Is There Room for Fashion Criticism in a Racist Industry?
New York magazine|August 30 - September 12, 2021
AS A BLACK GIRL growing up in Wisconsin, I papered my bedroom walls with a collage of images cut out of the pages of Vogue, Essence, Teen Vogue, and Ebony magazines.
Lindsay Peoples Wagner
I loved that the photos felt like an escape from life in the Midwest and was attracted to how fashion was more than just pieces of clothing—it told a story. I never saw myself in most of the images that weren’t from Black publications, but that didn’t soften my love for them. Still, I was aware of the disconnect, that something I loved so much was clearly not made for someone like me.

A couple of decades later, I was given a much better understanding of why I felt that way. In August 2018, as a fashion editor at the Cut, I wrote an article called “Everywhere and Nowhere: What It’s Really Like to Be Black and Work in Fashion.” The beautiful chaos of interviewing people of color in the industry felt like the best and worst parts of therapy. Most conversations ended up running more than two hours. So much emotion spilled over because the experiences of the designers, models, and fashion editors were often deeply painful—they were memories that had been buried for years, on purpose.

The stories they told, from the overt racism of being called a slur in front of their colleagues to the need to code-switch to survive, were uncomfortable to unpack and complicated to wrap my head around. And yet sharing them brought joy to all of us. The response from readers was also gratifying. The feeling of being iced out, disrespected, and ignored because of what you look like was not only a problem in fashion.

Soon after, I became editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue and was tasked with making young people feel seen and heard in the middle of one of the most divided times in modern history. I wanted to make a fashion magazine that challenged the idea that if you’re a “fashion” person, you can’t still care deeply about the world around you.

When I came back to the Cut earlier this year as editor-in-chief, I knew I wanted to keep pushing to make a publication for people like me, the outsiders, those who never fit into the fashion industry’s narrow idea of what’s worthy. I wanted to expand the range of who felt welcome in our conversations and who saw themselves in our stories. I wanted all those uncomfortable things that weren’t being said aloud to keep bubbling up.

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