February is a big month for the future of your closet. Not because of the New York fashion week. Nor the London fashion week. Or Paris. Or Milan. No, the real fashion week that really matters is one in the insular seaside municipal of St Andrews.
St Andrews “fashion week” is more of a season—vaguely late winter or early spring. And instead of being fashion-focused, the shows are charity events. St Andrews’ culture of charity fashion show fundraising is an integral part of the student experience. Events like FS, Don’t Walk, and Catwalk, make donating fun and almost haphazard, with many attendees not even aware of what they are actually contributing to upon purchasing the ticket. Whether or not this is purposeful, charity fashion shows seem to be mainly a social event with the added philanthropy as background noise.
Fashion shows are a whole other level of fundraising. Instead of a standard bake sale where students pay pocket change for a drunken post-BOP brownie, students pay high prices to watch an amateur rendition of The Devil Wears Prada. However, this form of fundraising should not be dismissed as just another form of entrenched elitism. Charity fashion shows are really an innovation in the university fundraising sector, and St Andrews has been a pioneer in these tactics.
Fashion shows know their consumers and have developed marketing tactics to appropriately suit the demographics. St Andrews has the perfect environment for such pseudo-cultural events to thrive, if they are past 10 pm and involve alcohol. With only one “club”—Club 601, which is run by the Students’ Association—the alternative on an average day is either a bar or a house party. Events like fashion shows provide an occasional, and thus highly anticipated, alternative to the weekly school-mandated BOP for the unironic red wine drinkers under the age of thirty, which happens to be a disproportionately large population in St Andrews.
The fashion show marketers understand their demographic, offering graduated ticket pricing. A standard 2019 ticket to the FS show Origins will set you back £75. But for an extra £15, you can reassert your social status by buying a VIP ticket where you can be seated in a special VIP section and order drinks from a special VIP bar where you can buy overpriced alcohol away from all the standard ticket plebeians. In many ways, it seems almost paradoxical to hold such an extravagant event to raise money for people in need.
There is a specific formula to these fashion shows, as the true appeal tends to be neither charitable nor fashion-based. Besides having names written exclusively in capital letters, they are cleverly marketed as approachable social events created around a slightly pageant-esque performance by St Andrews socialites. The line-ups appear to be a carousel of token designer hand-me-downs, mid-tier basics, and BYOC—Bring Your Own Closet. Catwalk regulars include sweaters from GAP and what appears to be the model’s own underwear. The highlight of these shows does not appear to be the innovative design of the clothing but the models themselves, specifically in the swimwear and underwear sections. Spectators attend to see the performance of the models rather than the solid black cotton trunks with patented angle fit technology from D. Hedral that urge you to “release the Gigolo”, or the overly minimalistic bikinis, in all sense of the word, from Bleau. But then again, this is not a normal fashion show. It also features epileptic lighting, student saxophone performers and a cold weather Coachella aesthetic.
The success of these tactics is undeniable, citing over half a million raised in the last 26 years and over a hundred thousand in the last four, and it has successfully entrenched itself in the St Andrews subculture. These fashion shows are highly anticipated for a reason, as shown by ticket sales and reviews. Although perhaps not concentrating on the couture, these fashion shows generally provide a good experience. People enjoy them and come back, which is the true indicator of a successful fundraiser.
For some, it is not merely enough just to attend the fashion show. Walking in one of the fashion shows is on the bucket lists of all the Kate Middleton wannabes looking to find their Prince William (but will honestly settle for any title). It is as essential as living in St Salvator’s to the brochure experience peddled to prospective students, especially those with romantic North American notions of monarchy. To others, it is confirmation that you are indeed cool enough to pose with a snake rented from the St Andrews Botanical Garden and walk in uncomfortably high heels in front of your peers. Fashion shows do not simply offer a night out of champagne showers, but validation as well.
Fashion shows require much more planning than a simple bake sale, and participating in one builds more professional skills. Fashion show committees are some of the more active charity societies, if not societies in general. They are able to hold multiple successful events that require a good deal of coordination with other organisations outside of the University annually, and have garnered attention from media sources beyond with the university. They execute a thorough campaign, maintaining pristine social media accounts and websites to keep their image and the people interested. Besides holding successful fundraisers, these committees are some of the most visible societies and a good option for students who want to join a society that actually does something.
St Andrews fashion shows are not just about raising money for charity. It is a social mechanism that utilises the St Andrews demographics to sell a certain perception to the fashion show ticket-buyers and participants. But in the end, does it really matter why people go to the shows or how the money is raised? These fashion shows are able to churn out large profits that go to help people who need it by filling a gap in the St Andrews nightlife market, and that is what really matters.