Fashion on the internet has lived many lives. In the early ’00s, in-the-know followers kept up with news on forums, sharing gossip and tips heard through the grapevine. Advice and opinions traded constantly, often with low-res photos — hosted on now defunct services — to accompany them.
But as download speeds picked up the pace, so did style. Forums like StyleZeitgeist, Superfuture, and Styleforum grew as others turned to Tumblr, where moodboards with rare archival photos were just a reblog away. Then, just as quickly, Instagram happened.
From famous ateliers to voracious consumers, Instagram pages have become an outlet for stream-of-consciousness expression, and attracted hundreds of thousands of followers in the process. You know these accounts when you see what’s on them: a leaked sneaker design; an archival, behind the scenes photo of an early Margiela collection; a Yahoo! Japan auction listing; an old EastBay catalog. Accounts like Lil Jupiter have made a name for their ability to tap into the taste level of this crowd, and parlayed it into partnerships, sneaker collaborations, or consulting gigs.
What pushes people to start these types of accounts? How do they track down all those old photos? And what happens when you build an audience just by posting what you find interesting? We spoke to a few of the most popular moodboard-style accounts on Instagram to learn more. Here’s what they told us.
Stream Your Consciousness
In speaking with the curators behind Archivings.Stacks, Hidden.ny, and Archived Dreams (whose names remain anonymous at their request), the definition of what some people might call a “moodboard” was hotly debated. For some, a moodboard might be more thought-out, similar to a vision board designed to represent a future goal or event. For these pages in particular, the direction is decidedly more stream-of-consciousness — posting whatever is inspiring them at any given moment.
“Anything can become a mood board,” says Archivings.Stacks. “I don’t see my account as a moodboard necessarily. It’s just a reference or the base of a thought and things catapult from there, a random stream of consciousness that’s based on what I see and appreciate in the moment.” For them, it started by diving into ’90s runway magazines about Tokyo Fashion Week. “That was my step into this sort of thing. I would put everything on my website, archivings.net. But I slowly made the trek over to social media.”
For Hidden, a graphic designer based in New York, it was an exercise rooted in their day job. “I’d been working freelance and wanted to show my clients what inspired me,” they said via email. “After a few weeks, I was obsessed with reminiscing over past releases that I’d loved and the small audience I’d gained seemed to enjoy it, too. For me, it was quite therapeutic… [it] gave me a clear understanding of what I liked and helped me to put that into my work.”
Starting in the mid-’00s, Hidden began hoarding photos. Instagram simply became the outlet of choice. Striking the balance of what’s interesting and controversial can be difficult, but a lot of it is rooted in going down rabbit holes to find something new. “With fashion as a whole, it’s impossible to dig deep in every corner and every piece of clothing,” says Archived Dreams. “But I’m really into the nostalgic feeling that photos bring. I keep learning new things and I like sharing them. I try to make it simple so people can get a glimpse of the world that exists.”
It’s All About the Archive
Anyone who has been lost in one of those rabbit holes knows how hard it can be to track down specific images or information. Especially about fashion. So how exactly do these accounts unearth and discover content that makes them — and their followers — tick? Whether it’s posting about designers or collections from a certain era or just knowing exactly where to look when a fleeting thought strikes, they’re resourceful when it comes to posting content that fits their aesthetic. And sometimes, the likes pile up on the most unexpected choices.
“After doing it for a while, you get a feeling about what will get a good response,” says Archived Dreams. Generally, shoes do pretty well. But it depends how controversial the post is. One of my most-viewed and most-liked posts is this shoe that Elon Musk wore that looked like a cybertruck.”
They won’t always tell you where they’re looking, though. “Everything I post for the most part is from a physical book,” Archivings.Stacks says, which is reiterated in their Instagram bio. “I try to build my own content. It’s just important for me to do it myself. I don’t really know why, maybe it just feels a little more authentic.” Their approach has paid off, too, as accounts have used images that they’ve scanned. “That’s the point — sharing the images. They can do whatever they want with them.”
It’s also helped them track down items and build a wardrobe archive that stylists have borrowed from, or even helped people sell their own gear. “Part of my audience is people who own archival clothing and are interested in selling it on Grailed,” they say. “Sometimes, when you have an associated image, you can ask for more money because you see it in the original context.”
Hidden even mentions that they’ve pulled over 50,000 images since they first got into fashion in the mid-’00s. “I felt like I was saving them for a reason,” they say. “The mid-2000’s streetwear era is what got me into fashion and I can’t seem to get over it — Bapestas, Billionaire’s Boys Club sweaters and Nike SBs. It lacks pretentiousness and allows for anyone to enjoy it.”
By Them, For You, and What’s Changed
But in the end, it all goes back to “Why?” Now that they’ve cultivated a pretty sizable following, what comes next? By simply posting engaging content, they’ve opened up some new doors.
Archived Dreams has had DMs from Michèle Lamy, Matthew Williams, Jeff Staple, and Hiroshi Fujiwara (who even reposted some of their photos). “I’m still seeing what I can do with it in the future,” they say, thinking about what a career in fashion might look like — they’re just a senior in high school, after all.
For Hidden, Instagram has become a community they describe as a bit “surreal, having thousands of people sharing the same appreciation.” They’ve used the platform to produce merchandise and collaborate with BRAIN/child, BRIGADE, Velour Scars, and more.
“My personal goal with the page was to have it be something that you’d view and save for yourself,” Archivings.Stacks says. “It’s been just about getting the images online, and now I’ve made appointments to have people borrow books from me. That’s exciting. I’m even working on a book based off the page, but I can’t say much about it.”
In a way, they might be a new vein of museum curators, with Instagram as their exhibit. Who would have guessed that sharp curation skills can gain you Instagram followers and even lead to some real world business deals?