fashion bloggers as an active audience

ACADEMIC

APRIL 2017

FASHION

WixCollage (1).jpg

In the age of social media, audiences are becoming more active than ever, and are provided with accessible platforms to produce their own content in response to the content they consume. 

As media consumers are given more opportunities to share their own content, they also begin to have more agency to disseminate their ideas to audiences of their own, and consequently have more of an impact of the larger media production companies from which they consume. Consumers of media produced by the fashion industry, such as print ads, fashion shows, magazine publications and social media posts, have become especially active in creating responsive content, and even built careers on posting on fashion blogs in response to the industry. Considering the fashion blogging community has become so prevalent on social media, it is important to analyze their activities, and understand the ways in which they impact the larger industry. Through the comparison of several select posts by fashion bloggers @double3xposure, @songofstyle and @weworewhat, primarily posted during, and around New York Fashion Week with actual runway shows during New York Fashion Week, and attended by two of these bloggers, and a Vogue article covering London Fashion Week, this essay will construct a correlation between the posts of these popular bloggers, and trends featured on the runway which undermine hegemonic ideologies traditionally supported by the fashion industry. Ultimately, this paper will assert that the online fashion blogger community offers an opportunity for the audience to participate effectively in the fashion industry, giving them more agency to reshape it, and implement change in regards to the industry’s reinforcement of dominant ideologies surrounding femininity, race, and class, which had once been part of fashion’s core values.

 

In order to understand how the fashion blogging community creates content which directly impacts the fashion industry, it is primarily important to analyze which types of activities are popular in the community, and how each activity affects the industry in a different way. The activities within this community can be compared to many fan activity theories, and these theories, all of which impact the ideologies promoted by the fashion industries to different capacities. While the fashion industry has a long history of promoting classism and capitalism through the glamorization of luxury brands, and the necessity to recycle ones wardrobe each season, gender binaries through the assertion of constructs of femininity through fashion design, and the way fashion is marketed to women, as well as complacency towards overarching societal structures as the industry is most marketable to elites, it is clear that through various activities, fans and fashion bloggers alike have already worked to create change in an exclusive industry.

 

Despite the fact that the fashion industry still strongly promotes capitalism through pushing the desirability of luxury goods, it is clear through the popularity of thrifted and vintage items being praised in traditional fashion media, that recycling is becoming common in the industry. Recycling designer thrifted pieces has always been popular amongst fashion bloggers, and blogger @double3xposure has made this central to her online brand. Reese Blutstein, the blogger behind @double3xposure, frequently posts about her thrifted pieces, as we can see in her February 22nd post “Favourite thrifted jacket” (Blutstein), and garners thousands of likes and comments supporting the concept of thrifting. Thrifting has become so central to her styling that she was recently interviewed by fashionista.com on the topic, where they frequently cite her recycling of used fashion, and she states, “My shopping habits now involve a lot of thrifting…” (Bobila) when describing how she creates her specific looks. The act of purchasing old goods from thrift stores exemplifies de Certeau’s theory of bricolage, as the act of re-wearing thifted goods as a fashion statement reshapes their intended meaning as a product (The Practice of Everyday Life, p. 107).

 

Products are created by the fashion industry as a form of wearable media, and their intended meaning is to express ones ability to be on trend, however, by recycling old pieces, the wearer is reshaping their meaning, wearing them as a statement against trends. This act undermines the capitalist driving force behind the fashion industry, as the wearer is intentionally purchasing old goods, which are no longer “in fashion”, and redefines what it means to be trendy. New fashion pieces are also produced by the industry with meaning as status symbols, as they express ones ability to not only stay on top of the trends, but also afford new pieces to do so. Purchasing used goods directly undermines pieces meaning as status symbols, as it challenges their original price point, and reinforces the idea that those who are participating and active in the fashion industry are not necessary economic elites.

 

This act, which is so popular with bloggers, has become normalized and celebrated in mainstream fashion media, indicating a shift in the industry’s values when it comes to class. Vogue Magazine covered Matty Bovan’s London Fashion Week show, discussing his repurposing of thrifted items for his runway collection, and citing his regular visits to particular thrift stores as a key part of his originality and success (Bobb). The article highlights the importance of thrifting in high fashion runway shows by then listing Bovan’s favourite thrift stores and vintage shops, and by doing so, the undisputed bible of the fashion world implies that anyone of any economic bracket can achieve Bovan’s high fashion looks on almost no budget. This change disputes the longstanding exclusivity of the fashion industry, which has catered exclusively to millionaires and celebrities since its beginnings, and opens up the industry to all classes. Because couture fashion houses of been an indicator of wealth for decades, it is in the interest of the industry to uphold hegemonic class structures, however, the new support, backed by fashion bloggers, of the repurposing of thrifted goods clearly undercuts the economic values of the industry.

