By: Arij Riahi
With each passing season, a new writer adds a nail to the fashion blog coffin. The critiques are plural, but they seem to be articulated around two major ideas.
Image above on R29 via NY Times here.
First, there are the likes of fashion journalist Suzy Menkes who, with a hint of elitist nostalgia describes the fashion blogosphere as a “circus of people who are famous for being famous.”
Second, there is the thoughtful ex-blogger who’s been on the scene since its pioneering year of 2006, and who now laments the directionlessness and sterility of the current fashion blogoscape.
Historically, an increased frequency in the use of the “… is dead” expression signals not a death, but the transformation of a cultural phenomenon. Nietzsche and paperless gurus are a testimony to that. To put it plainly, fashion blogging – like religion and the paperback – is not dead, but evolving. Devolving, maybe. But it is changing.
Speaking on this change, Jennine Jacob, fashion blogger and founder of the Independent Fashion Bloggers network, writes :
Whatever it was, I noticed there was a trend of general decline in interest in personal style blogging. People aren’t leaving as many comments, and the commenting on the big ones are mostly blogger-spammers promoting their own sites. Content on personal style blogs had become minimal, some just listing their clothes. Others just talking about what they ate for breakfast, or how they were so excited to work with this brand or that brand. Bloggers who “make it” aren’t just cute anymore, they have business plans, niches, a specific purpose other than broadcasting their own vanity.
And therein might lie the main difference in fashion blogging from its early days (think LiveJournal and MyStyleDiary, circa 2005). There is a definite move away from conversation and towards strict consumerism. The average personal style blog is a list of purchased items and retail locations. Fashion blogging in general has been commodified, and the success of a blog is measured through entrepreneurial lenses.
A good example of this is the evolution of fat-fashion blogging, from the early Fatshionista conversations to its current days. An article aptly titled “Fatshion Police : How Plus-Size Blogging Left Its Radical Roots Behind” discusses the idea at length. In a nutshell, “…while fat fashion blogging has cracked into the rarified world of the trend piece, fat activism is struggling.”
I’ve noticed a similar evolution in “do-it-yourself” fashion blogs. I see some of them selling DIY kits to create an item at a price comparable to the retail value of the item…new. The idea of spoofing this by creating a step-by-step DIY-DIY-kit did run through my mind. I also saw a blogger feature a completed DIY project they created on their site, but linked to a paid publication to view the full step-by-step tutorial. The point here is not to ask DIY-ers to be faithful to the punk origins of the notion. I question, though, how an idea that grew out of a rejection of mainstream capitalist consumerism could turn so easily into mainstream capitalist consumerism.
I understand the reasons for monetizing a blog. The choice of compensation (why and how) is a personal one. I also understand how access to high-profile gigs and fashion job prospects might ease some frustrations about acceptance and representation in the industry.
Above: Picture by Gunnar Larson, found on R29 here.
What I don’t understand is how or why it erases critical thought about that industry. I worry about the trend of fashion bloggers who were initially nurtured by a political community or driven by radical incentives, but end up turning their back on it once they “make it.” In this context, it seems unsurprising that the most important/popular fashion blogs are painfully straight, white, and upper-middle-class: why is it that fashion is “just fashion” only to those who feel included in the industry?
Scholar Jo Reger notes in an essay* how contemporary feminists use a, “consciously constructed look as a way to live out, on an everyday basis, their politics and ideologies.” Examining the ways in which young feminists construct fashion, she adds that the, “body becomes the location where larger issues are played out.”
I do find that there are a lot of larger, political issues in fashion– I like your camouflage coat, but I’d also like a conversation about the ethics of wearing military apparel. I don’t mind your luxury items, but I want to find out if it is craft(hu)manship or branding. I prefer a full tutorial, because I enjoy the agency that comes with wearing my own skirt. I have questions about second-hand clothing and the effect it has on African textile markets. I want to have these conversations, but I can’t find many spaces for them online.
I think that by narrowing down our fashion conversations, we miss the opportunity of reclaiming the body -the individual and the collective one- and highlighting how its presence, movement, and adornment is as an act of political resistance– not a commodity.
*Reger, Jo. “DIY Fashion and Going Bust: Wearing Feminist Politics in the Twenty-First Century.” Fashion Talks: Undressing the Power of Style. Ed. Shira Tarrant and Marjorie Jolles. SUNY Press, 2012.
Arij (Twitter: @arijactually) is a writer based in Montreal, Quebec. Favourite topics include law, colonialism, and pugilism.