What Nobody Told Me: The Thrills and Perils of My First Fashion Week

Every baby’s got to have a first

09.15.16
haleys-first-fashion-week-man-repeller

I didn’t go into my first New York Fashion Week with many expectations but, of the few I had, none included crying so much. The street-side sobbing didn’t come until Saturday (Day 3), though, right before the Simon Miller presentation, which was hauntingly held in a graveyard. I’ll resist the metaphor there. (IT WAS THE DEATH OF MY INNOCENCE.) (Sorry.)

Back on Day 1, I was eyes so bright and tail so bushy as I hurried to my first-ever runway show, Hellessy. By the time I arrived, five minutes before its 2 p.m. start time, I was sweating profusely from the hot, broken subway – a physiological state I’d scarcely shake for the next week – and from running several blocks to Pier 59 out of fear of being late.

Anyone who’s been to a show is probably chuckling; it didn’t start until 2:25 p.m., which was so obvious to everyone but me. As I waited, I studied the people mingling around the beautiful sun-drenched room, took note of their structural skirts and expensive-looking bags and quietly decided I would drop $5,000 dollars somewhere after the show. The debt will be worth it, whispered the devil on my shoulder.

Don’t worry, Mom, I came to my senses later. Barely.

When the lights dimmed and the recording of chirping birds gave way to pulsing electronic music, the room fell silent. I learned later that this moment is the great equalizer of fashion week. Who you know and the value of your outfit dissolve into the ether when the art takes the stage. Your breath goes, your heart thumps, your body buzzes. Unfortunately this only lasts about ten minutes, then it’s back to crippling self-doubt.

🙂

That first show turned out to be an accurate sample platter of what was to come: five days of adding new depth to the expressions “mad dash,” “imposter syndrome” and “out of body.”

Part 1. Mad dash

I’ve heard that non-fashion week attendees find it incredibly annoying that their counterparts whine about the exhaustion incited by looking at pretty clothes and partying with celebrities. I totally get that, and a fear that my frazzled emotional state was not reflecting enough gratitude and humility to a jury of one (me) was like a rotten little cherry on top of a stressful sundae.

I won’t deny there was something thrilling about the novelty of rushing around the city, trying to write all my stories and feed my body outside the typical quotidian constructs of 9 to 5. The subtext of “OMG, look at me eating this apple for lunch at 4 p.m.!!!” could certainly be interpreted as “I’m so important I literally don’t have time for proper nourishment.” And I did occasionally feel a little special, I’ll admit, but it was always quashed the moment I actually walked into an event and assumed my position of so-low-on-the-totem-I’m-practically-underground.

Part 2. Imposter syndrome

It’s not that I think it’s surprising or a reflection of my character that I didn’t know anyone attending fashion week, own the right designer clothes nor understand what the F I was doing. I just moved to New York and changed careers (in case you hadn’t heard by now in a million different ways). It’s that intellectualizing those realities didn’t help. It still felt like shit, to plunge into such a tangible reflection of my newness. I felt like I was on a disorienting time machine back to high school, to see people talk and laugh and make plans right in front of me and not include me.

Being a part of something I’d observed from afar for so many years was such an exhilarating experience — I was overcome with waves of awe and gratitude 102 times — but it was punctuated by such a profound loneliness and generalized stress that occasionally I couldn’t help but break down and cry. Sobbing over an artisanal Pop-Tart on 2nd Ave while masochistically tossing in thoughts of my ex-boyfriend stands out as particularly absurd.

What certainly did not help my sense of isolation was the fact that I lost my iPhone in the kerfuffle, also known as a party, also known as I’d been drinking. It happened on Friday, it was completely my fault (save your pity) and I spent the following days walking down city streets holding my computer like a giant flip phone, maniacally searching for Wifi so I could send Amelia a text message. Or writing down subway directions like it was 2002 and I was MapQuest.

Let it be known: Fashion week is a horrible time to conquer technological separation anxiety.

Part 3. Out of body

What I’m not sure I’ve captured, yet, aside from my ability to find the cloudy lining in a silver spoon, is that on the other side of my fashion week ledger was something far more appealing. It was less taxing on my actual organs and just as moisturizing for my lower eyelashes. Euphoria.