 

The fashion industry has long been committed to supporting many hegemonic ideals on top of classism. As an industry that primarily targets women, and creates an idealistic image of femininity through models, advertisements and collections which instruct women upon what is appropriate for them, evidently has supported traditional images of femininity. Although there had been occasional attempts to undermine femininity in the industry over the past few decades, these efforts had not stuck until activities by fashion bloggers in response to the industry popularized masculine and androgynous fashion for women. Trends which undercut traditional gender binaries have been popular amongst street style stars and fashion bloggers for many years, and can be exemplified through the oversized blazers (Bernstein, 13 Feb 2017) and men’s hoodies (Bernstein, 11 Feb 2017) worn by @weworewhat during New York Fashion week earlier this year. Reese Blutstein, as mentioned above, also propagates men’s fashion, wearing oversized jackets and pants, as well as men’s t-shirts and minimalist makeup in nearly all of her fashion posts.

 

The practice of reworking men’s wear pieces as high fashion style echoes Fiske’s notion of “cultural ripping”, which he describes as “not simply consuming a commodity but reworking it, treating it not as a complete object to be accepted passively, but as a cultural resource to be used.” (Understanding Popular Culture, p. 112), as female fashion bloggers are taking hold of men’s clothing items and the iconography attached to them, and restyling them from a more feminized point of view. Fiske does go on to state that “Such ‘tearing’ or disfigurement of a commodity in order to assert one’s right and ability to remake it into one’s own culture need not be literal.” (Understanding Popular Culture, p. 113) asserting that the objects themselves do not need to be physically disfigured, but can simply be ripped from another culture, in this case, females are ripping items from masculine culture. While this practice is very common amongst fashion bloggers today, it is now gaining acceptance in runway shows because of blogger promotion and popularization. It is clear through runway shows such as Célines’s Autumn/Winter 2017 “Ready To Wear” (Céline) collection at New York Fashion Week this February, that masculine tailoring and minimalism is becoming normalized in female fashion trends.

 

Although there seems to be a growing disregard for gender norms when it comes to dressing oneself in the fashion industry today, this is a new development. Even up until recent years, hyper femininity has been popular in reigning fashion trends, and because the fashion industry targets women so aggressively, it has been important to uphold concepts of femininity in order to sell to the target audience. However, it is clear that an increasing demand for androgynous fashion has opened up the industry to deconstructing hegemonic views of gender, and produce collections which question how women should dress and look. While the industry had once relied on reinforcing normative ideals of femininity to profit from a mostly female market segment, it is clear that fashion bloggers have created their own responsive content to challenge the values of the industry. Fashion bloggers are an active audience who’s own content creation has evidently reshaped the way the industry entertains and expresses what gender should look like in society.

 

It is obvious that the fashion industry is deeply rooted in capitalism, and therefor, upholds many hegemonic structures of society, such as class and gender, in order to profit. Yet, the audience of fashion bloggers has popularized activism through fashion against these very core values in the past year, and the fashion industry has already been impacted, questioning long held values. Pieces with activist messages have never been so popular on the runway, and this comes after a year full of blogger activism that peaked during New York Fashion Week. Blogger Aimee Song of @songofstyle was particularly focused on using her outfits to make political statements, and posted images wearing a “NO WALLS BETWEEN US” custom leather jacket (Song, Feb 11 2017), as well as a feminist t-shirt alongside many other bloggers who also support this rise in activism (Song, Feb 14 2017).

 

By creating posts that use fashion to make clear political statements, it is evident that Song is attempting to start a conversation in the strong and influential fashion industry. This type of activity aligns with Henry Jenkins notion of “fan activism”, which he states, “refers to forms of civic engagement and political participation that emerge from within fan culture itself…” (Jenkins, 1.8), as it is an example of fashion bloggers creating their own content in an attempt to influence the messaging of the media created by the fashion industry as a whole. It’s clear, after witnessing one of the most political New York Fashion Weeks yet, that this campaign by bloggers is effective, and the industry is listening, and producing their own politically charged content that is sending the message to much larger audiences than bloggers could. Prabal Gurgung’s Fall 2017 show was the most political example, featuring a finale full of t-shirts with political messages such as “THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE” (Bauck), however, other iconic brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Alice & Olivia and The Row all also featured activist messaging using different methods such as bandanas and embroidery.

 

It is clear that through this support of activism, that the industry is directly impacted by the actions and activities of fashion bloggers as active audiences of the industry. The industry’s support is particularly interesting as much of the causes being supported in these runway shows are actively against many of the hegemonic views that are at the core of the industry, such as capitalism, classism and sexism, as discussed before, as well as racism, as the American fashion industry has been notorious for white washing models of colour, cultural appropriation, and the direct exclusion of non-white models for decades. This maintains an exclusivity, and reasserts high fashion’s position as what Rebecca Pearson calls “high culture” (p. 99), and is therefor extremely tasteful towards the upper class, and profitable. Because fashion blogging opens up agency for people of all statuses to participate in the industry as an audience, it is obvious that the industry must appeal to their content they are posting, as well as the causes that are important to them as they have loud voices, and have clearly impacted the industry as is obvious in this falls runway shows. Despite being audiences, the activity of fashion bloggers is effective enough to reshape the core values that this industry has held for decades through their audience activities.

