09/11/2013 05:01 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2013

Why in the World the Average Woman Should Care About Fashion Shows


Even after years of going to the fashion shows in New York City, I sometimes still feel like I fell off the turnip truck. And today, I actually look like I did, with a skinned knee on view for everyone to see across the runway (I earned my chic scab falling on an ocean jetty last weekend). But every season, I learn a little more about how this spectacle touches millions of women who will never find themselves in a darkened theater watching... clothes. Here's why the shows might actually matter to you, even if you think they don't:

These trends will hit you fast. Like, maybe next week. It used to take ages for a new length of skirt or differently-cut jacket to migrate from the runways into the stores where most of us shop. Now, the shows are watched by millions of people around the world, thanks to real-time digital coverage, and those customers expect retailers to jump on the trends immediately. They do, taking advantage of lightning-fast manufacturing outsourced to developing nations. So, like it or not, you'll be seeing this stuff soon. Checking out the runway news helps you adjust your eye to what's coming. That way you won't be shocked the next time you go shopping -- and you might just be excited.

Forget clothes -- shop the runway for a haircut or lipstick. Looking at the impossibly long and lean bodies strutting by, I sometimes think I share more DNA with orangutans than I do with runway models. But if you isolate their hair and makeup, you'll find excellent beauty ideas. Over the past few days, I've been won over by the orange-y red lips at the Rag & Bone show (a Revlon color you can get at the drugstore, it turns out) and supermodel Karlie Kloss' swingy bob. My hair guy will be seeing a picture of it very soon.

It's not all about buying. You'll also learn what to keep and resuscitate. Do you, by any chance, still have a midi skirt saved from your college years? Its time has come again, according to the Spring 2014 collections. And if you kept around some classic pointy-toed, skinny-heeled pumps from the '60s, '80s or '90s, you ought to be wearing them with everything from dresses to jeans. Designers would love you to replace everything in your wardrobe annually, but the careful runway observer will be inspired to recycle instead. And if that old thing looks weird when you try it on again, take it to a decent tailor and see what he can do.

Fashion gives you permission to be yourself. Photographers are always milling around outside the shows, but they're not just lying in wait for celebrities; they swarm around any show-goer with the courage to wear a nutty outfit. Most of the time I look at the posing person and think, "I wouldn't be caught dead..." But later, I feel strangely liberated to dress only for myself (not to please a chic friend or my husband or my suddenly judge-y tweenage daughter). Because those women don't care what I or anyone else thinks- - they're doing their thing and loving it. Take a look at their pictures and follow your own quirky instincts, about fashion, beauty or just about anything.