February 23, 2013

Fashion Vs. Style (#longestpostever)

I am here today to give my two cents on the recently blogged about article by Suzy Menkes of T Magazine.  It doesn't pertain to me per se nor does it affect me.  But I read the article as well as the well written rebuttals by Susie Bubble of Style Bubble and Leandra Medine of Man Repeller, who were affected.

Let me preface this by the seemingly obvious disclosure that I have never been to New York Fashion Week and other that one time, I've never been photographed by a street style blog.  I don't own a single designer piece that wasn't thrifted or given to me by a friend or family member or bought via gift card or handed down.  

I started this blog almost two years ago.  Prior to that, I didn't even know what a blog was!  I found my first style blogs (Champagne and Marshmellows--now Wolf and Lace--and What I Wore) through complete accident browsing online fashion magazines and shopping haul YouTube videos.  I was instantly hooked.  And I wanted in.  But it was months before I took the leap.  Why?  Because I didn't think that I could do what they do.  I had/have a finicky little Canon Powershot.  I didn't have a tripod.  I was petrified at the thought of photographing myself in public.  I didn't own what I deemed to be nice or expensive clothes.  But I had always loved fashion.  Always.  Even in my freakshow high school punk rocker days.  Even in grade school where I drooled over trends like hypercolored shirts and Umbros and Adidas.  I worked in electronic retail three years ago and was a mother of three and was going to college full time.  I was enslaved to red polo shirts and khakis for work and whatever was comfortable afterwards for mom duty and school.  When I got my first "real job" after college as a paralegal, gained more funds and an ability to dress like a professional, my love of clothes grew to a whole new level.  And I was hooked.

Obviously somewhere along to the line, I realized (with the support of my husband) that this is in fact something that I could do.  It was rocky at first and it was still a few months before I braved public photo shoots, but I did it.  And I loved it.  Along the way, I've been given opportunities to do things I never in my life thought that I would--attend real photo shoots back stage, interview models, attend fashion events and shows and collaborate with some awesome companies.

The thing that gave me the courage was reading other style blogs.  It was then I realized that these were not just for the privileged few.  These were women (and men) of all different sizes, budgets, backgrounds, careers, skin colors and ages.  Some wore designer clothes and some thrifted.  Some took their own photos and some had photographers.  If they could do this--so could I!  And I've made some amazing friends in the meantime too and e-met (no Colorado blogger meet ups yet, boo) a lot of great people I otherwise wouldn't know.  It was welcoming to be part of a community of other like-minded individuals.

When I first started blogging, I reached out to other bloggers.  Not in the annoying FOLLOW ME!!!! kind of way, but sent genuine emails to bloggers asking their advice or opinion or sometimes just telling them that I liked a post of theirs or their blog in general.  Some wrote back, some didn't.  I will say that I was shocked to get emails back from people I consider "big timers" like Jessica or Andrea.  I have to say "shocked" because in the blog world, they are something of a celebrity of sorts.  

Which leads me into the discussion I intended for this post.  The article written by Ms. Menkes struck me on many levels.  Initially I was shocked and frustrated.  I have to admit that I only found the article through reading the rebuttals, so I was a little biased based on that.  But not entirely.  

The article makes some interesting points, some of which are actually good ones.  In the article, she talks about the validity of fashion blogs and their authors as it relates to fashion week and collaborating with designers.  Some things I agreed with, but a lot of it I don't.  Here are my thoughts:

The first thing that I noticed about the article is that it is obvious both to its author as well as to its content that the fashion world has changed in many ways.  This is an obvious "duh", for lack of better words.  Fashion in and of itself is ever changing.  In Ms. Klum's infamous words "one minute you're in and the next, you're out." Fashions themselves change and this is completely evident when looking back on different decades.  It is concurrent, usually, with the times (pants for women in the 70's go with the feminist movement and prim dresses and pearls in the 50's to mimic the "proper lady" that tends to everything without complaint), the music (black, flannel and combat boots are staples of the 90's from the grunge explosion, wild neons and big hair in the 80's when Cyndi Lauper was professing that girls just wanted to have fun) and circumstances of the economy (picture the difference that fashion took in just one decade from the 1920's when women were donning fancy fringed dresses to the 1930's when the Great Depression hit).  