 

While it is obvious through changes in the media the fashion industry produces that audiences such as fashion bloggers are active, and do have agency towards the content they consume, it has been a long held belief that we are helpless audiences at the hands of big media producers. This perspective was asserted by T. W. Adorno in his “Culture Industry Reconsidered” when he states “The culture industry misuses its concern for the masses in order to duplicate, reinforce and strengthen their mentality, which it presumes is given and unchangeable.” (p. 55), insinuating that mass-media producers have their values set and only imposes them on the audience, who has no ability to create change. While this model is a very common way of understanding media, audiences such as fashion bloggers on Instagram make it clear that because of social media, audiences are given much stronger platforms to disseminate their own values, and influence the values of mass media. There have been visible changes made in such a traditional industry over the past few years that social media has become popularized, proving that these platforms give audiences a voice, and a community to be active, and ultimately, challenge and comment on the values of larger media industries, such as the fashion industry. Core values of the industry are already being questioned in the new media that the industry is producing, which undercut the capitalist and hegemonic system the fashion as a whole functions on, and it is all because of active audiences online.

 

While the fashion industry has existed for many decades, and has always been based in the same exclusionary values in order to maintain high status and profitability, there are clearly grassroots changes occurring in the industry that impact these values. The extremely active audience of fashion bloggers are clearly creating their own content in response to the media produced by the fashion industry, and it is their content which is reshaping long held values to be more inclusive and representative for a diverse audience. While the fashion industry had once been very reliant on hegemonic ideals in order to profit, particularly relying on constructs of femininity and social class, it is clear that the industry itself is following the suit of bloggers, and questioning these core values to create a more democratic fashion industry. Ultimately, it is clear that the online fashion blogger community offers an opportunity for the audience to participate effectively in the fashion industry, giving them more agency to reshape it, and implement change in regards to the industry’s reinforcement of dominant ideologies surrounding femininity, race, and class, which had once been part of fashion’s core values. It is no mistake that the industry has begun changing after the rise of social media, and it is evidently the activity of the fashion blogger audience, which has made these discursive changes.

References

Adorno, T. W. “Culture Industry Reconsidered”. The Audience Studies Reader, edited by Will Brooker and Deborah Jermyn, Routledge, 2003, pp. 55-60.

Bauck, Whitney. “All The Political Statements Made On The Runway During NYFW”. Fashionista. 13 Feb. 2017, http://fashionista.com/2017/02/fashion-politics-nyfw-fall-2017.

Bernstein, Danielle. (weworewhat). “Day Theree #wwwfw…” Instagram. 11 Feb. 2017. https://www.instagram.com/p/BQY8a3ggDiA/?taken-by=weworewhat.

Bernstein, Danielle. (weworewhat). “sweatshirt/blazer/lazy Monday combo…” Instagram. 13 Feb. 2017. https://www.instagram.com/p/BQdleqnAhTJ/?taken-by=weworewhat.

Blutstein, Reese. (double3xposure). “Favourite thrifted jacket…” Instagram. 22 Feb 2017. https://www.instagram.com/p/BQ1TkK0FYnC/?taken-by=double3xposure.

Bobb, Brooke. “How Rising London Fashion Week Star Matty Bovan Crafts His Crazy Cool Clothes”. Vogue. 18 Feb. 2017, http://www.vogue.com/article/fashion-runway-london-fashion-week-ready-to-wear-2017-matty-bovan.

Bobila, Maria. “How I Shop: Reese Blutstein, Also Known as @double3xposure. Fashionista. 23 March 2017, http://fashionista.com/2017/03/double3xposure-reese-blutstein-style.

Céline, “Fall 2017 Ready-To-Wear.” Vogue Runway, 2017. http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2017-ready-to-wear/celine#collection

de Certeau, Michael. “The Practice of Everyday Life”. The Audience Studies Reader, edited by Will Brooker and Deborah Jermyn, Routledge, 2003, pp. 105-111.

Fiske, John. “Understanding Popular Culture”. The Audience Studies Reader, edited by Will Brooker and Deborah Jermyn, Routledge, 2003, pp. 112-116.

Jenkins, Henry. “Cultural Acupuncture”: Fan Activism and Harry Potter Alliance.” Transformative Works and Culture, vol. 10, 2012, http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/305/259, Accessed 24 March 2017.

Pearson, Roberta. “Bachies, Bardies, Trekkies and Sherlockians.” Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, Edited by Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss & C. Lee Harrington, NYU Press, 2007, pp. 98-109.

Song, Aimee. (songofstyle). “I prefer #NoWallsBetweenUs #nobannowall #nyfw” Instagram. 11 Feb. 2017. https://www.instagram.com/p/BQYjYJvg92B/?taken-by=songofstyle.

Song, Aimee. (song of style). “We will not be silenced.” Instagram. 14 Feb.