"Sorry, this is closed for a private event," a security guard says at a low volume, so as to not embarrass me.
"Yeah, I know. I was invited," I reply.
It's about the fourth time during this week of spring 2017 runway shows, backstage madness, and parties that I've been on the receiving end of a remark like this from a bouncer type. I get it—I'm not fashion personified: I'm not a model, celebrity, designer, or PR girl. I'm not tall and thin, I don't have a party-girl vibe, and I'm definitely not inexplicably wearing a fur vest in 80-degree weather, all of which appear to be requirements for entry once I am finally let past the velvet ropes. Instead, I stand at an average height, with my faded green hair and a simple Gap T-shirt. Also, I am probably sweating.
I've always felt like I don't really fit into the fashion industry mold, but this season, a strange, new sensation has crept in.
New York Fashion Week started off with Rachel Comey's girl-on-the-town show, featuring several "models" who were really just regular people, randomly plucked off the streets of New York City. On Saturday, Christian Siriano sent Marquita Pring, Precious Lee, Sabina Karlsson, Alessandra Garcia Lorido, and Georgia Pratt down the runway, which is a impressive number of plus-size models in a major ready-to-wear show.
Then there was the Tracy Reese garden party presentation, where the models—including Clémentine Desseaux, Saturday Night Live cast member Sasheer Zamata, and veteran supermodel and diversity activist Bethann Hardison—came from a wide range of cultural, racial, and career backgrounds.
These shows started to make me feel like I can relate to fashion beyond just admiring things that I think are pretty. Instead of struggling to imagine how a fitted white dress would look on me, I see Lee modeling Siriano's design, see some version of my own silhouette, and realize that yes, I could definitely pull it off. When I see Zamata laughing and throwing flower petals while lounging on a couch in the show, I remember that fashion isn't all Blue Steel, bad moods, and self-seriousness, but it can be a fun way to show personality and depth.
Watching Lineisy Montero pat her Afro backstage at Tommy Hilfiger, I instinctively touched mine, because I know what it's like to feel the small panic that comes with not knowing if the back of your hair is flat or not. (Although, let's be real, hers was molded to perfection.)
Needless to say, designers and casting agents are coming to terms with the idea that there is a range of consumers that deserve to have a spot in the fashion space, where at one time it was hard for different sized people to even get a glimpse of how they would look in designer clothing, let alone be offered a front row seat to a show.
But while the types of inclusive and inspiring scenes throughout the week didn't stop at the ones I mentioned, neither did the same norms we're used to seeing season after season.
Throughout the glitz and hype around the Tommy Hilfiger show, there was not one model who seemingly fit outside of the sample size range. But certainly some of the teens who idolize Gigi Hadid wear a size 14, no? And it should still be noted to the industry that diversity doesn't just mean putting two black girls and a couple of Asian girls on the lineup—it means incorporating more Latinx, Indian, Middle Eastern, and other ethnicities. Because a 17-year-old Sri Lankan-born person wants to see if they could make it as a model, too.
"Designers and casting agents are coming to terms with the idea that there are a range of consumers that deserve to have a spot in the fashion space, whereas for years it was even hard to get standing room around the huge, yet figurative runway of the fashion industry."
While Chromat, Hood By Air, The Blonds, and VFILES explored gender identity, there could still be more celebration and incorporation of various identities, especially as Janet Mock sits and watches the Siriano show.
Simply, in the most clichéd terms, we still have a long way to go to see more representation in mainstream fashion. And don't get me wrong, this isn't a plea for overall accommodation in the industry. Rather, it's a motion to have fashion grow more and more out of its homogeneity, despite its constant claims that individuality is the aim.
As I stand inside the party I almost didn't get into, I'm well aware of the people surrounding me, and I realize I don't give them enough credit. On the surface, fashion seems like a well-oiled machine, a system that determines what's in and what's out (or who's in and who's out). But there exists a gray area outside of this system composed of people who use clothing to express their individual selves, no matter what trend reports say. These people style clothing the way they want to, and wear these crafted looks wherever they want. Those individualistic elements, the unique ways that people form and shape personal style, are what make fashion fun and exciting.
Fashion isn't just the model walking down the runway. It's the person laughing with their friend on the street. It's the teen shopping for her homecoming dress. It's the person deciding between heels or flats every morning. It's even the bouncer at the door.
Fashion is everywhere you look, whether it's high-end, on sale, used, handmade, petite, plus, or whatever. Basically, "Fashion, is like, us," says a pretentious attendee at a show, but through all of the bullshit, they have a point. Right?