You don’t even have to love fashion to respect the artistic prowess and creative energy designers put into the clothes they present. You don’t even have to respect celebrities to appreciate the shocking impression their physical presence leaves on a newcomer like me. You don’t even have to like to party to file a private concert on top of a New York parking garage as one of the most fun of your life.

So I guess you could call me a sucker, because if my deadlines, anxiety and imposter syndrome had me primed to lose my shit during fashion week, my love for fashion, culture and dancing on rooftops left me just as vulnerable to lose my mind.

Feature photograph from BFA courtesy of Hellesy. 

NYFW-SS17

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  • Harling Ross

    I love this so much Haley.

    • JEP.

    • Celeste

      Ditto <3 <3

    • Haley Nahman

      Love you harls

  • Kathy Cappa
  • T.

    Love, love, love this post! I’ve never been to a Fashion Week fashion show and I’m far from being invited to one, but if that ever happens, I can totally see myself reacting just like you did!

  • Maria

    Somebody give Haley a hug. It comes from all of us reading this.

    • Yvonne Dunlevie

      I will volunteer myself as the in person hugger!!!! Internet hugs are great too, though.

      • Haley Nahman

        I will take all hugs and also return them with gusto!!!!

    • Krista Anna Lewis

      I’ve given her a few throughout the week, but NEVER ENOUGH HUGS. Anyone up for a group hug?!

  • Leandra Medine

    Although we have already spoken about your first experience at fairly great length and have tried to dissect why fashion feels more polarizing than any other industry that you are new to (there is an undoubtable sense of superficiality and a ton of imposters experiencing syndrome that occurs in the opposite direction — meaning: people being cold because they are not secure with their own places on the totem pole) and you already know this because I have said it 100 times: this is exactly how everyone in here feels at some point. And although it gets better, the vulnerability and sincerity and bone chilling loneliness that it incites is important. If not because we are most true to ourselves when our place in the world feels compromised, then because being in an uncomfortable place that you have spent your life WISHING SO HARD to be gets you so excited to return to comfort and THAT reminds you that when the lights go down and the music shuts off, your dreams were wrong! Real life is still better

    • Efua Odafen

      The wisdom!!!!! Oh Leandra ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️.

    • FAAAAAAAK!

      The best.

  • ella

    AH, imposter syndrome really hit home for me. You feel like you’re in such awe for being in the presence of the chaos that is fashion week and yet you can also feel so incredibly alone and out of place. I always tell people that for me anyway, it’s the lowest of lows and highest of highs at once. And I love it 🙂 Another amazing piece, Haley!

    • Haley Nahman

      COSIGN on low lows and high highs!!

      • ella

        Bringing this back again because after I read Vogue’s recap of Milan Fashion Week, it reminded me of your article on your first experience at NYFW. I’d love to hear what you think about this article because I’m sure despite the small truth in what these Vogue editors are saying, I can’t help but feel they took it too far and aren’t accepting how the industry is evolving.

        http://www.vogue.com/13483417/milan-fashion-week-spring-2017-vogue-editors-chat/

  • Claire

    this is my favorite fashion week recap/ comment on the whole internet! everyone else is either pretending to be super in the know, or they actually are, but this is so honest and fresh and at the same time not annoyingly self-deprecating in a humble-bragging way. and i really like your writing style haley!

  • Wow, this is so interesting. I had never really thought about what it would feel like to attend the show.

    • Haley Nahman

      SAME

  • Grace b

    This sounds like ms the whole time I tried to have a “career” in the film industry. Whew. Glad it’s just the one week! You rocked it Haley!

    • Haley Nahman

      Totally was thinking of Hollywood all of last week and how the dynamics are probably pretty similar

  • Can’t wait to read your review of the next season, and the next one, and the next… and watch the evolution. It will be a great journey I’m sure.

  • Emma

    I absolutely love the honesty with which you write Haley!

