Dressing With Dignity

The For the Skin She’s In fashion show celebrates models of all sizes.

“I’m into dignity issues,” Springfield hair stylist Tony Isham says in between drags on his Newport cigarette.

We’re sitting at a sidewalk table outside Sal’s Bakery and Cafe on Belmont Street at the X—next to Ttrends Salon, where Isham has worked for the past several years—discussing his upcoming For the Skin She’s In Fashion Show, which is notable for its inclusion of women of all sizes, ages, and ethnicities.

In his more 30 years of experience, Isham tells me, he has worked with the perspective “pretty is as pretty acts.” When people feel they look their best, he says, they become their best.“I see beauty every day,” he adds, “in every woman I do.”

Yet while he’s critical of an industry whose model standard has just risen from a size two to a size four, Isham appears enamored of fashion culture as well. Prior to running his show here in the Valley, he will travel to Atlantic City to once again be involved in a Miss America pageant, where he has served as a coach, stylist and judge several times before.

The afternoon sun is unseasonably warm. As we talk, pedestrians periodically say hi to Isham as they pass by. A truck driver comes to a stop at the intersection, waving hello through his open window. “Did you get your hair cut somewhere else?” Isham asks jokingly.

“No Tony,” the man replies. “I wouldn’t do that.”

Now in its seventh year, For the Skin She’s In features 58 nonprofessional models, from size double zero to 30 and ages three to 83. It will display clothing donated by several local stores, including Just B, Bon Ton and Added Attractions. One particular family of models includes members across three generations.

The models “represent a natural beauty that is often ignored by a society that fixates on specific sizes as criteria for attractiveness,” states Isham. “We’re marketing real women.” (And about five men. “Eye candy for the women,” he adds.)

For the Skin She’s In also serves as a fundraiser for various local organizations. In its first year, the AIDS Foundation of Western Mass., where Isham was serving as president of the board, was the beneficiary. This year he has selected Angels Take Flight, which assists disadvantaged kids transitioning between homes due to various hardships.

Angels Take Flight “provide[s] luggage and other transitional items to children who have to move from place to place, including foster care placements, hospital settings, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, or other safe homes,” the organization’s website (www.anglestakeflight.com) reads. “We help restore dignity, pride, and positive self-esteem in the children of our community.”

“The drama and trauma that evolves can be devastating to a young person,” Isham adds, “and being able to transport their possessions in a dignified way helps with their self-esteem, which ties in with the message of the fashion show in the first place.”

The annual show, which is celebrating its seventh year, takes place at Chez Josef in Agawam, as does Isham’s annual spring drag show, Camilla’s Extravaganza, which benefits Open Pantry Community Services.

This year’s For the Skin She’s In will be held on Sunday, Oct. 27, and runs from 2 to 4 p.m., so as not to conflict with church, Isham explains. Elke’s Bake Shop is donating desserts, which will include chocolate high heels. Vendors donate clothing, models donate their time, as does the DJ providing the music, and the organizers, including Isham and several stylists working at Ttrends, volunteer their skills. As a result, 100 percent of the proceeds ($35 a ticket) go to Angels Take Flight.

“There’s nothing better than seeing our models just before they hit the runway,” Isham says. “You can see how good they feel.”

(Originally appeared in the Valley Advocate.)

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