Fashionista Editors Get Real About the Psychological Toll of Getting Dressed for Fashion Week

"No matter how many pep talks I gave myself — 'You’re here to report, not to get attention!' — I often went home feeling insignificant."
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"No matter how many pep talks I gave myself — 'You’re here to report, not to get attention!' — I often went home feeling insignificant."

It's that time again. New York Fashion Week. You can tell by the snack mountain that has gradually arranged itself within the Fashionista offices, or by the exponential amount our collective inboxes have exploded. As we prepare for the week ahead, our planning naturally turns to the garments we wear on our backs. And while each of us have different practices for how we select the clothing we wear during NYFW, we all came to a shared realization: Despite our best wardrobe efforts, the week itself can leave us feeling less-than. 

We held an internal roundtable where five of our editors sounded off on the psychological toll that getting dressed for NYFW can take — even if you don't aspire to street style fame. Read on for those below.

ALYSSA VINGAN KLEIN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

I wish I could tell you that I, a non-Instagram famous editor at a moderately sized independent publication, feel zero anxiety when it comes to planning my fashion week wardrobe every season. However, if I fed you some nonchalant, emotionless babble about how going to the shows is merely a part of the job and that I prefer to fade into the well-heeled crowd, I'd be lying through my teeth. The pressure to present yourself — and either your personal #brand or the one you work for — in a certain way during the seasonal shows is heavy, and even shy, behind-the-scenes types like myself are not immune.

When I started covering New York Fashion Week in 2009, street style was in its heyday; photographers like Tommy Ton and Scott Schuman were helping to turn editors like Kate Lanphear, Anna Dello Russo, Taylor Tomasi Hill and Emmanuelle Alt into internet celebrities by documenting their looks outside of the shows. The images that resonated most often captured interesting styling details — Lanphear's tattered vintage T-shirts layered under tailored tuxedo jackets, for example — and in those days, very few photos felt forced or calculated. Of course, there were the big spenders (Lauren Santo Domingo, Miroslava Duma, Daphne Guinness), the models off duty and the folks with longstanding relationships with designers, but I never felt like I had to live up to the standards they set — mostly because I will never look like a model off-duty or have enough cash to buy off-the-rack Hermès. And you know what? I was OK with that.

Fast forward a few years, and the scene completely changed. The street style phenomenon reached critical mass: Not only did the number of people loitering outside the shows dressed with the intent to get shot explode, but the number of photographers did, too. And thanks to the voyeuristic element (something that only increased with the introduction of Instagram) and the attention that winding up in a Style.com gallery could guarantee, the era of "peacocking" was born — as was a new dependence among showgoers on borrowed, gifted or purposefully loud pieces of street style bait. 

Interestingly enough, it wasn't until then that I started fretting about what to wear during fashion week each season. Every time I slipped into a venue unnoticed, or was nearly tackled by a photographer as he tried to get a shot of someone else, I felt a pang of failure. No matter how many pep talks I gave myself — "You're not a blogger! You're not a stylist! You're here to report, not to get attention!" — I often went home feeling insignificant and, even worse, like I was shitty at my job. Street style stars topped many of the major mastheads at that time, and how could someone like me ever make it there if this giant chunk of my resume was missing?

I'll admit I put a decent amount of thought into my sartorial choices each fashion week, and while I rarely buy a shiny new thing just for the shows, I'll ask my friends at PR agencies if I can borrow some samples on occasion. I guess I can equate the sentiment to heading off to your first day of school: wearing a fresh outfit to take on the season can do wonders for your mental state, particularly in high-stress situations. But over time I've found that looking like a more polished version of myself — whether that means wearing a red lip during the day or dressing up my denim with a pair of heels — can be enough of a confidence boost, especially since I spend so many working hours in a sweatshirt behind a computer.

Most importantly, as I've gotten older, I've learned not to equate my level of success with how infrequently I get my picture taken. While I appreciate the effort and care that the bloggers, influencers and street style celebrities that cohabitate this digital fashion universe put into their looks (which, in many cases, have helped them build veritable businesses), being in the trenches has given me valuable perspective: Just because you fly under the radar doesn't mean you don't bring anything to the table — and there's plenty of evidence to back that up

TYLER MCCALL, DEPUTY EDITOR

Despite the fact that I know I am not a street style star (not even close!) I'll admit, I still try to put together cool outfits during fashion week. I may spend half of my time in the office wearing #athleisure, but the fashion world at large doesn't have to know that! (Except, I guess I just told everyone. Oops.) It's one of the few times of year I feel like really experimenting with my look, trying out new combinations or a trend that I've been considering. It's also a time when I'm around pretty much all of my peers, so I like to put in an effort to look nice.

The thing is, though, I lack the resources to put together a whole new wardrobe every season, whether that's through borrowing or buying — and these days, street style is less about actual personal style and more about snapping whoever has the most NEW! NEW! NEW! thing available. I'm also over a size 6, the apparent cap to being shot by a street style photographer. That kind of takes the fun out of it. There's just something so sad about the experience of pushing through a crowd, seeing the long line of photographers waiting to get the shot, when one of them raises their camera halfway — finally! Your moment! — only to either put it back down or to wait until you pass to get the person walking just behind you. It always makes me feel "less-than." And when I look around and see so many people in the latest Gucci shoes, or carrying the Chanel bag from the last runway show, or wearing head-to-toe Valentino, I feel self conscious about my own wardrobe. I realize it's silly to put that much stake in what I wear, but it's hard not to when the circumstances make it feel so important.

