Are "Real People" the New It Models?

J.Crew presentation during  New York Fashion Week
Photo: Noam Galai/Getty

There’s a scene from 13 Going on 30 I keep harkening back to this fashion week: Jennifer Garner’s character, Jenna (a gawky seventh-grader who gets transported 17 years down the road to her future life—and body—as a fashion editor), presents photo boards with smiling women of all ages, shapes, and colors to a room of senior staffers. “I want to see my best friend's big sister, the girls from the soccer team, my next door neighbor—real women who are smart and pretty and happy to be who they are,” she says passionately. “These are the women to look up to.”

It wouldn’t feel out of places to see similar words in the notes for some of the season’s most notable shows. "Real women" as models have become something of a theme this week as more and more brands move away from traditional casting.

The trend presented itself at the Rachel Comey’s Thursday morning presentation. Held on the streets of lower Manhattan—where the designer made her debut 15 years ago (back then it was all menswear)—the event featured both professionals and friends of the label in a mix of unisex pieces. This included a tall man I’ve frequently seen working at Comey’s SoHo shop, dressed in a longline teal overcoat that elegantly billowed as he walked.

Over at artsy streetwear line Eckhaus Latta, there was a mixed bag of catwalk regulars, personal contacts, and Instagram recruits. The connecting thread was androgyny: beautiful men in deconstructed skirts, handsome ladies in oversized knits. A blend of gritty, gender fluid faces, however, are standard on the brand’s runways, and something we’ve come to expect over the last several seasons.

The real shake-up happened, of all places, amongst the reliable print-mixing and preppy motifs of J. Crew. From top to bottom, the iconic label's spring 2017 range was shown on people from a diverse mix of occupations—from in-house team members and PR consultants to photographers and event planners—and it may have just about been the happiest stop on the schedule. Guests and (non) models alike were beaming and laughing throughout the entire affair; at times it felt more like a big party with a heavy khaki dress code than a work appointment.

PHOTOS: See All the Stars Sitting in the Front Row During Fashion Week

None of this is to say that standard models are not living, breathing people. Nor should they move on to new jobs—so long as there are humans in the world that look like Karlie Kloss and Kate Moss, I’ll enjoy gawking at their otherworldly beauty from afar. But risk-taking style on someone who looks like an old friend? If they can pull it off, so can I.

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