At a casting call in New York City’s Soho neighborhood for New York Fashion Week: Men’s, hopeful male models, many in their late teens or early 20s, filed into the front lobby, filled out a questionnaire covering their basic stats and experience, took off their shirts for the camera, then left.
Roberto Sipos, a 20-year-old model from Transylvania, Romania, said that after modeling for five years, he only planned to do it as long as it could pay the bills. Sipos is one of the lucky ones. He makes a living at modeling, despite being well aware he makes significantly less than his female counterparts. “There’s always been a big difference — it almost feels like a different industry,” he said.
For men in the modeling industry, jobs are more scarce than they are for women, and compensation is spotty. According to one executive in the casting industry, the pay disparity can stretch as great as 10 to one: Women in Prada’s runway show last year were compensated $1,000 for their work, while the men in a comparable fashion show were paid a paltry $125 for their time.
To close that gap, more male models are building influence on Instagram to negotiate higher pay and more opportunity.
“In some cases, a male model can be paid as little as his taxi fare to and from his show,” said Stefan Campbell, an artistic and creative director who currently produces fashion shows for Michael Bastian. “It’s now about experience and exposure.”
But working in exchange for “experience” and “exposure” adds up to the same thing: tiny, if at all existent, paychecks. While female models are served a similar deal when they start out, they’re playing on higher footing: Payscale data shows that the average female model makes 148 percent more than her male peer: $41,300 a year compared to $28,000.
“Men should have the potential to reach this certain pay rate, and they can use social media as a negotiating tool, but they will never be as valued financially as their female counterparts — at least not in the next 20 years,” said Campbell. “I don’t see it happening.”
Male models today are under more pressure to prove they’re someone worth seeing, which they have to do through a high Instagram follower count. According to Campbell, men have to clear that hurdle simply to get hired, whereas female models see more pressure from employers to grow their social followers only after they land high-profile jobs.
Thanks to the rise of menswear fashion bloggers, GQ and social media exposure, today’s men are more responsive to good style and grooming. As a result, even though the models aren’t being paid much, the industry they’re working for is burgeoning. According to Edited data, by 2019, the menswear industry is expected to reach $40 billion in sales, up from a projected $18 billion in 2016. In 2014, it officially outpaced growth of womenswear, growing 4.5 percent compared to 3.7.
This menswear renaissance hasn’t yet caught up to the men modeling the clothes. So a strong influence on Instagram is critical for male models hoping to get seen, and paid.
“Ideally, as the industry grows, there will be more money and, you would think, more money for the men,” said Amy Lowles, casting director for the modeling agency The New Cast. “That hasn’t started yet. And between men and women, the difference in pay is drastic. It’s night and day.”
That disparity reaches from the beginners, up to the pros. Top-earning model Gisele Bundchen made $44 million in 2015; top-earning male model Sean O’Pry pulled in $1.5 million in 2013.
“When it comes to most fashion stories, the men are the accessories and the woman is the main feature,” said Lowles.
For models with budding careers, it’s become commonplace to accept little to no pay for big jobs as a way to build up followers, in order to leverage those followers for more money down the line. Sipos has worked with brands like Calvin Klein, Saks Fifth Avenue and Thom Browne, and shot editorials for Wonderland and Interview magazines. He said he’s received compensation ranging from a few free items of clothing to a few hundred dollars per booking.
“When I started, casting directors cared about your portfolio, and the way you looked when you entered the casting call,” said Sipos. “Then Instagram came up. They all want to know how many followers you have, and the more followers you have, the more you get paid.”
Sipos has 16,000, which he says isn’t enough. And indeed, compared to high-profile male models like Lucky Blue Smith (2.4 million followers) and Nick Bateman (5.1 million followers), it isn’t much to blink an eye at.
Major luxury brands can also pay models, particularly men, less because the models want the association with a big name. Campbell said that models for Michael Bastian’s luxury line got paid considerably less than those modeling for lesser-known contemporary brand Gant by Michael Bastian.
“Theres an automatic allure in luxury,” said Campbell. “The more prestigious the show, the less you can be paid because of the exposure and association to the brand. If people hear you walked for Prada, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, they think, wow, he’s legit. It goes: Do a lesser paid show, get more followers, negotiate more money down the line.”
David Gruning, the vp of marketing for menswear brand Zachary Prell, said that while the retailer won’t turn away models who have small followings, it’s seen its own social followings grow after booking more influential models for shoots and shows.
“If we find a new guy who has a tiny social following who’s amazing, we’ll certainly cast him,” said Gruning. “It helps create a diverse group. But one season, we used a lot of guys with very large social followings, and we saw our own company following grow a lot as a result. So it does affect how we choose the guys.”