Personal Style Blogs: Remediation in the Fashion System
Abstract: This paper endeavors to explain the popularity of personal style fashion blogs in the context of the contemporary fashion system. Given the fundamental similarities and differences between fashion blogs and fashion magazines (representing traditional fashion media), how can we understand the role of personal style blogs in the fashion industry and more specifically, in the realm of fashion media today? Through a textual and visual analysis of several popular personal style blogs (Fashion Toast, the Blonde Salad, the Man Repeller, Atlantic-Pacific), I argue that as relative newcomers to the world of fashion, blogs would have no cultural influence or meaning were it not for the already existing complex systems of meaning in fashion and fashion media. It is therefore more useful to understand these blogs as remediations and new interpretations of fashion media. I review past and contemporary analysis of meaning-making through fashion and the role of fashion media in the fashion system.
Personal style fashion blogs represent a fresh, new and digital addition to the fashion media industry. While bloggers were first known as “fashion-obsessed amateurs” (Kurutz) or “online diarists and hobbyists,”(Phelan) some blogs have risen to fame, become successful businesses, and have viewership statistics that rival those of fashion magazines. On the surface, the blogs seem to be novel, revolutionary participants in the fashion industry– supplanting the influence of traditional cultural gatekeepers (fashion magazine editors).
At the most basic level, personal style blogs are websites run by personal style bloggers, “people who post photos of themselves wearing clothes” (Odell). Arguably, they gained popularity for their perceived authenticity and relatability: instead of reporting to editors and advertisers, using the Internet and their digital cameras, bloggers could post photos of themselves in their self-styled outfits to share with the world. Today’s most popular and influential personal style bloggers have professional-looking sites and project a carefully curated image of themselves, but at their core, they have succeeded by “simply 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”(Odell). If this description seems flippant, in many ways it is, and in many ways it represents the way in which personal style bloggers were first received in the fashion industry. However, personal style blogs that top the current “most influential personal style blog” lists (Style 99 and Sherman), like Fashion Toast, the Blonde Salad, the Man Repeller, and Atlantic-Pacific, have succeeded in gaining followers and influence not only through presenting a democratized version of fashion, outside the traditional fashion media, but also because they were able to appeal to readers through their stylish wardrobes, sense of style, beauty, and other forms of social and cultural capital. In this paper, I endeavor to answer the following questions: Given the fundamental similarities and differences between fashion blogs and fashion magazines, how can we understand the role of personal style blogs in the fashion industry and more specifically, in the realm of fashion media today? Are these blogs fulfilling a different role in society than fashion magazines have, and continue to?
In this paper, I argue that as relative newcomers to the world of fashion, blogs would have no cultural influence or meaning were it not for the already existing complex systems of meaning in fashion and fashion media. It is therefore more useful to understand personal style fashion blogs as remediations and new interpretations of already existing fashion media. The functions of personal style blogs can be closely likened to the functions of fashion magazine editorials and advertisements. Like other new technologies and media, instead of replacing older technologies, blogs perform many of the same functions that traditional fashion media have performed in the past, and continue to perform. To illustrate this conception of personal style blogs as remediations of different, older types of fashion content, I will discuss concepts of dialogism and intertextuality as they relate to fashion media. I will first turn to a discussion of fashion and its social and cultural meanings, and then to a discussion of the structure of fashion media as a meaning-making system. I will then analyze specific examples of personal style blogs and show how they are instances of a larger phenomenon of digital remediation of traditional fashion media.
As cultural artifacts, Irvine explains, fashion and the fashion media are given meaning through the social and cultural networks they are part of: “symbolic artefacts like books, movies, music, and digital multimedia function as forms of distributed collective cognition, allowing many members of a culture to engage with a complex symbolic activity of their culture over long time spans” (Irvine 7). The fields of linguistics and semiotics are helpful in breaking down these component units that come together to generate meaning within cultures. The rules for understanding these meanings are “necessarily recursive and dialogic, enabling anyone in a language and cultural community to create an unlimited number of new expressions (e.g., in words, images, sounds) from limited means (using the finite grammar, dictionary, and encyclopedia of a linguistic group”(Irvine 5). Fashion media, both the digital/new and print/older, can be understood through these terms.
To understand the role of fashion blogs, we must understand fashion media more generally. In turn, to understand the importance and social function of the fashion media, we must also understand fashion as being built on a complex of interconnected social meanings and relationships, operating in the realm of shared culture. In the following section, I will review the work of Thorstein Veblen, Pierre Bourdieu, and other contemporary scholars who have performed close analyses of the sociology of fashion and parsed the ways in which fashion is given social meaning and used as a marker of distinction. I will also examine scholarly works investigating the “fashion system” and the fashion media, including the work of the semiotician Roland Barthes and contemporary media and marketing scholars.
Meaning-Making through Fashion
In The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen discusses the economic and social issues around what he calls “conspicuous consumption.” He also usefully explores the concept of taste and consumption patterns, and how they relate to social classes and stratification. Expenditure on clothing is unique and interesting, according to Veblen, because it is an immediately discernible outward sign of our “pecuniary standing.” Written in the late nineteenth century, Veblen noted the functions of fashion that remain true today: people buy and wear clothes not for the sole purpose of protecting themselves, but rather, for the sake of “respectable appearance” and to “appear well-dressed.” Veblen also notes the propensity for people to sacrifice comfort for the sake of “fashionableness.” These observations illustrate the idea that clothing exists for more than practical needs; fashion is indeed marked by meaning and outward socio-economic signs.
