Has Social Media Ruined Fashion?

We’re addicted to a drug that can no longer get us high

11.03.16
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Have we entered the comedown stage in our relationship with social media consumption? That is, have we become so addicted to the drug of discovery that is endemic to apps like Instagram and sites like Pinterest that we can’t get high from them anymore? Where I once basked, marveled, shrieked in sheer delight at the sight of a new brand! Design! Collection! Stylist!, today I feel nothing. Nothing but dead inside.

I have tested this theory — that we’re addicted to a drug that can no longer get us high — on only a handful of fashion editors and media personalities, but the consensus has been one of overwhelming agreement. This is especially true for market editors, whose jobs revolve around discovery. Could it be that the press preview is making a comeback because digital lookbooks and subsequent reposting just don’t cut it anymore? Nothing, it seems, beats an in-real-life encounter.

Frankly, I’m sorry I’m saying this at all. Instagram is so wonderful for so many reasons (although it’s really not instant as the name suggests). I remember attending Ryan Roche’s fashion week presentation in Chelsea where a ballet dancer dressed in Roche was moving among similarly dressed models. She explained that she found the dancer, who is from Russia, on Instagram and flew him to New York to perform. How incredible is that? Moveable art right before our eyes! The crux of what defines experience! Ditto that for the very foundation of my career. Without Instagram (and before that, Twitter), would anyone even listen when I got on my soapbox and began to lament about whatever was ruining my lunch break in real time? Probably not. I do think it’s fair to surmise that as the fashion industry has taken to social media with such warm embrace, we’ve also lost touch with a crucial element of the fashion mechanism.

This element is difficult to describe; it doesn’t have a word, but there is a very particular feeling associated with it. It stops you short much the same way the beginning of a new season, or your first dip in an ocean after a long winter, or a window display over Christmas, might. It changes your thinking track. Everything you may have previously known as true becomes hypothetical and because of this thing, which you cannot un-see, you feel like you’ve changed.

It is delightful, it is frivolous, it is the exact release Diana Vreeland once said fashion must be from the banalities of life.

The thing is, you can’t really feel definitive freshness every day, never mind every time you open an app. Yet this is exactly how we have been conditioned to feel. Our attention spans are about the length of a tadpole and our imaginations are rarely put to work anymore. We expect to be wowed every time we plop down like fat kings, bloated in the mind, sitting on the thrones of our couches, waiting while the court jesters — those we follow — endeavor to entertain us.

If this sounds cynical, it might be. If you disagree, I’m sorry that I keep “we”-ing but in the interest of believing that misanthropy never got anyone anywhere, that we must remain positive, I also offer this: maybe the problem is us. Because we choose who we follow, right? We’re self-editing feeds to display only what we think we want, no longer allowing for the true element of discovery to creep in. Our opinions have become one-sided! Our followings, a legion of ideas that align with our own. How can we know what we really want without the disruption of what we don’t yet know?

So for whatever it’s worth, of course social media isn’t ruining fashion. That was hyperbole. That aforementioned element might be hiding, but it isn’t dead, and we’ll figure it out again. Maybe the solution is the same when it comes to the overarching question unintentionally posed by Vogue earlier this season — is street style dead? Of course not! We can’t quite treat our relationship with street style the way we used to, and the same goes for the mobile Internet. Whereas once it felt like the wild west and we truly could discover, now there are remarkable algorithms that constantly promote materials You Might Like. Life is basically a series of adjustments — getting older, losing friends, gaining new ones, moving, returning, getting hired, being fired — and what we do in the realm of virtual reality, another form of life that we live 24/7, isn’t that different. So, yeah, the high has worn off, but it will come back. It always does.

Between this and the strange state of social media at fashion week, it’s a good thing Leandra hates being on her phone all the time.

Illustration by Emily Zirimis.

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