Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Who Is Fashion For?

Recently, the New York Times style section wrote a breathlessly positive review of "the next generation of style bloggers," naming such bloggers as the aforementioned Style Rookie blog, as multiple other teens who maintain their own blogs.

Before reading this article, I'd been thinking a lot about the popular fashion blogs (as I posted here) and how they 1. Are all basically the same 2. Represent a view of fashion which, far from being liberating and personal, have driven away many people from fashion for a long time. 3. Mention Teen Vogue far too much. Teen Vogue, I say, blows hard.

The typical blog is written by a young woman 25 or under. The typical blogger is thin, white, extremely trend-conscious and goes shopping a lot. One positive thing about blogs is that a lot of the finds are thrifted, but aside from that, the inspiration for these blogs usually comes from either fashiony street style blogs like Face Hunter, "it" girl types (post about Daisy Lowe forthcoming), magazine spreads, or designer looks. Rare is the style blog written by someone non-white, non-thin, and non-designer-inspired. Rare as well is the blog that delves into anything resembling the problematic politics of fashion; they are typically style journals featuring magazine editorial-style shots of the girls posing dreamily and the latest thing they bought that looks like Luella. In short, they are strongly imitative of a dominant fashion paradigm.

(By the way, I have TOTALLY thought about how, if I switched to this format, I might rise in the fashion blog ranks or whatever. One appeal of this format is that it's easy. It's light on text, heavy on artfully shot photos, and entertaining to read. and I certainly have enough elaborate daily outfits and thrift store finds to keep it going. But, you know, that would be against everything I stand for and stuff. Also, I post on wardrobe_remix occasionally.)

This is not to say that every fashion blog is like this, or that there isn't room for being interesting within this format. One notable exception is Tricia Royal's Bits and Bobbins blog and wardrobe_remix community. Royal is one of the few popular fashion bloggers who constantly questions the ethics of fashion, from inviting readers to discuss body image to poor labor practices to affordability to everything in between, at the same time showcasing a personal aesthetic and style that clearly owe more to artistic expression than to the latest trend. Fittingly, she created flickr's wardrobe_remix community, an egalitarian version of the typical street style blog, where everyone is allowed to post what he or she wore today. When posting her recap of favorite wardrobe_remixers, we get to see that not everyone who likes clothes looks the same or does it in the same way, and it's obvious she takes care to post people with unique personal style who don't necessarily fit into our idea of what fashion is, or who it is for.

At the core of the NYT article is the argument that blogs like these are special because they express unique, personal style, explaining that "their sites are not just paeans to mall finds that look like what celebrities wear; in these digital parts, the celebrities are the likes of Erin Wasson, Ashley Olsen and Emmanuelle Alt." So, in other words, these girls are imitating celebrity style, only the celebrities are like, way cooler and more chic and possibly French and stuff. (Who is Erin Wasson? She's a model who supposedly stole the idea from her stupid jewelry line from someone else and notably, recently told Nylon that "Homeless people have the best style." Yeah.)

Essentially, these are teenagers trying to look like models, actresses, or Vogue editors. Yet, even though bloggers like these are constantly posting images from fashion shows or of Chrlotte Gainsbourg, writer Spiridakis argues that, "Because these bloggers often live outside fashion capitals, they fuel their own online trend cycles." Of course, many of these trend cycles feature the trendy, mass-produced look repeatedly, but you know, there's more than one way to add Bill Gates glasses to your look: "There are trends and items that make the rounds, with everyone posting her own take, such as glasses without lenses; baggy, rolled-up pleated pants; a blue H&M blazer seen on countless Swedish street-style girls; or a Luella-esque floral dress from Primark."

So, in other words, these girls, who mostly cannot afford designer clothes, do their best to imitate both street-driven and designer trends with what they've got- until, presumably, they really can just go out and buy that Marc bag. This method has certainly gotten the eye of the mainstream fashion world; in 2006, several famous bloggers were flown, all expenses paid, to Chanel headquarters in Paris to meet some bigwigs and watch that perfume commercial with Keira Knightley before anyone else. On a more widespread level, fashion bloggers are often contacted by companies to promote and receive free stuff; Lipidakis mentions that "some companies that trade in teen whispering, like Urban Outfitters, are starting to contact the writers to promote items like hoodies." Teen Vogue regularly promotes fashion bloggers in between reporting on what daughters of socialites are wearing and what fifteen year old model is hot right now.

The reason a lot of people don't like fashion is because Fashion with a Capital F leaves people out. Designers are supposed to dictate fashion, but designers make a very limited range of sizes. Designer clothing is so ludicrously expensive that pretty much no one can afford it. Walking into a designer store or upscale department store like Barney's gives me an idea of how steerage passengers must have felt upon viewing the first-class cabins onboard a ship- you know, like you are just a bit too dirty, cheaply clothed, ungroomed, and, yes, poor to even step foot into this gleaming world.

