The girl standing outside can’t figure out how to work the intercom. I come in quickly, overriding her ineptitude for the sake of time, efficiency, and the fact it feels like 10 degrees in New York right now. Having easily seen the name of the client marked clearly on a button, I press with a gloved finger. Someone on the eighth floor lets us in, the door unlocking with a buzz. “You’re better at this than I am,” she says. Heaven help me.
Four tiny girls share a tiny elevator and disembark into a room already filled with so many models I force myself to not turn on my heel and leave immediately. After all, you can’t book work if don’t stick around. That’s part of the job. But fashion week castings are especially tedious, with lines not dissimilar to the ones you’ll find outside Apple before a product launch. Only the difference is that the people at the front of an iPhone 7 line, who have demonstrated patience and fortitude and motivation, will walk away with something. You could be the first one at a casting, wait for three hours, and still go home empty handed. Every casting is like a lottery ticket. Sometimes you win, most times you don’t.
GGirls stand in their agency-mandated uniform of black tank tops and jeans, a little army of blank palettes with visible measurements, no lump to hide, no colorful piece of clothing to offend. There is no personality in a uniform, which, for girls like the one standing at the front of the line wearing an unfortunate summer dress with black tights and open-toed platforms, is usually a saving grace. But for others, ones who prefer to feel like themselves all of the time, a uniform is no different than a caterer’s or a barista’s or a lawyer on casual Friday. It’s a costume in a silent, silly play.
Recently, I don’t feel at all participatory in these castings. I feel like a party crasher, an outsider. Most of the girls here probably just graduated high school. They’re fresh and new and in it to win it – and as they should be, just as I certainly was. I look around for a mirror to reassure myself that while I certainly don’t feel like I belong here, I perhaps don’t look like I don’t belong here. I remember the older girls when I first started. I felt sorry for them and wondered why they were still playing at a girl’s game.
They move forward, one by one, called forth by a seated man in a pullover sweater softly barking the word “next.” It is a slow assembly line, the motions similarly repeated each time by a different girl: Pass them your book, stand there awkwardly while they shift their gaze between real you before them and the fake you captured in photographs, tell them where you’re from, oblige when they ask you to walk, listen to the sound of your heels on wood live in stark contrast to weird silence, pause in front of them again, take your book, walk away.
I’m about thirteen girls behind the front of the line when an old obligation to care takes hold and I feel my hands are sweaty, in the way they’ve always sweat at castings. No matter how many times I do this, it will always be weird.