The Street Style Debate: Are We Robots (or Are We Dancer)?

Leandra Medine | October 9, 2015

When it comes to personal style, I mean. Not Halloween costumes.

If you are interested in looking like you are fresh off the heels of fashion month, there are three easy and distinct ways to achieve that facade.

1) You can wear a pair of Chanel slingbacks, the only shoes that were shown at the Fall 2015 collection presentation.


2) You can wear a pair of Gucci fur slides.


Or 3) You can wear Vetements’ floral dress, also from Fall 2015.

The Vetements dress seen 'round Paris Fashion Week. Photographed by Phil Oh via

It’s weird, you know, that you can look so precisely one way by simple virtue of a pair of shoes. Even weirder, though, is that we willingly elect to look like each other.

I’m guilty of proprietorship over both pairs of the enlisted shoes (the slingbacks are elegant, the slippers are comfortable, I love both with zero regrets). But I have to admit that by the end of Paris Fashion Week, I felt uncomfortable wearing either — like I was showing up at the club in a bandage skirt and spikey, red-sole pumps. Because back then, when we did that, we weren’t trying to make a style statement, right? We were trying to fit in. And nothing smells quite as pungent as that stench of desperation.

I was sitting at a show last Tuesday in a skirt and a blouse and a yellow sweater. And the Gucci loafers. I watched a flurry of well-dressed publicists ushering people to their seats. They were not wearing the typical black but were all wearing a different kind of uniform — clunky shoes and a-line, mid-length skirts. Instead of getting the sense that these women were conveying individuality, they looked hyper-homogenous. I looked down at myself and thought: where have all the weirdos gone? Where is the personal style?

When I’m in Paris, I often try to wear things I’m not normally inclined to wear. I don’t know if that’s because I’m away and therefore feel like I should be assuming an identity removed from my own, but what invariably happens is that I try on the new thing, don’t feel like myself and then revert back to jeans and a button down. It occurred to me on this trip that there’s a reason that happens.

You can’t co-opt jeans and a shirt.

You can’t impose your own rhetoric on the sentence that’s already been written. Constructed with choice, plain-as-toast garments. And by the fell addition of a couple rings here, a choker there, ridiculous shoes down south, boom! You’re exclamating, too.

But I wonder, what do we try to get at by looking like each other? By falling in love with the things that we see in excess (example: I never thought I needed a pair of patent leather boots with a lucite heel until the Dior show in Paris, when they were worn by nearly every single female foot in the venue by the Louvre) and then attempt to own ourselves? Do we want to show the world that we, too, “get it”? That we’re quick on the uptake, aware of what’s in? Is it a matter of self-actualization? Or are we simply getting lazy — cultivating identity using the references before us instead of the ones within us?

I don’t know, but I’m back in my slingbacks.

Photos by Diego Zuko via Harper’s Bazaar, WhoWhatWear, and Phil Oh via Vogue; Feature collage by Elizabeth Tamkin


  • You forgot to mention the Chloe hudson bag that everyone who matters in fashion wore in Paris! I swear I counted 30 identical bags around me in one day.

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  • Caitlin Crow

    I experienced the cool shoe club dilemma on a recent trip to NYC, actually.
    I had already decided that I and the white sneaker trend would never be friends, but after sighting the 2000th pair on the street and getting sucked into the vortex of looks-like-Celine-east-coast-fashion-admiration-wanting-to-belong, I visited both the Converse and Adidas stores. Chuck, Stan Smith and I are still not on speaking terms.

  • I think it’s fine to wear things that other people are wearing as long as you genuinely like whatever it is that you’re wearing, and not just because it’s in. It’s important to keep elements of your original style, even if you are wearing something trendy. I wear clothes that I bought 5 years ago because I still like them, but I’ll still buy new, popular things if I really want to.

  • Moya

    Your last paragraph of questions is so channelling Carrie Bradshaw – love that commitment to Man Repeller Sex and the City month 😉

  • Lindsay Rickman

    What if we all made our own clothes?

  • starryhye

    Clothing has a unique way of not only bringing people together, but also giving the feeling of inclusion and acceptance within our social culture. They serve as important non-verbal cues. Without saying anything, we can look at a person and their attire and instantly draw certain conclusions about them. For you and your colleagues in the fashion industry, it doesn’t surprise me that there is a bit of homogeny. Outside of the major fashion “hubs” (NYC, Paris, Milan), most women are confined to a more narrow definition of fashion and style. While I’d love to show up to my 6 yr old’s swim meet rocking some look straight from Paris, it’s not only impractical, but it is also declaring your “otherness”. We only want to stand out in “good” and acceptable ways. So we work within the acceptable social parameters. Testing the limits of what we can get away with. But isn’t that the fun part?

    • Mben

      I’m in disagreement. The mentality that conforming is expected outside of the epicenter of fashion is the very thing that holds people back and creates complacency. I think if you showed up to that swim meet dressed appropriately but with some serious personal style… it would only be a matter of time before the others followed your lead. 😉 Giving way to more envelope pushing. There’s always that one chic within every social group… that gets it. I think you should be that chic!!! I think you ARE that chic!

