(Un)Feminist Guilty Pleasure: Street fashion blogs

Most of the time when we write about photographing people on the street, we’re talking about dudes who are cat-callers and harassers. But part of my daily internet consumption — in between the New York Times and feminist blogs and everything I read for my job — is a healthy dose of street fashion blogs. From Monterey to Minneapolis, Tokyo to Helsinki, many major cities (and some smaller towns) have a dedicated street photographer who sets out every day to document the local style. (Perhaps the most well-known street-fashion blog is the Sartorialist — not my personal fave, but a classic. For an overview of lots of cities, check out Street Peeper.)
I like that these are fashion photographs featuring people who are not bone-thin, Photoshopped, or posed like marionettes. For someone like me with a weakness for fashion, street-style blogs seem like a lesser evil to the glossy fashion magazines, which always intersperse articles about clothes with articles trying to convince me that five almonds and an espresso is the breakfast of emaciated champions. While every street-fashion photographer is an editor — in that s/he chooses which people to snap on the street — I like to think that it’s a bit more unmediated than Vogue‘s fashion spreads, which only highlight clothes from the latest absurdly expensive designer collections.

Street-fashion blogs indulge the voyeurist in me, and allow me to examine the finer points of how people present themselves to the world. (I especially love how the Scandinavian street-fashionistas play with androgyny.) Plus, I like getting my superficial style fix from real people — people on a budget, people who don’t look perfect in every photo, people who are their own personal stylist. I especially like seeing women with real bodies — with bow legs and freckles and little boobs and frizzy hair and round bellies and all manner of tiny quirks — being portrayed as fashionable and awesome.
Of course, there’s a reason this is a guilty pleasure. If I’m totally honest, most of these blogs don’t really live up to the ideal I just laid out. Yes, they feature real people, not Photoshopped models. But it’s still about fashion. Which, even if it’s purchased in a thrift store rather than a designer boutique, is a superficial thing. These blogs still manage to almost exclusively portray the stylish residents of their cities who are young, white, able-bodied, and class-privileged. It’s a real stretch to say that any of the New York street-fashion blogs, for example, even kind of manage to capture a diverse cross-section of style in the city. These are not sites that seek out types of style and beauty that run counter to the images we get in the glossies. What the blogs portray is really just a twist on the mainstream.
As Miriam wrote in her intro to this series, “We at Feministing believe there are ways to maintain a critical eye towards these (un)feminist things while still enjoying them.” So I suppose that’s my mantra here. And in the meantime, if someone out there knows of (or wants to start!) a street-fashion blog that actually makes a concerted effort to highlight the awesome style of non-white, non-skinny, non-able-bodied fashionistas, let me know about it! I’d love to add it to my daily reading, guilt-free.

Join the Conversation

  • AnnaBella

    I’ve definitely been known to read some of those street style blogs. They’re not perfect, but they’re a good alternative to vapid fashion magazines that only tout upscale designer clothes.
    I think my un-feminist guilty pleasure is along the same lines: I have been known to watch How to Look Good Naked. (I know there’s an American version, but I live in the UK and I watch the British one.) I know that they promote very specific and exclusive formulations of beauty and femininity, and the focus still remains on purchasing the right clothes to look/feel good, but I’m a sucker for seeing the women so happy and confident at the end of the show.

  • Chelsea

    I love love love street fashion blogs. While I really only read a few (Face Hunter and Sart are my main ones, and those are the best known probs) I also love Style Bubble which kind of mixes the writer’s (Susie Bubble) personal style with runway/designer fashion posts. I like her because I think she does have an undercurrent of body acceptance and although she’s certainly able to afford more designer stuff than most, she acknowledges this and tends to discuss all sorts of other tricky fashion vs. real life topics. Plus she’s so amazingly experimental and knowledgeable about fashion – it’s always an entertaining read. She makes me happy, in short.
    My guilty/infuriating pleasure in the fashion blogging world is Fashionista. They are ridiculously snobby and love name-dropping behavior, tend to be completely clueless on social issues surrounding fashion and totally buy into/support the mainstream big big designer world. But I can’t stop checking to see their little tips and photos and various other fashion-related things.

