Thursday, July 31, 2014

"The Scholar of Street Style." Wait, That's Me!

Photo by Jeff Fusco
Drexel Magazine recently did a piece on me and this project. Read about "The Scholar of Street Style" and the "trench warfare" of Fashion Week here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Philadelphia Street Style: Evan, Sydenham St

While my camera's in the shop I'm continuing to dig through old Lightroom vaults and find photos that, for some reason or other, I never posted. Here's one of Evan, a Suitsupply employee I stopped during his lunch break. I think I decided not to post this before, because he just looks so squeaky clean in this shot, and I don't really do squeaky clean. I prefer at least a modicum of grit. I'm a "street style" photographer after all, and streets are dirty. But perhaps this is a prejudice I ought to work to overcome.

In case you haven't already guessed, Evan is wearing Suitsupply, head to toe, in this image. I heard Tim Gunn recommend this brand to Terry Gross on Fresh Air not that long ago, so you know they must be good. Or at least comping lots of clothes to Tim Gunn. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Philadelphia Street Style: Lisa, 17th St

Here's a shot from a couple of months back that I never quite got around to posting. I've also included, for your reading pleasure, a complete transcript of my interview with her. Enjoy.

Me: What are you wearing today, Lisa?

Lisa: A dress.

End of transcript.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Philly Style Blogger Profile: Ian Michael Crumm

Ian Michael Crumm is a Philly-based style blogger at I've run into him a lot in the last couple of months, at events and around campus. We run in similar blogger circles, both now produce content for Racked Philly, and both may have a little something brewing with a certain New York-based department store. More on that later. In these shots, Ian's wearing a shirt that was a gift from his uncle, linen shorts from Banana Republic, Nike mirror lens sunglasses, a couple of sterling silver bracelets and rings, and navy leather Tommy Bahama shoes with striped socks.
Ian describes his style as "eclectic, colorful, and a little quirky." "I can be refined if I want to," he says, "but there's normally something a little off, a little bright, a little not traditionally supposed to be there." 
His musical taste is pretty Top-40. "I always make statements that I wish I was more musically eclectic," he says, "but I tend to lean [towards] something I can dance to, simple lyrics that are, you know, just fun to bop around to. I'm a big dancer."
Ian started blogging about three and a half years back under a few different blog names. They were fashion blogs, discussing trends in the industry, local events, and looks he likes, but they were largely not based around original content. He curated images, gave his opinion. But he was left wanting "to do something more meaningful." So he started his new eponymous blog ( a year or so back. It's "more about what [he] wear[s]." It fits into the vein of the classic personal style blog: daily outfit posts, artfully posed photos. "I think I’ve just always been a computer person," he told me, "always been on Facebook, and, you know, just all the social networks—an early adopter. And through friends and family and people always complementing what I wore, and just having a general interest in fashion it seemed like a cool fit to start a blog." The blog also complements other fashion projects he's involved in. "I’ve produced some fashion shows before, and [I] do photo-shoot styling and some modeling here and there. So it was just kind of a natural fit." Plus it presents a complete narrative with his major: Communications, with an emphasis on PR and marketing.Blogs like his have become something like an online portfolio.

Ian's blog is a hybrid of the scripted and the spontaneous. Some posts are planned out carefully in advance, like a fashion magazine editorial spread, others simply not. Ian's working on making a larger portion of his content structured and scheduled, "branding" certain days, having a more defined calendar. It makes his blog appear more professional and gives his readers a sense of when they can expect certain kinds of content. Like all bloggers, Ian continually has to think about how to grow his audience, attract new sponsors, and create new opportunities. He feels like he's beginning to get the hang of it, but it's an ongoing process. His blog, like most fashion blogs, is largely image-based, with a few apt descriptions here and there. Images, he says, "make it easy to quickly click, look, enjoy, [and] move on." Who's got time to sit down and read the thousands of high-quality fashion blogs out there today? Better to tumble down a streaming cascade of images."If it's really long," Ian admits of other people's blogs, "I'm gonna skip it." He designs his blog with his own blog-consuming habits in mind.
Over the last few years of blogging, Ian has seen the fashion blogosphere change in some significant ways, first expanding, then contracting. The field is crowded with new players. More and more people see their blogs as entryways into a profession. The line between personal blog and marketing device gets blurrier and blurrier. The change is particularly acute, notes Ian, at New York Fashion Week, which he attends each season. "Even going back six years or so [it was different]." Bloggers, back then, "were the new thing." Not so much anymore. "There are more restrictions for getting into fashion shows." This past season "Mercedes Benz kind of like put the cut on bloggers," reducing their invitations by fifteen percent. "The feel at Lincoln Center," says Ian, "was very interesting last season." There were "multiple lines of security to get into the shows." The mood shifted "from no access to insane access to..." whatever it is we have now. These days "everyone has a blog." "A lot of businesses have blogs, and people have their personal blogs, and then they have more industry specific blogs, and because everyone has blogs now, there's these checks and balances that I feel are being put into place." But at the same time, for the "people who are very very serious," "there are really cool opportunities." Bloggers like Ian are transitioning into more and more of a marketing function, doing collaborations with brands, pursuing professional opportunities. But to do so, they increasingly have to "raise the bar." In this new, crowded fashion blogosphere, only the fittest, savviest bloggers survive. As for Ian, he's recently done collaborations ("collabs") with Kimpton Hotels and Hotel Palomar, putting together a shopping guide for them. He's now prepping for New York Fashion Week.

