I Have a Thought About Street Style

Leandra Medine | September 23, 2015

And really, it’s a matter of authenticity

Did you see that thing we did where we style-stalked Lucy Chadwick? What about Kate Foley’s closet? 

Does authentic street style exist anymore? I’ve been thinking about this since Amy Odell first pitched her theory about getting street style photographed as “fashion week basic.” (That is, does getting your picture taken at fashion week make you cool, or does it subject you to ridicule by your peers?)

When street style first started to become popular, many of the new guard women attending shows stopped dressing like reflections of themselves and started thinking more acutely and carefully about the cameras that would circumscribe (and ultimately take attention off) the shows. With the escalating popularity of the trade, what started to happen is that ambitiously-dressed loiterers (those often uninvited to shows) would spend time outside the fashion week venues in anticipation that they might get photographed.

With this movement came a ton of backlash.

The fur hats and jackets that looked like dead birds, sunglasses the size of dinner plates and ridiculous, architecturally confusing color combinations were all so loud that they could no longer be considered fashion statements — and not because each and every one of us isn’t entitled to an opinion that could be physically melded into an outfit — we are! But rather, because the outfits weren’t really indicative of those opinions.

Not honestly, at least.

They felt more like cries for attention, inauthentic nods to vanity. This is a point that I think was largely missed in the various degrees of criticism garnered by the outlandish dressing of fashion weeks past. Because if you’d wear it to the supermarket too, who gives a shit if you’re wearing a globe-shaped porcelain fixture above your head? Power to you! It’s the questionable cues heralded by phoniness — which is always detectable — that have been reprimanded.

But here’s the thing: those cues are relics of fashion weeks past.

As runway clothes became more streamlined and normcore exploded onto our streets and the cultural shift demanded comfort as the new luxury, the outfits of fashion week changed. The colors dimmed, the accessories learned to whisper. With insiders poking fun at the street style ballyhoo, they themselves shunned it. Maybe we all did. But the problem remained the same: we were still largely extolling inauthenticity — just in the opposite direction.

I know that as of the past few seasons, there have been instances where I looked at myself in the mirror and asked: do I look like a clown? I know that often, when I’m stopped for photos, I feel a little self-conscious about what the people around me are thinking. I’ve been seated at shows and watched as jeans upon loafers upon t-shirts walked passed me and said nothing. Maybe it’s because we became afraid to get stopped for photos, or to look like we wanted to get stopped for photos. (The photographers are just doing their jobs! Give them the damn photo!) However, I know that plenty of those clothes saying nothing were cloaking women who want to say something.

But being in London reminded me how much fun fashion can be. There is such a genuine conviviality there and so little pretension. People wear what they wear because they want to wear it; it’s as simple as that. No judgement, no confusion, no over-intellectualizing or scoffing. It’s refreshing. It’s a pick-me-up of the mic that New York dropped in retaliation to the circus just a few seasons ago.

In London, clothes have conversations. They may be saying different things at different volumes, but they’re polite: everyone gets a chance to speak. And because the noise of inauthenticity is reduced, everyone — whether in loud hats or quiet loafers — is heard.

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  • Igor Maciel Vida

    To be honest I guess this is a dilemma, or sort of. People who attend fashion weeks know they’ll have a chance to have their picture taken and possibly they’ll style up (pretension!), but at the same time, this continues to be street style – with a new approach (I wouldn’t qualify this approach as fresh, tho). It’s undeniable that social media has changed the way we dress and also undeniable that fashion has become more democratic and more people are comfy enough to display their personalities through their clothes. It’s just different now! =)

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  • Amelia Diamond

    Ok not that I get stopped for street style photogs besides Krista (heheh) but I think this was the first time in general I just stopped trying in one way or the other — and it wasn’t laziness so much as it was, I’m done. Gotta be me. Just gotta put on the same pants I would wear on a regular Tuesday, but maybe add a nice shoe, as though I was going to conduct an interview with a designer or something. It was refreshing.