      • starryhye

        Oh how I *wish* to be that chic friend! I like to think my saving grace is that I’m not gallivanting around town in my Lululemon 😉

        • Mben

          Yes…. do not be the lululemon girl. That’s stepford wife status.

      • MLH Design Co

        I agree, I dress different from others because I’m true to my own personal style. I incorporate some “in” items but only because that’s what I really like or it fits my lifestyle. I was the woman coming to the swim practice looking fabulous. Why? because I can and I enjoy wearing the clothes that I’ve spent my money on. I think more people should dress up more and look fabulous more-so than not. Some people would feel uncomfortable because I would always come well put together but hopefully that encouraged them to step up their game or at least admire me and be comfortable with themselves.

    • Katie Waller

      I like how you say “we work within the acceptable social parameters.” As another non-major fashion hub resident, I used to find it pretty uncomfortable to wear anything that would draw attention or comments. I went to school on the east coast which greatly influenced my personal style, but ended up managing a kate spade store for a while after graduation. Me and my coworkers looked semi-crazy most of the time, covered with excessive amounts of leopard print, sparkles, and bows. I can’t tell you how many women would come up and tell me that they wish they could “pull off” something like what I was wearing, even in rural western Colorado. But they could! You can literally wear whatever you want and make other women envy your awesome attitude! I may not get as much use out of my leopard jeans any more, but at least I learned that I am pretty content with not fitting in, especially if that means I would have to wear Keens all the time.

  • Lori

    really liked the idea that we might be buying into these trends to show other ppl that we “get it”.. ?

  • TheSheep

    One word: trend. From the Gucci fur slides to the Chanel slingbacks, it’s ‘what’s in’. I don’t want to generalize, but maybe it’s not only about wanting to fit in but also wanting a pair of shoes because someone likes the way it looks. Whether it’s to feel accepted or liking a certain fad, there’s nothing wrong with it.

  • Tee

    I was thinking this exact thing !!! I really wanted the Chanel sling backs and was saving up to get them but ever since I’ve seen every street style fashion week picture with someone in them it turned me off.

    • BK

      I don’t know if it’s because they feel a bit tired after all that overexposure or because I’m just jealous I don’t own such a well-honed shoe. I don’t like seeing them all over street style blogs but I still love them in the little videos that Chanel released

  • I really wanted the Chanel sling backs and was saving up to get them but ever since I’ve seen every street style fashion week picture with someone in them it turned me off.

  • Carol Gillott

    Loved yr pale blue embroidered coat at Chanel! You stood out from the crowd of black and white devotees major. My pic is here:

  • Carol Gillott

    Maybe its a sign of sisterhood? Joining the club like everyone wearing a cardie after Michelle O. Sorority sisters? Saw the lucite patent boot at Chanel too..hmmm

  • Sofa Em.

    Well I think it’s also beacause of the styling specific designers create. For example those lucite heeled boots you’re talking about, i love them too and I don’t think I would if I saw them in the Armani show -that doesn’t realy do anything for me- or on a girl on the street whose style I wouldn’t like. I mean we all draw inspiration from somewhere, even designers do and when you see something in all the places you admire (vogue, manrepeller, a streetstyle pic that you love) you also kind of get trained to like it. But at the end of the day if you like what you wear no matter the reason you actually wear it, what difference does it make?

  • Well, I’m 46. At this point in my life, I am not a slave to fashion, but I AM a slave to what I love in terms of style. I don’t care that hand painted jeans or sequin skirts aren’t “done” by others in my peer group. What matters is that every day, I fucking love what I am wearing and that I am happier walking through the world in something kick-ass than in something drab or identikit. Sure, I wear trendy stuff…not because it is trendy, but because I love that precise moment in fashion.

    • Bella

      I am 46 too. You have spoken for us ;).

    • That last sentence is perfect.

  • Greer

    Why i read man repeller fashion week coverage

    ty lm

  • Sara Lane

    I love your personal style, it is completely unique. I am glad you are questioning what we are getting from dressing like one another. I had the same question this week, I have noticed in my daily life that people are conforming to one another’s personal style, and at first I questioned my own fashion sense. So I am glad you wrote this piece because it reminds me how I need to focus on my own fashion personality rather than following the standards of others.

  • Carlotta

    Want more fiercely individualistic, hyper creative, trend (not always) setting weirdos? Come back to London! 🙂 Cx

    • Anon

      Ha! Try Portland.

  • Desert Island Dressing

    I wrote about my qualms with personal style in a blog post. There are still no answers but I’d be interested in what all of you think of and manage the disconnect between your own intent when wearing an outfit and others’ interpretations when they look at your outfit.

  • Pandora Sykes

    I’m really into the sling backs, but I just can’t do it; I saw when happened with the Celine shoes, then the Gucci backless furry ones – they’re all going the same way as the fricking Rockstuds.

