In Fashion, Do Nice Girls Finish First?

Eva Chen’s Instagram feed is a string of happy, funny, smiling, colorful, and yes—very nice—images. Photo: @evachen212/Instagram

My friends Claire and Erica are the founders of Of a Kind, an online retailer that sells limited-edition runs of cool products made by emerging designers. The duo also also publish a weekly newsletter featuring 10 things/experiences/ideas they love. It has since morphed into a weekly radio show, which is very fun to listen to on a short run.

The friendlier I’ve become with Claire and Erica, the more often I send them links to designers and other things I think they might like, hoping that someday I’ll actually help them discover something new. They are gracious about it because they are nice, professional people.

In a great reversal of fortune—one that certainly played in my favor—Erica sent me a recommendation the other day. A story recommendation. “Has anybody written about the nice fashion girl moment?” she asked. “It suddenly feels like a movement.”

It was very, well, nice of Erica to do that. She has worked in the fashion industry for more than a decade, and is still a good person, and as she rightly pointed out, she’s not the only one. The nice girl is winning right now.

For years, the fashion industry was mired with a reputation for breeding bitches: stylists who wiped the floor with unpaid interns, nasty editors who made their writers feel like degenerates, fashion-closet tyrants who whined about unfair seating at runway shows. Those people certainly existed, and still exist, but as the world becomes more transparent, so does the fact that there are plenty of well-meaning people working in this industry.

Consider Eva Chen, Instagram’s new head of fashion partnerships. Chen has a reputation…for being nice. She responds to emails, answers questions on social media, makes time to meet with both friends and fans in person, and writes thank you notes. This could all be Tracy Flick-level irritating, if it weren’t so genuine. Chen seems to just be doing what she believes is right. That sort of attitude often commands more respect than the condescending, bitchy persona most outsiders believe fashion-industry insiders possess.

Chen is just one of many insiders too kind to hate. In a New York magazine profile of Natalie Massenet, it was emphasized time and again that the Net-a-Porter founder is smart, incisive, but also a fantastic person. “In an industry where charm is in short supply, Massenet is known for being ‘nice,’” New York’s Jessica Pressler wrote.

I’d argue that there is plenty of charm in fashion, but that much of it rings false. Massenet and Chen, however, manage to be respectful and positive without reading fake. And they are not alone. Yahoo Style’s own editor in chief, Joe Zee, is a positive force. So affable, in fact, that he is now an in-demand television personality who will co-host Tyra Banks’ new talk show, FABLife. Zee’s co-stars include other nice fashion people, including Banks herself, as well as model and food-writer Chrissy Teigen. Then there are the celebrity stylists that run a tight ship without wreaking havoc: Micaela Erlanger, Ilaria Urbinati, and the team of Emily Current and Meritt Elliott come to mind. It’s important to note that “nice” doesn’t have to mean “wet blanket.” You can be demanding without being a dick.

The shift toward the positive can be attributed, in part, to a wave of nice-girl public figures that dominate our Instagram and Twitter feeds. There’s Taylor Swift, impassioned and outspoken but at the same time joyful, and always supportive of her friends and colleagues. (Swift and Nikki Minaj’s love fest at the VMAs is just the latest chapter.) Lena Dunham regularly calls out people and things she loves via social, promoting the work of her friends and those whom she admires. Amy Schumer. Jennifer Lawrence, Diane Kruger: All famous people who also appear to be very affable. Who wouldn’t want to emulate them?

It should be noted that a lot of what is said about mean fashion girls is projected on the industry by outsiders who have watched the Devil Wears Prada one too many times. In the majority of circumstances, the most successful fashion people—even those whose personalities reject polkadots and moonbeams—are straightforward and respectful of their colleagues. You don’t have to smile to be kind.

Yes, there is still plenty of absurd, ridiculous cattiness and condescension that takes place in fashion for no reason every day. What’s changing, though, is that we know nice girls exist. (Much in thanks thanks to their often-unfiltered social media accounts.) So why would one bother working with a mean person, no matter how talented? There’s something masochistic—and sad—about putting yourself through the wringer for someone who hates herself as much as she hates you. Here’s to nice girls finishing first.