I’ve never felt so small–town in my life. I had “dressed up” for today, which meant grudgingly leaving my seven pairs of sweatpants in the bottom drawer and squeezing myself into the single pair of black jeans I own, and swapping my regular pony tail with a less–regular pony tail. What was a suburban sweatshirt–dweller doing heading to New York City during fashion week, you might ask?

Great question. I was asking myself the same thing as I boarded the train, clutching multiple camera bags and tripping over my sneaker laces. 

But to my utmost surprise, fashion week was everything—and more. It was seductive. Passionate. Fast paced and non–judgmental. I was expecting a bunch of super–thin tall blond super models and was instead faced with a deliciously diverse group of eclectic dressers. One model in hijab bustled past me, overlarge sunglasses pushed to her eyes and her runway pass to her face, a shield against the paparazzi. Afros are in this year—so many women had hair teased up to the sky that my pictures appear to have a fuzzy halo around the edges. 

In fashion in New York, no one apologizes for being different. You try to be different. I stood on my tiptoes in my dirty Adidas all day, trying to drink in as much as I could. Can anyone ever get enough of this alive–ness, this breath of fresh air in the middle of America’s most crowded city?

Fashion week is known for its exceptional openness and liberal values. Last year’s fashion week saw fashionistas donning pink buttons in support for Planned Parenthood, and this year blue ribbons were handed out in protest against the blatant violence and racism displayed in Charlottesville, only a few weeks ago. Designers were applauded for using a diverse set of models from all walks of life: Brother Vellies’s presentation displayed an array of international faces down the runway, including Nigerian–Chinese model Adesuwa Aighway and other well–known stars. Italian fashion designer Riccardo Tisci also brought in an especially diverse group of models, including Joan Smalls, Liu Wen, Paolo Roldan, and Lakshmi Menon. According to Vogue, this year is already showing a larger–than–usual number of models of color during opening looks, the most sought–after position for models across the globe. Said Bethann Hardison, founder of Balance Diversity, at a panel event during NYFW: “We know that racism is systemic, and we know that the racial divide is everywhere within our culture, but a creative industry like fashion should really reflect our society,” said Hardison, “Have we made a difference? Yes, but in order to be an activist you have to stay active,” said Hardison, “Have things improved? I’m concerned about the runways because that’s where the ideas are introduced, from the silhouettes, the colors, the textiles, and the girls and the guys—it all happens there first."