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What does a woman wear to the menswear shows?

Anyone who says they don’t give any thought to what they wear to fashion week is lying. As the Guardian and Observer’s menswear editor, I have spent the past nine years – or 18 seasons, in fashion terms – at the menswear shows. For three weeks, twice a year, I have to look good among the most stylish men in the world, who this season are likely to wear classic navy cashmere or a a fresh from-the-catwalk top stitched Prada coat.

Helen Seamons for Mens Collection special Helen Seamons
Photograph: Helen Seamons

In some ways, my wardrobe choices, and the first impression they create, have never been more important. No one wants to sit next to the world’s top menswear buyers and stylists looking like they’re not up to speed on the wardrobe front. These are the men and women (but mostly men this week) who can tell a Céline blouse from a Zara knock-off at 20 paces. Looking like I’ve made the right amount of effort (not too little, not too much) is important.

Diane Keaton
Photograph: Fotos International/Getty Images

But to the wider fashion world, I am invisible. The scrum of street style snappers, bloggers and reporters at shows are only interested in what the men are wearing – I could be in a sack or haute couture and it wouldn’t muster a lone tweet. So I have a specific but important audience – friends, contacts and colleagues – coupled with an enjoyable anonymity.

What does this mean for my wardrobe? Generally, a lot of borrowing from the boys, Diane Keaton-style, which is a menswear no brainer. A tailored wool coat, jeans, flats, cashmere knitwear (incidentally, mine is bought from the Cos menswear dept in extra-small) and lots of navy and grey.

Cos Milano-knit jumper Cos
Photograph: Cos

I always size up Dries van Noten for any cross-over pieces – like this floral tote, which would be handy for carrying a change of shoes on the days when I do wear heels , and I love Alexander Wang for womenswear with a menswear twist. This men’s shawl, which I have worn all Christmas, will come in handy when I’m waiting for a show to start in a freezing disused railway station/church/carpark.

Dries Van Noten Floral tote bag DVN
Photograph: DVN

I adapt this for each city. London has the most relaxed dress code of the three – it feels like fashion’s weekend – and it takes place on home turf, which means flat shoes all week, likely trainers (but they have to be the right trainers; Nike, New Balance or Stan Smiths). Milan is more of a power-meeting Monday; all the big brands are here, and you can wear a heel, largely thanks to the ratio of cabs over walking. In Paris I feel a responsibility to up my game, being in the spiritual home of fashion, which is my excuse for habitually packing six coats and ten pairs of shoes for four days, anyway.

I once made the mistake of going too glam at the menswear shows and I felt like an idiot all day. I won’t be that mistake again this season but I will be looking out for menswear-inspired looks to co-opt for my own wardrobe. Borrowing from the boys is literally a perk of the job.

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