  • FashionNeedsJesus

    For some, homogeny is comfortable. It is that old sweater you go back to after it has lost its shape, and lost its hope of redemption. It’s in our nature to blend, to stick together, to conform. Those who don’t feel this natural inclination are The Creators, the forces to be reckoned with, and the daring. We mock them, we pay closer attention to them, we praise them, we appropriate them, we curse them, and we move on to the next trend. The cycle seems never ending. It is the utter reality of the Fashion Basic, and frankly, I’m not surprised that each season it rears it’s ugly head. After all, we want to be in the club…To be accepted, and loved. If someone has written a playbook that has proved to be a winning strategy, others will undoubtedly follow. After all, why risk the possible rejection of originality?

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  • Morgan

    When my friends used to call me “trendy” I got kind of tense inside, like ugh what do you mean I just do me? But then I started thinking, why do I care if it’s “trendy” if I like it? So I started taking it as more of a compliment, like dang thank you yes I am up-to-date-FRESH. And now from your post I’m challenged to the WHY I like it. I want to believe it’s just because I simply like it. I do yearn for those Gucci loafers with every sense of my being. They’re cool classic comfortable cool very cool very frickin cool worth living in a box for a month. Maybe the popular trends are related to how we have a culture of always being up to date, on top of it, always connected, and also the deep human connection and approval and that look yes I “get it.” Yeah jean and t-shirt are always there, but I’m less motivated to wear them (even though I always have an excuse to buy them) because it’s a classic and it’s never going anywhere. It just depends on the day for me and who I want to be.

    Another somewhat tangentially related topic is that I am always inspired by street style photos, or robot photos, and forever love looking at them but they don’t often translate well into worlds outside of fashion. And sometimes when I am tapping more into street/robot fashion, I don’t always think too much about what my clothes say to other people because I’m too busy talking to them privately with myself and what I want them to say to me, which is self-empowering but also sometimes maybe too selfish or inappropriate? (EX: going to class, or going to court, or what is “casual Friday”) This is maybe pretty elementary, I guess I am just on a transitional phase of my fashion world as a mid-20s in graduate school of my clothes working for me and translating that into working in the larger professional world. Maybe I take it too seriously? I guess I just want to hang on to my personal style forever without the conflicts of the professional world. And I can happily wear a suit, but I get into internal conflicts a lot about should what I wear matter so much (yes but no), why does it, what do certain looks say (probably something different to everyone // subjective AF), why do we care, etc. etc.etcetcetc. are questions I talk about with my some of my girlfriends . . and we get nowhere. Basically that it should be self-empowering but it should also say positive things to the outside world. I just don’t like to think about other people when I get dressed. I want to keep talking on this post for some reason but I am stopping. Thanks as always for being the Internet’s best gal pal!

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  • NS

    The timing of this article could not be more perfect for me. I recently started in a new job and the dress code is lets say ” anything goes” or way too casual for me anyway… For the first few months I kept on thinking about whether I should dress more like I should “fit in” and so, say, not wear my super ruffly McQ jacket because I might look really out of place. But then I realized that my personal style is my own and as long as I am not dressed inappropriately (a short tight dress and 15cm heels will definitely not be appropriate :)) for the environment I am in, I shouldnt have to change my personal style. I believe I brought in some much needed pizzaz to this environment, if not me, my shoes certainly did 🙂 and I am glad I did not change a thing about myself to fit in..I guess the point is that each one of us has our own sense of style and as long as we are true to ourselves, we can wear whatever we want – homogenous or not. street style or not.. I must admit, I also struggle with this homogeniety seen across the street style spectrum..I have been completely put off by some pieces simply because every blogger and/or street style star seems to be sporting them..I just hope that they are doing so because they truly like a piece and style it true to themselves

  • Adardame

    I am more inclined to like things I see frequently. I think it’s a brain thing. In my case it often results on jumping on the wagon just as everyone else jumps off, though.

  • Ajnira Muminovic

    When I was younger, I used to, all the time, have a fashion inspiration. It felt like if I have a fashion icon, whose style I can recreate, somehow I will get a bit of my fashion icon lifestyle. As if, If I dress myself as MK Olsen I will be understood as a serious but very calm and chill person, the saddest thing is sometimes, I would live up to that style, for a second I would be MK, and that’s when I felt the magic of, harshly put; copying other peoples style.
    I grew out of it, because at the end of a day, the magic is fake, and I felt many times like a phony for coping somebodies style. But what I’m trying to say is that I’ve learned through this experience is to have a personal style you have to know yourself and be fearless enough to unapologetically show “true you” to the world. Coping your fashion icons style, or having a uniform is playing on the safe side.

  • svetlana shashkova

    Leonarda you so right !!! Same was on my mind )))

    kindest regards



  • Fcas

    I think we lack originality. We like what we see on others and replicate rather then finding our own identity. I mean we all want to fit in and what better way to fit it in then looking like everyone else. I love a world where everyone is their own weird person with their own weird taste true to whom they are and not what the believe they should be.

  • Sofia Val

    I think trends are opportunities to turn common into unique. For various reasons a whole community feels attracted to a certain pair of shoes or a certain pant length, it´s an interesting force that turns all heads but yet enables us to play and make our own self shine by reinventing a trend.
    I like to think it´s a challenge to turn a standard norm and take it to another level by thinking outside the box.

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