attractive, and they usually also have talent. Female commercial models need not be 5’9″ but they do need to fit within certain height standards. It’s difficult to become a commercial model if you are 5’3″.

There’s also a wide array of agencies that represent commercial models and some fashion agencies have commercial boards. Some agencies are more geared towards talent and may also rep actors, some are specialized, and others may not even fit standard descriptions. But almost all the top commercial agencies supply talent for television commercials as well as commercial print. That can mean that your level of talent is as important as how you look. A reel can be as important as your book.

Compensation for commercial jobs can come from more than one source. You get paid for your time working, and then for most national televsion commercials you collect residuals based on how much a campaign runs. For commercial print you can get a buy-out for an initial period, which when extended can also create additional income for you. The residuals are where commercial modeling can become very lucrative.

One of the lesser known things about becoming a commercial model is that it can actually get easier when you get into your later 20s. Young housewife/mother is the largest consumer group in the country and therefore the largest body of advertising. On the other hand, there’s no shortage of young beautiful girls vying to become models and commercial agencies have limits on how many models they’ll have in any given category.

Other Popular Genres of Modeling:

Promotional (or amateur) models.

Modeling agency model portfolio Car magazinePromotional/amateur models can be with a variety of non-exclusive agencies, but are largely independent (even when with a promotional agency). These agencies are far different than the big fashion or commercial agencies that are required to achieve serious success. This category also encompasses misused terms such as “glamour models”, “bikini models”, “lingerie models” that don’t really rise to industry standards for being considered a “professional model”. Yet for many younger girls, it can still be attractive work since their personal overheads and expenses are low. It can also make for some wonderful supplementary income while going to college.

The type of work promotional models do can be extremely varied and there can be a lot of it. However, it rarely pays over a thousand dollars per gig, and sometimes much less. The better gigs include spokes-modeling with given titles such as Miss xxx, doing print ads for smaller companies that cannot afford agency talent, to even taking work from aspiring photographers that are still working on their own portfolios.

Promotional/amateur models also serve as the content base for many men’s magazines and websites, online contests, and other engagements that get their images seen by many. However, this can be also un-constructive if you’re also working on becoming a commercial model. There’s a also a catch to this type of work: It’s commonly racier, you wind up with images floating around online that are unhelpful to advancing your career as commercial agencies tend to be very shy of talent that has engaged in too much promotional work. Moreover, photographers hired for these types of jobs usually aren’t as qualified as those that work for bigger clients. If your goal is to grow into becoming a commercial model you should be very careful about how entangled you allow yourself to get with promotional/amateur modeling.

Teen, or junior models.

Modeling agency model portfolio Seventeen MagazineWhen listing teen modeling as a genre, we are specifically excluding it from child or youth modeling. Teen models can do a lot of similar work as fashion models but for the junior floor in department stores, junior chains, and junior manufacturers.

Teen/junior modeling can often times be a stepping stone towards becoming a fashion model but with one major caveat:  If you are a teen model that was signed under the standard height for fashion modeling, your career will quickly stall when you outgrow the junior look. Don’t look at Kate Moss as a career path example. Learn and develop skills to become a commercial model.

Fitness models.

Modeling agency model portfolio Hers MagazineThis is a very specialized genre with limited work available. Most successful fitness models are also competitive athletes with other incomes, or work sporadically.

It’s also important to note that many top shelf publications use commercial and fashion models for fitness features. In our opinion, setting your sites on fitness modeling as a career only makes sense if you are otherwise working in that industry.



Adult models.

Modeling agency model portfolio adult magazineWe’ll mention it, but do not endorse this field. It’s a one way street.

Being classified as an adult model isn’t limited to those engaged in porn. Any type of adult work including posing for Playboy or other adult brand or publication can create difficult challenges to ever becoming a professional model. It’s nearly impossible to get with a strong fashion or commercial agency once you have participated in the adult business on any level.

The only place adult credits can sometimes help (other than within the adult industry) is for promotional/amateur modeling where there really aren’t any blue chip clients.



Confusing nomenclature.

There are many types of specialty genres of models, for example: plus-sized, shoe, hand, figure and hair to name a few. But sometimes terms are used that can confuse models as to where they fit in.

Glamour model.

While glamour is a type of shot, there really isn’t such a thing as a professional glamour model in the United States. Same with bikini or lingerie model. You may then ask: “Who does lingerie or bikini ads?” Higher end companies like Victoria’s Secret use fashion models. A lot of catalog work goes to commercial models. And the lower end work goes to promotional/amateur models. Some lingerie and swimwear companies may even use adult models.

Arguably adult models are professional glamour models.

Print model.

Almost all models are print models. Often times new talent is confused into thinking there are print models and runway models. Again, a common thing we hear is “I know I’m too short for runway, I want to be a print model”.

There’s some truth to the statement above. If you are too short to work runways you can still do commercial print. But you won’t be getting signed to a fashion agency. A more correct way to say it would be “I know I’m too short to be a fashion model, I want to be a commercial model”. The fashion industry doesn’t distinct between taller runway models and shorter print models, they just simply don’t sign the shorter models.


It’s important to know what genre you fit into, and not just to find agencies or to tune your book. There are things that can close doors to becoming a fashion or commercial models. We’ll explain more in “Positioning“.