Boston Fashion Week: A Model for Accessible Fashion

Boston Fashion Week image
Images from the Open Runway, a Boston Fashion Week event, by Iggy Photo.

New York, Milan, and Paris are known as fashion centers of the world, but what about Boston? What fashion would Boston even be known for? Stroll around Boston Common, and you’ll see Red Sox and Celtics jerseys. Salmon-colored shorts and pastel linen make an appearance on the various university and prep school campuses around New England, but sweatpants and college apparel may be even more popular nowadays. There may not be an obvious, discernible Boston “look,” the same way a beret, a turtleneck, and a cigarette may identify someone as a resident of the City of Lights, but Boston still boasts a vibrant fashion scene.

Boston Fashion Week, which showcases the work of Boston’s fashion talent, has been around since 1995. Fashion author Jay Calderin founded BFW as a way to uplift local designers, whether they were burgeoning artists looking to break into the fashion world or experienced industry professionals. A variety of events, from fashion shows to exhibits to educational programs to parties, allows local talent to make connections with one another, as well as reach a public audience with their work. Boston Fashion Week prides itself in its accessibility and diversity with regard to the opportunities it offers to those interested in fashion, in any capacity, around the greater Boston area. This year’s Boston Fashion Week will take place Sept. 22 through 28.

One way Boston Fashion Week reinvents the conception of what a fashion show can be with their annual “Open Runway” event. Inspired by the format of an open mic night, where anyone can get onstage and sing, play music, or perform stand-up comedy, the Open Runway gives amateur designers and models the opportunity to showcase their work and strut down the catwalk. The fashion industry is generally known for its exclusivity. Getting into the business often requires knowing the right people and coming from a privileged background. Aspiring models, especially, are limited by how much they weigh, how tall they are, and often their ethnicity. What the Open Runway offers is a chance for anyone, no matter who they are, to share their work with a warm and passionate audience of like-minded fashion enthusiasts. This year’s free, open-air fashion show will take place on The Steps, located in Downtown Crossing, on May 30.

Boston Fashion Week also upholds its ethos of accessibility by inviting any and every self-identified designer in the greater Boston area to participate in its programming. All designers need to do is fill out an online submission form in order to get their foot in the door. Once the event is approved, designers possess full control and responsibility over the organization of the event: They select models, stylists, hair and makeup artists, as well as whoever else they may want to be a part of their event. By granting creative control to the designers, Boston Fashion Week creates a bottom-up artistic community that allows the event to be artist-centric. One way it does this is by allowing students at nearby universities, like Lasell College and MassArt to host their own shows. It has a DIY-ethic absent from most of the fashion industry, where luxury brands like Hermès and Gucci maintain their exorbitantly inaccessible price points. This event maintains its status as a civic initiative by making everything about the people involved, as well as their art, rather than exclusion and narrow definitions of beauty, giving a definition to what Boston’s fashion scene really looks like.