Penned nearly one hundred years later, Bourdieu’s Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste , like Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, situates fashion and its consumption in the realm of society, culture and social capital. Also like Veblen, Bourdieu analyzes the ways in which fashion choices and taste in the realm of culture mark class and demonstrate social distinction. There exists, therefore, a social hierarchy governing the arts that is regulated by education, which is in turn affected by social origin. Art and other cultural products are only given meaning by those who have the “cultural competence” or “code” into which the work of art was “encoded”(Bourdieu 2).
Bourdieu is fascinated by consumption habits and undertakes a deep analysis of these habits as they relate to the sphere of culture, surveying and interviewing people on their tastes and buying patterns, paying careful attention to differences among different social classes. Taste and aesthetic preferences “are the practical affirmation of an inevitable difference;” and Bourdieu also claims that classes distinguish themselves from one another through a distaste and rejection of the lifestyle choices of other classes (Bourdieu 56). Clothing, and fashion therefore emerge as outward markers of a person’s position in society, “as a rank to be upheld or a distance to be kept”(Bourdieu 57).
Bourdieu also analyzes the role of luxury goods in the world of fashion. On the production side, luxury goods function as markers of distinction, as they are “emblems of ‘class’”(Bourdieu 232). Luxury goods therefore fulfill a symbolic function, marking those who consume them as members of the dominant class (Bourdieu 232). Bourdieu’s points about taste and cultural consumption as markers remain relevant; while they may not always be markers of social class in a dichotomous working class-bourgeoisie relationship, choices in consumption certainly remain markers of difference.
Numerous other scholars have theorized the role of fashion in society and the system of meanings attached to sartorial choices on individual and group levels. Indeed according to Yuniya Kawamura, author of the book Fashion-ology: An Introduction to Fashion Studies, fashion should be treated both as a cultural practice and as a symbolic product (32). To understand fashion as culture and the shared social meanings associated with it, “it is necessary to understand not only the technical processes and arrangement for manufacturing and distribution of cultural phenomena but also the culture through which the products are given meaning”(Kawamura 32). Fashion, through clothing as its physical and representational manifestation, is social and must be interpreted through its social milieu (Kawamura 33).
While also using sociology to understand the symbolic meaning and cultural capital associated with fashion, Kawamura brings the work of Veblen and Bourdieu into the contemporary moment. She explains that social class is less evident today through choices in the individual’s consumption of fashion: “in postmodern cultures, consumption is conceptualized as a form of role playing, as consumers seek to project conceptions of identity that are continually evolving” (Kawamura 99). Instead of marking social class, differences in style can signify other things like lifestyle and personal taste as markers of identity (Kawamura 99). Fashion, therefore, while not necessarily still exclusively a marker of economic standing, nevertheless remains an important way for consumers to construct and project an image and identity. This reinforces the social embededness of fashion, and the need to understand it in the context of shared culture.
From a marketing perspective, branding and distinction in fashion still exist and serve consumers needs in different ways: “consumers buying branded fashion products enjoy not only the functional needs of the products but also the excitement and other social needs (e.g., self-image projection, showing desirable lifestyle and social status etc.) (Choi 3). Fashion marketers understand the social and psychological needs of consumers, which have little to do with the physical properties of the clothes, but rather, with the social meanings attached to them. In Fashion Marketing, Mike Easey, echoing Bourdieu, explains, “fashion goods enable people to show identification with, or separation from, certain social groups”(63).
Fashion Media and Cultural Gatekeepers
An essential component of the fashion industry is the fashion media. Just as fashion can be understood as a system of meanings, the fashion media too play an important role in determining the social meanings and significations of fashion, and in educating readers about style. This topic has been studied closely by theorists like Roland Barthes. In The Fashion System, Barthes uses semiotics to study women’s fashion in French fashion magazines and notes that the fashion media industry is an essential part of the fashion system, which continuously educates consumers on “fashionability” (not necessarily pushing specific products).
Through this exhaustive semiotic study of women’s clothing, Barthes performs a structural analysis of clothing described in fashion magazines between 1958 and 1959, mostly focusing on the French magazines Elle and Le Jardin des Modes. Barthes studies the written system of fashion instead of an analysis of the “real (or visual) system,” because by being discussed and represented through the written word, fashion becomes “an autonomous cultural object, with its own original structure” and therefore becomes “narrative.”(Barthes Foreword x).
Barthes addresses the economic implications of the translation and meaning-making through the written word, arguing that clothing producers and consumers must have different levels of consciousness about clothing to ensure that consumers buy clothes faster than the rate of clothing’s “dilapidation” (Barthes Foreword xi). He explains, “a veil must be drawn around the object—a veil of images, of reasons, of meaning;” this veil is created to make consumers desire these objects, even when they do not need them (Barthes Foreword xi). The fashion media can therefore be understood as creating a system of meaning around clothing.
