Why the Fashion Industry Needs to Change

by OLIVIA PALADINO, Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: In collaboration with Lotus Magazine, Manhattan College’s women’s empowerment magazine, The Quadrangle will be featuring three guest writers from its fellow student publication over the month of March in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Since I was a young girl, I have wanted to work in beauty and fashion.

Like any kid, I paced back and forth between wild career fantasies. I wanted to be a surgeon, and a forensic investigator, a writer and a hairdresser, but I inevitably circled back to the same worn-out dream: to become a fashion journalist.

I wanted to be the Carrie Bradshaw of our generation, floating through the streets of New York City with an attractive man on one arm and a Kith bag on the other. This idealized perception of what that lifestyle and industry was like—fabulous, glamorous, and full of creative energy—has carried me through my entire (albeit short) adult life. Until now, that is.

In December, I received an email about an internship opportunity that seemed too good to be true. I would be working under an editorial stylist, who even serviced a celebrity clientele, as the intern to her assistant. Visions of red carpets and designer gowns danced through my head. It turns out, however, that the job was, in fact, too good to be true.

I’m in no way opposed to hard work and fully believe in its character-building ability, especially early on in one’s career. It was expected, when I took this job, that I’d be asked to pick up toilet paper for the office, or a Valentine’s Day gift for my boss’s boyfriend (yes, these are real things I was asked to do) because the interns’ purpose is ultimately to make the lives of her superiors easier. So I will pick up the toilet paper and the gifts, and I will organize containers of full of Spanx and shoes and racks of clothing, and I will run up and down the island of Manhattan all day long in freezing temperatures, and I will do it all with a smile, because I will be the best damn intern that office has ever seen.

But I will also cry to my mother on the phone during my lunch break about how I am not as skinny and beautiful as our clients. I will feel so much anxiety that I leave work to spend hundreds of dollars I don’t have on new clothing, so as to not feel like the frumpiest person in the room (with very little success). I will spend two hours in the morning picking myself apart in the mirror and trying on ten different outfits in hope that my boss will look at me with anything other than indifference. I will roll my eyes when my boyfriend tells me that I am hardworking or pretty or that I will be successful someday—because I no longer believe any of that is true.

This is the result of working in an industry that makes its money off of people’s insecurities.

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 2.52.47 PM
Olivia Paladino is a junior communication major from Scotch Plains, N.J. She is a founder and Editor-in-Chief of Lotus Magazine. OLIVIA PALADINO / COURTESY.

I have nothing but respect for the creativity and innovation of the fashion industry, and I believe that style is an integral part of a person’s identity. My boss’s work and her creative process are a true art form. But the art and the high of creating it, however, gets lost in the culture, and that has to change.

Being surrounded by beautiful people all day, who are so consumed with whether or not other people think they are beautiful, is exhausting. Running around all day trying to make someone look good by everyone else’s standard but their own is exhausting. Dealing with the egos and power trips that degrade you into believing you are nothing is exhausting. And questioning who you are and your every move, every second of the day (down to whether bending over in a certain position makes you look fat), is the most exhausting of all.

From my very limited experience as an insider, the way this industry operates is dangerous, and I know that I no longer want to work in it as it currently exists. Fashion is not purely physical—its mental component is equally important. Getting dressed should make you feel empowered; it’s cliché, but an outfit you love will make you feel like you can do anything.

The most important part of that statement is the idea that you love how you look—not the fashion police, your boss, your friends or some loser you’re trying to impress at Fenwicks. It isn’t about who looks better or the best: if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past two months, it’s that if a person can walk down the street feeling confident in themselves, both physically and emotionally, a stylist has done their job. That is what fashion should be about.

And let’s remember to thank our interns every now and then: they’re good for more than just fetching toilet paper.

Olivia Paladino is the Editor-in-Chief of Lotus Magazine, as well as a staff writer for The Quadrangle.