And besides there being a massive lack of accesibility to the fashion world, I personally find there to be a strong "Emperor's New Clothes" phenomenon within the realm of designer fashion. Back when I was in high school, for instance, people wanted to wear Abercrombie. No one knew about the Chanel logo or what made a Louis Vuitton purse authentic. Somehow, though, things started getting marketed differently, and it became superhot for teenagers to worship at the alter of Chanel and co. Nobody wants to examine whether they really want something or if they just want whatever status comes along with the garment, or whether designers really are all amazing, artistic innovators or just running a pretty succesful racket. I personally would much rather find a box of 30's dresses than have a boxful of Marc Jacobs, unless I was alowed to sell the Marc sack dresses to buy more 30's dresses.

But designers, thiness, and trends shouldn't be what fashion is about. Everyday you must get dressed, and more likely than not, you are not a model wearing designer clothes and attending a fashion show. Therefore, there should be a wide range of inspirations for you to draw from, from sea creatures to old movies to burlesque dancers to everything in between. To me, anyone with a strong personal style should be at least slightly offended, at times, with the way fashion is presented to the world.

The promise if the personal fashion blog is that it delivers what a mainstream magazine does not; with no commercial interests or loyalty to advertisers, bloggers should be free to critique fashion and everything within while offering a singularly unique style perspective; after all, a magazine has to appeal to a wide audience, but a blog can sustain itself on a smaller, more speicalized, and more unique readership. But fashion bloggers all too often just become the vessel that all these typical, trendy, mainstream ideas trickle though. Half the time, I might as well just open up a issue of Teen Vogue.


tricia of bitsandbobbins.com said...

i don't have much time to leave a comment (rocking the baby!) but: THANK YOU.


right on.


madam0wl said...

Yes, well said. Earlier this summer I went on a little binge and put like 20 zillion "style blogs" in my feed reader, but now I'd say 95% of them have upwards of 20+ articles sitting there unread, because after a while it all just started to look the same.

M said...

hey, tricia- thank you for having one of the few fashion blogs that is an exception to the rule. i really think if more people read blogs like yours they would be a lot more comfortable with getting into fashion.

yeah, like a magazine, i'm always half entertained and half bored by most fashion blogs. really for this post i should have tried to find photos of bloggers all wearing a variation of the same outfit, but i got too lazy.

also, the whole hair bows thing might be a little out of control.

M said...

(the hair bows thing that is so hot right now with fashion bloggers, i mean. they all love the hair bows.)

Anonymous said...

yes yes yes!


Simone said...

I agree completely. Here is one blog I have found that isn't by a skinny girl hawking the latest trends, though unfortunately it hasn't been updated in a while: http://toofatforfashion.blogspot.com/

Now send this off to Bitch!

Charioteer said...

For the most part I think you are really right on. However, I have to disagree that teenagers today care a whole lot more about high fashion labels than they did a decade ago. I teach video classes at public schools, and I have yet to see any of the kids wearing or caring about chanel. They all still wear abercrombie, just like when I was in high school! Maybe it's more pronounced at urban schools or wealthier schools (we mostly teach in schools on the fringes of the city, which are also lower income areas). I think the internet has opened up a new world for teenagers that are really interested in mainstream, expensive fashion, where they can find community that they can't find at school. In the '90's that kind of community didn't really exist, so the media paid no attention to it- but I don't know that there are really millions more kids obsessed with fashion than there were then. They've just found each other through the internet.

Anyhow, I do really appreciate you comments and agree with you. And yeah, you should write an expanded version of this for Bitch!

M said...

I mostly notice this phenomenon with designer bags...I think it's pretty common for teenage girls, even ones who aren't wealthy, to be well-versed in designer bags. (the "it bag" is a retarded phenomemon onto itself.)

My mom owns a consignment store, and girls age 13+ gravitate towards the vuitton, etc,. even ones who obviously are stopping in from the public middle school down the street.

this is not to say that the average teenager wears designer clothes, longs to, or even has a knock-off, i just think designer labels and logos have become, for whatever reason, more popular with teenagers. i think if you surveyed teenagers now versus ten years ago, they would just know more about designer logos and such.

it probably has a lot to do with lindsay lohan carrying the latest balenciaia or whatevs. and the renewed version of chanel since karl lagerfeld got his stomach stapled. or something.

teach people not books said...

i absolutely agree that teenagers have way more to be fashion-conscious about then i did when i was in hs, which wasn't so long ago. i can't imagine having to worry about whether or not i owned a juicy couture bag--oh the horror--but half of my eighth grade girls do. plenty of them carry around the equally offensive d&g's. i can't really even imagine having to deal with that sort of pressure. it's the coach culture on steroids in this district-definitely affluent, but mostly old, land money with a little bit of yuppie new money mixed in.

on the blogger tip, i did the major fashion blog binge for a while and made a conscious decision to stop because it was seriously damaging to the psyche. i realized i was wanting and wanting and wanting more and more and thinking wayyy too less of myself and my own wardrobe. these waif girls love to blog about how hilarious it is that what they assume to be lesser citizens scoff at their ridiculous outfits as if that is the redeeming quality of the outfit itself, when really it is because they look so self-important and consumed with their own version of reality that others are amused.

what you're saying about having to get up every day and be dressed is important. if someone you're watching or reading or listening to is making you feel lesser and not supporting your identity in all of its expressions, including your personal style, then one needs to cut out the cancer, so to speak.

julia aka garconniere said...

this is so, so good. i want to read it again and post some more constructive thoughts, but seriously you are so spot on with this commentary. props!