Talk of the Tents

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Fashion week: Reflections from a runway virgin

Greg Emerson outside of Lincoln Center at 2014

Greg Emerson outside of Lincoln Center at 2014 New York Fashion Week. (Sept. 6, 2013) (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)

I think I was 8 years old when I first put together an outfit - laying out my purple lightning-bolt shirt, off-white shorts and brand new Nike Air Max sneakers on the hardwood floor of my bedroom. My mother thought it was hilarious; I didn’t think it was that unusual.

I had never been to a fashion show before 2014 New York Fashion Week, though, as someone who used to lay out his clothes in fourth grade, it always seemed like something I would eventually get around to. So I accepted the invitation to see a few shows and spent half a day taking in the scene at Lincoln Center.

I found that while I had a good idea of what to expect, you have to be at Fashion Week to really understand Fashion Week.

The class structure

There are three classes of people at fashion shows. In first class, you have the celebrities (“hey, that’s Mos Def”), who sit in the front row and can show up whenever they like. Business class is made up of people with tickets, many of whom seem to be journalists there to cover the event. Then you have the seat-fillers: the people in the standing-room-only areas who help the place look full before the plastic is pulled off the runway. If you show up late and a seat-filler is in your seat, don’t worry. They will get up and go back to coach.

The ever-present organizers and PR reps are sort of like the flight attendants, but without the power to really kick you off the plane. They are just there to make everything run smoothly.

The vanity

It should come as a surprise to no one, but Fashion Week is certainly a place for vanity.

Some of the people floating outside of Lincoln Center at 9:30 in the morning to get photographed by the many chroniclers of street styles were there five hours later doing the exact same thing. Jobs or not (I was there on a weekday), some people will apparently spend a whole day to just put on an outfit, show up and get their pictures taken. And that's all.

It was a parade of peacocks: People on display, showing themselves off, then surely going home to see how many “street style” photo galleries they made it into (here is Newsday’s) so that they can later complain about all the attention to their friends at dinner.

One irony of it all is that despite all of the interesting people, clothes and colors to look at, everyone kept their heads firmly buried in their phones; messaging friends, tweeting pictures, vining videos. These are New Yorkers, after all.

The joy

That said, the biggest surprise of Fashion Week for me was all the happiness. “The Devil Wears Prada” prepared me for a bunch of cynical elitists, the subway prepared me for the predictable tension of people in crowded places, yet what I saw were smiles.

Instead of scorn, there were the free-flowing compliments and admiration. Instead of rolled eyes and heavy sighs, there was relaxed laughter as people waited to enter the shows. It was like a pride parade. People seemed just happy to be there, to be surrounded by similar people united by their interest in what they put on in the morning.

The style

At Fashion Week, I learned that, while I may dress well, I certainly don't dress very interestingly. I am a youthful 55-year-old inside (yes, I sometimes wore a white collared shirt to high school), and,while I like to explore the edges and corners of my suit-and-tie box, I don’t wear drop-crotch pants or neon cowboy boots when I go out in public.

In a sea of peacocks, only the peacocks on acid actually stand out.

That said, there are some cool clothes and some very creative people out there, and I wonder where they all work. Fashion evangelists might say that they work everywhere, that they are all around us, but at the end of the day there is only one real way to see them, and that is at the largest public gathering of interesting clothes in the world.

I left the party feeling exhausted and overstimulated, tired of celebrity-watching and trying to figure out what that person’s hat is made of. I wasn’t sure if I had the stamina to spend a whole day and actually join the fashion mosh pit regularly.

And then, on my way out of Lincoln Center and back to the subway for a nap, a photographer stopped me.

“Can you open your jacket a little bit so I can see the shirt?” he asked, bringing his camera up.

“Ugh. Fine,” I said. It really is terribly inconvenient when fashion photographers want to take your picture when all you want to do is go home for a mid-weekday nap. 

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