Twice a year, sartorial enthusiasts, celebrities, celebrity-seekers, and the press join together on the streets of Manhattan for New York Fashion Week. Despite living in NYC throughout college and again as a now-working-20-something, and despite the fact that my clothes addiction is worse than my Reese's Peanut Butter Cup addiction, I've never really been into it. NYFW has always seemed like a couture-focused, beauty standard-enforcing, elitist bubble of designers, models, and guests whose outfits cost the equivalent of six months rent in Bushwick or aspiring designers, models, and guests lingering outside runway locations in their most OTT outfits waiting to get street styled. It certainly never felt like a place you could go sans makeup or done-up hair to, unless you fancy yourself a glutton for punishment.
This is precisely why I — being a self-proclaimed people watcher and hater of beauty standards — decided to spend my last day of Fashion Week with me, myself, my bare naked face, and my less-than-superb selfie abilities. Although I believe with every ounce of my soul that the pressures women face to look a certain way, dress a certain way, and apply a certain amount of makeup should go the way I'm hopeful four-finger rings will disappear to, I equally believe that makeup and traditional femininity can be reclaimed and used as sources of empowerment.
Personally, I rarely leave the house without makeup on. The only photo of me you'll find on cyberspace where I'm not sporting a statement lip or curling mascara was a result of another social experiment. Otherwise, I'm a lippie and long lashes kind of girl. My makeup helps me accentuate the features I most love, and present myself and my style in a way that makes me comfortable. So I couldn't help but wonder how ditching it for NYFW would go down. Would the fashionistas whisper behind my back, ragging on my under-eye circles or the blackhead community that's taken residence on my nose? Would the person checking in names just not let me into the event, deeming me unworthy to be in the presence of couture greatness? I figured the experience would be something like the emotional equivalent of this face.
The thing about Fashion Week, however, is that most people will usually ignore you. Unless you're high profile enough or wearing a rad, thrifted ensemble in which each piece belongs to a different decade of the 20th century, your existence will go unnoticed.
People are far too busy playing Spot The Kardashian, embodying their inner Carrie Bradshaws, or generally focused on the beautiful clothes and the talent of those involved to care what comparably unimportant humans are doing or wearing. I knew that if I took my bare face to a runway show, no one would know the difference. I mean, who's going to pay attention to the bags under my eyes when they can look at Drake, Anna Wintour, and Gigi Hadid all in one go? (Although if you're anything like me, you might miss the fact that they're in the same room as you because #PrettyClothes and shiny lights.)
Instead, I opted for taking my funny face to Cynthia Rowley's New York Fashion Week video installation, which would still require waiting in line with a bunch of people sporting the latest Moschino and then being in closed quarters with even more of them. It's still Fashion Week, but without the runways to so easily distract people from my so-not-runway-ready pallor.
As I made the subway journey towards the West Village, I reflected on how not wearing makeup actually made me feel. Already an introvert and the kind of socially awkward that seems tied to anyone who writes anything, I had expected to feel reserved, uncomfortable, and not really myself. Weirdly enough, I felt none of that. Perhaps it's because I'm surrounded by so much dialogue about body positivity and feminism in my day to day life that my heart of hearts just knows that not adhering to beauty standards doesn't matter. I've always wanted to get to a place where I can feel just as good and beautiful without makeup or flouncy skirts as with them. So I did internal "praise hands" at the thought that maybe — just maybe — that moment had arrived.
When you go to non-runway Fashion Week shows, chances are you'll be in a room of lots of people often high on free drinks and striking silhouettes. This one was no different. I mingled with precisely six people, three of whom made comments about my appearance. (You can decide for yourself if this 50/50 statistic means anything more profound about the types of people you'll encounter at Fashion Week.)
- "Oh sweetie, is Fashion Week bringing you down?" — From a delightfully eccentric albeit very drunk fashion student and Project Runway hopeful.
- "You're so brave to go this natural." — From a random lady who asked where I bought my choker.
- "Are you a bit under the weather?" — From a fashion student friend I ran into right outside the event as I was leaving.
This is probably the most interaction with humans I've ever had at Fashion Week, and it was clearly bizarre. I don't know if it was the cucumber cocktails or the dresses on screens the size of my whole living room, but people were chatty and not remotely shy about being opinionated.
It's not the first time in my life someone has wondered if I'm sick or depressed when I'm not wearing makeup — and from conversations with female or feminine-presenting friends and acquaintances, they often cite similar experiences. It blows my mind that seeing women going sans cosmetics is so abnormal that when it happens, people are genuinely caught off guard. But it wasn't in the least surprising.
Weirdly enough, it was the second comment that ground my metaphorical gears the most. Besides the fact that it was a woman commenting and any kind of woman-on-woman cattiness freaks me the hell out, I find it incredibly distressing that doing something like stepping out in public looking the way you naturally look could be considered an act of bravery.
As SKORCH Magazine founder Jessica Kane has said on her Instagram, it shouldn't have to take "bravery" to do things like wear a swimsuit to the beach, or in my case, no makeup to Fashion Week. "[Bravery is] a family battling tragic illness, a mother trying to beat addiction, a person trying to break free of domestic violence, reaching out for help when you have already planned your suicide and feel like you can't breath one more day," she wrote in a photo caption. Yet, because of how intensely and religiously women have been held to beauty standards, doing anything that remotely goes against the expectation has become synonymous with courageous.
I totally get where people are coming from. I mean, it doesn't usually feel "easy" to break sartorial, social, or gender-based rules of etiquette. I guess my hope is that one day, that'll change. And going out into the world with the face you wake up with every morning won't be cause for stir.
All in all, though, this evening was not unlike the majority of New York Fashion Week events I've attended over the last couple of years. People mostly kept to themselves. As for the ones who didn't, they were either ready to say something mildly uncomfortable about your aesthetic or engage you in a conversation about the merits of pastel loafers.
Images: Marie Southard Ospina