There was a time when seeing what someone else wore and how they wore it was interesting. Picture it: Stylish people, going about their day, captured by a photographer who appreciated their stand-out look. It was unique and inspirational. But then ‘street style’ came along. That is, not the style of a person who happens to be on the street, but the orchestrated influencer images we are Insta-inundated with today. And eventually, it all became a little bit the same.
“There’s a huge gap between emulating [street style photography pioneer] Bill Cunningham and what’s happening now,” says Gio Staiano, a seasoned photographer of the shows, who works with The New York Times and Now Fashion, among others. “Bill was chasing people down the street who had style and somehow they mixed things up. Sometimes he did a piece based on color or the similarities of what people wore; that was interesting.”
It was, in one word, authentic: That woman was actually crossing the road; that man was actually waiting outside a restaurant for a friend; the person was actually on the phone with someone. But that’s all changed. Now, it’s not unfamiliar to see someone be asked to walk down the street again and again to create the 'perfect,' seemingly 'natural' shot.
“Social media has had a huge impact [on this]," says street style photographer Dvora, who has shot regularly for Vogue.co.uk. "Globalization leaves for less individualism." And that's an astute observation. Full looks (a whole outfit direct from the runway), once reserved only for the pages of magazines, are now a mode of ‘street style.' How many street style images do you see on your social media feed that depict not only the same type of outfit (either polished, put-together, and pristine, or loud and overly-layered) but the same stance, the same face, the same...everything?
So much so that you can now go on the likes of ASOS to find its favorite “stealable” outfits from “The Best Street-Style Looks of 2018.” You can visit a fashion website (including our own!) and see any number of articles showing you where to buy particular pieces. Since when could street style — supposedly underpinned and defined by a celebration of personal and individual style cultivation — become generic enough that it fits into so many trend boxes?
“As print circulations have gone down, that is when the change has come in,” says Phillip Bodenham, director of PR agency Spring London. It was circa 2013 that there seemed to be a boom in the phenomenon. In a piece for The New York Times entitled “The Circus of Fashion," renowned fashion critic Suzy Menkes described the peacocking happening outside shows. What was once a closed-off fashion arena for insiders, members of the press, and buyers, suddenly opened up. It was in the wake of a digital media revolution and the cult of self. Street style, thanks to the likes of The Sartorialist and Tommy Ton, had taken off, and the idea of “real-life clothes,” whether they were or not, reached peak dressing. Everyone knew who Anna Dello Russo was not necessarily because of what she did but because of what she wore — feathers and ball gowns — anywhere, anytime.
There comes the irony that what started out as great and original outfits, daring or aspirational, has begun to dwindle because it became a profitable opportunity for self-promotion — for shopping the look, for over-saturation and homogenization. “There is a genuine difference between the stylish and the showoffs,” wrote Menkes in her piece, noting this to be the issue at the time. The issue now is: When is enough, enough?
"I think it’s unavoidable to take some inspiration from Instagram these days,” says Quinlan, “but it’s so clear what’s genuine and what’s ‘influencer marketing.' I’m always put off if people seem overly sponsored.” And it’s not hard to identify which brands or designs are going to be a hit with the street-style set: usually bright and colorful, statement-y with a bell or a whistle that lends itself to transient novelty. All of which seems to go against the landscape in fashion right now, which is one of personality, diversity, individuality, creativity, and all the things that “real” means, or used to mean.
In her review of the latest Balenciaga collection, pre-fall 2018, Vogue Runway fashion critic Sarah Mower made a point to say this: “Well, just a thought, but are the boring tweed pantsuits the most interesting thing in this Balenciaga collection?” She didn’t mean it as a slight, but because “there’s a distinct emotional gravitational pull towards non-messy design going on. Uncomplicated, well-cut stuff that looks good again.”
It’s true. But why does it feel right? Maybe because it feels real. It is real! You do wear a suit to work — not a boudoir slip and towering platforms, or sleeves that get stuck in doors and a shirt that ties too many ways. So, do we really still want to dress like street style stars? The end of that review might have already answered our question: "Perhaps it’s time for boring to be interesting again."