The Un-Democracy Of Fashion Blogging

I used to write and curate a popular Australian fashion blog which I discontinued mid-2010 for various reasons, both personal and ethical. The ‘personal style’ fashion blog—a phenomenon that gained serious momentum around 2005-6—was originally a means of harnessing the awesome power of the Internet and new digital technologies to democratize our perspective of contemporary fashion. By challenging traditional, or ‘glossy’, notions of beauty and defying the mainstream in order to reshape societal norms and expectations from a citizen viewpoint, blogs across all genres can and have served as powerful social tools. Women (those with access to the Internet; and access is a whole other can of worms in terms of Internet democracy debates), through personal style blogs, were presented in a new, subversive outlet in which they could use the power of contemporary technology to launch their personal voice, and a diverse array of notions of ‘beauty’ into the fray of public discourse.

However, ‘personal style’ bloggers have garnered an almost infallible legitimacy as purveyors and creators of sartorial news, and their following has boomed to a cult-like status. As these blogs have gained intense popularity and more prolific bloggers have established an online celebrity, the democratic value of blogging is becoming increasingly undermined. As an ex-fashion blogger, I have always been interested in the way fashion blogging has breached the mainstream, and the way in which fashion bloggers are essentially forcing democratized notions of beauty into a ‘glossy’ redux, joining the mainstream in the proliferation of information. Renowned fashion bloggers have essentially infiltrated the popular consciousness—whether through real time employment, product endorsements, corporate support or some other means—and as a result their blogs are creating virtual dogma, insofar as their status makes them authorities on fashion and style. In short, the word of a popular fashion blogger has ceased to be a subjective contribution to cultural discourse but rather an objective statement of fact. With such blogs on the fast track to becoming isolated capsules, where the blogger’s word is unquestioned gospel, ‘interactive’ has come to mean little more than sporadic comments of gushing approval or vitriol from readers, and a great deal of audience consumption of the products and branding fashion bloggers espouse.

What concerns me is what happens when the everywoman is nothing more than a shill—a curated example of the glossy ideals that continue to terrorise femininity and perceptions of femininity in the mainstream media. When fashion bloggers essentially become caricatures of themselves—with professional photography, unrealistic beauty and lucrative deals for product placement, what message is being sent to the other side of the screen? We’ve been taught to adopt a certain level of cynicism when reading glossies, but the same grain of salt has not yet infiltrated to blogging. The danger thus occurs when conversations on Internet dicourse fail us—where young women are watching and idolising the self-declared ‘everywoman’, who, in reality, is no such thing. She is merely a perfectly coiffed version of her civilian self—a wolf in sheep’s clothing—holding fast to notions of her ‘unique ordinariness’ but spending hours creating the perfect (suspiciously so, to the point where I question whether or not we’re starting to see dramatic retouching on these personal style blogs) imagery of herself. Add to that the contrived use of product and corporate engagement (insofar as fashion bloggers are sent unrealistically luxurious and expensive product to advertise, which is often done covertly and without any outward acknowledgement that the garment they are wearing/holding/promoting was gifted by the designer) the concoction begins to become toxic in its social impact.

If we can constantly adapt, speculate over and criticize the ‘democratic’ online environment, we can begin to acknowledge the threat of mainstream control (or the glossification of the Internet, as I like to call it), and identify it where it exists. Fashion blogging, for its particular susceptibility to consumerism, should be followed in turn with an open discourse so we can begin to understand the hidden pitfalls in the idolatry of such bloggers. While the reign of the fashion blogger is fierce, influencing trends and notions of contemporary beauty both subversively and in the mainstream, the very fluidity of Internet discourse means that everything is temporal. The ebb and flow of constantly shifting voices almost assures that as one blog rises to power and eventually fades (as blogs are generally based on an individual effort) then another rises and the cycle continues so on and so forth. This perhaps comes down to the fickleness of the mob; a primordial notion that is intensified in a technologically face-paced, quality demanding, hedonistic cultural backdrop. Fashion blogs, and blogs more generally, can thus be seen as “unfinished artefacts” as noted by Axel Bruns (in a great text on the subject of blogs, Uses Of Blogs, 2006) influential in their time but with a preordained life cycle, and perhaps destined to remain always incomplete, buried in the sand of an ever expanding cyber community.

