Last month marked four years since I started my first fashion blog. Back then, bloggers were gaining tremendous popularity because of their fun, accessible style and uncensored opinion, a cherished antidote to aspirational fashion magazines readers no longer related to. But what glitters is not always gold. Have bloggers democratised fashion for the long run or are they too guilty of dipping into the industry's less kosher sides?
Photo by Darling Stewie
Fashion blogging beginnings: Individuality and naivety
In the past, the fashion industry was proverbially hard to break into unless you were well-connected or rich. Along with early fashion blogs emerged the idea of the 'democratisation of fashion', which was supposed to shake fashion hierarchy to the core.
In regards to bloggers, 'democratisation of fashion' meant that if you had a cool, relatively high-traffic blog and great style that didn't necessarily have to be all Chanel and Balenciaga, you could become part of the fashion industry without connections or education.
Fashion lovers were encouraged by the success of the first bloggers who quit their jobs to focus on blogging full-time and thousands of blogs started sprouting up worldwide.
While many of those blogs were undeniably launched with the intention to catapult lithe, blonde, semi-stylish girls into online stardom, in the early days, fashion blogging was primarily about doing your own thing. It was honest. It was not nearly as calculated as today.
Each blogger I was following five years ago had a distinct voice. They wore completely different things – you didn't see the same handbag popping up on every other blog. They shared miscellaneous events from their life. Some of them posted political opinions.
For many fashion enthusiasts misunderstood by their community because of how they dressed, fashion blogging was an outlet where they could finally express themselves without being judged. You only had to click the 'Publish' button to go from uptight coworkers staring at your frilly lavender blouse to readers applauding your uniqueness.
After months of hesitation I started my own fashion blog.
I was surprised how much my small town experience mirrored bloggers in fashion capitals. We went to events as plus ones because no one in the industry knew we existed. 100 daily unique visitors was considered decent traffic. Extravagant gifting wasn't a thing. I was exalted when a Swedish company sent me two temporary tattoos that took a month to arrive.
Fashion blogging in 2013: Attack of the clones
Fast forward to 2013, the fashion blogging landscape has undergone major shifts. There are notable exceptions, but in general, fashion blogging is no longer about individuality. It's about mediocrity.
Fashion blogging today salutes reducing self-expression to a handful of common denominators: the ubiquitous Kenzo tiger jumper, Isabel Marant wedge trainers, ombré hair, Céline handbags, sheer maxi skirts. Individual fashion voices of the past have merged into one monotonous voice. Fashion bloggers look like each other's clones.
Fashion blogging today is about fitting in with the cool crowd. How ironic to think it originally emerged with the outcasts – people who loved fashion but couldn't or didn't want to be part of the cool crowd (the industry).
Apart from the attack of the clones, you'd have to be blind not to notice fashion blogging has become unabashedly commercial. The main issue here is is an astonishing lack of transparency. I support sponsored content because bloggers need to pay the bills like everyone else, but keeping readers in the dark about it is unethical.
Several top-tier fashion bloggers, as well as hundreds of smaller ones, are not in the habit of disclosing commercial affiliations and freebies. They deceive readers who believe bloggers endorse products they have purchased themselves, not received as a gift and got paid to promote them.
We've seen it all before in fashion though – magazines failing to disclose advertorials and not giving editorial space to brands that don't advertise in them.
Another recent blogging gem is posting outfits consisting solely of pieces the blogger has received from brands. Is this really your style? Would you wear it if you didn't get it for free? All of it?
Photo by Miss Sly
Do you read intelligent fashion blogs?
Many people jump at every opportunity to accuse bloggers of being shallow, unethical and uneducated. But why do bloggers guilty of this so often have a massive following?
When bloggers take criticism into account and share in-depth articles or outfits not based on trends, we gather from the lack of feedback we receive that the vast majority of readers prefers the very things that give fashion blogging a bad rep – instant gratification, conspicuous consumption and absence of critical thought.
There are many websites and forums dedicated to discrediting fashion bloggers (I say 'discrediting' instead of 'criticising' because comments on those websites often cross the line). People who frequent them read the blogs they 'hate' to get fodder for snappy discourse, boosting their traffic with multiple daily visits and rampant linking.
Would it not be more fruitful to spend all this time supporting the bloggers you believe are ethical, have original style, are great writers? Or is this just another reflection of what people really like?
Are fashion blogs the same as fashion magazines?
The most popular fashion blogs share a single pivotal ingredient: aspiration. This is the same aspiration the fashion industry is relentlessly condemned for: portraying beautiful, unrealistic, unattainable lifestyles in editorial and advertising.
It's images of ultra-thin models with flawless photoshopped skin wearing £10,000 outfits that make you buy perfumes and accessories – the cheaper products that drive approximately 80% of sales.
Are top fashion blogs different from fashion magazines? Figures are slender, clothes expensive, locations cosmopolitan, food photogenic. For most readers, this lifestyle is beyond reach. A million girls would kill for this job.
I don't believe aspiration is detrimental by default, but if it exists in fashion blogging (and so prominently), it means fashion blogging is no different from the industry in general. As promising and refreshing as the idea sounded at the beginning, by conforming to industry standards, bloggers have not democratised fashion in the long run.
In other words, you still have to be well-connected or rich to break into the industry.