Perhaps most fascinating and relevant to today’s fashion scene and the rising influence of fashion blogs is Barthes’ description of “the woman of fashion. ” She is “imperatively feminine, absolutely young….her work does not keep her from being present at every festive occasion throughout the year or the day”(Barthes 260). Barthes describes this woman as a world traveler who likes all types of music. Her description is intrinsically linked to mass culture, consumption, and aspiration: “the woman of fashion is simultaneously what the reader is and what she dreams of being” (Barthes 261). This aspiration remains applicable today: both magazines and digital formats (blogs and fashion websites) present Barthes’ “woman of fashion.” It can be argued that the same characteristics are valued today: youth, beauty, worldliness, and tasteful consumption set the “woman of fashion” apart from the average woman, and are constantly repeated and echoed across fashion media.
Other researchers have explored the contemporary fashion mediascape through the lenses of sociology, media studies, business and marketing. According to Kawamura’s sociological investigation of the fashion industry, clothing producers and designers are just one part of the entire system, and would not survive without those who help disseminate “the idea of fashion, ” namely “fashion journalists, editors, advertisers, marketers/merchandisers and publicists” (73-4). The system “creates symbolic boundaries between what is fashion and what is not fashion and also determines what legitimate aesthetic taste is”(Kawamura 73). Because the fashion system operates in culture, it “invents new cultural meanings, and this invention is undertaken by opinion leaders who help shape and refine existing cultural meanings”(Kawamura 76). Through the construction of these cultural meanings, opinion leaders become “sources of meaning for the masses”(Kawamura 76). Thus fashion becomes fashion through the mediation and interpretive work of fashion media, an intrinsic part of the fashion system. Fashion journalists and editors function as gatekeepers by evaluating designers’ work, choosing which work qualifies as fashion and should be shared with the masses, and then disseminating this work. Fashion magazines are most relevant, according to Kawamura, because “they directly serve the interests of the fashion industry” and “diffuse ideas to encourage the selling of latest styles”(81).
Echoing this idea of the importance of fashion magazines in mediating what qualifies as fashion, and feeding that to the masses, Tungate explains in Fashion Brands, “over the years, the fashion press has handed many designers a place in history”(132). Designers gain visibility and access to consumers through magazine coverage. Magazine content is also closely linked to advertising content; the fashion world is a “relatively small and self-contained community in which stylist, art directors, photographers and editors flit from magazines to advertising campaigns and back again”(Tungate 131). This interconnected fashion system, and the convergence among different types of content–from production to presentation to consumption–helps set the stage for the rise in popularity and influence of online fashion media, including personal style blogs.
Celebrity culture also plays an important role in the fashion world today. Some scholars have theorized that the increasingly visible role of stars in articulating what is fashionable and stylish has coincided with shifts in an understanding of fashion in contemporary consumer culture, which suggests that there are a plethora of choices when it comes to fashion, and through fashion choices, everyone can be anyone (Warner 382). Warner explains that this shift has provoked concerns “that signifiers of cultural identity such as fashion will lose their symbolic value”(Warner 382). In light of this perceived fear over the loss of symbolic value in fashion, celebrity images today play an important role in restoring the symbolic meaning of fashion and “in mediating the symbolic value of fashion to audiences/consumers”(Warner 382). Symbolic value through fashion continues to exist, therefore, albeit mediated through different types of cultural intermediaries (Warner 383).
The Fashion System Today: Transmediation and Remediation
Today’s fashion system has changed from the system described by Barthes, Bourdieu, and Veblen, but the underlying principles defining the system remain the same. The social meanings and cultural symbolism attached to fashion, mediated by the fashion media, are still more important than any physical property of clothing. And although contemporary, postmodern notions of fashion reject the view that clothing remains first and foremost a marker of class, and is instead a marker of individual identity (Kawamura 31), the fashion media (sometimes, but not always through the leveraging of celebrity personas) continue to police and control popular perceptions of fashion and taste. Furthermore, the perceived shift away from class markers to markers of uniqueness still occur through the same processes and operate through scarcity. Luxury brands remain successful and sought-after social and cultural markers: “luxury designer fashion brands are usually associated with differentiation, exclusivity, and innovation” and “consumers of luxury designer fashion brands use the brands to classify themselves from others”(Choi 104).
The fashion system has undoubtedly evolved, and digital media forms, including personal style blogs–in addition to traditional fashion media like magazines–now address and mediate fashion content. Part of today’s digital fashion media content is characterized by “transmediation,” a symptom of the fact that “we live in a post-digital analog-digital continuum, a system of traditional media artifacts and media forms like books and magazines” that exist alongside digital platforms (Irvine 19). Transmediation occurs when we experience “the representation of the ‘same’ media ‘content’ across different technical-material platforms from analog to digital” (Irvine 19). In terms of fashion media, transmediation occurs when we see the same advertisements in a fashion magazine, on a billboard, on a magazine’s website, and on Instagram or Facebook. In addition to transmediation, new forms of fashion media have emerged, including fashion blogs.