But what happens when the blogosphere, and particularly fashion blogs, become stagnated? To some extent this is what’s happening now—personal style blogging behemoths are domintating not only online fashion, but fashion more globally. While the more insidiously popular blogs seem to have begun as innocuously as any other, the fact remains that they have grown to mammoth proportions. As a result, they impart stylized beauty and corporate direction upon a wider public than first thought achievable, without the same transparency of the out-and-out advertising we’re fed in glossies. You’d think that the revolving door of Internet presences would yield to a constantly adapting and changing blogosphere—but as corporate heavyweights play into the arena arbitrarily deciding which blogs to support with their ‘generosity’, what hope is there for the voice of the everywoman, especially when then chosen few are no different to the idyllic women represented in the glossies? And will we ever overcome the inherent problem in our semantics—where blog essentially means ‘of the people’, regardless of whether it’s a labour of love or a heavily-backed, transformative, glossified portrayal of beauty? TC mark

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  • arnie24

    this sounds like a research paper…you lost me mid-essay. 

  • arnie24

    this sounds like a research paper…you lost me mid-essay. 

  • Jordan

    Fashion blogging isn’t my schtick (it was kinda hard to get through this, and took a closing and re-opening) but I like the piece, for it’s purpose.  Reminds me of older TC, a thoughtful piece on a non run-of-the-mill topic.

  • Nietzche

    tell that to bebe zeva

    • Greg

      Why is she considered fashionable? She looks like the love child of a John Wayne Gacy clown and Stevie Nicks.
      When did elaborate Halloween costumes= fashionable

      • A.

        Go ask Carles.

  • Dana

    so either your writing is full of cliches or it’s a full-blown college essay? ugh 

  • Dana

    so either your writing is full of cliches or it’s a full-blown college essay? ugh 

  • http://twitter.com/ingenuegle Egle Makaraite

    This is the most intelligent thing you’ve ever written, even if it’s not your most engaging (to others). I dig it.

    Also, people shut up about how Kat writes. Just because someone uses vocabulary in their opinions does NOT mean it’s a college essay.

    • http://fastfoodies.org Briana

      Agreed. I really appreciated the shift from”Me ‘n’ My Pooping Habits” to something still personal but less PERSONAL. Not gonna say it’s the most enjoyable thing I’ve read of KG’s, but I feel this is a step in the right direction…or something.

    • http://fastfoodies.org Briana

      Agreed. I really appreciated the shift from”Me ‘n’ My Pooping Habits” to something still personal but less PERSONAL. Not gonna say it’s the most enjoyable thing I’ve read of KG’s, but I feel this is a step in the right direction…or something.

  • xra

    What would one do about this though? it’s obvious that the very decentralized nature of blogging that everyone praises makes it doubly vulnerable to sketchiness like this. The best microcosm i can think of is lookbook.nu, where it seems like after a good spurt of awesomeness, things have settled down into a “who can ape the dominant aesthetic best, or go against in just-such-a-way” contest. the stakes are even higher with a standalone blog, when hype can = moneys

    also, ppl need to stop acting like a its a cosmic tragedy every time a girl feels uglier than another one. it’s unavoidable, it’s gonna happen, often it won’t be fair due to retouched photos or whatev, but that kind of insecurity is ingrained into the female mating mind, you’re never gonna get rid of it. all the talk of “notions” of beauty as some malleable cultural construct is also misleading; enough research has shown how male preferences correlate to certain physical markers of fertility/femininity across cultures at this point. It’s easy enough to note that whenever photos are retouched, similar things are done to them: waists made smaller in relation to hips, complexions softened up with airbrushing, legs made to seem longer, etc.

  • xra

    What would one do about this though? it’s obvious that the very decentralized nature of blogging that everyone praises makes it doubly vulnerable to sketchiness like this. The best microcosm i can think of is lookbook.nu, where it seems like after a good spurt of awesomeness, things have settled down into a “who can ape the dominant aesthetic best, or go against in just-such-a-way” contest. the stakes are even higher with a standalone blog, when hype can = moneys

    also, ppl need to stop acting like a its a cosmic tragedy every time a girl feels uglier than another one. it’s unavoidable, it’s gonna happen, often it won’t be fair due to retouched photos or whatev, but that kind of insecurity is ingrained into the female mating mind, you’re never gonna get rid of it. all the talk of “notions” of beauty as some malleable cultural construct is also misleading; enough research has shown how male preferences correlate to certain physical markers of fertility/femininity across cultures at this point. It’s easy enough to note that whenever photos are retouched, similar things are done to them: waists made smaller in relation to hips, complexions softened up with airbrushing, legs made to seem longer, etc.

    • Katgeorge

      I half agree with you–but I do think there’s a very serious danger when someone is passed off as a ‘regular’ girl when really they’ve gone through all the same processes as a model to look the way they do in a certain image. This can be misleading for young women who aren’t yet informed about the ‘production value’ that goes into blogging, and still sees the blogger very much as ‘the girl next door.’ Armed with this information, and still feeling inadequate, is a different thing all together–the absence of this awareness makes for a minefield of connotations regarding what is ‘normal’ or ‘real’ for girl who are already inundated with conflicting, demanding visual stimulus.

