A Study in Stilettos
By J. L. Meyer Photography by Chip Kennedy
Apply to be a runway model for South Walton Fashion Week, my friends and coworkers say. It’ll be fun, they say. The chance to win money, a photo shoot from Sheila Goode Photography, and a feature article in VIE magazine doesn’t sound so bad. Nor does the chance to interview with Click Models of Atlanta!
I stare at the online application.
It calls for a head shot and a full-body shot, in addition to measurements and other information that, in any other circumstances, would be rude to ask of a woman. But the judges aren’t looking for people; they’re looking for models. And I can be one of those models. Right? I like to wear cute clothes and high heels. I love fashion and style and The Devil Wears Prada. I’ve participated in a couple of amateur runway shows and even a beauty pageant once. I can do this, and it will be fun.
But honestly, I’m not exactly your typical tall-and-skinny model girl. I am decidedly average—I think. Who really knows?
Well, the measurements aren’t mandatory in this online form. We can get those later. Do people just know that stuff off the top of their heads? What if my “vital statistics” change between now and next week? What if I eat too much before the casting call? What if I don’t eat enough and I pass out?
If I’m five feet five and the height requirement is five feet six, will they notice? I might be five six.
If I’m five feet five and the height requirement is five feet six, will they notice? I might be five six.
Now, let’s just find the right photos to send in—will it matter if they’re from Facebook? I don’t have time to get professional shots taken. It’ll probably be okay. Hmm, I have that cute one from my last trip.
Oh, but I’m wearing a hat and a rain jacket in this one. Will they care if I’m wearing a hat? Better keep looking.
Here’s one that could work for a head shot. Oh, wow, I never noticed how wide my eyes are in this picture. I look crazy. Next.
Yikes, I look chubby there. Better delete this one from existence forever.
Photo from the staff section of my company’s website. Hmm. It’s professional. I like the smile. But does it show off my personality? Am I too squinty from the sun? Ugh.
Oh, this one is sort of a “modeling” photo. Cute outfit, striking a pose. But is it too posed? Are those pants too loose? Are sunglasses a problem?
I love this one! But it doesn’t show the bottom half of my legs. Do I think they’ll notice? Yes. Fine— Pass.
Jeez, I have approximately zero decent photos of myself. Whatever happened to the days of getting nice photos made every year? Like those vintage black-and-white ones of girls all done up with their hair curled and wearing pretty dresses. Not the Olan Mills ones. The real ones. The good stuff, like Audrey Hepburn’s photos. Why can’t I have photos like Audrey Hepburn?!
Okay, focus. Better just go with the nice head shot and the posed picture.
Application sent. I feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted from my shoulders simply because now it’s out of my hands. I think I need some chocolate.
The Casting Call
I’m just checking my e-mail, not a care in the world except for wondering just how much spam mail I can rack up if I don’t check it for a week (hint: it’s a lot), when I notice the subject line: SWFW 2014 Casting Call Invitation September 10th or 11th.
Well, this is so unexpected. Should I start polishing up my golden high-heel Top Model trophy now, or wait until— Okay, I’d better read the e-mail first, I guess.
“Please wear skinny jeans and a black tank top or V-neck T-shirt.” Okay, I can do that. “Bring heels to walk in.” Yes, check. But wait, do I have a black tank top that looks alright? Does it matter if it says something on it? Somehow I’m not sure if the SWFW judges will get the “Slytherwin” Harry Potter reference. Better go with a solid one.
“Please have hair pulled back or out of your face.” Okay. I can tame the mane for this. But, oh, what about my pointy Yoda ears that seem to stick out about a foot from my head? Well, those give me personality, right? Like that girl Anne from America’s Next Top Model. Dude, she won everything that season. You’ve got this.
“Please wear little to no makeup.” Little to no makeup? In public? Where people are going to be filming me? My Nana would have a fit. I’m going with the “little” option on this one.
I show up and find the other potential models sitting behind a screen, waiting to be called out one by one to walk for the organizers and judges of SWFW. They’re all predictably beautiful and amazingly, I don’t feel too out of place among them as I take a seat to wait. I tuck my head shot carefully under my chair—don’t want anyone to see that—and sit back quietly, listening as each girl (there are a couple of guys, too) is called forth to literally strut her stuff. I was one of the last to arrive, so I wait for quite a while. The room begins to empty and I’m still waiting. My feet are sweating. Will that affect my walk?
No, but what might is the fact that my shoes—which I love dearly and spent quite some time debating on whether or not to wear—are sort of falling apart. The heel on one of them is starting to disconnect from the rest of it. Great. Why didn’t I notice that before?
My name is called, and I stand too quickly, heading to the judges’ table to hand off my information. Show your personality, I remind myself. Smile, talk to them. Oh no, did I laugh way too loud just then? Oh, well…
The walking part is easier. I’m confident in my runway gait, if not in my shoes’ ability to remain intact. Walk down and back. Shoulders back, eyes forward, cross one foot over the other with each step. I’ve seen fashion shows. I can do this.
