The fashion world of St Andrews projects a glamorous facade. Since 1992, fashion shows have been an integral part of the university’s second semester, and they have continued to grow in size and popularity ever since. But it was after the 2002 Don’t Walk show in which 19 year old Kate Middleton paraded down the catwalk in an adventurous, sheer tube dress at the St Andrews Bay Hotel that subsequent students have found themselves consumed by the fairytale of our beloved Duchess and Duke of Cambridge. However exciting and desirable the prospect of finding a prince may be, we must not be blinded by the glamour and glitz of the fashion shows or lose sight of the true purpose of them. It is important therefore to rectify this issue by reinforcing the intended ethos of the events.
Fashion shows intend to please their demographic by creating all inclusive functions that appeal to as many students as possible. It is their ultimate aim to produce a significant amount of revenue for their chosen charities. However, unfortunately, despite the long process of hard work that goes into organising a fashion show, as well as the creative advertising used to promote it, it is easy for the element of charity to be forgotten. However, the blame cannot be laid at the committees doorstep. More often than not, it is due to general misconceptions generated amongst the onlooking audience. For example, the focus has shifted onto the names and faces of the models. Out of the hundreds of students that apply during the weeks of casting, the few people that are lucky enough to be carefully selected by the panel of judges are immediately placed upon metaphorical pedestals by the remaining students. As a result, there is the potential that feelings of inferiority and jealousy can arise. Although this is only natural behaviour, it is something that we must all become aware of and eager to prevent. As with all university organisations there is a danger of unintentionally creating elitist groups that have the potential to intimidate other students. Fashion shows are particularly vulnerable to this. Their association with both beauty and body image places them within a fragile environment where insecurities are easily cultivated.
They have the power to breathe toxicity into the minds of their observers and can fabricate popularity and high social status’ throughout the university. Spirals of envy can cause students to misinterpret certain elements of the events. For example, as models and committee members wander the streets in their branded jackets, there is a perception that they are parading themselves more than the charitable element of the show. For this reason, the unhealthy idolisation of the models must be addressed and the spotlight to be returned to the primary objective behind the fashion shows.In recent years the stigmas and the damaging attitudes that surround student fashion shows have come to the attention of the committee members. Having interviewed the director of Catwalk Charity Fashion Show, it has become evident that they are actively trying to change the public’s misconceptions. After admitting that such events, can and do appear elitist, and have the capacity to affect students’ mental health, the committee aims to tackle these issues head on by making their show a body positive space only. One way in which they intend to do this is by paying significantly less attention to the size and shape of the models they cast.
However, this in itself has not been achieved without some difficulties. Many of the clothes used within the shows have been created by budding graduate designers, the sizes of which the committee has little control over. Historically most fashion show pieces sent to the team are sized 6-10. Despite Catwalk’s attempt to cast a range of body sizes, the clothes sizing factor makes it incredibly difficult to achieve. In the real commercial world of fashion, “plus size” designers are becoming more and more prevalent, and this is an area in which the committees and graduate designers need to address. Catwalk stated that at the moment this is an unfortunate reality that we currently have to face in our immediate fashion world and it means that despite their best intentions they cannot promote body positivity to the height that they would like to as of yet. In other areas, however, the committee has successfully addressed the issues concerning the idolisation of their models. In November Catwalk held their launch party at Beacon Bar where they announced their theme “Play Time” and introduced their models.
In order to prevent the audience from glorifying the figures on the catwalk, the committee chose not to elevate the models above the audience by creating a floor level runway. The director was especially pleased with the audience’s response to this decision and claims to have heard whispers of “Oh, they are just like normal people”. Catwalk, like other fashion shows that exist within the university, will continue to reduce falsely inflated statuses and will place a greater focus upon the fashion being displayed. In addition, student fashion shows aim to bring their chosen charities to the forefront. For example, Don’t Walk aims to hold more serious events specific to their chosen charities, Families First and Rain Forest Alliance. During a past interview with Don’t Walk’s creative team, they demonstrated how they plan to integrate their larger charity into their theme. They also hope to use recycled fashion pieces, goody bags and committee jackets to promote sustainability. They claim that this year more attention will be brought to the charitable aspect of the show and any previous stigmas associated with Don’t Walk will hopefully be adjusted Despite the connotations associated with student fashion shows their qualities should be celebrated and admired. The events themselves are a chance for students to watch and support their friends, who have devoted hours to make the shows successful. They also provide aspiring students with the opportunity to gain invaluable experience within a large organisation through which they can learn and practise new skills. As a creative outlet, emerging designers, models and choreographers can immerse themselves in their passions alongside their university work. Fashion shows will continue to develop in St Andrews. With a mixture of glamour, music and fashion, it is evident that in this modern critical world we live in their format will have to change to become more inclusive; and ultimately to raise as much awareness for the charities as possible.