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THE DIGITAL FASHION GAZE

By Vanessa Rosales

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Master of Arts in Fashion Studies MA Program in Fashion Studies 2014 | Parsons The New School for Design


Copyright Š 2014 by Vanessa Rosales


CONTENTS Acknowledgements Abstract Introduction and Literature Review

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I. Digital Street-Style Photography: A Remediation of Vision

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II. Woman-With-Screen: Perceptions of Fashion and Femininity through Personal Style Blogs

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III. The Instagram Conclusion: Hyper-Perceptions of Contemporary Fashion

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Illustrations

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Gratitude is an art I currently find myself attempting to cultivate. It connects our inner depths to a sense of purpose; it drenches our beings with the beauty that enhances our sense of joy and aliveness. The individuals to whom I bid my gratitude here have all recognized my path as a writer, which I ignited from a very early age. To be blessed with the space, the time and the provision to pursue what bestows us with a sense of purpose is a human experience of marvel that words cannot account for. The yearning to come to the city of New York to deepen my capacities as a writer had been a longcaressed dream and its materialization has unraveled in the company of individuals whose presence has complemented my growth. I thank my father, whose untiring and abundant generosity has made every single one of my pursuits in life possible, for allowing me to be a woman with the fervent spirit of independence and tenacity he has. I thank my mother, for holding me as the great treasure of her pride, for lovingly refreshing my virtues when I have needed it most. I thank them both for always allowing me to be different, in a medium that expects conventionality from women. I thank my sister and best friend, Amelia, for filling the days in my writer’s cave with steady encouragement, perspective, patience, faith and the beauty of her luminosity. Her presence in New York has been a balm. I thank my roommate, Ana María, who as a talented interior decorator created a privileged space for me to write in the comfort of my own home and for her caring patience as I wrote. I thank Carlos, the man whom I love and whose love, acceptance, kindness and spiritual fortitude has moved me into becoming a better writer, a better woman, and a better human being. And I deeply thank doctor Marilyn Cohen, for since the moment I entered her presence I wished for her to be my mentor – and this she has been, in both academia and life. Perhaps without knowing so, she gifted me with ideas and thoughts I had always been searching for. She gave me the gift of feminism, which has become a vital part of my life as a thinker and a woman. She showed me the ways in which a reflective femininity can reconcile beauty, style and substance. I thank her for granting me the tools I was searching for to become a better writer.

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ABSTRACT In a digital context, fashion is often viewed on computer and telephone screens. This has created and enabled certain ways of looking at fashionable dress. The act of looking has always been crucial to fashion and the way fashion is looked at is, in turn, determined by the ways in which it is pictorially represented. It was Anne Hollander, in the iconic Seeing Through Clothes, the one to develop a theory in which the fashionability of clothes is defined by the images that represent them in a given context. Hollander spoke of paintings, the cinema and photography as the representations that defined the ‘visual truth’ of fashion. Inspired by such an idea, this thesis has aimed to actualize such a theory, by bringing it into a contemporary, hypermodern context dominated by digital technologies. In this actualization, digital imagery provides the pictorial representations of fashion today. Street-style photography, personal style blogs and Instagram streams play out similar functions as Impressionist painting in the nineteenth-century or moving images of fashionably dressed women in 1930s cinema.

The way fashion is visually rendered today coincides with the reality of the fashion being represented in digital images. Both form of representation and subject matter are defined by eclecticism, stylistic variety, a voracious sense of speed and a dizzying temporality. Fashion circulates freely, madly and quickly in the shape of digital image. Additionally, these representations and the ways of looking they enable have implications on contemporary subjectivity and identity. These representations also refashion older visual tropes usually found in old media such as magazines. New media technologies reshape such tropes giving them new visibility through the dynamics of the Internet.

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Digital images also create their particular tropes and forms of representation. Photographs zoom-in on intrepid combinations and eclectic ensembles. Individuals formerly excluded from the fashion system are allowed to participate in fashion by both seeing images of it all through the day, without spatial constraints and also by being able to produce digital images. Women are allowed to selfrepresent through blogs that propose sartorial individualities, in virtual spaces where screens act as mirrors. Feminine identities in this digital context exert a power over the ways in which women are perceived. This, in a way, deflects the male gaze.

The digital fashion gaze is, as argued here, strongly female. Close-ups of feet, hands and torsos are not meant to dismember the female body but reflect the ways in which women look at fashion: always avid for detail. This female gaze is not, however, exempt from ambivalence. Even though women have the power to create images of themselves, feminine identity is still very much defined by beauty, fashionability and appearance. The three mediums analyzed here – street-style photography, personal style blogs and Instagram – all reflect a way of looking at fashion that is shaped by ephemerality and tireless transformation. Digital fashion images mirror the quick-paced rhythms of a fashion that is always changing, in both clothes and images.

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INTRODUCTION No organ is more promiscuous than the eye, and no appetite more insatiable than the hunger to look. -Guy Trebay

Fashion is a language of images, a sphere of pictures in which clothes adorn the human body. The woman in striking attire passing us by on the sidewalk; the model swaying her slim corporality on the runway; the frozen vision of mixed and matched separate pieces on the lustrous page of the magazine; the female in trendy ensemble smiling from the computer or the telephone screen. These images are defined by the way they are looked at. As a visual idiom, fashion both shapes and is shaped by ways of seeing; modes of perception that are continuously subject to context. This act, of looking at clothes, is shaped by the ways in which they are visually represented.

