Last week I went to New York Fashion Week (NYFW) for the first time. I attended four designers’ Spring 2023 runway shows: Badgley Mischka, Pamella Roland, Brandon Maxwell and Mirror Palais. I was so dazzled, I’m still trying to process it all. The models, the fashion, the crowd, the lights, the music—it was a sensory explosion of beauty like I’ve never seen before. The shows are quite short, just 10-15 minutes long, and go by in a flash. Here are my tips about what to wear and how to have the most fun at a designer runway show.
How to Attend
New York Fashion Week happens all over the city and the streets were alive with shows and events, so there’s lots for even the average passer-by to see. But the big designer shows require invitations. Those invites go to industry professionals—buyers, editors, stylists, creatives, investors—as well as celebrities, models and social media influencers. My blog following doesn’t qualify me as an influencer quite yet. Luckily, I received my invites through connections, thanks to my fashionable friend (and packing challenge guest Style Challenger) Berit Francis and her marketing genius husband (and high school bestie) Michael. But if you want to experience all the glam, here are a couple good resources for how you can attend NYFW, which comes around again in February, 2023:
What to Wear to NYFW
Naturally, my biggest concern about NYFW was what to wear. I love clothes and style, but I don’t have a closet full of luxury labels or attend many fancy events. Despite googling the topic and paging through photos on Pinterest, I really didn’t find any definitive advice for a woman like me, over 50 and new to the high fashion world. But now that I’ve attended four shows, I have opinions. My desire was simply to be comfortable and fit in with the stylish crowd so I could enjoy the experience. Despite a few blips, I mostly succeeded! These are my recommendations about what to wear:
- Plan ahead. You’re attending one of the most stylish occasions on the planet, so don’t leave your wardrobe to chance. Read through these tips and decide which looks you want to pursue. Evaluate your closet to see what you already have, then get expert help. Either find a great stylist like mine, Vince Theodore at Bloomingdale’s on Michigan Avenue (his services are free!), or consult your fashionable friends to see if you can raid their closets. Then try everything on at home, play around with accessories and take photos of your outfits. This will help you pack for your trip and easily slip into your outfit when you’re in New York.
- Dress UP. The fashion crowd is creative and diverse, and refreshingly of all ages. There were plenty of younger women in cutting edge “street” outfits, but I didn’t attempt it. For women our age who aren’t in the biz, I think being more formal is an easier and safer bet. I didn’t see a single person who looked overdressed!
- Wear black. Many people do, especially the people who are working and running from show to show. If your goal is to blend in, black is the ticket. It’s chic, sophisticated and allows you room to be more expressive in the cut or details. I wore this black pleated midi ALC dress to the Badgley Mischka show on Sunday afternoon and it was light and moved so well, I felt great in it. And how about Berit’s sexy black Sandro dress with cutouts she wore to the edgy Mirror Palais show?
- Wear a bold color. The designers were showing Spring 2023 collections and NYFW was full of color on and off the runway. It was a joyous mix of hues and pattern—like Mardi Gras on steroids. Wearing a pop of color allows you to feel like you’re part of the celebration. I felt great wearing my black Theory leather skirt (it stretches) with a bright pink Alice & Olivia top. You could also wear a dress in a solid color or even a matching jacket and pants. The women below (are they famous?) mixed brights and photographers loved it, but again, unless you know what you’re doing, a single color is probably enough.
- You don’t have wear the designer’s clothes. If you already own pieces from the designer, by all means wear them. Berit wore a blush skirt from a Badgley Mischka suit she bought years ago. Other guests and celebrities may wear the designer’s clothes, but most people don’t, because they’re going to multiple shows in a day. One of the most thrilling moments for me was when Michael introduced me to Elle Editor-in-Chief Nina Garcia at Brandon Maxwell’s show (she and Brandon are co-judges on TV’s Project Runway). Nina is my all-time favorite style icon and was so warm and gracious. She looked fabulous and relaxed in a Gucci GG patterned skirt, brown sandals and crisp blouse. I did some fan-girl gushing and I’m not sorry.
- Celeb trick: Build your outfit around one show-stopping piece. Model and TV personality Olivia Palermo attended the Pamella Roland show wearing a stunning jacket. Paired with her Jimmy Choo pink stilettos, she looked amazing. If you have a statement piece like this, NYFW is a great place to wear it.
- Consider the weather. September in New York may sound autumnal, but the temps were over 80 degrees every day. Berit and I dressed for the hot weather in lighter clothing and we still felt sticky. I’m glad we didn’t have to suffer in heavy layers. We had one rainy day, so I brought the hotel umbrella along for protection. I wasn’t the only one.