I do it, but I feel like I’m practically sprinting. The judges are quiet and then kindly ask me to go once again, more slowly. I laugh nervously and oblige.
“Girl, that heel is about to break!” one of them calls, and I laugh again as I finish my walk, feeling a blush spread across my cheeks.
“I know. They’ve just about had it,” I say, shaking my head sadly as I approach the table again.
Despite the footwear problem, I feel I did well. The panel of impeccable, fashionable women before me seems to think so, too. They thank me and then it’s on to the next girl. I guess we’ll see what happens next!
I suppose you can guess what happens next, considering I’m writing this diary as a catalogue of my modeling experience. I made the cut! It’s sort of a surreal feeling. The idea that “Wow, I am really going to do this. Someone has chosen me, out of hundreds of beautiful girls, to go on stage and showcase their art.”
That’s what fashion is to many people, especially those who create it. It’s artistic expression that you can wear day in and day out to show people how you’re feeling or what you like. What you’re wearing can say a lot or very little, depending on what you want to convey to those who see you in it. That is something I’ve always loved about fashion: a piece of clothing can become just about anything once the personal style of the wearer is added to it.
But you soon learn that being a model is not about personal style. It’s about the style and the artistic vision of the designer. It’s your job to be the canvas, to communicate what they want to say to their audience—which brings me to the next, and possibly the most terrifying, moment of my modeling “career.”
For each of the three shows I’m cast in for SWFW, there are fittings. It’s the chance to meet with the designer or stylist you’re working for and try on the things they want to send down the runway. For me, it feels like round two of the casting call. What if they don’t like me? What if I can’t wear what they’ve chosen for me? What if I get “fired,” even though I haven’t actually been “hired”? These are just a few of the things buzzing through my head as I drive to my first fitting at Tommy Bahama.
But it goes really well. I try on several outfits and the stylist is overjoyed with the fit, even claiming I am “the perfect customer” for their store. That’s one difference between “high fashion” runway modeling and modeling for boutiques. I would never be the perfect canvas for haute couture, but for a normal boutique selling clothes to normal women, I at least fit in. That’s a confidence booster, and I leave feeling good about the two looks we’ve chosen for me to wear down the runway.
The next fitting takes much of that confidence and bulldozes it in a matter of seconds.
I blink at the tiny pieces of fabric held out to me and take them. My cheeks are probably pale as I try to put on a brave face for the lovely ladies at La Vie Est Belle. Okay, I’ll try it on!
South Walton is a beach community, so I knew there was a possibility that this would happen. But this is the tiniest bikini I’ve ever touched, let alone worn. The patterned miniskirt over it helps some, but when I emerge from the dressing room, I’m sure my absolute terror is showing through my attempt to appear optimistic about the designers’ review.
They’re pretty polite about pointing out that the outfit just isn’t working, and I feel relieved. I need a tan. I could stand to do a few crunches or maybe a thousand. I’m immediately smiling again when they decide to put a sheer, embroidered sari over the bikini. The sari is still a little bit revealing but I can deal with that as long as I don’t feel like I’m “letting it all hang out.” The dress is gorgeous and it’s my favorite color. A win-win as far as I’m concerned.
I’m covered in gorgeous Tahitian pearls, the shop’s specialty. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings—owner Wendy Mignot and her stylists circle around me like birds of prey as they layer, tie, and readjust the shimmering beads. The most amazing silver-and-gold Jimmy Choo stilettos complete my ensemble, and suddenly I’m feeling like a glamorous socialite on vacation in St. Barths. Where is that awkward, self-conscious girl from a few moments ago? It truly is amazing the power that a good outfit can have on the person wearing it.
Confidence restored but with the knowledge that I still need a tan and maybe a diet now firmly planted in my mind, I leave the store wondering—with good humor—what I’ve gotten myself into.
Don’t Feed the Models
I’m sure I’m one of many women who would say they have never thought of themselves as “skinny.” In a society where looks and body image hold just as much sway as knowledge and intellect, everyone is subjected to preconceived ideals of what looks good. While it may be upsetting that we behave in such a way, the truth is that your appearance is your first impression, and that’s all it takes to garner a subconscious reaction from someone you meet. Positive or negative, that reaction can dictate how someone treats you. It’s terrifying.
It’s also what has made the fashion industry kajillions of dollars over the centuries.
On a daily basis, you go to work, to the store, to the gym. You might wonder what people think of you, but that thought is probably fleeting. The chance that you’ll see that person again is small, so who cares, as long as you’re happy—right? But I’m here to say that when you become a model, the everyday worry about how you look and impress others is heightened tenfold.
Imagine knowing that you’re going to be walking down a brightly lit stage in front of hundreds of people. Now imagine you’ll be wearing clothing that someone else created—a labor of love, a passion project—that they want to showcase as something great. Imagine you are a book and everyone in the bookstore is breaking the rules—judging you exclusively by your cover.
I’m not the type of person who is constantly checking the scales. I exercise because it’s important and it makes me feel better, both physically and emotionally—and also because I like to eat. There, I said it. I love food. It might be the love of my life right now, second only to my dog, and he doesn’t care if I eat half a pizza by myself on a Saturday night, as long as he gets a piece of pepperoni.
