This season, I’ve been doing something I do twice a year every year for as long as I can remember: watch New York Fashion Week from the mundane suburbs of Southern California. I procrastinate schoolwork, I half-ass all of my shifts at work, I ignore most people, and I just don’t care. To me, nothing feels better than the experience of fresh, innovative new versions of fashion coming down runway after runway all week long.
This year, I’ve noticed something that’s become more of a trend over the past year: designers opting out of the traditional model and instead sending their designs down the runway on real people. Actors, actresses, activists, and yes—random, everyday men and women who hold ordinary 9-5 jobs.
I first noticed this last season with J. Crew’s entire cast of “real people.” It was controversial because of the fact that it was J. Crew, the clean-cut, rule-following, all-American brand. However, it’s been more common this week, and therefore less shocking.
As I’ve seen men and women of all ages, shapes, and height model for Prabal Gurung, Gypsy Sport, J. Crew, Eckhaus Latta, and Rachel Comey (and that is seriously just naming a few), I’ve become used to it. So what does this mean for fashion?
There was a time when fashion was a complete hierarchy. Only women of power and wealth wore couture. Ready-to-wear didn’t even exist and average women were forced to wear their income on their backs.
\With the introduction of ready-to-wear came a more level playing field, transforming fashion into something resembling democracy. As women’s rights progress and gender, race, and identity begin to blur, fashion is as inclusive as ever. However, there was still always one thing missing: a woman wearing the dress you want to buy who actually looks like you.
So maybe the fact that these “real people” models didn’t even phase me this season is an amazing thing. Maybe it means that “real” is the new norm. Maybe it means that the expectation of fashion is no longer size 0 and 6 feet tall with petite features and light skin.
All I can say is I’m eager for the week to keep going. I’m eager to see which other designers decide to break the rules by giving “real people” their moment.
Yes, the point of Fashion Week is supposed to be centered around one thing: the clothes. But wouldn’t we be lying if we said it hasn’t progressed into something more than that?
Today, Fashion Week is about a voice. It’s about a designer speaking to his audience. It’s about getting a message across. It’s about setting new boundaries, bringing confidence, telling people all around the world that we can do this too, if we want.
It’s never again going to be just an excuse to look at pretty clothes.