Category Archives: fashion blogs

Fashion Blogging Culture: Demanding Substance Over Style

Confession: I’ve stopped reading personal style blogs almost entirely. Not as rejection of the individual bloggers I spent years following… rather, more as a rejection of dominant fashion blogging culture, and how I kept seeing it repeated in the same derivative formula, over and over again.

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking pretty intensely about fashion blogging. I spent a fair bit of the early winter immersed in researching the fashion industry, specifically in a Canadian context, but it lead me in all kinds of directions… questions about consumption, production, ethics, design… none of which I saw explored in the conventional fashion blogging world. I began to wonder: what has made it so that the one most popular kind of fashion blog – the personal style blog – seems to be the only kind (especially with a subject as vast and rich as fashion)? Which fashion blogs get attention, and why? How is a fashion blog/ger deemed successful, and why do countless young people strive towards that singular version of “success?”

These kinds of frustrations came to light in a slightly different incarnation last week, when I came across a few tweets sharing links to Kelly Faircloth‘s article “Fatshion Police: How Plus-Size Blogging Left Its Radical Roots Behind.” The headline itself obviously drew me in, and it is definitely worth reading (RECOMMENDATION: Read the article before you read my disjointed ramblings). Erin over at Zero Style shared it on her Facebook page, leading to thoughtful debate and discussion amongst a few of her followers, including myself. Here’s my take on some of the issues raised in the article:

As someone who spent a fair bit of time lurking on the fatshionista Livejournal communities back in 2005-2007, I think this is an incredibly important conversation to be having. How can your anger and frustrations towards the fashion industry, when you are a fashion lover, be productive? Do the end goals have to be inherently capitalist? It speaks to larger conundrums facing fashion blog culture, which inevitably seems to favour the fluffy over more substantial content. Fatshion culture in particular, as noted in Faircloth’s article, started flourishing in the form of Livejournal communities, fostering discussions and sharing of knowledge and insights and opinions and styles… but now, the vast majority of fashion blogs (fatshion or otherwise) seem to adhere to more of a “LOOK AT THE PRETTY THINGS I WEAR- THE END” like! heart!

Browse the comments on the average popular fashion blog, and no one is surprised to find that a good 75% of the comments are left by new bloggers trying to bring traffic to their (own attempts at) blogs. It’s harsh, but true – it’s even lead to some of the most popular bloggers to close comments altogether. Whatever the reason behind their choice, the overall message is that even the most succesful fashion blogs can be a one-way street: Look at me, enjoy, keep your thoughts to yourself, shop where I shop. The radical potential that the web and social media originally seemed to have opened up now look about as radical as a herd of lemmings throwing themselves off a cliff…

Screencap of comments left on a popular personal style blog. Short repetitive comments are standard, with links to their own blogs becoming the focal point.

Screencap of comments left on a popular personal style blog. Short repetitive compliments are standard, with links to their own blogs becoming the focal point.

Where did the conversations go?

Moving away from discussions and conversations between the real people behind fashion blogs and their readership is just one incarnation of the middle-of-the-road mediocrity facing fashion blogging culture. Focusing on the capitalist-consumer side of fashion – what I often refer to as “shopping blogs,” not fashion blogs -  has brought us to the point where even a passing reference to the word politics seems to strike fear in the heart of bloggers and readers. Certain goals that fatshion lovers were pushing long and hard for have been, to some extent, accomplished: more brands offer clothing in a wider variety of sizes, some designers and magazines feel more comfortable showcasing “plus-size” models, there is more visibility to a certain extent… but where does that leave former followers and members who enjoy fashion from a more political perspective? Where are the dissenting voices, the concerns over the negative impact of fast fashion, the conversations about?

I’m more perturbed by the fact that the success of a fashion blog is deemed by the amount of traffic it gets, by brand sponsorships and affiliations, by numbers of Instagram followers, as opposed to the quality of conversations, the originality and strength of the content shared! This bothers me more than the tendency of being apolitical because you’re either

  1. apathetic or
  2. fearful of ruffling feathers or
  3. not getting brand sponsors.

I understand wanting to make money from your blog. I understand the importance of acknowledging that fashion blogging is work.  I understand some of those bloggers want careers in the fashion industry as it is, unchanged, without a need for upheaval – but that isn’t showcased when you are simply reproducing the status quo in incredible unoriginal ways.