Ms. Menkes starts her article reminiscing about a time when fashion was much more muted in blacks.  The scene for NYFW was one that would hardly be recognized now.  Instead of black and conservative, she sees bright colors and what she deems as "look at me" fashion.  But one must take into account the time that she was present for NYFW.  This was in the 1990's.  Black was the new black, youknowwhatI'msayin?  Even in the last few years, we've all seen color literally explode on the scene.  Even though Fashion Week (then called Press Week) begun in 1948, it wasn't until the Michael Kors show in 1994 that New York was immortalized for Fashion Week.  The point being this--Fashion Week is not very old.  And a mere 19 years later, you'd expect it to change no?  I personally think that fashion has become much more liberal.  If you would've asked me ten years ago to attend a fashion show in thrifted clothing, I would've freaked.  Now, I proudly sport thrifted or clearance rack clothes to fashion shows.  Granted, this is only in Colorado, but if you think I wouldn't do it in New York as well, you'd be sorely mistaken.  I personally think that it is magnificent that fashion doesn't have to be crammed into a perfect little Tiffany box.  Fashion is about being different.  It's about standing out.  It's about being outlandish.  It's about art.

And that is why people want to go to Fashion Shows.  True, there are probably some people that do go merely for photo ops and name dropping and elbow rubbing.  But I would like to think that the majority of people that go do go for to admire the art.  Which is where my next issue with the article comes into play.  Ms. Menkes leads us to believe (or at least I got this gist) that fashion is for the elite only.  She implies that the shows are now ridden with amateurs, "poseurs" and wanna-bes just looking to gain some validity for their internet existence.  Now the point I believe that she is trying to make is that these particular bloggers she mentions in her article are sporting duds from sponsors that are given to them merely because of their blogs.

Now we bloggers all know the drill.  We're not completely ignorant to the fact that there are many big name bloggers that get all the good shit.  They are donned in Marc Jacobs and Carolina Herrera.  They get to meet designers at brunches on rooftops and they get seats (sometimes front row!) to important fashion shows and to-do's.  They get to cut ribbons to new stores and they get to attend special sample sales first.  If you are saying that you don't feel even a twinge of jealousy about this then you are lying.  Or not human.  But here's the thing: most of the bloggers who get this treatment have been in the game a while.  Like years.  And a handful of them are intertwined in the fashion industry in some way career wise.  And most of them live or have lived in New York City.  And a lot of those blogs are indeed largely for show.  I know a lot of girls that follow those blogs purely for eye candy.  When they are advertising a product, it's pretty transparent.  For example, have you ever heard this line from a big name style blogger: "I've been living in x-article of clothing for a week it's so comfy/pretty/stylish!" and you realize this is their third outfit post this week and you're like "um, no."

Buuuuuut, so what?  I mean really.  Who the eff cares?  That is how a business works.  If blogging is your profession and you are collaborating with a certain company, it would be just plain bad business to say "ugh, this sweater is super itchy, but you should still buy it!"  Am I wrong?  Now one would think that if a blogger was given something that they didn't deem worthy to buy themselves that they would disclose it or have an ethical duty to stop collaborating with that company.  And this may be the case sometimes.  The point is, we don't know.  There are obviously reasons that these designers have chosen to partner with these bloggers and we don't know the reason to that either.  There are a multitude of reasons why someone would--maybe location is an issue for them and they want someone from a big city, maybe they admire the way the blogger writes or their photographs or their style, maybe it's the stats of the blogger that is attractive.  

