I buttoned my shirt all the way to the top. I'd seen it on fashion blogs and runway collections from Marc Jacobs to Miu Miu. At the very least, I'd seen it on a wayward Kardashian and Forrest Gump. But this was Tampa Bay Fashion Week. A time for experimentation. What the heck?
Buttons high, I went to the Runway to Reality seminar at St. Petersburg's Push Ultra Lounge Monday. I immediately saw another woman wearing my exact shirt, and her top button was sanely undone. Super.
Dozens of women rotated around the club and talked to style experts. My first stop was with stylist Wendi Braswell, who taught us about dressing our body shapes. I was a rectangle mixed with a triangle, she said. And the high neck was making my face look rounder. She unfastened three buttons.
"Doesn't she look 10 pounds lighter?" she asked the group. They all nodded.
Ah, Fashion Week. It's the annual navigation of Tampa Bay's style scene, when rules are explored and creation is adored. Our style is different from style in other cities, and that's not a bad thing. Tampa Bay has talented designers, stylists and makeup artists. We have magazines, photographers and bloggers, boutiques and high-end department stores. We have one of the biggest arteries for clothing and beauty sales in the country — HSN.
And yeah, we have more flip-flops than over-the-knee boots. Our people might prefer Target to Alexander McQueen. More designers still flee Florida than come. But each year, the folks who organize Tampa Bay Fashion Week work to boost our street credentials, gathering talent and personalities to draw designers, manufacturers and fashion junkies to make the market grow.
This year events were scheduled every day to celebrate Tampa Bay Fashion Week's fifth birthday.
Saturday, kids modeled clothes by designers Essence Flowers and Kimberly Hendrix inside a little room at the Glazer Children's Museum. They walked to Madonna's Ray of Light while their families cheered. Miss Teen America was in the crowd. Eleana Frangedis, 18, lives in Tarpon Springs. When I asked to Instagram her, she whipped her sash out of her purse.
"Surprise!" she said.
Her 9-year-old sister, Vavara Giannakopoulos, was walking in the show. Vavara wants to be on Nickelodeon. Eleana wants to be Miss America. They both knew how to pose.
Sunday night, things got grown up at the Cocktails and Couture party at the Ritz Ybor. Guests were encouraged to dress "high-fashion," interpreted via bandage dresses, outlandish hats, harem pants, vests and slicked-back buns. One model stood wrapped in fresh leaves and flowers. Another got airbrushed to match a set of drapes. The cocktails, some reaching $11, were named things like "the Devil Drinks Prada," and "Blueberry Vuitton."
Models walked in Saks Fifth Avenue gear including Diane von Furstenberg and Alice + Olivia, drawing high school graduation-style hoots and hollers from friends in the crowd. I was in the Lohan seats, far away. It was good intel for Friday's runway show of local designers, also at the Ritz. Pea-sized models notwithstanding, the Ritz was a hip, centralized choice. Last year Tampa Bay Fashion Week hosted its runway show at Innisbrook Resort, plush and swank, but golf coursey and miles up U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor.
Tuesday, a vintage runway show went down at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, with clothes from Ramblin' Rose, Misred Outfitters, Little Brooklyn Vintage and Designer Consigner. Several booths offered vintage baubles, and I couldn't help but leave with a 1950s necklace and earrings for $10.
Murmurs of a special guest circulated all week, and at Wednesday's Business of Fashion luncheon with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, we learned it was Tampa native and Project Runway contestant Ben Chmura. He flew in from New York that morning and an hour later was sprinkling vinaigrette on his salad before joining Kimberly Hendrix and HSN Ahh Bra queen Rhonda Shear on a panel. He talked about his high school fashion faux pas (matching his cummerbund to his date's dress), his work now (dreaming up menswear, selling his creations online and doing graphic design for Reebok). And, he reminisced about showing his collection in Tampa Bay Fashion Week.
"I think that was really where it all began," he said.
Ben was obviously grateful to the event. He came to the Model Behavior cocktail reception that night, a party for designers and models at the Element in Tampa. Designers Dolly Donshey and Spathose's Scott Durfee and George Medeiros mingled with leggy models and hostesses serving Three Olives S'mores flavored vodka. The room had a chic, eclectic vibe. Everyone was attractive and different. I spied everything from traditional black dresses and Steve Madden pumps to Donshey's chicken feet fascinator and Spathose's ties and bags made from the spathe of a palm tree. It was impressive to see all those creative people in one room nibbling pizza bites. It wasn't Tampa trying to have a fashion scene. It WAS a fashion scene. And it proved there's plenty of room in our town for slimming style advice and buttons done up nerd-style. That's the beauty of it.
Back to the style seminar Monday. My buttons splayed open for maximum thinness, I moved to a booth hosted by Misred's Sara Stonecipher. Like a sorceress of style, she showed us how to manipulate thrift-store finds into sane looks. And she held up a white blouse with buttons fastened all the way to the top. Everyone nodded.