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Fashion and the Internet: Looking Good Online

· October 15, 2015

Darling. Babes. Sweetie. I’m exhausted! New York, London, Milan, Paris… the fashion weeks are nearly done. I haven’t actually been to any of them, of course — I’ve just seen every hot new look and edgy trend through the plethora of online fashion sources, from lovingly-curated Tumblrs to gossip sites’ coverage of who was spotted on the F’Row. The Internet has changed the way we look for good.

“The Internet has opened up what was once a closed elite industry,” says Angela Clarke, author of Confessions of a Fashionista. Her book started life as an anonymous online column, detailing the divas, dazzling glamour and minuscule dogs of the fashion world. “Now everyone can, and wants to, get on the other side of the velvet rope.”

Ms. Clarke points to our fascination with the fashion industry, and the visual beauty at its core, that’s “seen early adopters of sharing platforms like Instagram and blogs democratically rise through the power ranks of fashion.” It’s also one of the few areas where the web skews female — look at Pinterest.

Before — think back to the pre-internet days when Naomi Campbell fell off those enormous Vivienne Westwood platforms — magazine fashion editors wore black and took notes in the background. Now, with a different kind of platform, “bloggers and the instagrammers now command front row seats, sponsorship deals and free gifts as their audience reach and influence is too big for brands to ignore,” Ms. Clarke adds.

What you wear says so much about who you are, whether you like it or not, and fashion was the ultimate top-down industry as Meryl Streep, playing a thinly-disguised Anna Wintour in The Devil Wears Prada, explained to proto-intellectual intern Anne Hathaway. “It’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”

The joy of the internet is you’re less and less limited to the pile of stuff, and the strongly-held views of a select few, on what to do with it. Look at the world of fashion blogs. There are millions of sources of inspiration for those traditionally underserved by the fashion industry, from plus-size clothes with literary allusions, to black fashion mavens, to those of us who just love out-there items like harem pants, overalls, shoulder pads, full length jumpsuits, and chunky statement jewelry — all of which are brilliantly curated at the magnificently-named “Man Repeller.”

The next plus point is that it’s that much easier to get the items you want. Say you love that glamorous fifties pin-up look, but fashion has decreed it’s all about kaftans this season. Whatever ??? Vivien of Holloway makes fabulous new dresses from classic patterns all the time. You can find whatever you want, or need, from goth clothes, to post-mastectomy swimwear and Dirndls — and one can spend hours flicking through vintage pieces available on eBay.

If you crave a fast fashion fix, ASOS, Net-A-Porter, “yummy mummy” fave Boden and countless others have made that infinitely easier. You can even recreate that moment where you check out what everybody else has got in the fitting room queue: Ms. Clarke confesses to a weakness for “the addictively voyeuristic Net-A-Porter Live, which allows you to see what other customers are buying in realtime round the world.”

On the other side of the equation, if you make one-off cool stuff and want to sell it, there’s a ton of cool online marketplaces to do so, like Etsy and NotOnTheHighStreet — or just set up your own website and use an online payment platform to get the money to let users find their perfect vintage Spanish wedding veil

In fact, the internet has changed the pace of fashion: faster cycles, easier delivery to stores and homes, and improved technology means clothes change in weeks, not months. And no matter how much people insist “pre-fall” and “cruise” collections are for vacation clothes, I reckon it’s just an excuse to keep feeding the beast with shiny new things four times, not twice, a year. But with designers increasingly live streaming shows, the need to actually get on a plane and see the latest lines is declining all the time. 

Alongside immediacy, there’s transparency — although sometimes not as much as there should be. Some bloggers are more honest than other about freebies. And with them wielding so much influence, there are a *lot* on offer. This great piece about some of Ireland’s top “digital influencers” explains how bloggers make money from curating their looks. 

Many are also paid through programs like RewardStyle, an “invitation only monetization tool for top tier digital style publishers around the world.” When you buy something from a link off your fave style blog, they get a cut. There are 9,000 content creators and 4,000 global retailers currently using the services, and RewardStyle expects content creators using its service to bring in more than $500 million in retail sales this year. So next time someone says “isn’t it just pictures of your mates wearing shoes,” tell them that.

(One unifying factor of the many fashion sites I looked at while writing this is that they are unbelievably heavy and slow to load. Fashion houses, please make your creative vision involve less Flash animations the size of the moon).

Let’s give the final word to platinum-haired high priestess of all things animal-print, Donatella Versace, who told Dazed magazine that before, “there was no internet, there was nothing.” Now, “it amazes me that when I do a show tomorrow, everybody in the world will know what is in it – the transparency of the process, the immediacy, because you show right away.”

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