It's a challenge to cover New York Fashion Week these days. Everyone's doing it. Readers are getting bored of it. You have to find a new angle, a new approach. You have to be aware of what your competition is covering. "I'm always trawling Twitter, Instagram, sometimes searching[ing] different hashtags." Ian spends more time than he's comfortable admitting seeing what other people are tweeting and talking about. Social media is an absolute necessity for a blogger. It's how you build your network. It's how you stay current. It's also something of an addiction. Ian has no real way to estimate how much time a day he spends on social media. He checks Twitter and Instagram first thing in the morning, and before he goes to bed, and even, occasionally, in the middle of the night when he cant' sleep. Social media is global now. "So someone somewhere is posting."
Ian doesn't think we've seen the end of the fashion blog gold rush, though he thinks it's most likely "nearing its peak." Bloggers are beginning to think of what they do differently, even cast off the blogger label. Long-time fashion bloggers like Bryanboy are now re-branding themselves as "Internet entertainers," presenting their content and commentary across media platforms. And as they do so, the blog itself is becoming less important. It's a blogger's brand that matters now, not their blog per se. They have to learn how to leverage it across social media. They have to learn how to collaborate beyond the boundaries of their blog. Ian is committed to exploring this new "free form" frontier.   

Monday, July 21, 2014

Philadelphia Street Style: Najé, Walnut St

Last week I put a new 32GB compact flash card in my Nikon D700, and it promptly stopped working. The "killer card" apparently short-circuited something in the camera. So I sent it off to a repair facility in New York. I felt depressed. I had lost my primary tool for image-making. But I was not content to sit idle. I wanted to shoot, and I wanted to feel liberated from the material dependency I had on my DSLR. Objects be damned! 

So I hit the streets of Center City with an old friend, my trusty Panasonic Lumix GF-1. It's an early generation of a micro-four-thirds with a 20mm pancake lens attached. Long-time readers of Urban Fieldnotes may remember that it's the camera I started this blog with. Two years back I upgraded, frustrated that I was unable to adequately capture the crystal clear figure with a blurred out background look so fundamental to street style imagery these days. But I'm a better photographer than I was then, I figured. And I have the power of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom at my disposal. Figured it was worth seeing whether I could produce better images today with that camera than I could way back then.These images of Najé are the results of that experiment. 
So what do you think? I'm pretty happy with them. Sure, the blur isn't as lush, but they've still got punch. They're still sharp and bold. There's still a separation of elements and reasonably shallow depth of field. Back in the day I could never quite get these full-body shots right. Parallax distorted the bodies so that the heads looked overlarge. Aperture priority rendered the lighting flat and overly shadowed. Now it's just not that hard to compensate for the limits of the lens by crouching and shooting upwards. And I would never condescend to use aperture priority. It's manual or bust, baby. Even with this dinky, amateur camera, correct exposure compensation makes all the difference. I'm beginning to buy into the old photographer credo that camera's don't matter that much. Photographers do. But only just beginning. Because let's be frank: cameras do make a tremendous difference. Otherwise photographers wouldn't drop ten grand on their street style equipment.
Najé in these pictures is wearing an old pair of biker boots that she's had "for about seven years now." They're one of her favorite pieces. The graphic T-shirt she's had for about three years. The shorts used to be her favorite pants, but they started to get lots of holes and wear in them. Typically, she likes that look. She describes her style in general as "distressed." She tends to like clothes more the longer she's had them. But with the pants, "it started to get extreme." So she grabbed a pair of scissors and started cutting. No ruler. No planning in advance. Here are the results. The vest, by the way, she got at Forever 21 a few years back. "It used to be really shiny, now it just looks old. So I like it more now of course."