- Shoe Strategy. Getting in and out of the venues requires a lot of standing and walking. Berit wore gorgeous heels every day, but I just can’t do it. I always end up with blisters, which is pure misery! I found booties or lower heeled mules to be comfortable alternatives, but I also saw a lot of chunky loafers and Doc Martins in the crowd. But beware: comfort is not the main priority at NYFW, and white sneakers or Birkenstocks are simply too frumpy for these events. Even the espadrilles I wore to the Pamella Roland show didn’t cut it. I felt like I arrived from the farmers market to the most glamorous cocktail party on earth. (Part of the reason for my dress up rule, above.)
- Work your accessories. If you don’t want to buy a whole new wardrobe, add style and personality to classic outfits with belts, shoes, bags, scarves, sunglasses and jewelry. We sat next to the illustrious Senior Fashion Editor for the Miami Herald, Elysze Held, at the Pamella Rowland show and she was wearing the most distinctive clear lucite cuffs. Her black ensemble was chic as hell, but those bracelets are all I can remember. After shopping all afternoon in Soho, Berit switched up her loafers for red patent leather low heels ended up looking like a million bucks. My new pair of Chanel sunglasses instantly gave me a lift whenever I wore them.
- Don’t worry. No one’s looking at you. These tips are to help you feel confidently part of the stylish crowd, but honestly, no one cares what you’re wearing. When I strutted by a bank of photographers at Brandon Maxwell’s show feeling dressed to the nines, they lowered their cameras in unison. It was a cohesive display of utter disinterest. It’s okay! Their job is to capture pics of innovative outfits, gorgeous models and celebrities. Your job is to unabashedly enjoy the spectacle. Have a friend take a photo of you in front of the designer’s “step and repeat” backdrop, it’s thrilling enough.
Tips to Enjoy the NYFW Shows
- Before you go to New York, follow the designers on Instagram, check out their websites and read their interviews. The show you are seeing is a significant point in the designer’s career and you’ll enjoy it more if you know what their journey has been. Pamella Roland was celebrating her 20th year in the business. Mirror Palais designer Marcelo Gaia was having his first-ever runway show.
- Enjoy the scene. Many of the shows are held at a central location—Spring Studios on Varick Street in Tribeca. When we arrived for the Badgley Mischka show, there were a lot of fabulously dressed people just mingling and getting their photos taken. I’m not sure all the people even planned to attend the show. A group of very hip demonstrators across the street shouted “Fuck fashion week!” and other protest slogans about fast fashion and low industry wages. I could have hung out on the street for hours and been highly entertained.
- Invitations can arrive last minute, so be flexible. (I got the feeling all of NYFW was a huge last minute time crunch.) We were invited to Pamella Roland’s show just a couple days in advance. You’ll receive a follow up email with your seating assignment a day or two before the show. I saw four shows and sat in the first row, second row, general admission and standing room sections. I enjoyed each perspective thoroughly.
- The time on the invitation is generally when seating begins. If you’re assigned to general admission or standing room, you’ll want to arrive early to get the best viewing spot. We stood at Badgley Mischka in a primo spot with a better vantage point than those seated. Even if you have a front row seat, arrive at least 15 minutes beforehand so you have time to enter the venue, soak up the atmosphere and take a few pics before the show begins (usually 30 minutes after the invite time).
- Once the lights come up, the music starts and the models take the runway, you will be eager to capture all the stunning looks. Be polite and keep your phone down out the sight line of your seat mates. Berit and I learned it’s most efficient to snap a quick pic of the model the first time she comes down the runway, then video the finale when all the models walk out together.
- Talk to people. We were surrounded by fascinating and talented women who were very friendly and full of interesting tidbits of insider fashion information. We met journalists, stylists, designers and entrepreneurs! (I hope to share more about one or two of them with you down the road.) And look around, there are celebrities everywhere. Nicki Hilton, Karlie Kloss and (gulp) Anna Wintour attended one of the shows I did, and I missed them completely.
After it’s over, process all that you saw and consider how it impacted you. You just saw a designer’s hard work, collaboration and vision come to life on the runway. Did it inspire you to dress differently? Behave differently? Take more chances? Travel? For me, the experience fired up my creative juices. If that level of artistry is out in the world, surely I can be more ambitious about my writing! Style-wise, since I got back to Chicago I’ve definitely been putting more effort into my outfits and accessories—still paired with comfy shoes, of course.
Friends have asked what I bought at the shows and the answer is: for now, nothing! But If I ever get the chance, I’d love to wear this Pamella Rowland gown:
And any of these three sparkly/cool Brandon Maxwell looks:
Phew, this post was a long one, but it’s everything I wish I’d known before attending my first NYFW. If you have any comments or suggestions to add, please share them here or find us at @marjiekilleen or @stylechallengers on Instagram. And thanks Berit, for sharing NYFW with me!