      • xra

        fortunately for you the only efficacious thing seems to be writing such articles and otherwise prodding the environment “out there” into one in which hit bloggers aren’t ethereally glamorous girls-next-door. which they’re obviously not; they’re bloggers

        being (hopelessly le sigh) into fashion and consequently racking up some friends/acq’s who’ve done this gig, I’d go so far as to say that there’s a selection bias towards a certain tint of person starting a fashion blog of the “look at me standing around” variety… the one who might tell of voluminous grail-like thrift store finds often really gotten for like 100+ off ebay, or status-seek like crazy, or yea, retouch her photos. in other words, hyperkinetic perception-handling ideal for successful blogsmanship => extra impetus to alter pics

        anyway the only thing chicks can really trust in terms of looks-jockeying is another one standing in front of them (in good lighting (while sober)), i mean shit people retouch their facebook photos

    • kinda offended

      “but that kind of insecurity is ingrained into the female mating mind, you’re never gonna get rid of it.” —-> so you’re saying insecurity, especially over looks and sex, is built into the DNA of women? oh no guess i’m screwed

      “enough research has shown how male preferences correlate to certain physical markers of fertility/femininity across cultures at this point.” 

      —> well, actually this research that you’re (inaccurately) citing shows that men like signs of fertility–WIDE HIPS, BIG BUTTS, HUGE BOOBS. none of which you can usually find in a fashion blogger. culture and media are huge influencers of our perceptions of beauty, not just genetics. 

      so stop making these wildly misguided, so-called “scientific” statements that just reinforce your own ignorance and/or (do i say it?) misogyny

      • xra

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        “so you’re saying insecurity, especially over looks and sex, is built into the DNA of women? oh no guess i’m screwed”

        yeah, basically. though you’re misreading me here, by first ascribing to me some position on “insecurity” as a generalized concept, as opposed to what i actually said: that insecurity (read: vague, nagging concerns) about one’s physical attractiveness relative to other females in the environment, in particular, not especially, belongs to women’s reproductive strategy as an innate characteristic rather than a bug to be purged through cultural engineering.

        your attempted rebuff of my noting research on “physical markers of fertility/femininity across cultures” is kinda just wtf. wide hips, big butts, and huge boobs all play into the hip-waist ratio, a metric so archetypal that even lifelong blind men are able to recognize a 0.7 and prefer it above all others. why should this be? well, for one thing, more fat in the hips relative to the torso leads to optimal cognitive development in infants: http://www.ehbonline.org/article/PIIS1090513807000736/abstract “Waist-hip ratio and cognitive ability: is gluteofemoral fat a privileged store of neurodevelopmental resources?”other strong transcultural signs of female attractiveness i’d mention would be symmetry, especially facial symmetry, clarity/smoothness of skin, strong colors in the eyes and hair, and certain ratios of the distance of the eyes to each other to the distance of eyes to the mouth. as a male seeking females i will generally gravitate to these factors when determining (short-term) mating viability, and claiming they are malleable seems to make me somehow “responsible” to the women i don’t prefer for not preferring them, which is absurd.

        re: commands to stop saying things that you don’t like hearing, complete w/ self-consciously loaded accusations of “misogyny”, f off lady i couldn’t care less

  • http://missmollymary.tumblr.com missmollymary

    It really sucks when fashion bloggers become “famous” by putting together cute outfits from H&M and Forever 21 and thrift stores only to receive a bunch of expensive gifts and lose their original focus.

    Anyone wanna give me a free Alexander Wang bag?  I’ll totally blog about it and stuff.

  • guest

    I’m pleased to finally read something like this from you. And I agree, though I think the age of fashion blogging is slowly coming to an end, or at least taking on a slightly different tilt with a lot less blogging (or at least, original content being made/posted) and a lot more recycling of content through tumblr and other avenues.

  • Guest

    word

  • Greg

    Though not as pervasive, this happens with men’s style blogs as well. I’m not hugely into fashion, but my job forces me to be online all day and I run into these men’s “street” fashion blogs that not only fail at reflecting true street style, but are completely homogeneous and just sort of jerk one another off. This was a cool piece and one of my favorites from you

  • SS

    This was an absolutely fabulous article! Fashion Bloggers are the new Mommy Bloggers, bought and sold by the industry.

  • fakes and ladders

    This is great. And to those who got “lost mid-essay” I mourn for your reading comprehension skills. 

  • guest

    As a fashion blog freak and a person who received my bachelor’s degree in sociology, I LOVED this. I don’t think it’s particularly interesting if you don’t follow the big blogs, though. I ALWAYS think these same things when looking at blogs- the amount of free crap these girls get after their popularity rises renders their looks impossible for “real” girls. Most of these ladies don’t appear to wear the same thing twice. Further, A LOT of the most popular blogs are “models off duty” and there are even stories of popular bloggers getting modeling contracts out of their blogs. The reinforcement of beauty ideals is frustrating to me, as I’m looking for a blogger for inspiration who is not a size 2, because I am not a size two. Keep researching this though, I think it’s fascinating and would love to hear more! 