  • Having seen quite a few photos this time around I do wonder … Is photo-worthy street
    style really just about fashion and/or knowing how to dress for
    attention? Somehow we seldom get to see 40+ Katie Sturino lookalikes (yes, like me – still) offered as picture perfect ANY-FW streetstyle … Or do we?

    • Amelia Diamond

      No you’re right regarding the size — however, I’d argue that the age-related photographs (apart from those who’ve become celebrities and literally get papp’d) have to do with just what Leandra said: that women who’ve been in the business the longest are basically wearing all black (or the quiet-outfit equivalent) in order to avoid getting photographed. I’ve watched with my own eyes these super established editors almost going out of their way so as to avoid photographers on the streets entirely. They want to get to the show and be left alone!

      • OK, I think I can relate to that 🙂 (the “left alone” part)

      • Haha. Agreed. Cannot imagine Wintour posing for street style.

  • Marta

    I was thinking about it this morning, it’s like you read my mind. My favorite Fashion Week is London, it’s the most authentic if we talk about street style because people wear like they really wear in there day by day, it’s pure, unique and you can see the passion for the fashion world.

    Amazing article

    http://www.misskeyblog.com/

  • You’re the third or fourth person I’ve read this week with an opinion right along these lines. I feel street style is shifting a lot to the models running between shows, because they have no pretensions about what they’re wearing. They wear what they would normally wear, and they know they look good in it. Even if that happens to be a pair of jeans and t-shirt. Instead of the fashion week crowd that dresses up for the sole purpose of getting photographed. I don’t see AS many of them getting stopped anymore for photographs. I definitely think the street style photographers are catching on, as well as the publications that are sending them there.

    Josh | The Kentucky Gent
    http://thekentuckygent.com

  • Meredith Lockhart

    Bravo!! Excellent article. I think many people, not just those attending fashion week need to be reminded of authenticity. Everyone seems to be doing everything for a like, comment, or share. It’s quite exhausting. On another note…did you mean to add the word “upon” twice in a row, in the 9th paragraph? I know it’s a little obnoxious to receive a comment about grammar, but hey, I’ll use the sandwich technique and end on a positive note. Manrepeller rocks!!!

  • aconstellation

    I recently attended my third NYFW. I’m an emerging lifestyle blogger from Panama. Every time I’ve attended NYFW I’ve dressed for myself, hoping to get photographed, yes, but as myself. I think it’s the ultimate honor. To be noticed for your authentic self. It also helps a lot with exposure and followers, etc. Specially coming from my little country, not exactly a fashion capital. I need exposure, I need to network, I need to be featured to grow and be able to make this a living, which is my ultimate goal. I have experimented with basics and the things every blogger has, because I thought it might get me more followers, but ultimately I think it’s important to just be myself and grow at my own pace. You, Leandra are a great example of that and I respect you for it. But unfortunately, in my three times attending fashion week, I’ve realised street style photographers mostly take photos of those who are already famous. The only way jeans and a t-shirt are going to get you photographed are if you’re someone who is already famous and will drive traffic to their website or Instagram through tags and keywords. I saw and analysed the situation for 8 days straight and it was always the same. You have to be (A) either already well known, (B) model thin, or (C) wear a dead bird on your head (did you see those two girls with sparkly helmets?). My answer is none of the above. I have a street style section on my blog and until recently I also posted only photos of known fashion industry people, because I myself am also guilty of trying to drive traffic through those photos. But after being on the other end of the lens as well, I’ve decided it’s only fair to be a more democratic photographer and celebrate the clothes and the conversation you mention; forget about the persona. I know the clothes were chosen by the person and styled by the person, but if street style is to remain as pure as it was before, then the conversation needs to go back to the clothes and away from the fame. It’s a difficult subject though, because if you get photographed enough times then you become a street style star and it inevitably becomes about the notoriety and not about the clothes. Sigh…

    • Exactly my thought ! I am actually getting a bit tired of the street style photos, it often looks so planned, overdone, only for the camera, on know/famous/model like people. But that is also why I really enjoyed Krista’s street style captures and the previous MR post with street style photos from the streets. GO go MR!

