Late last year, Kendall Jenner opened up about skipping the Fall/Winter 2018 fashion month to take care of her mental health. Jenner, who has been candid about her struggles with anxiety before, told Love magazine that she felt she was on the verge of a “mental breakdown.”
It’s no wonder she needed to take a pause. The fashion industry is notorious for its fast pace, based on the principle that more is more. Fashion weeks, the showpieces of the industry calendar, are chaotic and overwhelming events that leave little time for self-care. Schedules are jam-packed with all-day, all-night engagements — you have to worry about what to wear, how you’ll look in photographs and on social media, or whether you’ll get into the shows at all.
Designers, models, editors, buyers, and everyone else in the industry feel the strain on their mental health. The stress of always being on takes a toll both physically and mentally. But we never really see what that toll looks like. Instead, we see a constant stream of glamorous outfits, amazing-looking meals, and fancy parties.
To discover what goes on beneath the surface, we spoke to several people working in the industry about their own experiences of navigating the stress of fashion week.
Em Odesser, editor-in-chief of Teen Eye Magazine
I don’t think I’ve ever not been worn down, both physically and mentally, by the end of fashion week. I still go, partly because it’s my job as the fashion editor of my magazine and partly because I do genuinely enjoy the good moments, but there are a lot of stressful, sweaty, and tearful situations I have to navigate before shows start, even after I’ve gotten “credibility” in the industry.
Without fail, I’ll have a panic attack either the night before or the morning of my first show. It’s exhausting to be on a tight schedule regardless, but the new wave of street style has made it more difficult to be authentic in all those moments and the pressure to groom yourself “correctly” gets in your head no matter what.
I consider myself a very confident person, but during fashion week my self-esteem drops. Last season, I skipped all but two or three shows for therapy appointments. I was at a point in my life where I couldn’t handle the expected drop in self-esteem, even if it’d be temporary.
It was a decision that left me feeling guilty and ashamed. I’d look on Instagram and see everyone posting pictures of those cherry-on-top moments and feel like I was making the wrong decision until I gave myself a little reality check.
Austin Smith, buyer
My role at fashion week is to meet with buyers and find a way to get my schedule to match all of theirs so we can do some business. This means taking meetings much earlier than I care to and staying out way past my bedtime for dinners and cocktail parties.
I love making connections with people, and creating relationships with like-minded individuals from all over the world is my favorite part of the job, but keeping your head straight after a full day of smiling and too much booze and too little sleep can be a bit taxing.
When you’re in the thick of it, you don’t notice. It almost feels like a perpetual hangover. It’s kind of like going for a run — if you keep pushing, you keep going, but once you take a break, you’re done for.
Plus, it may only be a week here in New York, but there is still London, Paris, and Milan to attend. It really spans a full month, and the market is open that entire time, if not longer, depending on the company. Your brain gets a bit fried afterwards.
Sebastian Rosemarie, model
I feel like fashion week is a time when everyone in the industry is on edge a little bit. Being a model in general means to be always on, especially when you’re out in the city. You never know who’s watching you cross the street, snapping pictures of you on the train, or sitting in a restaurant while you eat. There’s another layer of paranoia during fashion week.
I definitely had breakdowns in between castings last season with my old agency. They sent me to literally everything. This is a sink-or-swim tactic agencies use to “strengthen” their models. I ended up feeling picked apart physically and mentally.
This year, I only went to a select few castings and felt so much better about the whole experience and process, even if I didn’t end up walking. I pulled out of all the shows I was confirmed for or on hold for to preserve my mental health and kick ass in the coming editorial season.
Cyndi Ramirez, founder of Chillhouse
I always feel worn down by the demands and chaos of fashion week, mostly the demands to look stylish while also attempting to do actual work and run your business. I think it takes time to get used to the rhythm of fashion week — dress cute, act chill but actually feel like shit because of lack of sleep and comparing yourself to the most stylish and beautiful people in the world etc. I don’t know if the chaos ever goes away. I think you just start to give fewer fucks.
It always takes a mental toll if you let it and give in to doing it all. I think street style, where you’re seated, invite FOMO — all of this contributes to insecurities that potentially harm our mental health. I’m sick of photographers chasing down the thin street style stars because society says the same clothes I wear draped them better.
I’m also sick of designers putting the same people in the front row. [Activist] Ericka Hart revealed a fun fact the other day on Facebook. She said the only fashion shows she’s ever been to are the ones she’s walked in. So badass. It’s because the industry sometimes can be a bit shortsighted. Here’s a woman so influential she walks for Chromat, yet where are the invites to attend others? The industry needs to do better so we can all feel better.
Luke Meagher, YouTuber and fashion commentator Haute le Mode
This was my first season actually attending shows on my own merit and I still had the idea it was super-glamorous and wonderful. But from dealing with PR people and the “our venue is so small this season” rejection emails to actually running around to get to different shows, with no travel budget in New York, where it’s so humid and sweaty, I didn’t really feel glamorous and wonderful. I am also in my senior year of college, so trying to balance attending shows and getting to class is stressful!
Celine Semaan Vernon, designer and founder of Slow Factory and The Library Sustainable Fashion Archive
New York Fashion Week is beyond exhausting. Besides the FOMO, it’s a similar feeling to trying to be cool in high school. I was anything but cool in the traditional sense, more like a geek on the fringes. So New York Fashion Week reminds me that I’m not an It girl. I’m not always invited to shows or presentations, even if I belong there. I still have to push my way in, and that culture is toxic. Why can’t it be more open and accessible?
Mental hygiene is not yet part of everyone’s vocabulary. We know how to do self-care on our bodies, but when it comes to the inner self, it’s a complete mystery. Fashion week affects my mental health, and so it reminds me to be even more disciplined with my mental hygiene routine — nurturing an inner peace becomes my priority. Unfortunately, I don’t always succeed.
I missed a show and a party this past fashion week because I was overwhelmed and over-socialized. I felt my anxiety-meter send an alarm signal. I had to cancel my morning meetings the next day, too, because it was just unhealthy. If I can’t focus or even breathe a full breath, then how am I going to perform in any of these engagements?
I think managing FOMO and other people’s expectations is key. The way I handle it is my total forgiveness of myself, first for missing out, and for others to judge me for it.
Next up, read five ways to be kinder to yourself in 2019.