I've learned to just put on whatever makes me feel good and not to worry about the rest of that stuff; it's a lot easier to shake it off when you weren't trying to be photographed in the first place. Last season, I tried to have fun with it by documenting my outfits in the office mirror next to the water cooler. Plus, I think of all the time I save by not changing outfits multiple times a day. Always find the silver lining! 

MAURA BRANNIGAN, SENIOR EDITOR

I always follow a similar routine when preparing for New York Fashion Week. I'm not one of those people who throws "whatever" on and doesn't brush their hair and looks all the more professional for it. I'm a planner and I plan — that's what I do. Several days before NYFW gets up and running, I'll schedule out my outfits in a drafts tab in my email. I try to be as organized as possible, assigning my favorites to the days when I know I have to look really great. Generally, I'll come out of this arrangement feeling good, like this season won't be one I'll leave every show feeling financially and stylistically inadequate in some way.

My confidence in this industry has grown in recent years. I'm not at the shows to get photographed or sit front row, though I definitely appreciate those who do (and, awesomely, turn their personal brands into seven-figure businesses). I don't have an unlimited cash flow to spend on flashy designer goods that act as a street style magnet. I know what my role at NYFW entails, and I relish being a semi-anonymous worker bee. But when it comes time to putting on clothes (and admiring the clothes of others), it's easy to feel like I'm coming up short. 

It's awful, right? I'm incredibly fortunate to have a fantastic job in a competitive field, and it's not like me to be jealous of other people's luxury goods when I'm constantly reminded of how fortunate I am. But when I'm surrounded by hundreds of my beautifully dressed colleagues — people whom I greatly respect — I've found that if I'm not gentle with myself, self-doubt can slip through the cracks. And though I'm aware that my role entails writing and, in turn, face-to-face encounters with brands, designers and publicists, I'm not stupid: Much like it benefits us to have an Instagram following on par with a mid-tier IMG model, editors receive props when they're able to regram a picture of themselves taken by Phil Oh.

That changed in the last year, though, when I made a concerted effort to completely focus on the work that had to be done coming out of those shows — reviews I had to write or interviews I had to transcribe. Clothing does matter, of course, but while the physical clothes themselves are an important aspect of our jobs, they're certainly not the only thing to take into consideration. During NYFW, that bears repeating.

MARIA BOBILA, ASSOCIATE EDITOR

I've worked New York Fashion Week in a bunch of different roles: PR intern, fashion designer assistant, beauty (marketing) content machine and, currently, fashion writer/reporter. I've been required to wear all-black outfits and have also made premeditated designer-name purchases — okay, it was a Proenza Schouler sample sale, but still pricey! — to upgrade my wardrobe. I've worn shoes that made my feet hurt by noon, jackets that made me sweat profusely in early September and outfits that didn't exactly feel like "me." When you're attending public event after public event, you can't really escape the social pressures to look presentable — especially when you're mingling with a crowd whose sole requirement is to focus on the image, aesthetic, brand, etc.

I've had my (very rare, awkward) photo taken by strangers outside of venues; I've had to slouch super-low in my seat to avoid photobombing a celebrity or influencer in front of me; and I've also spent time lurking in a crowded room with models, hairstylists and makeup artists trying to get out of the way of photographers capturing the chaos backstage. (Please see above.) It's instances like this — the constant, erratic, impulsive but also calculated documentation of New York Fashion Week — that come to mind when I get dressed for seven or so days straight. To say that the tiny chance of being photographed doesn't influence my outfit decisions even just the slightest bit is bullshit. And that's a bummer.

However, I must admit that I don't care as much about what I wear than I did in previous NYFW seasons. I treat it like another day at work, and I certainly choose comfort over anything else when I pick my outfit. But, I still do make sure that I look more polished than usual. This is coming from a girl who wears an oversize sweatshirt to the office on most days. And yes, I still treat myself to something new to wear for the week. You know, just in case someone happens to take a pic. (Find me in my bootleg Gucci! Surprise! It's a sweatshirt!)

WHITNEY BAUCK, ASSISTANT EDITOR

At any fashion event, I tend to feel a little bit like an outsider. I don't know if that's because I'm always battling female-specific impostor syndrome or because fashion, despite being full of genuinely wonderful people, still thrives on elitism and exclusivity a lot of the time. All I know is that I often show up to fashion events and catch myself feeling like I've "fooled" people into letting me in, even when I know I have a legitimate reason to be there.

What I wear to fashion week can be a reactionary knee-jerk response to that feeling, if I let it. Having shot (and written about) street style extensively in the past, I'm aware that what you're seen and photographed wearing can have a big impact on how others in the industry see you.

But here's the thing: I do not have a model-like facial structure, and my wardrobe is never going to be full of the latest looks off the runway. So if a street style star is what I was trying to be, it could make the feeling of walking up to a horde of photographers outside a show unbearably depressing.

Luckily, I didn't get into this industry because I wanted strangers to recognize me on the subway; I got into it because I wanted to help this industry I love change for the better, if possible. So as I consider what to wear to fashion week this season, I'm really just looking at the closet I already have, full of thrifted pieces and modest ethical labels, and asking what will make me feel confident and not too uncomfortable. Whether that means me getting praised and photographed or ignored and passed over is out of my control — and not really the point. I'll be fine as long as I remember that.

Homepage photo: Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images

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