Well where do you think stats come from?  People being interested in your blog.  Even if they are only interested because of who your blog is.  It seems pretty ignorant to think that you could start a blog and instantly be famous for it.  There has to be some work involved.  My blog is very small in the scope of blogs.  At almost two years, I have just recently hit 100,000 views.  My main audience is my family, friends and a handful of other bloggers that I've connected with.  And I am perfectly fine with that.  I still currently use the same Canon Powershot camera.  I have zilch for Photoshop skills (so much so that I don't use it).  I suck at social media (beyond my blog instantly uploading to my Facebook and Twitter when I post something, I don't use it).  And even with all of that, I can tell you that it is work.  Every part of it from getting inspiration for an outfit to choosing and wearing the outfit to photographing it to writing the post to formatting the post to social networking your blog.  

So when a company contacts me to review a product, I don't find it morally wrong to do so.  This is not to say that I jump at every opportunity to get new and free stuff.  There are collaborations that I have turned down and every review I have given has been a completely honest one.  I think this is true for the vast majority of bloggers that receive c/o items.  What's the harm in a little gift if you are going to honestly give your opinion on it?  I work in law.  Words are great, but visuals are better.  Someone can say something is what it is, but if they can show it, it's even more convincing.  Hence the desire to be sent things to try out.  I was reading the comments to this article and one of the comments was from a designer who declares that it is just plain easier, cheaper and more of a guarantee to send clothes to a blogger than to a magazine or fashion editor.  This is so because it is almost a guarantee that it will be looked at, featured and reviewed rather than just sit in a pile of other hopefuls in a closet somewhere.  I can see this point.

It leads me to believe that perhaps Ms. Menkes even feels the twinge of jealousy towards these bloggers.  She has been in this game for a looooong time. And it is a different game in fashion than with other industries such as sports or music or movies.  The reasoning for this is simply availability and outreach.  I mean, there is little reason to read a sports blog or movie review blog if you can flip on nearly any channel on TV or Google any internet exposure to get the highlights and reviews in a milisecond.  And they will likely be the similar (either the movie was good or it wasn't) or factual in nature (the score was 44-15, there was overtime, the game ended).  Thus leaving very little room for interpretation on a personal level.  This is where fashion blogging comes in.  

Here's why I say that Ms. Menkes might be jealous.  Now, I don't have any background information on Ms. Menkes other than the fact that she has been involved in fashion for a long time.  But my hunch is that she attended some kind of schooling or internship for fashion.  She more than likely had to work her ass off to get to where she is today.  She's put her time in, for sure.  And to see some other, young newcomers just come and essentially get the same (or better) privileges as she has without the same amount of sweat and tears she put in is just offensive to her.  And we've all felt that.  We all know people that we felt were handed things on a silver platter, never having to work for them and not feeling like they deserve them because they didn't go through what we did to get them.  I know I do.  And it is frustrating.  And it does piss you off.  Not only that, but it is extremely easy to get jealous in the fashion industry.  Someone is always going to have better hair or clothes than you, someone will always have the new "it" bag on their arm, someone will take up all of the photographer's memory card, someone will know one of the higher-ups, someone will be 5'10" without heels.  

Unfortunately, however, that is just the way that the world works.  Sometimes it's being born into privilege.  Sometimes it's knowing the right people.  Sometimes it's simply being at the right place at the right time.  I don't think it's right to hate on someone just because you had to work harder.  The hard work in and of itself should be benefit and privilege enough for you, in my opinion.  I mean, you got where you got fair and square.

These are ever changing times.  As I mentioned before, it wasn't that long ago that I didn't even know what a blog was.  My kids have no recollection of DVDs or cassette tapes or computers without internet and my oldest is only 12!  It's amazing how technology has changed in the last decade.  Ms. Menkes points out a time in her article where she would have to stop by and develop her film between shows.  Now you can literally watch a fashion show as it is happening from a variety of different sources.  This has been to our advantage and our detriment on all levels of technology, not just fashion.  But it is changing.  And it will continue to change.  And there is nothing that can really stop that.  We now rely on technological convenience far too much to do without things like Google or GPS or Twitter or Facebook.  It's literally become a part of our daily lives.  And it's not going anywhere.

