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The standing line, and other unspoken NYFW anxieties

We all know the popular images of fashion week – street style stars hailing cabs with clutches and editors Instagramming from the front row – but what's it like for the 99%?

New York Fashion Week is in full swing, and with Gareth Pugh's folklore-inspired dance installation, Spike Jonze and Jonah Hill's Opening Ceremony play and boychild walking a Great Dane down the Hood by Air runway, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement. A mythical concept to outsiders (which leads to "It's a month, not a week!" becoming a mantra repeated to non-fashion folk at least daily) it's often regarded as a leisurely time of freebies, expenses-paid taxi rides and having your most stylish outfits captured by hundreds of clicking cameras. Bursting that bubble, Dazed contributor Seymour Glass recounts what the reality of life at fashion week is like when you're not an editor, celebrity, or big time buyer – and, shock horror – get delegated to The Standing Line.

I'm standing. I'm at New York Fashion Week.

I'm not engaged in pre-show chatter with my first-row fashion friends, nor am I participating in a post-show standing ovation.

I'm standing because I am one of the hundred guests (and counting) at the Cushnie et Ochs fashion show, who have been relegated to…(dun, dun, dun!) The Standing Line – a fate most dreaded amongst non-VIP attendees of NYFW. 

Ending up in one is a fast-moving downward spiral, which looks like this: 

As a member of the fashion industry (yet excluded from its highest ranks, an echelon reserved for street-style stars and tip-top fashion editors), you've trekked to Milk Studios, Highline Stages, or any one of those unreachable Manhattan corners in which designers seem so fond of unveiling their collections. A person in black awaits your arrival. This person is 'PR.' He/she stands behind a clipboard, an iPad, or an intimidating-looking desk that reads 'Guests.'

You click-clack toward him in your feathered, jeweled, or otherwise improbably decorated Manolos, dressed to the nines, filled with a sense of belonging – prepared to casually flash the e-vote on your iPhone screen containing the confirmation of your RSVP, and the justification for your good spirits.

PR seeks your name on the guest list. You take this moment to double-check that your borrowed earrings are in place – then, an index card materialises in your hand, with a wiggly, hastily swished line in permanent marker. It's an 'S' for Standing.

"Over there," PR points, towards a haggard-looking crowd.

You were not, as was implied by your confirmation email, reserved a seat for the show. Instead, you must wait, "in case there's space." It's too late to turn around: you have been placed in the standing line.

Non-fashion people might think, "Big deal," as the words "First World Problem" flash over your dejected face, in the GIF that would theoretically be made if you were important enough to have been photographed at that moment.

@tommyton: "I only get into this position for a very select few."

But it turns out fashion week doesn't actually whisk us away to the land of our cotton-candy dreams, and swirl away the stale anxieties of office life; if anything, it makes the anxieties more apparent, more foul.

If before you ever wondered what became of a fashion rival – the gossipy girl with a 'family friend' at the glossy of your dreams, who interned with you in college, then disappeared into a cloud of speculation – well, now you don't have to wonder. You just confirm the rumors, by spotting her front-row at Alexander Wang, next to the editor you always hoped to meet one day.

Seat designations are no different from marriage proposals in an Edith Wharton novel: they're no secret, so it's easy to see who got the better hand in life – the personification of society anxiety.

In the midst of fashion week – that high-pressured vacuum, in which the stakes of every fashionable ambition seem so damn high – pettiness afflicts even the most secure amongst us.

Anybody who disagrees has never faced the street-style bloggers in the square outside of Lincoln Center. In that vast, unavoidable moat which separates noble fashion crusaders from the heart of NYFW, a predatory wave of cameras ripples constantly from morning to night.

Where the photos all go at the end of the day, nobody really knows (only a few appear on reputable blogs), but when you're scampering up the steps to Lincoln Center – with your coif laboriously styled in the manner most preposterous for daily life, in the outfit you carefully prepared in advance – of course you hope someone will notice. In that massive sea of cameras, one of them will turn to you, right?…one flashbulb, one set of eyes, one somebody with a blog or an Instagram feed or a something will deem you stylish enough, important enough, to warrant a photo…right?

If they don't, well – obviously then you look like shit, and are going to have a terrible day, maybe week.

All this is assuming you were invited in the first place. Unless you are lucky enough for your name to grace the top of the masthead at a big-money glossy, invitations, of course, are no guarantee.

When they decline your request for a seat at some covetable show, PR companies evidently share the same template: "We've moved our show to a smaller venue this season," they say. "Please try again next time." As explanations go, it seems a reasonable enough, until you catch the show it on a live stream, taking place in some cavernous, gold-encrusted palace, with dolphin fountains and twenty-foot trompe-l'oeil ceilings.

So we traipse across Manhattan Island in impractical outfits, getting ogled on the subway as we cross our fingers to retain some shred of dignity by week's end, the famous ones amongst us have it impossibly worse.

At the Suno show two nights ago, I watched a very pregnant Miroslava Duma get ruthlessly mobbed by photographers – she handled it graciously, smiling (wincing, really) as she struggled to reach her seat, but surely the flash blinded even her unborn child.

Designers lately (themselves subjected to impossible anxieties, as the expectations mount to produce more clothes, with more speed, for more customers) seem to relish in the taxation of a hapless audience's comfort zone. A few days ago, it was Gareth Pugh, who required stodgy editors to 'fight' (read: commit to unplanned physical contact) for a chance to experience his smoky live performance; last season, the discomfort level was turned up by Alexander Wang, whose show necessitated a trek to Brooklyn (the horror!) in the middle of a snowstorm.

“In that massive sea of cameras, one of them will turn to you, right? … one flashbulb, one set of eyes, one somebody with a blog or an Instagram feed or a something will deem you stylish enough, important enough, to warrant a photo … right?”

Back in the standing line at Cushnie et Ochs, it's been twenty minutes, and the line has only grown behind me. Appearing from an aerial view like the remains of a snake that has shed its skin, the line is long, sad, and listless, everybody shifting their weight from one high heel to the other, festering in a state of quasi-embarrassment (it's only 'quasi' because hey, at least everyone else is standing in the line with us). People with a seat number stride past, and occasionally - despite standers' concentrated attempts to avoid eye contact - a predictable interaction unfolds:

"Hi darling!" the strider gushes to the stander, "Where are are you sitting? Oh, wait - are you…in the standing line?"

When the security guard finally approaches, everybody perks up, remembering themselves. Throats are cleared, lint flicked off of shirts, and egos re-aligned, in preparation for entry.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he announces, "we're at capacity."

A hundred lips moan, "Awwwwww," in the saddest expression of earnest disappointment you will ever hear from a group of poker-faced fashionistas.

"Sorry," the security guard adds, and shrugs, before hulking away.

Then the click-clacking begins, everybody's faces to the marble floor, in a reflection of wasted grandeur. The glass doors all open, and the street-style cameras all clatter like bayonets at the ready. 

Hearts suddenly soar, and you can tell what everyone is thinking: "Hopefully, at least - with the important people out of the way - they'll photograph me now."