Why The Era Of Personal Style Blogs Must Come To An End
People who want lasting careers in fashion media won't find it by simply inviting the world to ogle their clothes.
When the fashion industry talks about "bloggers," they often mean personal style bloggers — people who post photos of themselves wearing clothes. Of course, "blogger" is a terribly inaccurate term, because it could describe just about any fashion critic, photographer, or journalist covering fashion. Just about everyone's work goes on something that could be considered a "blog" these days. Lots of journalists write for what you might call a blog, but would they most accurately be described as "bloggers"?
I'd argue no — not anymore. Especially since a new kind of site is starting to dominate fashion media, and there's a lot more to them than just blogging — and certainly a lot more to them than personal style blogging. This new site is something between a blog and an online magazine. It's usually the brainchild of a founder who never got into blogging so that people could enthuse over how she looks wearing clothes. They are sites like Into the Gloss, Business of Fashion, and P.S. I Made This. They possess excellent design, routinely produce originally reported articles, and are gaining more and more access to the world's most important fashion people and events. More robust than blogs, they're helmed by talented, trained editors whom the term "blogger" doesn't seem to do justice. Their sites tend to possess fewer resources than those attached to big media companies, like Vogue.com. But no matter: Advertisers are signing up while these fledgling online magazines and newspapers solidify their status as the industry's must-reads. And they're quite comfortably removed from the personal style blogging phenomenon — a fad that finally seems to be on the way out.
The industry became hyper-aware of personal style bloggers a few years ago, when they started sitting in the front rows of fashion week shows. This was, albeit in an industry often rocked by uproar over affronts outsiders would view as benign, a controversial and borderline shocking move. While internet media had been attending shows for several years, the prominent positioning of these "bloggers" unsettled dozens of writers, stylists, and fashion editors who had been plugging away at their own ladder-climbing for a decade or several, striving for a view of the Dolce & Gabbana show on par with Vogue editor Anna Wintour's. And here, some upstart stylish young things with cute faces, immaculate clothing collections, and a keen understanding of the internet and social media had breezed their way up to the front row in a just short time simply by posting to the internet, in an aesthetically pleasing and cohesive fashion, photos of themselves wearing things alongside the occasional snap of some food they might eat. So, what business did these twentysomething — and in some cases, teenage — bloggers have sitting so close to the runway, making the hard work of everyone behind them seem rather pointless?
Well, they had two functions: One, they publicized these shows for sizable audiences of equally fashion-obsessed people. Two, they served as mini-celebrities, who would get photographed, tweeted about, pointed at, and whispered about the way a CW actress might.
This job of being an internet fashion celebrity became very appealing, especially as bloggers started figuring out how to monetize their sites and, more importantly, themselves. They sell banner ads, sure, but those don't even comprise the bulk of some of the most successful fashion bloggers' incomes. Now bloggers like the Man Repeller collect fees just to wear things on their blogs. (Update: Sources told BuzzFeed Fashion that Man Repeller's Leandra Medine has asked for payment in exchange for wearing a brand's clothes on her site, but Medine denies this claim, saying she's never been paid to wear anything on her site.) They also get paid to host parties — something the fashion world is never short on. And they might get deals to write books or collaborate with brands on everything from lines of jewelry (see: Atlantic-Pacific) to fur bow ties (see: Bryanboy). As a result, at fashion week, there seems to be a mad rush to get attention any which way, and young people show up wearing anything that could possibly get them photographed and publicized online. A lot of these attention-seekers are trying to legitimize their own Blonde Salad ambitions.
This shameless preening has a lot to do with why a lot of people in the industry — who quietly roll their eyes at personal style bloggers, disgusted by the medium's shameless narcissism — wouldn't miss them. But in the years following their emergence, a few things always kept that hushed disgust from quashing these blogs:
1. Commerce. These bloggers have large audiences who buy the things they link to.
2. Novelty. Fashion loves the new, the now, the next more than just about any industry. That's exactly what this generation of internet stars represents.
3. The industry's confusion over how to make the most of the internet without anchoring to an already successful personality. Up until a couple years ago, fashion trade paper Women's Wear Daily would run articles that did nothing more than announce a major brand had decided to join Facebook. You can see (and yet, you can't) a brand's logic: Fashion bloggers seemed to have it all figured out already, so why not align with them?
