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The Biggest Statement At Fashion Week Is A Plain White T-Shirt

Where everyone now works so hard to say something new with their clothes, the most unexpected thing one might do with them is... nothing unusual at all. My dispatch from the runways explains.

Anna Dello Russo with Michelle Harper and other fashion people at the Prabal Gurung show.
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Anna Dello Russo with Michelle Harper and other fashion people at the Prabal Gurung show.

Judging by the "survival kits" that are sent to me prior to every New York Fashion Week, you might assume the twice-yearly event consists of the following:

1. Beatings. The kits inevitably include Band-Aids. The Band-Aids might also make you assume I am a child, since they tend to come in colorful prints instead of nude tones. Often the prints are thanks to a "collaboration" with a designer who agreed to lend their genius to Band-Aid design.

2. Starvation. Sustenance provided to me by the sponsors assembling the kits tends to include a fiber or energy bar, or pack of nuts. Something not really delicious but that you'll eat if you're really in need of solid food.

3. Severe staining. Stain remover and often a T-shirt are provided so that you can spill all over yourself and then change into your swag. This season's free tee says "#FASHION WEEK PROBLEMS" in red letters, as though it was written with a tube of red lipstick. Although, judging by the look of most people who attend Fashion Week, if you were to wear this your biggest #fashionweekproblem would be that very T-shirt.

I'm happy to report that about five days in I have eaten my free low-calorie chocolate chip granola bar, but have not starved, been beaten, lost my shirt — or been in danger of not surviving. Contrary to how it seems most of the time, Fashion Week really doesn't have to be that much work.

The event is eight days long and began officially on Thursday. My journey into the season began Wednesday night, at the party Refinery 29 and SPIN magazine threw for Azealia Banks, who stars in ads for Alexander Wang's T clothing line and covers SPIN's style issue and is generally regarded as very cool (I will admit she's the only person who seems to make leather shorts necessary). At this party it became clear that socks will be a cornerstone of male style expression this season: the dudes in attendance were either emphatically anti- or pro-sock. The sockless rolled up their pants to flaunt their naked ankles, while at the opposite end of the spectrum, thick white tube socks were worn hiked up around the calf with chunky brown hiking boots and shorts.

One guy carrying an acid wash messenger-style purse wore white tube socks pulled up to his knees, under long gray jersey shorts under a sarong-like thing made of the same fabric. It was basically an exaggerated man skort with a drop crotch that he might have made himself. A white Members Only jacket, Nike sneakers and a flat-brimmed baseball hat with "St. Louis" in big cursive letters finished the look. A girl in a crocheted white tank and cropped black pants, lest this very worked-on outfit and moment go undocumented, took his picture with a big white iPad, which, yes, still looks incredibly awkward as a camera.

Seeing the two of them together made me realize how much more creatively the men at this event were dressed. It might not even be an exaggeration to say that 70 percent of the ladies there wore some version of the same outfit: faded black cutoff shorts, ankle boots, and a loose-fitting top with hair pulled into an intentionally messy top knot. This Look is very Madewell or Alexa Chung or Alexa Chung for Madewell, the line that created a new standard and breathlessness for hipster fashion. With this many people wearing the same ideas, it really is time for a new round of collections. #fashionweekproblems.

Azealia Banks.

Azealia Banks.

Now nearly five days of shows are finished and as tempting as it is to call out trends, the wise Vogue editor André Leon Talley once told me, you can't identify them a few days into a month-long season. (After New York comes three more weeks of shows in London, Milan, and Paris.) But it certainly has seemed like, for the past couple of seasons and this current season, that the disheveled look is not of interest to designers. There's no point in them making the stuff we all already have (cutoffs, punctured tights, crocheted tank tops — anything wrinkled or ripped for no reason). Things are stain-free and dressy — and lots of the folks going to Fashion Week seem to realize that.

Sitting on the front row of the Richard Chai Love show Thursday is Harper's Bazaar editor Joanna Hillman, who is a street style celebrity, famous for her pretty, put-together clothes, long blonde side-parted hair and bright red lipstick. On Chai's front row she was impossible to miss in purple-and-white pants that look like the kind of special thing you plan all your other clothes and Life around, rather than just bottoms. Many of her and her fellow street style blog stars' clothes look like this, and it became unclear seasons ago how much of her look is for her fans and the photographers that follow her, and how much of it is just for her. Where does one draw the line between wearing certain clothes to not be naked and wearing certain clothes because they feel like they should?

Across the runway from Hillman, also on the front row, sat a more famous person, Nick Cannon, who spent the minutes before the show with a crush of reporters kneeling at his feet. His hat, worn backwards, read "1st Class" in big cursive letters. Given the willingness of the press to drop to their knees to record probably mundane quotes from him, this hardly needed to be stated. One reporter was so smiley that she even said, "Enjoy the show," when she finished talking to him, as though it was partly her responsibility to ensure Cannon had a good time.