  • Andrea Raymer

    I am really glad you wrote about the emotional experience of fashion week. I had a bit of a breakdown on Saturday and cut myself off. I don’t often go into shows, maybe one or two a season, if I am lucky. Usually I just creep outside and “shoot street style” – meaning I take pictures that I may or may not ever look at again. I literally haven’t even backed up the card I shot on Saturday (I definitely took your picture, Haley). I go so I can be around all of the excitement and sort of feel like I am part of something that I have spent my whole life hoping for, while simultaneously doing nothing at all. I ended up also having a breakdown on the street later that day because I felt so stupid about what I was doing. Then I thought back to the times the I actually went inside and I felt exactly the way you describe in Part 2, like I didn’t belong there.

    It also didn’t help that I ended up having a severe allergic reaction to the jewelry I was wearing that day and ended up going to the doctor for steroids after it didn’t go away of 3 days. Nothing about fashion week made me feel like my best self.

    • <3<3<3<3<3<3<3

    • Haley Nahman

      Andrea! I wish you’d have introduced yourself I would have 100% stopped to chat/snuck you in with me. I totally understand how you must have felt. Don’t feel stupid in the slightest.
      If it’s any consolation, everyone I talked to (vets included) confessed to feeling super lonely and imposter-ish at FW! Crazy how ubiquitous it is, regardless of role.

  • Mallory Harmon

    Haley, I love your honesty! This was really refreshing to read, and I think people can relate this, in some way or another, to many other industries outside of fashion. Getting out of your comfort zone and feeling imposter syndrome can be so difficult, but I hope that you are so proud of yourself!

    • Haley Nahman

      Should someone rename Millennials to Imposters?

      • Mallory Harmon

        I totally think so! Fake it ’til you make it (insert hair flip emoji).

  • Ashley

    Haley, this post totally broke my heart. Even though I know that wasn’t your intention, let me still say that you’re doing an awesome job. You were meant to do this and next season I’ll continue to look forward to your posts. ROCK. STAR.

    • Haley Nahman

      Thanks so much Ashley….mend your heart I am A-OK! Just a basketcase per uj :>

      • Melissa

        cosign on this spelling of uj.

  • My feelings over this can only be summarized as UGH, like a partly good ugh and a partly frustrated one but partly an optimistic one.

    My favorite turns of phrases:
    ” I was eyes so bright and tail so bushy”
    “so-low-on-the-totem-I’m-practically-underground”
    “It’s that intellectualizing those realities didn’t help. It still felt like shit, to plunge into such a tangible reflection of my newness. I felt like I was on a disorienting time machine back to high school, to see people talk and laugh and make plans right in front of me and not include me.”
    “walking down city streets holding my computer like a giant flip phone, maniacally searching for Wifi”
    “and just as moisturizing for my lower eyelashes. Euphoria.”

    • Haley Nahman

      I love your multi-faceted “ugh”

  • Kate

    amazing read. thoughts of ex-boyfriend struck a very familiar cord with me… and i always feel equally as absurd. on top of whatever shit storm i’m experiencing, THAT rly has to pop into my head too? lol you rock haley and your honesty is truly refreshing and appreciated. <3

    • Haley Nahman

      THANKS KATE. I guess it makes sense we think of comfy love and familiarity during shit storms, but it is V UNHELPFUL

  • Mercedes Ayala

    I’m really glad to read this, after your own post. You seem to have figured it out fairly well – the stress and exhilaration cause both loneliness and a sense of gratefulness. Once you come out of it, you won’t remember the panic as much as you’ll remember the artistry and adrenaline (at least that’s what I tell myself).
    hope you’re doing well otherwise, bb girl

  • Max

    YOU DID GREAT HALEY!!!

  • Hannah

    Your honesty is so refreshing I can’t even stand it! We need more of this transparency and rawness in our lives, especially with content online where an impenetrable veil seems to exist in front of truths we all wonder about, right? We need more writers like you Haley!

  • Jolie

    I loved this SO MUCH, Haley. I think the way you felt during your first NYFW is the way a lot of people feel about fashion in general. I’ve always loved fashion but feel like I need to justify or prove that love because it’s a world that doesn’t seem to include or want me. I’ve actually turned down opportunities to go to NYFW shows in the past simply because I KNEW I would feel all the feelings you’re describing here.