  • rileystclair

    i love street fashion blogs and features!
    i’ve been in them, too.
    it’s a guilty pleasure i suppose, but i enjoy fashion and like you, ann, i find way more sartorial inspiration from real people than i do from vogue. i find the content on blogs (some of them, at least) way more creative and both challenging to the idea that you have to have a stylist and look like jessica alba to be hot shit and that you must only shop at nieman’s.

  • Tiara

    Try looking at the Asian style blogs – you’ll see tons more diversity there. You have to step out of the white western countries to see non-white faces.
    Wardrobe Remix on Flickr showcases people’s daily outfits – members take photos and upload them onto the group. All sorts of imagery and inspiration there!

  • naesung

    My friend who is a street photographer in Seoul runs a street fashion blog/”multi-media magazine” there with some great photography and interesting things: FeetManSeoul. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it, but it’s a little bit of a guilty pleasure. It’s very interesting to hear insights on how fashion is developing there, and its linked divergences from American or European fashion…

  • rebeckery

    I love fashion blogs too, but I find the Sartorialist to be pretty sexist. I complained about it here.

  • wax_ghost

    Good point, rebeckery. The thing I didn’t like about the ones I looked at were exemplified by the Sartorialist’s makeover of that girl; there’s this sense that you have to look a certain way to be photographed. A true street style blog, in my opinion, would photograph a wide variety of people in a wide variety of outfits. It makes me want to start one.

  • a.k.a.wandergrrl

    I particularly like to see how people are creative in the way they alter pieces of clothing, put together thrift-shop items, or make things for themselves. While fashion is a superficial thing, I also like to think of it as a fun way to incorporate a bit of art into everyday life.

  • rileystclair

    rebeckery, good post.
    i enjoy sart, but he does photograph a way wider range of looks and body type in men than he does in women and that sucks.

  • Rzep

    It’s fun to compare the fashions from city to city too…I saw a lot of stuff on a local one http://lindsaysdiet.com/ that I now see reflected in New York. Fun.

  • citymaking

    I don’t agree that fashion is superficial at all. Though it depends what “fashion” refers to. So I’ll just say, I don’t believe “what people wear” is superficial. I think one of the reasons it has been relegated to this status is because certain mainstream styles have been “normalized” as not fashion, which is absurd. Everything is fashion. What people wear a major venue of cultural development and communication that no one can escape and that can be both a site of empowerment and disempowerment – but usually the latter is related to economic injustice, and not to fashion itself per se. Fashion is a major form of cultural communication that I personally find to be a really important tool in not becoming invisible or my identity taken for granted.

  • wax_ghost

    Tiara, the London Street Fashion blog (linked to from the Slate.com article that is Ann’s second link) seems to be pretty diverse; I went to their “Pictures We Like” section and found a sprinkling of white people rather than a sprinkling of people of color.
    citymaking, you have a good point. It reminds me that we should remember that the supposed superficiality of fashion is intricately connected to the historical tendency to consider most things associated with women unimportant and superficial.

  • wax_ghost

    Tiara, the London Street Fashion blog (linked to from the Slate.com article that is Ann’s second link) seems to be pretty diverse; I went to their “Pictures We Like” section and found a sprinkling of white people rather than a sprinkling of people of color.
    citymaking, you have a good point. It reminds me that we should remember that the supposed superficiality of fashion is intricately connected to the historical tendency to consider most things associated with women unimportant and superficial.

