Fashion Week. Attending the Holy Grail in NYC is every fashionista’s dream. Mine included.
Easier said than done, though. I once stood outside one of the NYFW shows, watching all the VIP ticketholders arrive. But being one of those ticketholders? Pretty sure I’d need to know somebody AND save up a whole lotta cash to make that happen.
I’m all about dreaming big, though, so attending NYFW is on my bucket list. It’s just one of those items I know might take a bit longer to check off.
Enter Charleston Fashion Week.
I had no clue CFW was a thing till after my move to Florida in 2014. While employed as an assistant buyer of women’s clothing, I started following several southern-based fashion bloggers for inspo—and stumbled upon a post about Charleston Fashion Week.
My dear friend Google told me that CFW is much more accessible than its New York counterpart. So, I added it to my list—not as a replacement for attending NYFW, but as a sort of stepping stone. I also signed up to receive all the CFW details via email. Good call, because that’s how I learned about being a fashion week volunteer.
That’s right. You can volunteer behind the scenes and attend the shows FOR FREE. I was soooo in. The only problem was my job. With only two weeks of vacation time per year to divvy between visiting family and adventure travel, I simply could not justify using any of those days to volunteer. Still, I left “Volunteering for Charleston Fashion Week” on my bucket list, hopeful for a year when I could somehow make it work.
That year happened in 2018, thanks to my remote job which offered more vacation time and the ability to work from anywhere. As soon as the CFW volunteer application went live, I applied. And, after a successful phone screening, I got the gig. Bucket list check!
Fashion week took place the week of March 13-17—immediately following my trip to Hawaii, so I flew straight there from Honolulu. Just so ya know, CFW volunteers aren’t required to be available all five nights of the event. I could’ve spent a buffer day at home. But why? I didn’t wanna miss a thing. Plus, this was my first visit to Charleston (another bucket list check) and I wanted extra time to explore the city. So I flew straight there.
Okay. On to what it was actually like as a volunteer. Because that’s why you’re really reading, right? Right. Here goes.
What it’s like to be a Charleston Fashion Week volunteer
I started fashion week off on a high note (#sarcasm) by totally missing the volunteer orientation. In my defense, I was on a plane AND the orientation was optional. Soooo, no harm done. I received most of the need-to-know info via email, anyway.
My plane arrived at CHS around noon. I Uber’d straight to my hotel and took a much-needed shower. I also very much needed a nap – two hours of sleep on an overnight flight didn’t cut it—but there was just no time. Instead, I walked the 1.5 miles from my hotel to downtown and grabbed a quick and early! dinner before reporting to volunteer by 5 p.m. Thank goodness I’m a hit the ground running sorta gal!
Here’s what went down once I arrived at the volunteer tent:
- Lead volunteers walked us through the daily sign-in process and passed out official CFW Crew tees.
- They sent us off to our assigned locations—which, for me, was the main tent. (Request granted!)
- Those of us in the main tent spent the next two hours zip tying chairs together, straightening rows, arranging swag on VIP seats, and listening to instructions on what to do once the doors opened at 7 pm.
- I was tasked with handing out programs and making sure the people standing in the back stayed against the wall. (Fire marshal’s orders.)
The rest of the week was more of the same—minus the chair zip tying (since those things ain’t going anywhere). Oh, and Thursday night, I was stationed at a door to check for proper tickets and wristbands. I felt like the literal fashion police… or maybe more like a bouncer. No joke. I did have to turn disgruntled people away!
So that’s the nitty-gritty on volunteering. By far, the biggest perk of working the main tent was watching the show each night. I was seriously impressed! This event is the real deal—with muy talented designers and models, tons of photogs, perfect mood music and lighting, and a legit runway. Charleston doesn’t mess around.
Another volunteer perk was seat filling. It was imperative that the front rows appear completely full, for photo purposes. Empty seats were promptly filled, first by the standing folks and then by volunteers, if needed. Two different nights, I wound up spending half the show in one of the first three rows. Fashion fangirl fantasy come true!
Other highlights of the week included:
- A multi-night, Project Runway-esque competition for emerging designers.
- Models competing for a contract with a top modeling agency.
- Five nights of people watching and admiring some seriously inspiring street style.
- Bonding with fellow volunteers—most of whom were 10+ years younger than me. Ha!
If you’re interested in volunteering in the future, I’ll leave you with a few tips:
- Visit the Charleston Fashion Week website and sign up for all the emails.
- Remember: you don’t need to be available all five nights. One or two is fine.
- Time-wise, the commitment is 5 or 6 pm to 11 pm—though we never stayed past 10 pm.
- If you have an assignment preference, voice it in your phone screening. Options include the style lounge, ticketing, and the main tent.
To all my fellow fashion lovers: if you’re even remotely curious about volunteering, DO IT. At least once. It may not be NYFW, but it’s still an adventure.
And I highly encourage adventures in fashion.