Why is everyone at NYFW dressed like a child?

After over a year and a half without brand activations and art openings, New Yorkers are approaching fashion week with the timidness of high school juniors on photo day — or at least I am. Somehow I'd forgotten about the street style photographers, the overstuffed parties, and the uncomfortable feeling of being corralled by PR girls who seem to take pleasure in enforcing COVID-related rules. But the beginning of New York Fashion Week feels like going back to school for another reason: because everyone is dressed like a child. 

From the Y2K trend that has girls in their late 20s looking like they wish they had in middle school (like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears), to the kid-like bodies storming the runways (ultra-thin is back in style), youth-worship is on the rise. Supreme recently dropped a collaboration with Shrek and Frank Ocean has come out with a jewelry collection that while expensive, looks less like luxury and more like Fisher Price. Of course, fashion always favors the youth, so it makes sense that gen-Z Tiktok influencers with beaded necklaces and cartoon-adorned manicures would be sitting front row. Yet something feels sinister about the current nostalgia for child-like looks. 

On Tuesday at Collina Strada, models of all ages skipped or rolled down a makeshift runway at a community garden on top of Industry Cities. Decorated with recycled Y2K-inspired jewelry, “sustainable swimwear”, and a mis-mash of frills, brightly-colored prints, and fruit motifs, the nodels looked more like toddlers in Gymboree than they did high-fashion mannequins. For Strada, the childish look is intentional, and offers a more directional approach than most luxury brands do today. But behind big silhouettes and the heart-warming pairing of models young and old was a child-like naivety that I couldn’t help but interpret as nihilism. Attempts to elicit hope by pandering to youthful aesthetics may fit perfectly with the millennial condition (when the future feels uncertain, we avoid growing up). Still, this blind optimism is a trait reserved for the privileged who have the means to dress in designer clothes and evacuate their homes during natural disasters. In other words: those who can afford a chaotic future. 

In end-times, childhood nostalgia can offer solace, but when MTV is asking young designers to reinterpret old celebrity looks and brands like Saint Sintra are sending girls down the runway to What You Waiting For? by Gwen Stefani, it feels like everyone is avoiding dealing with the present by appealing to the past. For industry insiders who are faced with unprecedented criticism due to poor working standards and unsustainable production practices, it makes sense for fashion to appeal to a less-complicated past. But culturally this puts us in a rut — if we're all acting and dressing like we did when we were children, who are the adults responsible for the tribulations of the present? 

Yesterday Jeremy Scott staged Moschino’s SS22 collection at Bryant Park. The models were donned in pastel-colored 60s-inspired looks. As usual the clothes were kitsch and playful, but this season Scott pushed his innocent aesthetic to the max. Not only were cartoon-laden prints heavily present on the runway, but there was also a mobile-like headpiece (the kind that hangs over an infant’s crib), and an adult-sized baby bottle accessory that Gigi Hadid chomped on during the finale. Perhaps the nipple-biting stunt was meant to be some sort of commentary on motherhood (Gigi has a 1-year-old baby), but to me it was just another sign that the fashion industry isn’t quite ready to grow up.