At my first fashion week ever, I realized that pretty much everyone was trying to break the rules. Well-dressed, imperious women kept elbowing their way to the front of the lines at Lincoln Center — New York Fashion Week's headquarters — arguing that their various statuses entitled them to immediate admission, tickets or not.
It was hard to focus on the clothes on the runways themselves over the various outsize personalities jockeying for attention, and the general sense that everyone was competing to be seen. The notes I took on my phone about the crowd before one show: "Long weird two-pointed beard; Status anxiety; Kilts."
I'm not a complete fashion idiot; I've written about women's issues in some capacity for going on five years, so I've been near fashion coverage for most of that time. Near enough, that is, to know that fashion has a complex set of rules all its own, and to fear breaking them.
So as I looked for my seat at my first show, I was very concerned about getting in trouble. I was worried that if I accidentally stepped on the runway, some Fashion Official would emerge from the wings and scream at me.
As it turned out, I needn't have worried. Audience members and press appeared to feel totally comfortable tromping all over the runway on their way to their seats. Nobody yelled at them. Nobody yelled at me for being in the wrong place, which was my next worry. I took my seat. The show began.
The clothes, by Costello Tagliapietra, were surprisingly pretty. I associate Fashion Week with bizarre avant-garde clothing, so I was expecting something like this:
Instead what I saw were totally wearable wrap dresses in rather understated colors. I later learned that New York Fashion Week is generally less out-there than its counterparts in Paris and London.
My fellow audience-members, decked out in neon sneakers and inventive hats, were far more daringly dressed than the models. Street-style photographers swarmed to photograph my seatmates, and I kept leaning and crouching out of the way for fear of messing up their shots. Still, this happened:
Throughout the week, I kept seeing people I vaguely recognized, but possibly just because they were so good-looking they seemed like they should be famous. "Who is the super beautiful girl in the bronzy orange dress?" read my notes from the Tory Burch show. Not for the first time, I wished for a Shazam for faces.
But part of my focus on the audiences and trappings of the shows may have had to do with my anxiety about their content. I like clothes, but capital F Fashion has always struck me as a bit like contemporary art — it's something you need specialized knowledge to assess properly. Even when faced with clothing as accessible as the Cosello Taglipietra dresses, I was worried I might be doing fashion appreciation wrong.
At a certain point, however, I started to relax. I think it happened at Nanette Lepore, where the models wore iridescent heels and dresses in shiny green and deep purple with complicated necklines and backs. The looks were sexy and (at least to me) surprising. I stopped intellectualizing the clothes and let myself just like them.
I'd also dressed a little more adventurously that day. At the beginning of the week I'd mostly stuck to black in an effort to sneak in under the radar. I think I was afraid I'd be perceived as trying too hard, and failing.
To Nanette Lepore, though, I wore a bright purple dress and green tights, a combination I put on with some regularity and think of as my "Barney" outfit. On my way out of Lincoln Center, a street-style photographer in red tights took my picture. I wasn't sure whether I should smile, so I did.