Over the past few years, fashion and style spread by top-tier social media channels like Tumblr have become nearly inseparable from the places they are initially cultivated from like fashion weeks and the street style surrounding them. The power of these social media giants to favor and spread a certain aesthetic has led to a peculiar development in the world of online fashion: new brands that are built directly upon the platform, and therefore demographic, they target. Through their approach, these brands expose the double-edged nature of social media fashion whose repercussions deserve a closer look.
The brands in question re-appropriate social media fashion’s instantly recognizable features like eye-catching all-over prints, famous historic/religious figures similar to ones seen in high-fashion and over-branded streetwear. The resemblance is spot on and the references are clear but one ingredient crucial for a brand’s legitimacy is curiously absent: context in the real world. Outside of the immediate blogosphere these brands are virtually unknown; not because their designs aren’t up to par – although one could very well argue so – but because of their distance from anything grounded in reality.
Generally, these brands stick to the categories of clothing most acceptable for branding like tops and caps, both of which in the Tumblrverse are practically expected to bear the brand’s name lest the viewer fail to be impressed by the clothing’s manufacturer. Stylized street shots and relevant hashtags follow, and in time, the brand becomes just as common to see in a Tumblr feed as powerhouses like Givenchy and Supreme. This is the goal, of course, as integration into the Tumblr landscape is the first, and in some cases only, air of credibility the brand can attain.
Whereas most brands gather momentum on the streets and then make their way to the Internet, social media brands start online and then later, hopefully, make their way to the streets. This in itself is not as problematic as it may sound since the Internet is such an integral part of our lives, (in fact it’s likely been occurring to some extent for a while now), but the transparency with which these brands do it shines a light on the ridiculous ways current trends spread and how hype is formed. Some even go as far to create so-called “hype teams” in which influential partner blogs help spread the gospel far and wide.
Naturally, established brands and fashion houses also exploit the power of social media, albeit in a way that is far more subtle. And although it may not appear to, these degrees of subtlety make a difference. “Hype teams” immediately undermine a brand’s ability to succeed on its own and take away a crucial element of a brand’s image – its association with subcultures and niches. Sure, the Tumblrverse is a culture of its own, but it is one of fleeting trends where the endgame is the amount of reblogs an image gets.
The mechanics of social media fashion support this modus operandi as well, all the way down to the way these street style snapshots are taken. As evidenced in the short film “Take My Picture,” photographs that appear to be unrehearsed and spontaneous are, in fact, nearly as premeditated as any run-of-the-mill fashion editorial. In no time at all, shots featuring “Tumblr famous” people taken by established street style photographers hit the web and get swept up in an endless reblogging universe. Start-up social media brands take advantage of this craze and throw their equally-premeditated snapshots into the digital sea, hoping to ride the same wave as the pros. Although some attempts are successful, the failures are painfully clear and the result is clothing that is nothing more than a parody of itself. If a lack of real-world context didn’t discredit these brands enough, then producing something that is somehow worse than the knock-off of the real thing must.
Whether this phenomenon has a positive or negative effect on the future of fashion and style is debatable. In some ways it gives brands that would otherwise fizzle and die a fighting chance. It’s possible even that some of these brands will gain significant value in reality the same way Bitcoin began as a digital currency before becoming accepted as a genuine form of payment in the tactile world. On the other hand, the system itself favors the repetitive and the familiar and has no care or need for substance.
In the end, it’s up to us as users of these networks and as fashion consumers to determine what does and doesn’t have value. Trends and hype will always be around. Deciding whether or not to buy into them is, as always, up to our own discretion. Choose wisely.