In September 2009 the Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana invited four fashion bloggers (Garance Doré, Bryan Grey Yambao, Tommy Ton and Scott Schuman) to attend the runway show for their ready-to-wear spring collection. The bloggers were not only accommodated in the front row (traditionally reserved for the most ‘important’ guests), but each of them was also provided with a computer, mounted on a small desk in front of them, as if to demonstrate clearly their place within the staging of the fashion show…. A few seasons later, a few particularly ambitious and persistent street style bloggers are still invited to major runway shows, showing their successful positioning within the social hierarchy of fashion media. Today there are few fashion magazines (in print or online) that do not feature their own ‘street style’ sections, while dozens of bloggers have created a career out of a hobby by working as professional photographers. (Titton 2013, p. 128)
While the street has been a popular subject in photography since the very advent of the medium itself, the convergence of fashion and documentary photography, and street style photography as its own genre only began to take root in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Titton 2013). Pioneered by the likes of Bill Cunningham, whose street fashion and nightlife documentations were the first to be regularly published (Titton 2013), street style photography began to appear in the glossy pages of British i-D and alternative newspapers such as The Village Voice, where punk, new-wave and stylish subcultures were depicted as full-length figures (Titton 2013).
However, as noted by Monica Titton (2013) in her description of Dolce & Gabbanna’s 2009 ready to wear spring/summer show, much of street style’s subversive, anti-establishment and democratic legacy have been lost. The ‘objective observer’ is now increasingly involved and embedded within the hierarchies of the fashion mainstream, and the democratic nature of street style is questionable with photographers dually acting as editor/curator of the street (Titton 2013; Woodward 2009). This is made particularly apparent in Esther Rosser’s criticism of Scott Schumann’s The Sartorialist;
Despite what would appear to be an outsider position, Schuman in fact occupies a prominent place in the fashion world and media. Undoubtedly this is due in part to the contacts and connections already in place before he began the project: Schuman trained in garment construction and merchandising, worked in fashion sales and marketing, and ran a showroom boutique for young designers. The continual expansion of his blog into a photographic exhibition, a book, contract work for magazines and advertisers, and a rumoured forthcoming television series secures his position beyond the somewhat marginal location of the blogosphere. (2010, p. 158-159)
From the very start of the project Schuman has photographed fashion insiders and this is an aspect of his work which has continued rather unsurprisingly given his close following of the collections. As well as ‘ordinary people’ he photographs designers, editors, stylists, other photographers, and models (despite his claims to the contrary). Some industry insiders become regular subjects such as Carine Roitfeld, editor in chief of Vogue Paris. (2010, p. 161-162)
The role of the street style photographer as editor/curator, and the implication of many photographers being embedded amongst the fashion elite, in many ways contradict the democratic and everyday mythologies of the street style genre (Rosser 2010; Titton 2013; Woodward 2009). Nottingham Trent University’s Fashionmap project revealed that many of the documented consumers gave great weight to vintage and ‘authentic’ expressions (ideas aligned with street style), despite 51% of the outfits the participants were wearing being entirely constructed from high-street garments (Woodward 2010). The comprehensive documentation undertaken by Fashionmap also presents a canvas of everyday street style that distinctly lacks the ‘sartorial expressiveness’ that has come to be synonymous with the documentary genre (Woodward 2010). Thus while street style has at times contributed to a ‘bubble up’ effect, the high street still has significant power over assemblages on the street, and a discrepancy exists between the myth of street style (the curated legacy of its subcultural origins) and what is observed on the street (Woodward 2010).
Contradictions in the democracy of street style can also be found where photographers document young celebrities and the fashion elite: emphasising the pre-existing hierarchies of fashion expertise and style. Acclaimed to be ‘naturally stylish’, these celebrities are presented by fashion media as possessing exclusive styling skill that can be followed and duplicated by the masses via the high street (Lifter 2013; Nash 2014). In this sense, street style photography, blogs and segments in fashion media are used to reinforce hierarchies within the fashion milieu, and present style as an exclusive art form (Nash 2014). This is particularly the case for celebrities such as Alexa Chung, whose participation in ‘Today I’m Wearing’ street style segments, and mentions of her Mulberry ‘Alexa bag’ have reinforced her place as a ‘style icon’ (Lifter 2013).
While street style offers possibilities for Blumer’s trickle/bubble up theory, the influence and participation of fashion elite reinforces hierarchies and celebrity status within the fashion system. The role of street style documenter as curator/editor also contradicts the genre’s legacy and mythology of democracy, with selected images not necessarily reflecting ordinary fashion on the street. All in all, while understandings of street style focus on a legacy or myth of ‘sartorial expressiveness’, the genre still largely feeds into hierarchies and ideas of exclusivity within the fashion system.
Berry, J 2014, ‘Street Style & Subcultures’, retrieved from Griffith University, Queensland College of Art, Learning @Griffith website: <https://bblearn.griffith.edu.au/bbcswebdav/pid-1010412-dt-content-rid-2625166_1/courses/2432QCA_3145_SB/Course%20Content/Week%205%20Street%20Style%20%26%20Subcultures/fashion%205%20street%20style%20lecture.pdf>.
Lifter, R 2013, ‘Fashioning Indie: The consecration of a subculture and the emergence of ‘stylish’, , in S Bruzzi & P Church (eds), Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis, Taylor & Francis, Hoboken, New Jersey, pp. 175-185.
Nash, I 2014, ‘The Myth of Street Style’, University Wire, April 16, viewed 11 October 2014, via ProQuest Central database.
Rosser, E 2010, ‘Photographing Fashion: a critical look at The Sartorialist’, Image and Narrative, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 158-170, viewed 11 October 2014, <http://www.imageandnarrative.be/index.php/imagenarrative/article/view/116>.
Titton, M 2013, ‘Styling the Street- Fashion, Performance, Stardom and Neo-dandyism in Street Style Blogs’, in S Bruzzi & P Church (eds), Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis, Taylor & Francis, Hoboken, New Jersey, pp. 128-137.
Woodward, S 2009, ‘The Myth of Street Style’, Fashion Theory, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 83-102, viewed 11 October 2014, via ProQuest Central database.