Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wait a Minute... Who are Street Style Bloggers Anyway?

Complex Magazine's List of "Must Know" Street Style Bloggers circa 2010. Notice they are (nearly) all dudes.
Who gets to count as a street style blogger? Sounds like an easy question to answer, but I'm not so sure it is. Certainly anyone who posts pictures of stylish people "on the streets" has a good case to make that they are one. But what about those people who take pictures at nighttime events, like, say, The Cobra Snake or Last Night's Party? What about people who take pictures of style stars outside fashion shows? Those shots are taken, technically, on the street, but is it the same street as the one the rest of us walk? What about people who repost street style pictures on their Tumblr pages? Do you have to produce original content to be a street style blogger? That requirement is not in place for most other types of style bloggers. Why would it be important for street style ones? And what about people who take street style pictures professionally for magazines and websites? Are they still street style bloggers? Is there a threshold of success after which one transitions away from being a blogger? Must you still be an "amateur" to be one? Neither, for instance, Scott Schuman nor Adam Katz Sinding (whose blog Le 21éme Arrondissement's tagline is now officially "This is NOT a street style blog"), consider themselves bloggers. They both use the word "website" to describe their medium. And yet they still maintain sites that others recognize as street style blogs. Can you be a street style blogger, then, against your own will?

The French "sociologist of science" Bruno Latour has rather forcefully argued that groups are not matter-of-fact social units out there in the real world waiting to be identified — and categorized — by appropriately trained social scientists. Groups, rather, can only be said to exist to the extent that various parties work to make them exist. They are temporary assemblages whose stability fundamentally depends on the actions of group-making in which their members participate. So... unless street style bloggers are acting as a group, defining their parameters, casting nets of interaction, forging themselves into being, etc, etc, there is no such thing as the "street style blogger" per se, at least, not as an identity to occupy and live through.  

But street style bloggers, of course, aren't the only ones who lend meaning to the category of "street style bloggers." There are also blog readers, fashion brands, magazines, amalgamated street style websites like Street Style News and Refinery 29, not to mention the people depicted on street style blogs. All of these are parties with some stake in street style bloggers existing as a category. All of these are part of the collective of actors who bring street style bloggers into being. In their own ways, they also contribute to the form and content of street style blogs. Street style bloggers never act alone. At the very least, you can't have a street style blog without people to depict. And those people are not passive recipients of the bloggers' vision. They dress up. They pose. They leave comments on the bloggers' website. They help shape their own expression through the medium of the street style blog. 

Which brings me to a recent experience I had. The other day I had my first negative reaction from one of the people I posted. That person, whether rightly or wrongly, felt that I had misrepresented them and cast them in a negative light. This caught me, I have to say, by surprise, and I changed the post immediately, so that it was a little less flippant and a little more positive. It had not occurred to me that someone might take my comments the way this person had. To be blunt, I felt like an asshole. But also I felt a little hesitant to change the tone of the post too much. After all, bloggers' stock in trade is their honest self-representation. If it becomes too apparent that they are catering to someone else's interests, be it readers, brands, or even the subjects of their posts, they lose their credibility as a blogger. So while street style bloggers are beholden to all sorts of other interests, they maintain a uniquely defined relationship with their own. The question is: how do they know what those interests are? We talk a lot about staying true to ourselves, but those selves we are being true to are much more slippery than we care to admit. Are you sure you could tell your own interests from those of the brands you partner with? Are you sure you could tell your own opinions from those of the groups you belong to? And are your sure the things you like and relate to are of your own choosing? Are you show the parties with whom you have to contend are not influencing your reading of such things from the start?

Since I've started, for instance, asking people the names of the brands they are wearing I have several times caught myself making decisions about who to photograph based on whether I thought they'd tell an interesting brand story or not. Is this "being true to myself" or some imaginary third party potentially seeing the post? I couldn't tell, so I stopped doing it, or at least attempted to do stop doing it. It remains to be seen whether I can train myself to both ask people what they're wearing and also not pre-judge their suitability to the blog based on what they're wearing. But in any case, it is never entirely clear that the blogger is the one in charge. We can never be sure of who, or what, is acting (Latour 2005: 46).

Reference Cited

Latour, Bruno (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 


  1. i did wonder why the wording on that post had changed...

    these are very interesting considerations. i thought the paragraph about groups made sense. i'd add that in the way you so clearly put it, " acting as a group, defining their parameters, casting nets of interaction, forging themselves into being, etc, etc, there is no such thing as the "street style blogger" per se then style bloggers whose subject is themselves, or the way most people curate their Facebook page, or a fandom centred around a work of fiction, or a YouTube channel, etc, might all be other instances of this kind of society and social unit.

    i'll admit i'm on cold medication so i'm not sure my comment is very succinct.

    1. I get ya, beautiful monday. the self is, in a sense, another name for a vantage point from which to view a larger social unit.


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