    During my first month living on my own in Manhattan, Fashion’s Night Out was still a thing. I was so excited to go, to be part of something I cared about so much, to be allowed to be a part of it in some way. The entire time I was there, I felt the Imposter Syndrome, running around stressed out of my mind unable to decide which of the “must-see” things to attend and trying to make sense of it all. Everyone was beautiful, sure of themselves, on schedule, invited to some after party. I haven’t felt like I deserved to go back to Fashion Week since.

  • Amelia Diamond

    Haley!! I felt this way too my first fashion week working in PR, and then again, even worse, during my first fashion week on the edit side. You did great. It gets better. https://67.media.tumblr.com/8bd0394aeba67aa174687fc031e7dc1f/tumblr_mp4hlxGoGB1snepy7o1_250.gif

    • Haley Nahman

      I think I just decided I’m staying in the entire weekend and watching the OC

  • Andie

    Love how this is written. X

  • K

    Made my day, and so well written!

  • Molly D

    Love this. Thank you for being real. “Sobbing over an artisanal Pop-Tart on 2nd Ave while masochistically tossing in thoughts of my ex-boyfriend stands out as particularly absurd.” Why do we do this to ourselves?! :O

    • Haley Nahman

      Such a good question.

  • Marion

    We are in completely different career circles (I’m working on my PhD), but this article essentially articulates my experience attending/presenting at my first conference. Frantically running around a huge convention center to consume the newest research, crippling self-doubt during my own talk, but overall undeniably motivating and inspiring. So fun to see the parallels in different worlds/lives. Thanks for such an open account, I loved reading it

  • Lola

    I attended my first fashion week shows/events this last week as well and I have to say that I can’t agree more. I’m sure you got to attend with a press pass and so maybe that also added a layer of ease I can’t speak for, but it was for me an altogether kind of crushing and tragic experience. Everyone there already knows who they want to know, there’s little genuine interest in discussing with others what brings them there unless it’s a magazine. No interest in speculation, though I have been here for over 7 years myself it’s possible not getting to participate in it for all that time has left me still kind of wide-eyed like Carrie Bradshaw at an industry that is truly all glitz and glamour from the outside. I was crushed at how unfriendly, and how competitive the fashions themselves seem. I was really excited to wear what I was wearing, I was also really excited to see other people’s clothing, and to see what was presented for us by the designers. But fashion is an industry that thrives on exclusion. It needs to feel special, and like commoners don’t and/or shouldn’t have access to it. I don’t know, I plan to go again and keep learning more about the delicate hierarchies I one day hope to dismantle from the ground up with my cheer and genuine interest in other humans and their interests! Congratulations though to you for making it through, I really appreciate the murky silver spoon metaphor. It’s always important to keep things in perspective.

    • I had a similar experience. I had a standing room ticket to a show and was excited to finally enter the tents after photographing outside for a few seasons. I tried to soak it all in. I was amused by things like the actual Mercedes car at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and tiny Diet Coke slushies.

      But a lot of people were so rude, specifically the ones on the bottom of the totem pole. It’d be interesting to see a deeper discussion trying to dissect why the girl checking me in into the tents feels the need to be so dismissive and condescending.

    • A major fashion week is goals for a fashion blogger I suppose, but to be honest I’m terrified of ever getting to that point. Of course I would love to attend, but I’m not too keen to let people make me feel like crap for being new or not having the most expensive bag… I know it’s not personal but a hierarchy matter… it just doesn’t seem like a lot of fun. I live in Colombia and every year I attend to the equivalent of fashion week here… I can handle that, even though you still see how people who have been in the industry for longer being super condescending to others… but New York level… it’s terrifying!!! Thanks for sharing your story!

  • This was so real! I wish I could give you a huge hug Haley. I’ve never been to NYFW but I guess it would end up something like yours. I sort of feel the same way but on a lesser scale, I guess, because there are no real celebrities or anything but the front row is always filled with these super pretentious people that don’t seem to think anything exists beyond the front row.

  • It is refreshing to hear of how your experience differs from the glitz and glam that my Instagram feed and Hollywood films portray NYFW. It reminds me of my first visit to New York at how my expectations of its glamour can only be tainted so far. I found it difficult to adjust from my past perception as I experience the reality of it all. Thanks for sharing your experience and honesty!