  • Rosie

    Yes yes yes! I know this is awful, but I was going to put the Sartorialist as one of the blogs I look at in the Feministing survey, but I thought it would look too vapid and silly. Feministing people, I’m sorry I wasn’t honest! But I really enjoy that blog. I love the way the guy has such an eye for texture and detail. He often comments about these things under the picture itself, and often I otherwise wouldn’t have noticed a really beautiful swatch of fabric or the way the fading on a corduroy jacket looks great, or whatever.
    Rebeckery: Remember that the Sartorialist guy started his blog because he wanted to see how some men “put together” their outfits and he couldn’t find any inspiration on the internet. Which means that he probably has more eye for variety and nuance in men than in women, because that’s what he cares about. I can see how you might object to the fact that the women he does show are often skinny fashion executives/editors/designers/socialites, whereas the men are physically imperfect … errr… fashion executives/editors/designers/socialites. Hang on, what’s going on? … I think this speaks more to the imbalances in the fashion world than to the one on this guy’s website, and I think you took the easy road by getting angry up at him. And anyway, he DOES show a lot of ordinary people who just have a sense of style that he likes.
    It’s a bit pointless to complain that he doesn’t show enough women, or that the ones he does show tend to be a certain fashionista type, when this was never the point of his blog. Why complain about it – why not just not look at the blog instead? If it exists in order to provide inspiration for men who like that classic, tweedy, three-piece-suit thing, and that’s not your gender or taste, wouldn’t it make more sense to just not pay attention to it? There are thousands of fashion blogs, why bother fussing over the fact that this particular one has a focus that you don’t like? To be honest, this kind of seems like blogging pushed to its navel-gazing extreme.
    PS: As far as I know, this is the ONLY blog that tries to showcase men who might not have skinny young bodies that they display by wearing tight clothes and trendy coloured sneakers and making “quirky” expressions, but who do have a personal, developed (i.e they’re old) sense of style. How about you complain about how unfair it is that fat old stylish men are ignored by most blogs?

  • rebeckery

    Rosie, I think that perhaps what I object to the most about The Sartorialist is the fact that it’s so often lazily and untruthfully hailed in print media as this amazing democratic internets phenomenon concerned with the style of ordinary people on the street when it’s actually pretty establishment. (Something that, I suppose, is to be expected when the guy has been working in the fashion industry for about twenty years.)
    Reading your comment, I realise that maybe it’s not the Sartorialist per se that I have a problem with: it’s the fact that people are encouraged to come to his blog because it’s all about “real people”: ie not fashion editors and models and all the rest of it. If you go there expecting that sort of thing, as you scroll down you can’t help to be disheartened by the apparent invisibility of older and less conventionally attractive women. Perhaps the Sartorialist can’t be all things to all people, but I just wish people would stop pretending that it isn’t as elitist as anything else in the fashion world.

  • http://www.ripittoshreds.blogspot.com mary

    Fashion blogs don’t have to be a guilty pleasure! There are some good ones! I finally stopped “reading” The Sartorialist when I could no longer take the blandness and designer mediocrity it has descended into.
    I recommend Bits and Bobbins, an excellent fashion blog maintained by the creator of Wardrobe_Remix on flickr, which is actually about celebrating personal style and not imitating designer/hipster driven trends.
    I also maintain a fashion blog with a feminist/mean slant, Rip it to Shreds, which is mostly criticism of the fashion world/hipster fashion/ bafflement at why the 90’s are somehow back/etc., with some love for vintage thrown in.
    I too have a love-hate relationship with the typical fashion blog.

  • everybodyever

    I’m confused — how are street fashion blogs categorically unfeminist?
    I get that fashion more generally is classist, size-biased and perhaps racist. But does that necessarily make it specifically unfeminist, rather than with which whose exclusiveness something that you as a feminist are uncomfortable?
    And its being “superficial” is, I imagine a lot of designers would argue, a subjective issue. Not that I personally am invested in fashion or anything.

  • http://www.viragobites.wordpress.com virago.bites

    If you’re on Flickr Wardrobe Remix is a fab group that promotes digging stuff out of your wardrobe and mixing it all up to make a new look. They’re also fans of thrifting, modding and fashionistas of all shapes, genders and sizes.

  • Ann

    Yes, I’m already a reader of Bits & Bobbins and a Wardrobe Remix follower. (Thanks for the tips, though!) I read a lot of personal-style blogs in addition to the street fashion variety.
    And everyboyever, I think we hit on calling this series (Un)Feminist Guilty Pleasures as a way of describing things that are not, on their face, feminist. We considered calling it Anti-Feminist Guilty Pleasures, but that’s not really accurate. The things we discuss are not necessarily in direct opposition to feminism. I think street fashion blogs fit into this category of “not feminist, but not anti-feminist.” So I certainly didn’t mean to imply with this post that I view fashion, style, or all fashion/style blogs as in opposition to feminism.

  • susanb

    there are tons of great fashion blogs on the internet. i like just to read them and not buy. My husband would be made if i bought everything i like.
    japanese fashion