Fashion in the digital age has all but sealed the obsolete fate of ‘the insider.’ Once a staple of aspirational exclusivity, the fashion insider is a fashion don’t.
Bloggers equipped with loyal social media following pioneered a new trend: the outsiders are the new insiders.
With their organic angle, bloggers (or digital influencers) are equivalent to a human magazine. And social media is their vessel for syndication. Where consumers used to wait for their monthly subscriptions to arrive and inform them of the latest trends as conveyed by celebrities and supermodels, they now simply refresh their feeds. And there they find the same aspirational message of yore, but with a more relatable connection to their aspirational whims.
These individuals are not only offering their recommendations (in a familiar aspirational, get-this-and-become-an-it-girl-like-me way). They are also incredibly candid and vulnerable about their personal lives, adding a layer of trust that is impossible to achieve in curated editorials.
Followers have insight on everything from their breakfast to their pregnancy troubles. All of these intimate insights are juxtaposed alongside behind-the-scenes fashion shows, brand launches, and photo shoots. Their insider coverage feels like a close friend telling you about their day. There is a story first and a product woven somewhere within that narrative.
So why has Fashion in the Digital age embraced this trend so fervently?
It has become a lot like fashion’s own reality TV. And the marketability of reality TV probably reveals some hints about why we love the new influencer culture. We love the prospect of seeing people just like us on large platforms. Walking a mile in a blogger’s Gucci shoes seems far more attainable then trading places with Gisele Bundchen.
This shift provokes accusations that there is no lasting power in the business of blogging. That the reigns will once again be reinstated to the heirs of editors and supermodels. Disgruntled insiders expressed their avid distaste for the influencer. But the raw presentation of a world once characterized by its red tape incites a shift that cannot be reversed. This democratization is a trend that the traditional insider must embrace, lest they end up on the outside.
According to Michelle Lee of Nylon (via Los Angeles Times,) “The rigorous reporting and research plus fact-checking behind what an Allure editor says is completely different from a personal, singular opinion that an influencer offers. That’s not to take away from the power that either of them have. They’re just different.”
Brands and media are having to meet their new consumer where they are and that is in their feeds. Street style has become a key narrative in fashion week, many times overshadowing the actual shows they represent. Thus, brands are dressing bloggers and influencers with the same precision that they do their models.
“That shift is happening because major fashion houses understand the very real influence of social networking sites and the blogosphere on the customer. Market research firm Mintel released a report last year in which they discovered that more than 35 percent of millennial women in America say social media is one of the top influencers when making clothing purchases.” Source
So how has Fashion in the Digital age evolved?
This diversification of trend and product presentation democratizes brand representation and modeling.
We formerly only saw airbrushed size 0’s promoting products for the masses. Models were pruned and primed for billboards and magazine pages.But they represented a small percentage of consumers. Bloggers vary in ethnicity, size, location, style. There is something for everyone.
We looked up to editors and buyers. But they were inaccessible, often stereotyped to be in their position based on pedigree or connections. Or at least years of hard work.
But bloggers, though talented, often started with little more than a wifi connection and a camera. Many of us have those things too! Meaning if you want to be a blogger, well if you have 5 minutes, you’re ready to go. (This is not to downplay or neglect what comes after the 5 minute set up. Just because you’re online does not mean you have a brand or a following. Trust me—I know.)
But this relatability is the stuff of viral marketing. It’s all about “this could easily be you.”
The fandom surrounding bloggers and their organic relationships with these fans caused high fashion to revise their normal operations. Advertising dollars are redirected from traditional editorials to brand ambassadorship. Bloggers are walking runways alongside supermodels now. They are the people’s model.
Even our most successful supermodels of this generation are so because of their ability to appeal to followers across social media platforms. The ones opening runways and covering magazines are the ones with the highest follower account. This loyal engagement transcends feeds and boosts consumption with fashion shows and magazines.
In years past, designers only had to concern themselves with industry insiders and affluent clients. Through these exclusive vessels, luxury retail trickled down to the masses, awakening their aspirational appetites, simply through envious observation. But things are different now.
Gaps between insider and consumer are narrowing if not completely disappearing. Technology demolished gatekeepers, making exclusivity obsolete. An unprecedented spectrum of onlookers with accessibility at their fingertips wedged their way to relevance. And fashion is having to communicate with a new demographic and respond to different types of consumption.
Social media demands attention and inclusivity. When followers speak, they require their opinion be accounted for. They are not mere listeners, they are not even solely participants. The stage is completely theirs. For example, gone are the days when a brand could get by casting homogeneous advertorials or runway shows. Instagram mobs will descend with digital pitchforks labeled “cultural appropriation” or “whitewashing.” You can no longer cut your consumer off from the conversation and get away with it.
Though the benefits of this wider conversation are great, it begs the question. Does this constant “on” type of consumption have implications on a designer’s creative flexibility? Or does it add to the inspiration?
Saturation and Immediacy
A side effect of this increased accessibility and relatability is saturation and immediacy.
Brands saturate our feeds. But this also means that brands have to create more and more content to keep up. Oversaturation not only leads to jaded consumers but burdens designers with goals of quantity over quality.
A consumer now has infinite options and newness in the palm of their hand. For creativity, this kind of pressure can be paralyzing.
Fashion designers are having to increase their production cycles in order to meet the insatiable consumer’s demand. They are ramping up content 10 fold in comparison to the historic seasonal (Spring/summer Fall/Winter) campaigns.
Fashion weeks had to adopt a see-now-buy-now schedule, as consumers prefer immediate gratification. Waiting 6 months may as well be torture. And then there’s the question of relevancy. If you give fast fashion 6 months to reiterate your design, your jaded consumer is looking for the next thing before your original even hits racks.
The consumer has more access and therefore control than ever before. We are molding the way we are advertised and sold to according to on our own terms. We have more say in what trends rise and fall.
This new level of access certainly comes with its benefits but the industry is still working out the downsides of constant appealing to the masses. The Digital Age is rapidly molding all industries. But it’s been interesting to witness how such a previously sequestered community has been blown wide open for spectators to not only see but to also partake in.