Najé considers Zöe Kravitz one of her fashion icons. She likes how relaxed her style is, how breezy and care-free. She's "like obsessed" with Kravitz' band, Lolawolf. She's also into Phantogram, the Arcade Fire, and a variety of other indie bands. "I'm really alternative, I guess," she told me. "I’m kind of like all over the place," she went on. "I don’t I like extremes, though." With music and with fashion, she prefers the casual and the comfortable, stuff with good structure that gets better as it ages. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Philadelphia Street Style: Shereece in Vintage Jason Wu, Walnut St

Shereece got this entire silk Jason Wu ensemble from the second-hand clothing chain Buffalo Exchange "for like 15 bucks." The pillbox purse she picked up at Family Dollar for four bucks. Shereece works at a '50s clothing boutique herself, so she's always on the look out for a vintage steal. "This [outfit]," she told me, "kind of fit the mold." She describes her style as "all over the place." "If it feels good," she says, "I'll wear it." But what feels good for her tends towards the cute and the retro, Bettie Page meets Holly Golightly. As for her musical taste, she listens to "pretty much everything," she says. "Right now I’m super heavy into Lady Gaga, but I’ll listen to anything. I’m very open to anything. If it sounds good – if it makes me feel good, I’m all about it."

I hear a lot of this kind of casual, "whatever," "anything that makes me feel good" comment about style when I'm on the streets, and I have no reason to doubt that this, in fact, is how quite a lot of people decide what to wear or to listen to. Their choices are emotional, intuitive, rooted in a sort of everyday hedonism that has little to do with complex symbolism or class-based distinctions. And yet, I can't help but notice that peoples' "comfort zones" are decidedly limited. People may wear whatever feels good, but not all that much, when it comes right down to it, "feels good." We wear what fits our self concept. We wear what we associate with feeling confident or in control. We wear what we've always worn or what those around us or who we admire wear. And when we do so, it feels good. It feels natural. It feels like us. That feeling — of naturalness, of comfort, of "just being ourselves" — has a pattern and a structure to it, even if it is continually evolving. And it always is evolving. Our sense of comfort changes as fashion changes around us. We continually position ourselves, consciously or not, in relation to the fashion of others. Our style, that is, has a history. My job as an anthropologist of style is to begin to see the arch of that history and to capture it — whether through photos or write-ups — as best I can.   

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Philadelphia Street Style: Machy, Chestnut St, and the Politics (or Lack Thereof) of Wearing H&M

As a cultural anthropologist, interested in the symbolic functions of fashion, I've been wondering lately: what does it mean for someone to wear H&M or Zara? What does it say about who they are as a person. Machy here is wearing H&M head to toe. He's not alone. Just about everyone I stop on the streets of Philly is wearing at least one item from one of these ubiquitous fast fashion companies. So here is my provisional answer: it means nothing.
The material culture scholars Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward put out a very readable and fascinating book a couple of years back called Blue Jeans: The Art of the Ordinary. In it they argue that jeans may be the first "post-semiotic" garment. Everyone wears them, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, urban or rural. The fact of wearing them in itself conveys very little about a person. People wear jeans, in fact, because they don't want to put much thought into what they're wearing. They wear them to make their pants a non-issue. They wear jeans because everyone wears jeans.
I wonder if you could make a similar argument about fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara. Are these the first post-semiotic clothing brands? Such a broad range of people I stop on the street wear H&M and Zara it seems impossible to generalize about these people as some kind of demographic. I've stopped punks in H&M, hip hoppers in H&M, part-time drag performers like Machy in H&M. Wearing H&M says nothing about one's race, ethnicity, politics, sexuality, or taste in music. Wearing H&M does not define someone as this kind of person or that. H&M ain't Prada or Hood by Air. Wearing its products isn't meant to send a message. 
If wearing H&M means anything at all it means "I don't have a shit ton of money, so I buy designer-ish clothes for cheap. I'm not ashamed of that. I'm not proud of that. It's just how it is." As Machy put it, "[I shop there] because it's affordable and I'm on a budget." End of story. 

Machy, by the way, describes his style as "Very urban...and slightly hipsterish, I guess. Just laid back, go with the flow." When I further inquired as to what Machy meant by "hipster," he elaborated: "[a]wake up, probably wearing the same pants I wore yesterday kind of style." This is H&M in a nutshell. It is a brand for people who want to look cool, but don't want to invest too much time, energy, or money into the prospect. It's a purchase and move on with your life kind of brand.