      • aconstellation

        I think it also helps to take the photos of details only and remove the head/identity. I mean… it’s weird because you’re missing information: what earrings is she wearing? Does she have green hair? Etc. But it helps focus on the clothes. I liked that about Krista’s photos as well. But on the other hand, a street style photographer like The Sartorialist does so much more than just take photos of hot, trendy must-haves and traffic-driving style stars. Yes, he takes photos of famous people, yes he can be credited with making some of those people famous, but he always also pays attention to anything and everyone around him. Surroundings, lighting, moment, vibe. He’s more of a portraitist than a street style photographer I think. And in that sense his photos become more democratic. Anyway we could go on and on about this! It’s really such an interesting subject/phenomenon! So yes, GO MR for always opening up interesting discussions and keeping it real!

  • ThisPersonSleeps

    If I see one more person photographed for street style that’s just wearing a button up backwards… ugh. You don’t look cool.

  • mollie blackwood

    Maybe the issue isn’t dressing authentically but really it’s not knowing what is authentic to oneself. I think most of us that are interested in fashion can be swayed by popular opinion whether we are aware of it or not. When the tide goes one way we tend to follow a little or sometimes a lot. I often ask myself what is authentic to me and I’m not sure I can tell you. Getting dressed is way more psychological than I ever imagined it would be. That’s probably why some people just decided to wear sweatpants every day. Or maybe that’s their true authentic self. HOW WILL WE EVER KNOW?!

  • Hannah Cole

    Preach!

  • Noelia

    Couldnt agree more with you Leandra, street style started as something fun and authentic but it has become a way of having a few minutes of fame for people that dont even attend the catwalks. While designers are preaching a new comfortable way of dressing I see that in LFW people dress different and fun no matter what yet there is still that crave being in front row or photographed than discovering new talents and enjoying the collections like it used to be. That is why so many people that actually work on fashion prefer seeing the shows online, rather than being around a bunch of fashion students and bloggers with too much diva attitude. A shame really.

    http://estilistas.co.uk

  • Seyra Rico

    Yes, that’s what I’ve noticed, too! I wish we can fast forward or go back to the times when people dress with authenticity.

    Please check out my blog at:
    http://pavementsarerunways.blogspot.com/

  • Not the issue but how are these people without outerwear in London right now? Its bloody cold! And raining. And generally horrible weather. being cold is basically where I draw the line.

    http://www.fashionandfrappes.com

  • Feeling a sense of exposure reading this. I’ve realized how often I dress for others at not myself. I’m so consumed by the fashion industry and so obsessed by ‘who’s wearing what and what I should be buying next’ that I’m not actually asking ‘Do I really like how I look today and Do I look like myself’? If I don’t (as is often the case) I will shrug it off on the basis that ‘it’s the done thing’

    I definitely think it’s okay to emulate an outfit… if you like it, wear it. But if you like said outfit because it means you appear a fashionista and makes you assume you’ll climbs the ranks of street-style greats… it may be best to rethink.

    But are we just being over analytical? Just wear what you wear, do what you do.

    Londoners do. And I think I should take note from my home-city.

    Natalie Emma @ The Twentieth Edition – http://www.thetwentiethedition.blogspot.co.uk

  • Samantha

    I live in Wisconsin, a place where street style photography is relatively non existent. I can’t help but wonder, if one is seeking authenticity in street style, travel to a city where residents are truly not expecting to have their picture taken. Yes, you’ll see a lot of the same uniform, but you’ll see these brilliant little touches of individuality that may surprise you.