A highly decorated colourful ampersand by Kirsten McCrea (2012) Ink on Paper

& by Kirsten McCrea (2012) Ink on Paper

I also think some of the criticisms and concerns raised by Faircloth could easily overlap with those who call themselves “feminist fashion bloggers” (but maybe that’s just because I call myself one). In reality, it may be more appropriate to describe the aforementioned as “feminists who have fashion blogs” – since they never ever write criticisms of fashion culture from a feminist perspective. Does wearing a barrette with a female power symbol really make you a “feminist fashion blogger” when you don’t care about what kind of labour was involved in making your H&M sweater available for 20 bucks? It’s awesome that you volunteer at a women’s shelter and go to rallies or whatever incarnation your feminism may take, but does that make your “what I wore” personal style blog inherently political? I’m not so sure…

But I digress – there’s nothing inherently wrong with just having a “what I wore” blog, but it is a bummer that some people feel stifled by the format to the point that they feel obliged to simply go with the pack/status quo. Like Erin and many others have stated, it’s fine to be a “fat fashion blogger” and not be a particularly politicized person yourself, but don’t purport to be part of a political movement like fatshion just for the sake of saying it – it takes balls, work, and action to be critical!

Another absolutely essential point raised by Rachel Kacenjar:

I think it’s hard for any intensely personal political movement to see its offspring reap capitalist “rewards.” This is supposed to be ours- we are supposed to harness the power- and then when we hand over that power for free clothing and publicity, we lose the original oomph. We also have lost vast representation. This movement was originally very queer, multi-sized, and from my standpoint, welcoming of POC, and now it seems that the most cherished bloggers are not representative of that. They tend to be on the smaller end of plus, and if not, they are of a mainstream desired shape and size, they tend to be upper middle class, and they tend to be white or light skinned as well as mainstream feminine presenting.

I’m down for all of us getting exposure for all of our passions and I think accepting compensation in all of its forms is a choice. But I totally understand where the vision of our origins and roots are being clouded here, and how that can totally feel disappointing.

After reading that I basically looked like this:

Animated gif of Orson Welles clapping

Animated gif of Orson Welles clapping emphatically

Phew! That covers the basics… and then some.

These aren’t new ideas. These are conversations I’ve been hearing and echoing and sharing for years. In January of last year, Eline shared her thoughts with me about why more radical and critical perspectives will always be pushed to the margins in fashion blogging culture.  Jenny Zhang addressed a lot of these questions in this great interview with Chictopia in April of 2012. Danielle Meder is one of the few bloggers that tackles issues as varied as different illustration styles to insightful analysis of fashion blogging culture without seeming muddled or aimless. Isabel Sloane’s now defunct Hipster Musings struck a nerve back in 2011 with “Why Fashion Blogging smells like raw fish,” the same year as Kat George’s article on the “Un-democracy of fashion blogging.”

These conversations are happening – we just have to look for them. It all comes down to why people started their own fashion blogs in the first place, and what the creators and readers hoped to get out of them. Do we make them because we think we have original ideas and thoughts and style we want to share with people? Or because we want our wardrobes subsidized by brands we couldn’t otherwise afford on our own? Is fashion blogging culture, dominated in large part by straight (in size and sexuality) middle-class females, helping young women develop their writing and photography skills? Are we any better off because of fashion blogs?

Those dissenting voices should show you it’s not hopeless. People like Eline and Natalie who speak not only about the important role fashion plays in their lives, but are open and candid about their struggles with depression and mental illness – not to mention, how that affects their chances to be deemed fashion blog “it girls” and showered with money and career possibilities. We shouldn’t ignore that bloggers with the most press and attention also tend to live in urban centres, in North America, and fit within certain acceptable parameters of what it means to be fashionable and feminine. In the end, the more we look at it, the formula for who is “most likely to succeed” in the fashion blogging world isn’t all that different from any other industry.

2010 Hand-embroidery on cotton by Lauren Dicioccio

50$ (2010) Hand-embroidery on cotton from Lauren Dicioccio’sCurrency” Series

The last elephant in the room I want to tackle is money. “Monetization” has a category all to itself on the Independent Fashion Blogger website. Years back it was, “how do we make money from our blogs?” Today, questions like “Do we disclose?” It seems every blogger either makes money from their hobby, or wants it to seem as though they do.  Do we brag? Do we pretend it’s something we don’t care about to create a nice illusion for our readers? Or do we reject it altogether? and look for alternatives?

In the end it all seems to come down to capitalism – which, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, is a political structure. Whether we be challenging fatshion bloggers, style bloggers, or lifestyle bloggers,  it is an overarching element we can’t take out of the picture. Are we selling ourselves? Are we – dare we even say the word – sell-outs? We want to be paid for our work, but when the only option are brands and companies who pay is in the form of clothes and accessories, it seems we either do it for free or not at all. This isn’t a problem unique to fashion bloggers, though: if you want to work as a freelance blogger, good luck finding regular well-paid work (and I say that from experience).

As I finished writing out these thoughts, I stumbled across this parody of the “carefree white girl” variety of online oversharer. It reads like a comedy skit, but it really is a commercial for a brand of clothing. Even if it’s nice to look at, makes you laugh with its incisive parodying of a pervasive online embodiment of femininity… in the end, it’s selling you something.

What an appropriate note to end on.

FASHION FILM from Matthew Frost on Vimeo.

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