But brands are becoming digitally savvier. The novelty of the personal style blog has worn off. And the best, most successful personal style bloggers either don't even need their sites anymore or have expanded them to be about more than just their personal style.
The smartest, most successful personal style bloggers use their online followings as launching pads for not just those kinds of partnerships, but also modeling and entertainment careers. Fashion Toast's Rumi Neely signed with Next modeling agency and became the face of Forever 21. Bryanboy is now a regular on America's Next Top Model. The Blonde Salad appears to have spokesmodel-esque partnerships with huge brands like Nike and Seven for All Mankind. These incredible successes are part of the reason the personal style blogging medium is simply not self-sustaining. A lot of the earliest successful personal style bloggers are visible enough that they don't seem to need much more than their widely followed Twitter feeds these days to stay visible. This is not necessarily bad for the bloggers, who probably don't want to blog forever. The smartest personal style bloggers think from the beginning about how to use their followings to launch lasting careers that transcend a single website. Should they want to leave their sites behind to pursue what might feel like more meaningful opportunities, they surely could. Fashion never shunned people who were famous in the industry for vaguely discernible reasons, so the earliest personal style bloggers could very well use their fame and following to continue careers as spokesmodels, brand consultants, stylists, etc.
The bloggers who haven't attained much legitimacy in the industry and don't offer anything but photos of themselves are in trouble. Sites centered on personalities don't have legs to stand on if that personality becomes detached. These "cult of personality"-type destinations will have a much harder time selling to larger companies if their founders already have one foot out the door to pursue television careers. How do you sell Atlantic-Pacific or Sea of Shoes without their stars? It's like selling Seinfeld without Seinfeld — you can't have certain products without the people who are those products.
But there may be a shift happening with personal style sites that neatly coinciding with the rise of sites like Into the Gloss. A lot of very successful personal style bloggers now offer more on their sites than just photos of themselves. Kelly Framel is still very much the face of her site, The Glamourai, but she's expanded it to encompass home decor, beauty, and original fashion editorials. Leandra Medine, the Man Repeller, has always included writing with her posts, but has expanded to now offer personal essays from outside contributors and fashion news coverage. These expansions give the sites legs to stand on should the founders ever want to bow out or become so busy with outside engagements and running their sites that they don't have time to post.
Personal style blogs that offer almost nothing but photos of one person wearing clothes only stand to get crushed by this increasingly fierce competition. The personal style bloggers who lack the wherewithal and determination to stay famous offline, or simply the talent needed to expand the content on their sites, won't have lasting careers. The deals they get to wear things on their sites or write about certain brands without revealing the content to be paid for at all may seem great now, but what happens when audiences become savvier to these business transactions? Will their sites maintain the same allure? Will they be as captivating to viewers who might start to assume everything is there just because it's been bought?
Meanwhile, sites like P.S.-I Made This, Into the Gloss, and Business of Fashion stand to make great gains in audience, credibility, and ad sales. These sites have small staffs, their own offices, and founders who prefer to stay behind the scenes. You might not recognize P.S.-I Made This' founder Erica Domesek or Into the Gloss' founder Emily Weiss or Business of Fashion's founder Imran Amed as readily at fashion week as the Blonde Salad — and that's the point. These young editors are producing media that's about more than themselves, and they're doing it without the muscle of legacy media companies like Condé Nast or Time Inc. Practically, the approach makes sense: These editors are in the ideal position to seek outside funding since they're less likely to flee if casting agents come knocking (casting agents might be less likely to come knocking). And they're in a better position to sell to bigger media companies, if they ever wanted to.
For proof of this model's success, look no further than Who What Wear, which Katherine Power and Hillary Kerr started as a blog and grew into a robust fashion and beauty site with a masthead of nearly 20 people.
Personal style blogs won't disappear tomorrow. And many of those who have been quite successful with the medium so far will probably be able to find other things to do with their fashion fame. But without finding a niche to fill outside of their blogs, it's highly unlikely that they'll have anywhere near the longevity of people who want to report on the industry at large — rather than just on how they fit into it.