The way I see it, denying myself the simple pleasure of eating something I like is not worth it. Moderation is the key, and continues to be even while going through pre-SWFW dieting, just on a stricter scale. Apples and peanut butter have become my best friends, but I won’t lie and say I haven’t had a slice or two of nice, cheesy pizza as well. The effort to be more diet-conscious seems to have paid off, as people have started asking me if I’ve lost weight. There’s a weird feeling that comes with hearing that; even when it’s a compliment, it makes you wonder things. Was I fat before? It’s ridiculous, but in our world, even nice words about our looks can spark paranoia and suspicion in our overly conditioned brains.
I’ll be honest; it still won’t stop me from eating pizza.
The Spray Tan
You won’t turn orange. You won’t turn orange. You. Will. Not. Turn. Orange.
But what if I do I turn orange?
Nervous and still thinking about turning right around and running, I step into the booth where the intimidating machine stands. It looks like a shower stall, but it’s open on two sides. It could be a time machine, for all I know. Or the machine they used to turn scrawny little Steve Rogers into perfect human specimen Captain America. (Yes, I am a huge nerd.) Well, that wouldn’t be so bad, would it?
The attendant enters the setting I request—medium—because, as she says, “I don’t want you to get super dark and freak out tomorrow.” She shows me how to turn it on when I’m ready and leaves me to it.
I step into the machine, squinting because I’m afraid as soon as I press the button I’m going to be blinded with tanning spray. Probably the color of a carrot.
What? I try to press it again and nada. Goose bumps spread across my skin as I step back out of the machine and frown at the controls, then give up and wrap a towel around myself, stepping timidly out of the booth to go and get help.
Apparently I just wasn’t pressing the button hard enough. Figures.
When the spray starts, moving like a carwash from top to bottom and back up, I stand perfectly still. It’s cold. I turn when the machine tells me to. It’s pretty smart for a glorified shower stall…
I do not develop any new six-pack abs, nor am I transported back in time (thankfully, considering my state of undress). In fact, I don’t notice anything at all. Patting myself off carefully, I get dressed and leave the booth. I’m not the color of an Oompa Loompa, which is good. I seem to be just as ivory-skinned as ever.
Until the next morning, when I notice a nice, natural-looking glow across my skin.
The point here? I didn’t turn orange! And I’m not afraid of the spray tanner anymore. Important life lessons, folks.
The Waiting Game
Nobody tells you how much of a model’s time is spent waiting: waiting to get makeup done, waiting to get hair done, and waiting for outfits to show up. It’s boring and nerve-racking at the same time because you’ve got nothing to do, and you know you need to be in a certain place at a certain time, so you know you shouldn’t wander off.
My best advice is to go with the flow and have a good attitude about it all. The waiting periods are a good time to make new friends, have a snack, catch up on e-mails, or, for me, do some writing!
But first—let me take a selfie.
Worth the Wait
The music is pumping in the theatre at Grand Boulevard Town Center at Sandestin. I’m backstage with a bustling crowd of models, designers, stylists, and hair and makeup teams from Vivo Spa Salon and MAC Cosmetics. Needless to say, there’s a lot going on, but it’s exciting!
As we all get dressed and ready for our big runway debuts, I can’t help but feel privileged to have gotten to experience SWFW from this perspective. Seeing the incredible amounts of hard work and creativity poured into the event by every single person involved is inspiring. Fashion is a big part of life for many people, but to be able to see the whole process of putting on a professional runway show like SWFW (let alone three nights of them!) from top to bottom? Awe-inspiring. The teams from the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, Monark Events, and Grand Boulevard really outdid themselves.
The energy is palpable backstage as we watch the television set up there. The camera is trained on the runway so we can see the progress of our fellow models and know when it’s our cue to go on. I step up to the plate for my first walk, wearing a cute and comfortable outfit for Coco’s by M. Cline.
Please don’t fall. Please don’t make any stupid faces. Please just have fun.
And you know what? I do. That first walk to the end of the runway is a little terrifying, but the crowd is having fun and I can sense it, even though I’m looking straight ahead. I pause in front of the judges, put on my best “Blue Steel” model face (just kidding), and then, before I know it, I’m walking back to the other end and offstage. My heart is racing and my legs are shaking a little as I descend the steps in the back again, but I’m grinning ear to ear. I’m ready to go again. And it was definitely worth the wait.
Being a model isn’t all fun and games. It’s a commitment of time and energy. It’s work—and I’m not even trying to make a career of it. But even if you just want to try it for fun like me, it’s an excellent chance to meet some amazing people and to be inspired by the creative, energetic world of fashion, both on the runway and behind the scenes!
A big congratulations to Maleena Pruitt, the 2014 SWFW Model Competition winner, and to Romey Roe, 2014 Emerging Designer Competition winner. You guys both rocked it, as did everyone else! If you’re interested in becoming a model for South Walton Fashion Week 2015, be sure to visit www.swfw.org in the months leading up to the event to find out when you can apply and audition. See you on the runway. Ciao!
— V —