Using the same grammar and encyclopedias of fashion, style, and consumption, fashion blogs can be understood as remediations of older forms of fashion media. They “presuppose a shared context of knowledge, prior forms of expression, and rules and procedures for possible new moves in the ongoing dialogue”(Irvine 13). Personal style blogs use the grammar of the fashion world in the text and photography of blog posts, and the posing and styling of bloggers. The blogs appeal to notions of social distinction through style and the consumption of luxury goods, and present a worldly and stylish “woman of fashion.” Through repeatedly picturing the same blogger in different outfit posts, and by sharing pieces of the blogger’s life through text and photos in blog posts, they construct a relatable persona so that bloggers function as celebrities to their audiences. Overall, popular personal style bloggers socialize their readers into the world of fashion and “good taste,” much like fashion magazines and other forms of traditional fashion media.
Personal style blogs set themselves apart from traditional fashion media, at least at their inception (they first began to get notice in the fashion world in 2006) by virtue of their perceived “authenticity,” “amateur” nature, and their place outside the nexus of power in fashion media. However, personal style blogs, while an alternative to fashion magazines, did not emerge from a vacuum and appeal to viewers in many of the same ways that fashion editorials and advertisements have in the past. Today popular personal style bloggers have monetized their sites and make money through banner ads, wear clothes provided by designers in organic-looking posts (they look just like ordinary outfit posts, but have links underneath to websites where viewers can purchase the items), and collaborate with a variety of brands and designers–from high street to luxury brands.
In 2012, Women’s Wear Daily’s gave some insight into the business of blogging, and the collaborations between brands and bloggers:
“For between $5,000 and $20,000, a brand can work with an influential blogger to host an event (plus airfare, hotel and entertainment, of course) — one that gets upward of a few million page views a month and will cross-promote the brand on the blogger’s site (although the jury is still out on proving ROI from page views, with sales being the only concrete measure). Starting from $20,000 to $25,000 (and up), a company can book a blogger for various weeklong projects during Fashion Week — with some bloggers fetching nearly $50,000 for even longer-term partnerships.” (Strugatz)
The most popular personal style bloggers today have millions of page views per month and Instagram followers in the hundreds of thousands to millions. As mentioned in the quote about the business of blogging above, these bloggers sometimes become fashion world celebrities in their own right, are invited to fashion shows and collaborate with both luxury and mass market brands on advertising campaigns and designing collections. The existence of such collaborations indicates the perception within the fashion world of their value and influence on consumers. Most fashion bloggers combine both “high” and “low” fashion and present their own unique style and personality.
Today’s popular personal style blogs remain “fashion diaries” of beautiful and stylish women (mostly), but have evolved in terms of production value. Some have expanded beyond personal style blogging to include other content, like the Man Repeller, which features articles about fashion and popular culture. Personal style blogs that have remained primarily style blogs, however, are no longer casual productions; as Lauren Sherman of fashionista.com explains: “Today, the girl needs more than an outfit, a boyfriend, and a camera. Bloggers need to think about production quality, editorial strategy, and affiliate programs to really gain a foothold on the web. They are more like editors, creating publications worthy of a million-person audience than a few thousand super-fans” (Sherman). Photo-shoots for the blog posts—arguably the most important element of personal style blogs– require location scouting, “’styling, hair makeup, photography, art direction, retouching, copywriting and posting’”(Strugatz).
The following blog posts are examples of typical personal style blog posts, culled from the most popular and influential personal style blogs (listed above). The posts embed constitutive units exemplifying hallmark characteristics of the fashion media and fashion system, described by already existing theory and studies. These characteristic units are: the presentation of social distinction through style and the consumption of luxury goods, familiarity and the construction of celebrity, discourse about “good taste” that socializes readers into the world of fashion, and finally, overall, the presentation of a worldly and stylish “woman of fashion.”
The following is one photograph from a post entitled “Grip It” on the blog Fashion Toast.
The blogger, Rumi Neely, is attractive and posing much in the same way a model would pose in an editorial or a fashion ad. In fact, the entire photograph looks like it could have been pulled from a magazine. The significance of the text underneath the photograph, discussing what she predicts could be the next “it” shoe, following the popularity of Birkenstocks, is twofold. First, it situates her in the fashion world by showing her knowledge of existing trends. Second, it shows that she has her only personal style, not simply following trends, but creating them. By illustrating and predicting a new trend, she is shaping existing cultural meanings and effectively making meaning for her audience.
The following photograph is from another Fashion Toast post entitled “Cloud Formations.” Like the “Grip It” photos, these present the blogger as a beautiful, stylish woman, much like a model.
As Barthes explained in The Fashion System, it is important to consider the written word in addition to the visual. The friendly and casual accompanying text to the “Cloud Formations” photographs serve to personalize the photographs and make the reader feel closer to the blogger. The text (below) also shows that the blogger is wearing luxury goods from known designers like Celine and Theory. These branded luxury items, mixed with her own styling and non-luxury branded clothing, serve to mark her individual identity while simultaneously appealing to notions of scarcity and exclusivity.
The Man Repeller post called “A Wedding Outfit that Doesn’t Suck” likewise depicts and mentions luxury brands, which function as social and cultural markers of differentiation and uniqueness. Her Mark Cross bag and Carolina Herrera blouse and skirt are pricey, and the value of these pieces is constructed through her styling of the outfit and the accompanying text that identifies the brands of the pieces. The photo is also of professional quality, and like those of other personal style blogs, resembles editorial style photography found in fashion magazines. The fact that the post links to online retailers that carry the clothing the blogger is wearing in the photos signifies the blog post is functioning as an advertisement as well.