  • Somewhat related –

    The past year or so I’ve realized my Polish mother instilled a lot of anxiety about clothing in me. I come from a culture where you’re expected to wear your best clothing to see your immediate family and women wear stilettos to church. “Why didn’t she put in the effort to look nice to see me? Why doesn’t she respect me?” Everyone is watching. Everyone is judging.

    I had even more anxiety about clothing when I moved to NYC for college because I couldn’t afford places like Zara. Even Forever 21 was a careful purchase. I felt self conscious in my flared jeans while skinny jeans were the big trend. I didn’t own a pair of ballet flats until I graduated from college in 2011.

    I’m sure some of us have seen/read this article about wearing a uniform to work: http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a10441/why-i-wear-the-same-thing-to-work-everday/ I make a point to say to myself, “this doesn’t matter,” when I’m spending too much time picking out a pair of shoes when I get dressed in the morning. I realized I barely remember what my co-workers wear to work, why would any one remember what I wore?

  • mag

    hi… ok so I am just a simple italian/american girl who works in fashion and goes to a good show now and then. I must say IT TRUELY IS a circus (in milan). Last season I wanted to go unnoticed because everyone just seemed silly. I tried to play it down. At the same time… I think one should kick it up a notch when attending a fashion show, I mean if one can’t exaggerate during fashion week when is the appropriate time? then there are people who don’t even go to shows, they just go to parade in front of the street photographers… sometimes the scene outside of a good show in milan is better than the actual show itself!!
    I do not know what the balance is… This season I am dressing for me.
    I am going to REALLY try to be indifferent if I get photographed (kind of embarrassing) or not photographed (feeling like the kid who didn’t get picked in gym class)
    un bacio.

  • Dawn

    Viewing the scene around, and outside of fashion shows is exciting and inspiring. It is the blog leaping off the page and coming to life–life imitating art. This is the only way for the general-fashion-loving audience to be a part of fashion week, because seeing the actual show is impossible. Especially as an older woman, it is awkward and uncomfortable to be an observer in the circus. I definitely feel like an outsider, cut off from the cool girl lunch table. The elitist vibe of the haves (with tickets), and have nots is palpable–first-class vs. coach. I endure the shame (haha!) because I love what I see and being a part of the energy. Frankly, I am always surprised that with the unfettered access to the scene, that there aren’t more of us watching the art, style, and, yes, the celebrity and spectacle. Although I most like seeing authentic, real fashion, part of the fun is seeing the joy in each person’s styling or “costume. I am surprised that there is such internal dialogue about who thinks what, and the motivation behind each outfit. One of the beauties of the niche consumption blogging perpetuates, is that the next day we each get to decide what type of street styling coverage/presentation we’re interested in following. There is room for everyone.

  • Hana

    I’ve always thought the same. We, photographers, are happy as magazines want to publish the most extravagant outfit but yes, I agree with you. However I think there’s also another part of the story. For some people Fashion Week is like Halloween or a carnival parade: they can be other person for few days or they get to wear those items that they would love to wear daily but they just can’t or they’re not confident enough.

  • therealdp

    this is sweet. clothes are fun! i buy things because i love them and love to wear them but i am not going to twirl on the sidewalk. there’s a fine line but we should remember that we love fashion.

  • Elizabeth

    This breakdown of street style could be applied to so much in life. There’s this interesting juxtaposition between the constant suffocating insistence of individuality alongside an overwhelmingly fearful and self doubting generation. Critique is only ok when it’s ok. Make sure the loudest voices on the internet agree with your opinions first before you make them your opinions. Bravery is so rare. What we must remember is that someone’s inauthenticity is perhaps very much indicative of their “authentic self”.

  • Leandra, your writing gets me every time. That broad and bewitching vocabulary! Those cunning insights! I’ve heard you speak about your love of the written word and it really, truly shows in your equal-parts-literary-and-laughable style. Just wanted to let you know that I am PICKING UP WHAT YOU ARE PUTTING DOWN.

    xx Hannah // http://www.HomemadeBanana.com