Ten years ago, when street style as we know it went mainstream, photographers like Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist captured everyday fashion in new and exciting ways. We couldn’t get enough of it. Before Scott there was Bill Cunningham, who photographed fashionable people decades before anyone else, as a form of cultural exploration, documenting street style for The New York Times. Back then there were no street style stars. And a small group of photographers artistically interpreted new season trends, finding stories in the simplest details, from the buckle of a shoe to the cut of a mini skirt.
But before long bloggers picked up on the street style concept, and the fashion world was mobbed by an army of IT girls. During fashion week they pretended to ignore the rabble of photographers who had been hired to capture them striding along the street wearing often borrowed or gifted designer outfits. These outfits would later appear on a street style blog or magazine trend round-up, urging us to buy what they wore.
The new reality during fashion month in New York, London, Milan and Paris, became a battle to dress outrageously to attract the camera. Swapping a favourite uniform of well worn Gap denim for borrowed Gucci. Outfits that were uncomfortable and completely impractical for schlepping around a capital city, but ultimately caught the eye of street style photographers.
We’ve reached a point of saturation.
When we look back at this decade of fashion, will we be met with a series of images that were staged and sponsored? The concept of ‘peacocking’ at fashion week – when bloggers dress extravagantly with the aim of being photographed – has resulted in imagery of beautiful women in expensive clothes that few of us can relate to. These pictures have also placed unrealistic pressure on the whole industry to produce edited, magazine standard photographs, meaning every blogger is forced to become a master of photography, editing and styling overnight.In 2013 Suzy Menkes wrote for T Magazine, that fashion weeks had become a “celebrity circus of people who are famous for being famous…the people outside fashion shows are more like peacocks than crows. It’s dizzying enough to make even the most seasoned critic call a timeout.”
The backlash against street style couldn’t be ignored in a 2016 article by US Vogue’s Creative Digital Director Sally Singer, who criticised bloggers for “heralding the death of style”. The words themselves were harsh and contradicted the connection the magazine has to several high-profile bloggers, but many industry insiders agreed with the sentiment that the fashion week street style parade had gone too far.
In February 2016, Blogger Leandra Medine of the Man Repeller wrote: “We experienced an incipient boom with street style — one that was ushered in by the celebrification of fashion editors in the earlier portion of the 2010s. An editor’s outfit at a show has always been interesting but we — the public — didn’t know about that until we were granted access by way of photographer……As a result, the supply grew and maybe by virtue of the Canon-clad mobs that started to loiter among the shows, the attendants felt a heightened sense of pressure to either perform or merely slip away. So the impetus of getting dressed was disturbed. It lost what made it honest.”
A tipping point was inevitable.
During fashion month in late 2016 it seemed that fewer photographers followed the footsteps of well-heeled girls. In an interview with Glamour, Style du Monde photographer Acielle said, “I’m more interested in inspiring people with what to wear in their daily lives, so I shoot more streamlined outfits. I think peacocking is going down because now people want to see a real interpretation of current trends that they can apply to their daily life.”
Yes Acielle! The images I’m attracted too are those that stand up in a day-to-day setting. My brain tends to bypass outrageous outfits, because (let’s be honest) nobody is going to wear a perspex visor to work. So I actively look for style that feels normal and genuine, side stepping the models and street style stars, all wearing the same designer jacket, in favour of the everyday woman. Yes, with every image comes artistic license (as she wistfully stares into the distance whilst being heckled by a bunch of builders, and the husband/ best friend / photographer is crouched on the floor getting a shoe shot). But any woman who interprets modern fashion in a way I can realistically apply to my own life is doing a good job.
Real life interpretation.
When it comes to fashion inspiration, which is what street style really is, I want to see people who have great taste regardless of their Instagram following. I want to see the well dressed girl who slips into a fashion show quietly, through a side door, rather than the same people parading around the street. Or women who put together the most amazing outfits on a limited budget, showing great personality through their style.
The truth is we all like to look good, and there’s nothing wrong with a photograph documenting an amazing outfit. But let’s stop pretending we’re all supermodels shall we, and focus on sharing style in a real way that readers can relate too. Street style isn’t dead (yet), but there has certainly been a shift, from the fashion week peacock, to a celebration of the everyday girl, who dresses well but most importantly, is comfortable in her own skin.
Photographs: Kylie Martin / Memoir Mode