Atlantic-Pacific, another popular personal style blog, exemplifies the presentation of what Barthes called “the woman of fashion.” Like the Man Repeller, Fashion Toast, and other top personal style blogs, the photographs are of professional quality, requiring all the work that entails, and likening the posts to fashion magazine editorial. Atlantic-Pacific also functions as advertisements by linking to retailers where the clothes and accessories depicted can be purchased by readers. The blogger wear luxury branded goods like a Chanel bag, Christian Louboutin shoes, and jewelry by Cartier and Hermes.“Bows and Lace”
The presentation of her style and personality, in conjunction with the fact that every post on the blog pictures the blogger, construct a relatable personality to which readers can identify. This personality also functions to create “a woman of fashion” who is socially distinct from others through her taste and the clothes she wears. She is an urban dweller, according to the location of most of her photographs), who also travels, as evidenced by the post “Life Lately,” which pictures the blogger on the beach and in a tropical-looking location. This fits perfectly with Barthes’ description of the “woman of fashion,” who “leaves the city every weekend and travels constantly, to Capri, to the Canary Islands, to Tahiti, and each time she travels she goes to the South; she stays only in mild climates”(Barthes 260).
Finally, to illustrate the construction of celebrity personality and the leveraging of a conception of style and luxury goods to mark differentiation and exclusivity, I will turn to the world famous Italian blog, The Blonde Salad. Chiara Ferragni, the blogger figuratively behind The Blonde Salad, is always in front of the camera. Extremely photogenic and beautiful, she has risen to fashion celebrity status and has over 2.1 million followers on Instagram. Her blog posts show her traveling the world, collaborating with numerous designers to market and advertise their products, and to create her own lines in collaboration with various brands. Her photos, like those mentioned above, could belong in fashion magazines due to their editorial style and high production value. Her jewelry and watches are consistent markers of taste and luxury consumption (she is never seen without her Rolex or Cartier watches and Cartier jewelry), and her style and personality, constructed through the thousands of photographs of her modeling her style render her appealing to her many followers. Like Barthes’ “woman of fashion,” she is simulatanously relatable to the reader, and a representation of her dreams and aspirations. Consider the following photographs from the Blonde Salad, which exemplify the presentation of a conception of “good taste,” the consumption of luxury goods as a marker of social distinction, and the construction of the personality of a “woman of fashion.”
While the fashion system and fashion media have evolved and changed since Thorstein Veblen first wrote about social distinction through fashion, and since the first fashion magazines were published, the underlying structures of social and cultural meaning continue to exist today. Since the late nineteenth century, “a symbiotic, tripartite relationship between clothing mass production, fashion journalism, and mass-media advertising” has been steadfastly in place (Hill ix). The fashion media, particularly fashion magazines and journalists and editors have mediated what clothing and styles qualify as fashion and “good taste” and presented those choices to the masses. The fashion media have built upon notions of social distinction through luxury brands and stylistic choices filtered through taste and aesthetic preferences.
The expansion of fashion media to the digital realm has not only included the presence traditional fashion publications online, but also a rise in different fashion and style-focused blogs, like personal style blogs. Through their use of the grammar of the fashion world, photographic conventions, and the set of shared cultural and social meanings, personal style blogs can be understood as a remediation of older, traditional fashion media. These blogs continue to educate readers on the definition of fashion, beauty, and femininity. They have also constructed a new notion of a fashion world celebrity. Although originally situated outside the nexus of power in the fashion system, through large readership rates, popular bloggers have accrued cultural capital in the fashion world, attending fashion shows and partnering with all types of brands. Thus personal style blogs fulfill many of the same function as traditional fashion media, albeit with slight differences in format and through the construction of a relatable, celebrity, “woman of fashion” blogger figure.
Indeed, instead of replacing fashion magazines, popular personal style blogs have been integrated into older forms of fashion media, with publications like New York Magazine’s “The Best of the Week’s Style Blogs” feature. According to digital media theory, “we continually navigate and learn new configurations of old and new media, and discover that all media are inter-related, cross-reference each other, and become ‘sources’ for each other’s ‘content”(Irvine 19). Furthermore, in the context of a perceived loss in the symbolic meaning of fashion, as elaborated by Warner, personal style blogs have effectively constructed a new type of celebrity for the fashion-obsessed masses to look up to as cultural intermediaries.
While it is clear that current iterations and mediations of the fashion media are part of the already existing network of meanings attached to fashion, further research would be useful in determining how audiences consume, decode, and interact with the content of personal style blogs in comparison to other forms of fashion media. How much does social status through markers like luxury brands matter today? Do personal style blog readers feel that bloggers have lost an aura of “authenticity” through their integration in the global fashion system? What will the next evolution yield in the fashion media? This and many other questions remain unanswered, and would make fascinating follow-up studies to the analysis presented here.
“Atlantic-Pacific.” Atlantic-Pacific. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014. <http://atlantic-pacific.blogspot.com/>.