  • Sara

    oh my gosh. when i read sea of shoes, i’m always thinking these things.
    how long does it take to shoot and style? granted the girl has style, but if you give me a unlimited budget (wtf do her parents do? piss oil?)  I can buy expensive things and make them look pretty.

    on another note. The more popular blogs have become so obviously narcissistic. like seaofshoes. what the hell is the point of having a blog if people can’t comment? If what your posting doesn’t prompt discussion or thought?
    I get that to a point there’s a level of self importance that exist when you create a blog. But once it gains a cult like follwing all it does is become a soap box of ‘Look how pretty I am! remember when I used to buy ninewest shoes? lulz! Now check these amazeball wang colabs that were GIFTED!”

    yes i hate seaofshoes and wish i got all the free shit rumi neely gets.

  • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

    I think personal style blogs are definitely headed for a rough transition.  There are too many of them and not all of them, stand out or stellar.  What will remain are the blogs run by people who actually have a passion for fashion.  The people who read great books, love good quality design, admire items not because they’re popular but because they’re fantastic pieces.  Know their history, know their designers, understand that there’s a world out there beyond Alexander Wang (not that he isn’t great, but he is the blogger favorite).  When I first started jotting down my thoughts online in 2007, I was thrilled by the opportunity to talk fashion with people who enjoy sharing ideas (because my family and friends can only hear so much of my waxing poetic about Jil Sander and Marni).  I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on anything but it felt nice to find people who enjoyed the same things as me.  In the last few years, there’s been thousands of new bloggers popping out of the woodwork, seeing the success of fashion blogging giants like Susie Bubble and The Clothes Horse and wanting a piece of it for themselves.  I understand that mentality sure, but there’s a difference between doing something because you’re passionate about it and doing something because you want fame and free shoes.  And readers see that.

  • michael kramer

    this is really intelligent and interesting and relevant

  • Guest

    I don’t  know why you seem so taken aback that the fashion blogosphere
    has settled in to a hierarchy. It was to be expected. I kind of have
    this combined urge to laugh/cry/puke when I read something like this and
    think about everything going on in the world, you know, outside the
    confines of the “fashion world”. I don’t know. People who take “fashion”
    seriously like this make me want to fly kick myself in the face to
    death.

  • http://ontoberlin.blogspot.com Hannah Mudge

    Love this post! I’m not a fashion blogger but i blogged about this very subject a while back – http://ontoberlin.blogspot.com/2009/09/when-waifish-white-and-wealthy-wins.html. It’s so unhelpful and really puts me off reading them, particularly those of the ‘heavyweights’.

  • http://miriammogilevsky.wordpress.com Miriam Mogilevsky

    This is a really interesting article. I wish Thought Catalog would do more like this.

  • Sarah84

    A little late to the party but I just found this article. A few years back, style blogging (yes, style blogging, these are not fashion bloggers) really was about personal taste, DIY, thrifting, etc. Just check out old Wardrobe Remix stuff on Flickr. But there is none of that DIY spirit anymore. Look at Chictopia, Lookbook.nu, as well as the personal blogs…they all wear the same stuff from F21, Zara, H&M.  And the style bloggers who have followings, read their wardrobe credits. The majority of what they wear are marked with a “c/o” (indicating the item is from a sponsor). And the thing is, it’s the same half dozen sponsors who send free clothes to everyone (Modcloth, I’m looking at you). The bloggers all look the same. And the writing sounds like really bad ad copy. “I love these new boots from —-. I just can’t take them off!”. So yeah.

  • http://alagarconniere.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/fashion-blogging-culture-demanding-substance-over-style/ Fashion Blogging Culture: Demanding Substance Over Style | À l'allure garçonnière

    […] 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.” […]

  • Thought Catalog

    Reblogged this on Girl with the Turquoise Sac and commented:
    It’s rather relieving that someone out there harbours the same thoughts as me. “Fashion bloggers” are increasingly conforming to the typical notions of what a “woman” should be in society, leaving little or absolutely no room for creative interpretation or expression of their personal style. Almost every blog post I see now are something called “advertorials” or “give-aways”, as though the bloggers themselves are some celebrities or their own… They’ve become, in my humble opinion, slaves to voyeurism, self-indulgence and perhaps public attention and praise.
    Fashion bloggers have become no different from the stick-thin models we see – idealised notions of beauty.
    And their writing sucks as well. These airheads need to buff up their vocabulary. it’s disgusting and detrimental to my mental health to read your blogs.

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