A Day in the Life of a Victoria’s Secret Drill Instructor

Aspiring models are participating in boot camps in the hope of winning Victoria’s Secret’s nationwide runway model search. 

                                                                                        The Boston Herald

As I unpacked my duffle bag in the officer’s barracks at Victoria’s Secret Boot Camp, I allowed myself a moment of reflection as to why I–a long-retired women’s apparel drill instructor–had been called out of mufti by the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the nation’s only supermodel power.

As a boy, I’d grown up in women’s clothing–not literally, but my father owned a women’s clothing store, and before that a women’s shoe company.  I can’t tell you how many happy hours I spent with dad assembling hat racks–back when women wore hats–on Saturday mornings, folding sweater boxes, wiping down the bra and panty mannequins, cleaning up the mess after fashion shows.  I had Women’s Wear Daily in my blood.


“Dad, I’m gonna wipe down the bra and panty mannequins–again.”

Other kids spent their summers at the Lake of the Ozarks, playing in the sun on the hard-rock beach of that man-made body of water, but not me; I learned the ropes of the women’s fashion business on the hardscrabble streets of New York’s garment district, dodging racks of dresses, skirts and blouses as we made the mission-critical choices that could make or break our fall season at mid-Missouri’s finest women’s specialty shop.


“Mom, I can’t model today–I broke a fingernail.”

But kids these days–what the hell do they know?  They’ve been coddled and pampered by doting helicopter parents who’ve made sure that every step of their journey to the runways of New York and Milan is an easy one.  Those are the kind of girls I’ve come to whip into shape.

I walk out onto the parade ground where I see a makeshift catwalk set up.  The girls are standing around, texting each other.  “HI CAN U C ME?”  “YES U R STANDING ON MY FOOT.”  At least they’ve got the mental capacity to become supermodels.

“ALL RIGHT YOU BUNCH OF DIET-COKE SWILLING DIDDLEHEADS,” I screech.  “GET UP ON THE CATWALK–MOVE IT, MOVE IT, MOVE IT!”

They stare at me as if I’m crazy.  You’ve got to be a little crazy to take on a job this tough at my age, but Semper Fi and all that.


Mizrahi, with Target Terrier

One of them gives me a look like “Who are you, you insignificant little round-shouldered Isaac Mizrahi-wannabe?”  Just what I want–somebody to make an example of.

“WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT, MISS TWIGGY?  GET UP ON THE CATWALK AND GIVE ME TWENTY UP-AND-BACKS WITH HEAD TURNS–NOW!”

The girl–she can’t be more than 15–snaps off a fairly presentable set of passes, with a coy, come-hither look over her shoulder each time she reaches me, as if I’m Coco Chanel.  My guess is she got some training at a military academy–like the John Powers School of Modeling.

“At ease,” I say when she’s finished, and I line the girls up in formation.  “Ladies, I only have you for a short time.  But I’m going to turn what looks to me like a bunch of celery-chewin’ chippies into the sort of supermodel that America can be proud of.”

I see one Gisele Bundchen look-alike checking for split ends, and I snap.  “DO YOU HEAR ME?”

“I hear ya,” she says, all lackadaisical-like.  I get right up in her face.  “You better listen up and listen good,” I say to her in a voice that I pack with the maximum amount of menace allowed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice–some call it “Marsupial Justice” because the officers always win in the system’s kangaroo courts.  “I’m gonna break you into little pieces.  And whether you ever get put back together is up to you.  If you want to suck up your guts and be a model, you’ll do it my way–UNDERSTAND?”


“Drop down and give me twenty-five, then a four-mile training run in full fall fashion gear.”

She blanches like an almond–nobody ever told her modeling was going to be like this back in New Rochelle.  I walk down the line and see every modeling drill sergeant’s nightmare.  A grossly overweight girl whose chances of ever seeing her picture outside of a Lane Bryant catalog are slim–and that’s the only thing that’s slim about her.

“What have we here?” I say sarcastically.  “It looks like somebody forgot to go to Jenny Craig today.”

She looks straight ahead, trying not to show emotion.  I think I know her weakness.

“You want to be in Victoria’s Secret someday, sister?”

“Yes, sir,” she says, working hard to stifle a whimper.

“I didn’t hear that.”

“YES SIR!”

“Then you’ve got to learn to pout,” I say as I walk around behind her and check her out.  “When I see your face again I want to see it pouting, understand?”

I have to admit when I stand face-to-face with her again, she’s showing a fair approximation of the standard-issue look of peevish petulance that is a million dollar model’s meal ticket.  The only thing you can get with that meal ticket is a stalk of celery, but that’s another story.

Thinking of celery makes my hungry, and lunch is served in the mess at twelve-hundred hours.  I look at my watch–we’ve got a half hour to go, just enough time to run the obstacle course.  “All right,” I say, “if you guys are going to be models someday, you’re going to have to learn what combat conditions are like.  We’re gonna run the obstacle course, and if you fall down, you have to run it again.  And you’ll keep doing it until you make it–understand?”


Serves six

“Yes sir.”

“What was that?”

“YES SIR!”  I slap the girl at the front of the line on the butt, almost breaking my hand on the bony ass that lies beneath her skirt, and she takes off.

She runs to the end of the catwalk, jumps off, and weaves her way through a phalanx of fashion editors, paparazzi, and hedge fund managers looking for a bit of arm candy for a big closing dinner.

“Look out, Cheryl!” one of the other girls yells, “There’s a photographer from L.L. Bean!”

It’s too late.  Her picture has been snapped by the decidedly unfashionable maker of clothing for campers and preppy-types who want to look like they care about nature, and her picture will appear in the Christmas catalog in a Fair Isle sweater festooned with mooses.  Her modeling career is over.

The other girls swerve to avoid her as they make their way through the course, and she falls to the ground, crying.  I know I’m supposed to be an s.o.b., but I can’t help but take pity on the unfortunate anorexic whose dream has died today.  I walk over to help her up.

“Don’t take it so hard,” I say.  “It could have been worse.”

“I can’t imagine how,” she says, her face all blotchy with tears.

“You could have ended up in J.C. Penny’s sleepwear section.”

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