Barthes, Roland. The Fashion System. Berkeley: U of California, 1990. Print.
“The Blonde Salad.” The Blonde Salad. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.theblondesalad.com/>.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. Print.
Choi, Tsan-Ming, ed. Fashion Branding and Consumer Behaviors: Scientific Models. New York, NY: Springer, 2014. Print.
Cowles, Charlotte. “The Best of the Week’s Style Blogs, Fall Edition.” The Cut. New York Magazine, 15 Nov. 2013. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/11/best-of-the-weeks-style-blogs-fall-edition.html>.
Easey, Mike, ed. Fashion Marketing. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.
“Fashiontoast – Fashion, Style, and Travel Blog by Rumi Neely.” Fashiontoast. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.fashiontoast.com/>.
Hill, Daniel Delis. “Preface.” As Seen in Vogue: A Century of American Fashion in Advertising. Lubbock: Texas Tech UP, 2004. Ix-Xi. Print.
Irvine, Martin. “Hybridity-Remix-Dialogism: Introduction – Google Docs.” Hybridity-Remix-Dialogism: Introduction – Google Docs. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2014. <https://docs.google.com/document/d/1o8CvgZ8ZMUcznjg6jkAVSRx5XvV52X5rC2AIJLEemOI/preview?pli=1>.
Kawamura, Yuniya. Fashion-ology: An Introduction to Fashion Studies. Oxford: Berg, 2005. Print.
Kurutz, Steven. “Fashion Bloggers, Posted and Represented.” The New York Times.29 Sept. 2011. Web. 1 May 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/29/fashion/fashion-bloggers-get-agents.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.
“Man Repeller.” Man Repeller. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014. <http://www.manrepeller.com/>.
Odell, Amy. “Why The Era Of Personal Style Blogs Must Come To An End.” BuzzFeed. N.p., 13 June 2013. Web. 01 May 2014. <http://www.buzzfeed.com/amyodell/why-the-era-of-personal-style-blogs-must-come-to-an-end>.
Phelan, Hayley. “Fashionista,” Fashionista. 20 Aug 2013. Web. 1 May 2014,<http://fashionista.com/2013/08/how-personal-style-bloggers-are-raking-in-millions/>.
Rocamora, Agnès. “Hypertextuality And Remediation In The Fashion Media.”Journalism Practice 6.1 (2012): 92-106. Routeledge. 2012. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.
Sherman, Lauren. “The Most Influential Personal Style Bloggers Right Now.” Fashionista. N.p., 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://fashionista.com/2013/01/influential-fashion-style-bloggers-2013#awesm=~oCYqAylcjb76rq>.
Strugatz, Rachel. “To Pay or Not to Pay: A Closer Look at the Business of Blogging.” Women’s Wear Daily. N.p., 5 June 2012. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.wwd.com/media-news/digital/a-closer-look-at-the-business-of-blogging-5942163?page=2>.
“Style99 | The 99 Most Influential Fashion & Beauty Blogs.” Signature9 99. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014. <http://www.signature9.com/style-99>.
Tungate, Mark. Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara. London: Kogan Page, 2008. Print.
Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. 1899. Project Gutenberg. Web. 17 Apr. 2014. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/833/833-h/833-h.htm#link2HCH0007>.
Warner, H. “Fashion, Celebrity and Cultural Workers: SJP as Cultural Intermediary.” Media, Culture & Society 35.3 (2013): 382-91. Sage Publications, 9 Apr. 2013. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
The topic of this bibliographic review is fashion, and more specifically, exploring the ways in which symbolic value is generated in the cultural realm of fashion. Although the following books and articles do not necessarily focus solely on fashion, they were carefully chosen for their insights into the topic of the generation of social meaning and symbolic value through clothing and fashion.
Barthes, Roland. The Fashion System. Berkeley: U of California, 1990. Print.
In this exhaustive semiotic study of women’s clothing, Roland Barthes performs a structural analysis of clothing described in fashion magazines between 1958 and 1959, mostly focusing on the French magazines Elle and Le Jardin des Modes. Barthes focuses on the written system of fashion instead of an analysis of the “real (or visual) system.” This is because by being discussed and represented through the written word, fashion becomes “an autonomous cultural object, with its own original structure” and therefore becomes “narrative.”
Barthes is concerned with the translation of fashion through language in fashion magazines. He also addresses the economic implications of such translation and meaning-making, arguing that clothing producers and consumers must have different levels of consciousness about clothing to ensure that consumers buy clothes faster than the rate of clothing’s “dilapidation” (Foreword xi). He explains, “a veil must be drawn around the object—a veil of images, of reasons, of meaning;” this veil is created to make consumers desire these objects, even when they do not need them (Foreword xi). Barthes’ book analyzes written fashion to understand clothing as a system of meaning.
Barthes undertakes an in-depth semiological analysis of clothing as objects and as a set of collective representations through language, which complements images in magazines. The book is divided into three main sections: methods, the vestimentary code (analyzing the structure of the signifier, structure of the signified, and structure of the sign), and the rhetorical system (signifier, signified and the sign). To those unfamiliar with semiotics and semiology, this analysis might seem tedious, but Barthes makes important points in breaking down examples of written fashion.