This show consisted of pretty, easy-to-wear things in watercolor prints with cut-outs around the torso that I have a hard time imagining anyone but a model wearing. I am comforted by how easy-to-walk-in the shoes are — nothing makes me feel bad for models in quite the way a pair of insanely high shoes and floor-grazing dress does. These girls are tall already, so if they fall it's a long way down — and they don't have a lot of padding to cushion them.

The shoe/tripping situation was a different story on the runway of the Parsons MFA show at Milk Studios Saturday, where I arrived late to be greeted coldly by a perfectly made-up blond wearing all-black (for some reason, PR people working at the shows always wear coordinating all-black as though they might need to gather to break out in synchronized song and dance at any moment). She told me the doors were closed, which was a lie, since I went up to the second floor anyway and am allowed to slip in by a PR person who is in an opposite state of mind: excited that another person showed up for the show.

The clothes there were interesting. Fashion students are often eager to put something avant garde on the runway, perhaps because they simply want to be discovered and don't have to worry nearly as much as some other designers do about making things that will sell because they're more normal-looking. Though some pieces were boxy, some metallic, some made of chiffon, and some entirely of yarn, lots of things looked like a nightgown or muu muu in some form or other. Not that it's all comfortable thanks to some heels that are so insanely high and chunky they could serve as storage units if hollowed out. But there was a lot of trying here — these clothes are not the cutoffs you made last season or the socks you decided to stop wearing, but full of the "look at me" sentiment that permeates the front row of Fashion Week more and more each season.

A look from the Parsons MFA show.
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A look from the Parsons MFA show.

Outside of Milk Studios after the show a few street style photographers, there to photograph what people who attend Fashion Week wear, lingered. Three who looked like friends banded together and don't photograph most of the people who pass by, even though they really looked like the dressed for those very cameras. Otherwise, why wear two skirts at once? Why wear metallic pink leggings and platform heels and dye your hair blue? I'm not sure I understand how street style photographers choose their subjects these days. But based on my casual perusal of these blogs over the past few months and observing this group outside Milk, tall skinny Asian women in oversized long white nightgowns seem like a shoo-in. Great color-blocking or anything see-through in a way that seems kind of racy ("Wow I can see her bra AND panties! She has balls!") also helps. But it largely seems like street style has become a confusing mess perverted by people who are unabashedly self-promotional about it. Lots of people really want to be the next Joanna Hillman and considering the way her style has boosted her profile, you really can't blame them for seeking the readily available exposure.

As one brilliant fashion editor who's been in the business for a long time said to me at the Hervé Léger show when we were discussing the street style explosion, "There's no chic in it anymore." Indeed, these photographers have such a wealth of eye-catching people to choose from that, well, they have to figure out if Internet readers actually want to see the chic or the freak. And if a group of people IS a group because there are homogenous things about them, like stylistic elements, it's only natural that the increasingly flamboyant segment of them — the freak — will influence the rest, lending an inauthentic freakiness to everyone.

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At the Hervé Leger show, I bumped into the blogger Fashion Toast have *fur* camera straps. Bryan Boy, who has a purple one to match his shirt, explains it's the product of a collaboration. I forget who the collaborator is since collaborations in fashion have become as easy to keep track of, for me, as football players. I can keep the goings on of about one straight in my head at any given moment and the rest are just kind of a "huh?"

The tight bandage dresses in the Hervé show, which the show notes explained were inspired by "the remarkable women of Gee's Bend, Alabama, and their artful quilt making [sic]," were styled with leather harnesses and thick waist belts — popular accessories so far on this season's runways. A stylist and former colleague sitting next to me, who looked smashingly minimal in a white T-shirt, faded jeans, and open-toed wedges, told me she "loves" these leather accessories, which usually just puzzle me. "Really?" I replied.

"Over a chunky sweater or a dress? They would look great," she said.

"That's true," I conceded. "I wouldn't know what to do with them. I'm not good enough at making outfits."

"Yeah, I don't really do it on myself," she said. And why bother? The photographers outside of Milk were unmoved by a girl wearing a tight leopard skirt under another sheer black one but visibly excited by the fast-moving clouds in the sky. "Let's shoot the clouds!" one shouted, and they all laughed and agreed that they were the most exciting thing around to photograph.

Sometimes simplicity — a nude Band-Aid, a full-fat granola bar, a T-shirt without the harness — is just where it's at. Sometimes it's a lot easier not to worry about what you should do based on everyone else, or even the people you want to be.

Jessica White and Hofit Golan, who sat front-row at the daytime Herve Leger show in the requisite full eveningwear.

Jessica White and Hofit Golan, who sat front-row at the daytime Herve Leger show in the requisite full eveningwear.

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