  • kelleylynn

    Love this. Thanks for your perspective.

  • Efua Odafen

    Haley this was so good! Couldn’t stop laughing (at your misfortunes. I’m sorry) because I’ve never attended fashion week yet and I am praying and fasting for my first rodeo. This just made me even more excited to experience it all…with at least one friend (or is that an unobviously bad idea?)

  • BK

    Yo Haley. I liked reading this; I think because I basically only read the very personal-voiced and egalitarian ManRepeller (well, occasionally InStyle) for all of my fashion related needs, I forgot how you operate work in an industry thrives on exclusion and elitism. It’s a very interesting experience to read about, one that I’ve not yet come across in my working life – then again, I work in public health which is an industry based on open communication and equal access, so I don’t consider it at all unusual to spontaneously stop in a hallway and have a long chat with the regional director of 15 local hospitals, even though I’m so low in the heirarchy I don’t even have a desk! So it surprises me slightly when people talk about industries where those in positions of authority don’t automatically offer a hand or a friendly word to those lower down the pole, so to speak. Also, I look at fashion week photos of all these pretty girls in nice clothes and assume they must all be friendly and welcoming, so it was good to read your real talk about what it’s actually like. Next year there’ll be a new Haley at the shows who feels like an intruder and you’ll a be notch or two further up the pole, so make sure you find her and reach out to help her up!

  • Oh god yes. To all of this. Hayley you so succinctly described experiencing fashion week for the first time. Add in food poisoning and you’ve got mine (PFW earlier this year, actually…). The running/sweating/thinking “oh my god I’m going to be late” while you fumble for the invite to your first show, which ultimately results in the contents of your bag spilling out onto the pavement in front of who you think is security for the front entrance (it’s not…you’re standing at the back entrance for photographers and crew, and now they’re clearly laughing at you…in French…). When you’re directed to where you actually should be, there’s a queue and not everyone is being let in yet.

    Also, the loneliness. Being new to the industry adds a definite level of imposter syndrome, but also throws in a big bag of “I really am alone right now”. In a way it’s exciting – because trying to navigate a city you don’t live in can be an adventure, but equally makes the entire experience all the more difficult when you’re jet-lagged, underfed, and desperately trying to file.

    So again, thank you for writing such a refreshingly honest piece. 🙂

  • Samantha s

    I’m late to this post…but I thought I’d add…this feeling is not unique to fashion! I think a couple other people mentioned that in their posts. I work in the specialty cheese industry and attending conferences as a newbie feels much the same. I keep trying to remind myself that someday, when I’m a well known not-newbie (as I intend to stay in this industry for sometime), I will probably miss the anonymity and freedom that comes from flying under the radar.

  • I loved this post! It would be a great idea to share the experience (of your first fashion week) with someone in the same situation if that was possible, that way it wouldn’t be so hard to face the not so good feelings. I can relate so much to this story, not that I have attended to a proper fashion week yet, but I attend to the most relevant fashion event in Colombia every year and you still see how condescending people are to the new ones, so… I can’t imagine how bad it is in NY. We all dream of being part of it, yes “A million girls would kill for this job” but it’s so predictable that I would feel terrible by being ignored, mistreated, or what ever just because I’m giving my first steps in to the big leagues, plus I wouldn’t be wearing a Birking bag… So do I want to go to a major fashion week? Not now, I don’t feel prepared for it yet, I would have to build up a whole lot more my confidence (not that I’m not confident but the event requires a lot more!!), save a lot so I don’t feel like a tramp next to all those people… there’s a whole lot to do! Thanks for sharing your experience in such a honest way, not many do it because they’re looking for approval. I enjoyed a lot reading it so…. keep it up!!

  • Melissa

    Not sure how I missed this article earlier but I loooved it. I had a full blown panic attack in Lincoln Center during my first NYFW (had to hide behind a weird little cutout of the wall) and I wasn’t really even doing fashion week proper. Props to you for surviving, doing a damn good job, and talking about feeling vulnerable and out of place in a space where everyone feels so on the inside. Also, did I also miss what you wore to you first fashion week?

  • Genoveva Pedrero

    It did not help that mercury was retrograde during the majority of this fashion season. I feel your technological / communication pain sister.