Perhaps most fascinating and relevant to today’s fashion scene is Barthes’ description of “the woman of fashion. ” She is “imperatively feminine, absolutely young….her work does not keep her from being present at every festive occasion throughout the year or the day”(260). Barthes describes this woman as a world traveler who likes all types of music. Her description is intrinsically linked to mass culture, consumption, and aspiration: “the woman of fashion is simultaneously what the reader is and what she dreams of being” (261). This aspiration remains applicable today: both magazines and digital formats (blogs and fashion websites) present Barthes’ “woman of fashion.” It can be argued that the same characteristics are valued today: youth, beauty, worldliness, and tasteful consumption set the “woman of fashion” apart from the average woman.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. Print.
In his extensive study of taste and consumption habits and their role in marking social class, Bourdieu explores the economic logic of cultural goods. From a sociological and anthropological perspective, Bourdieu asserts that cultural practices and consumption habits are the products of upbringing and education. Throughout the book, he shows how social and economic factors come into play in the production and consumption of culture. While Bourdieu does not deal with fashion exclusively, instead focusing more on the visual arts, music, and mass media, his analysis is useful in its explication of the way in which meanings around cultural artifacts like fashion are socially constructed and function as markers of class.
Tastes in the realm of culture, according to Bourdieu, operate as markers of class and social distinction. There exists, therefore, a social hierarchy governing the arts that is regulated by education, which is in turn affected by social origin. Art and other cultural products are only given meaning by those who have the “cultural competence” or “code” into which the work of art was “encoded”(2). Furthermore, aesthetic preferences or taste serve to classify the classifier (6); people distinguish themselves in society “by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar” (6). The differentiation marked between “lower, coarse, vulgar, venal, servile” or “natural enjoyment” and “distinguished pleasures” inherently declares the superiority of those who enjoy the so-called refined, or “sublimated” pleasures (7). For this reason, Bourdieu argues that art and cultural consumption are worthy of analysis and scholarly interest; for, they “fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences”(7).
Bourdieu is fascinated by consumption habits and undertakes a deep analysis of these habits as they relate to the sphere of culture, surveying and interviewing people on their tastes and buying patterns, paying careful attention to differences among different social classes. Taste and aesthetic preferences “are the practical affirmation of an inevitable difference;” and Bourdieu also claims that classes distinguish themselves from one another through a distaste and rejection of the lifestyle choices of other classes (56). Clothing, and fashion therefore emerge as outward markers of a person’s position in society, “as a rank to be upheld or a distance to be kept”(57).
Bourdieu is interested in all kinds of consumption, which he addresses comprehensively throughout the book. While his work on clothing and fashion is thinner, he nevertheless offers important insights into the ways in which we can understand the social functions of fashion. In the Chapter “The Habitus and the Space of Life-Styles,” Bourdieu explores the phenomenon of interest in self-presentation, and how this varies across classes. While working class people are more interested in “being,” the middle classes prioritize “seeming,” which affects patterns of consumption in both food and clothing (200). These different priorities vis-à-vis clothing and appearance stem from practical concerns: money and attention given to self-presentation is directly proportionate to “the chances of material or symbolic profit they can reasonably expect from it”(202). Economics, and more specifically, the labor market, therefore play an essential role in determining taste and the way in which people consume fashion. This corresponds to an awareness of the “market” value of beauty, which extends beyond the realm of clothing and into manners, mannerisms, and makeup (206). Capital and social status determine and organize preferences in the realm of clothing (and food and cosmetics) (208).
Continuing to consider fashion from an economic perspective, Bourdieu discusses fashion as a cultural good, and the function of luxury in the chapter “The Dynamics of the Fields.” On the production side, luxury goods function as markers of distinction, as luxury goods are “emblems of ‘class’”(232). Luxury goods therefore fulfill a symbolic function, marking those who consume them as members of the dominant class (232). While luxury producers, including fashion houses, are aware of their role as markers of distinction, Bourdieu maintains that artists (and designers) are often unaware of their social functions in marking class and difference (234).
Bourdieu’s comprehensive sociological and anthropological study of taste, class and consumption is certainly useful for its insights on the interplay between fashion and the social meanings associated with sartorial choices and consumption. However, some might argue that his arguments and examples foregrounding differences between the “working class” and “bourgeoisie” are dated. While some scholars have discussed the democratization of culture and fashion, Bourdieu’s points about taste and cultural consumption as markers remain relevant—they may not always be markers of social class, but choices in consumption certainly remain markers of difference.
Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. 1899. Project Gutenberg. Web. 17 Apr. 2014. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/833/833-h/833-h.htm#link2HCH0007>.
Veblen’s book is an in-depth discussion of the economic and social issues around what Veblen calls “conspicuous consumption.” He explores the concept of taste and consumption patterns, and how they relate to social classes and stratification. In Chapter 7, “Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture,” he focuses on people’s spending habits on clothing. Expenditure on clothing is unique and interesting, according to Veblen, because it is an immediately discernible outward sign of our “pecuniary standing.”