That being said, the disdain that some feel towards bloggers is severally misplaced in my opinion.  In this day and age (wow that made me sound hellaold), anyone can be a blogger.  And anyone is.  There are blogs about everything from motherhood to photography to learning disabilities to blogs about hating blogs.  It's all there and without filter.  And it's our right to say what we choose about whatever we choose.  It's also a responsibility.  If you don't appreciate blogs or you don't like blogs that are enhanced by free gifts or you "just don't get it"--don't read it.  Simple as that.   Move on to a new hobby or a different activity.  Solved.

Ms. Menkes lends opinion that fashion is for the elite.  It is for those that have "earned" their right, in one way or another, to be part of it.  She begs the question "if fashion is for everyone, is it fashion?"  This is where she totally lost me.  While I could see her views on bloggers accepting gifts and being invited to the front row at shows and wearing clothes purely for the sake of attention (though I hardly agree with her on these opinions), this seems to just be convoluted on so many levels.  She is right, in a way, though.  High fashion is usually for the elite.  I don't know many people that purchase their t-shirts from Gucci for $60.  Usually NYFW front row is reserved for the "Gossip Girl"-esque and celebrities and high power individuals.  But to say that without "everyone" fashion wouldn't be fashion is just ignorant.

True, designer brands make much more money than smaller brands.  The supply and demand is higher.  And so is the price tag.  But without "everyone", fashion would hardly exist.  It is "everyone" that decides if a trend will take off for sure.  It is "everyone"'s opinions that stock the shelves at department stores and it is "everyone" that designers of all kinds shoot to please in reality.  They will have a small amount of elite clients with bottomless pocketbooks, but the majority of the profits had by any designer is that of regular people.  Ralph Lauren polo anyone?  Hello!  

To say that fashion shows should be restricted to the elite sends a message of unattainability.  And where there is unattainability, you have no market.  Runway fashion and everyday fashion is supposed to be unattainable.  It is ART.  No one would, could or does actually wear the fashions they see on the runway.  That's why you see outrageous dresses and hot pants on the runway instead of corduroys and sweaters--it's meant to be an extension of the artist.  It is living breathing art walking in sky high stilettos.    And it is intended to be entertaining and motivating.  And not just for the elite, but for all.  It's taking "elite fashion" and making it your own.  And that is where style comes into play.

It's like banning everyone from art museums or nice restaurants.  In my opinion, if you can appreciate it, you should be able to indulge in it.  And if Ms. Menkes is granted her desire for bloggers to no longer dwell on the steps of the Lincoln Center for Fashion Week--where does this end?  For any fashion show?  For only certain ones?  What about fashion shows outside of Fashion Week?   Is it her and every other fashion industry individual's intent and wish to have bloggers banished to the glow of their computer screen, never to surface in real life fashion situations?  Are we to be banished all together?  What's next--no one is allowed to compliment a blogger on her outfit in public or is it just photographs we are concerned with?  

Suede Coat-thrifted; White Jeans-Wal-Mart; Hooded Crochet Sweater-thrifted; Brown Studded Low Booties-Forever 21; Crochet Knit Hat-Forever 21

The appeal of style bloggers is obvious to me.  Style bloggers are the voice of real people in a very small sliver of the fashion industry.  Some get free shit and some don't.  Some are good reads and some are just good photos.  Some are both.  I have found countless style inspirations from bloggers.  I've laughed at some bloggers posts.  I've cried at others.  I've seen their styles evolve and grow as I have seen my style evolve and grow.  The point is this: fashion may be for the elite, in the opinion of Ms. Menkes.  But style IS for everyone.  Fashion is expensive.  Style is priceless.  (Is that a real quote?  If so, I'm sorry not to cite it--I Googled it and couldn't find an author.  If it isn't a real quote, I'm a got damn genius.)  And in America we are very fortunate to be capable of either. 

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