Veblen’s discussion of dress as it relates to social distinction emphasizes an important fact that defines fashion as much today as it did in the late nineteenth century: people buy and wear clothes not for the sole purpose of protecting themselves, but rather, for the sake of “respectable appearance” and to “appear well-dressed.” Veblen also notes the propensity for people to sacrifice comfort for the sake of “fashionableness,” something that also remains true today.
Economic considerations are essential to any discussion of fashion. Veblen notes that clothes that are cheap are regarded unfavorably, and conversely, expensive garments are correlated with beauty and goodness. Aesthetics are therefore inextricably linked to economics: only costly articles of clothing are deemed beautiful, while cheap and counterfeit clothing are lower in aesthetic value. The link between economics and fashion is even deeper, according to Veblen. Clothes not only show that the wearer can afford their consumption, but they also show that the wearer is not a laborer, distancing him/her from industrial production and the working class. Expensive clothes place the wearer firmly in the realm of consumption, and outside the realm of production. Women’s clothing is a stark example of this: high heels, corsets, skirts, and long hair all make movement, and therefore manual labor, difficult.
The discomforts associated with sartorial and beauty trends for women persist today, which make Veblen’s arguments particularly fascinating. While the social class system has not remained the same, trends in clothes, hair styling and makeup with social meanings attached to them, still exist. Veblen highlights fashion’s place in a culture of conspicuous consumption as not only characterized by outward signs of costliness and the economic status, but also by the phenomenon of “shifting fashions:” “Dress must not only be conspicuously expensive and inconvenient, it must at the same time be up to date.” Veblen also explains how styles in fashion change cyclically, and how the rich decide what is decent and good in all things related to consumption and fashion, and the lower classes imitate the stylistic choices of the rich.
These astute observations about the nature of fashion and its role in embodying outward signs of social and economic standing are in many ways still relevant to any analysis of fashion in our culture today. Veblen’s work is useful in highlighting the non-essential functions of clothing that dominate the ways in which we interact with fashion through various media, and the way in which make sartorial choices on a day-to-day basis.
Warner, Helen. “Fashion, Celebrity and Cultural Workers: SJP as Cultural Intermediary.” Media, Culture & Society 35.3 (2013): 382-91. 2013. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
Warner begins this article by discussing contemporary consumer society, defined by a celebration of freedom and choice, and which “holds the promise of egalitarian society.” This perception of freedom has led to anxieties around cultural identity and symbolic value in fashion. In addition, these perceived changes and anxieties have developed in conjunction with advances in celebrity culture; the article therefore focuses on the “increasingly symbiotic relationship between fashion and celebrity culture in the contemporary period.” This research is useful for its discussion of the way in which fashion garners social and symbolic value in contemporary culture–through appealing to consumers’ attraction to celebrity culture.
The article uses Sarah Jessica Parker, most famous for her role on the HBO show Sex and the City as a case study because her “celebrity image serves to educate audiences about fashion, taste, and consumption practices an functions.” According to Warner, Sarah Jessica Parker functions as a cultural intermediary. Warner builds upon Bourdieu’s definition of a cultural intermediary referring to people visible in the mass media involved in the presentation, including marketing, advertising, and public relations, of symbolic goods.
The article examines discourses of class in discussions and representations of Sarah Jessica Parker in the magazines Harper’s Bazaar and People. Overall, Warner maintains that images of Parker often endorse the concept that fashion transcends class boundaries, while simultaneously partaking in a discourse of “distinct class boundaries” privileging “middle class notions of taste.”
Warner builds her argument by examining Sarah Jessica Parker’s presentation in an October 2000 issue of People. Through a textual analysis of the article, Warner shows how Sarah Jessica Parker’s success is described in relation to fashion. In particular, Parker is presented as a consumer and connoisseur of couture, which is a labor-intensive product that is far from mainstream or mass market. This discussion of her “conspicuous consumption” of couture works against the notion of the democratization of fashion; Parker “displays her wealth and social mobility through fashion and endeavors to foreground the value of couture.”
The article also discusses the function of magazines with fashion content in general, explaining that they serve to promote an evaluation of celebrity fashion choices instead of identification with them. They also function as educational tools, teaching readers about fashion and trends, and what is considered “good taste.” In analyzing Harper’s Bazaar’s 2009 cover story on Sarah Jessica Parker, Warner highlights the fact that the photo shoot connotes luxury and conspicuous consumption, and the images also serve as advertisements because the information about the clothes she is wearing also appears on the page. Thus magazine content serves several functions vis-à-vis consumers, all related to social status and consumption.
Through her analysis of Sarah Jessica Parker’s representation in the media as a celebrity fashion icon, Warner shows that “class discourses continue to pervade contemporary consumer culture.” While the postmodern assumption is that “society is moving toward a classless society,” this article challenges this notion through the concept of the celebrity fashion icon. Sarah Jessica Parker, as an example of such an icon, functions in the media as a cultural intermediary by “reinforcing the boundaries of taste” and “promoting a decidedly middle-class notion of appropriate feminine identity.” Warner’s study is useful for its analysis of contemporary issues of class, taste, and the symbolic value of fashion, and concludes with the prediction that celebrity cultural intermediaries will continue to grow in importance in contemporary consumer culture. This prediction is certainly in line with the increased popularity of fashion celebrities on social networking sites like blogs and Instagram.