We are, according to Anne Hollander, “a picture-making civilization”; perpetually moved by the “visual need to see the human world, both known and imagined, in the form of life-like images.”1 In Seeing Through Clothes, Hollander developed a theory of looking based on the power that images have in relation to clothing. Clothes, she reasons, are best understood through the medium of visual convention. It is the ‘alchemy of visual representation’ that defines fashionable dress in a certain time or period. The most significant aspect of clothing is, in Hollander´s terms, the way it looks and this depends not on matters of design or manufacture, but on how clothes are actually perceived visually. Consequently, it is the style of pictorial representation that governs an epoch’s ideas of fashionable dress. Using this logic, visual need is actually stronger than practical demand. What is fashionable in

                                                                                                              1  Anne, Hollander. Seeing Through Clothes (New York: Viking Press, 1978).    


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clothes conforms to a pictorial ideal. And this ideal perception is accomplished through the images offered by representational artists. Fashion, then, is controlled by a ‘visual truth.’

When Hollander was writing, in the late 1970s, photography and cinema were already the most common medium for figurative art; “camera vision”, she pronounced, had become “the ultimate reference for everyone’s sense of visual truth.”2 But Hollander, as a historian, was also trying to demonstrate that the history of Western art is filled with representations of clothed human figures and that changes in fashion were predominantly of visual nature. The ways clothes look and the way these looks change, at any given time, is made clear through the ways in which they are pictorially represented. Dressing is, she says, always picture-making, with reference to the form of imagery that is predominant in a specific time frame. Hence, the effect the garment may have on the body is pleasing because it resembles and concords with a contemporary pictorial ideal. This ideal derives from pictures of humans wearing clothes. Consequently, bodily movement and aesthetic selfcomposition tend to conform to mental self-images that are always partly conceived with the help of other (external) images. Whether these images be paintings, drawings, prints, photographs or the moving pictures of the cinema varies according to context; but they can all be a common notion of visual reality, a common vision which shapes the way people dress and perceive what is fashionable. For Hollander, art has continually monitored the perception of clothes.

The nature of visual imagery, however, is transformed by time. In nineteenth-century Paris, clothes were likely to be seen on oil-painted canvases; the period’s dominating pictorial convention as well as in prints. Fashionable women were rendered through the gaze of Impressionist artists who were taking note of fashionability as a way of being modern as the recent exhibition, Impressionism, Fashion,

                                                                                                              2  Hollander, 338.    


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and Modernity, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art demonstrated.3 The exhibit, in which Impressionist paintings render the details of fashionable dress in French women of the period, for example, highlighted the way fashion was a crucial subject matter for painters in late nineteenthcentury Paris. In the 1930s, the black and white moving images of cinema were a common place in which to see glamorous lamé and timely silhouettes, steered by a star system that was already exploiting advertorial tie-ins to film. Today, as we inhabit a realm of digital experience, the perceptions of dress have come to be affected by the constantly in-flux, instantly accessible, highdefinition images of digital technologies. Fashionable dress is often viewed on computer and telephone screens, rather than on paintings or in film.

This thesis argues that pictorial representations of fashion today are found in digital imagery: in the images of street style photography, personal style blogs and, most recently, Instagram streams. Both the blogosphere and portable phones have enabled a distinct gateway into fashion, creating a virtual sphere dominated by immediacy and stripped of the constraints of spatiality. Both contain images that simultaneously shape and are shaped by a time where fashion has grown ever more decentered and democratized or accessible as image. In the past few years, these mediums have also developed a visual language of their own, generating stylistic tropes that have trained the gaze of those who heed these technologies – tropes that, in our contemporary “visual alchemy” have become “naturalized” and have affected how people style themselves. These remain scarcely examined by the academy.

For the past seven years, I have been observing how these digital technologies unfold, seeing how they have crept into the world of fashion. In 2006, still living in a Latin American country with a fashion culture in the making, I discovered I could see the fashionable creatures of Paris, Copenhagen or New York, at any moment, on my computer screen. Two years later, during my first stints as a fashion writer, living in Buenos Aires, I became acquainted with the now globally

                                                                                                              3  Gloria, Groom, Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity. (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2012).  


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recognized phenomenon of young women who dared to become their own arbiters of style by sharing, on a daily basis, detailed and visual accounts of their sartorial individualities. As an established fashion critic in my home country, Colombia, I also witnessed the ways in which the Internet began to penetrate urban, sartorial, everyday habits. My persistent interest in what these images signify for the “spirit” of our times and the effects they have on contemporary subjectivity have often propelled solitary moments of inspection as well as journalistic pursuits.

In my trajectory within the field of fashion studies, I often feel the urge to create pathways between the theoretical and the contemporary. This perhaps explains why, during my first encounter with Hollander, my initial urge was to find homologous pictorial conventions between the contexts she analyzed and the fashion-frantic world we live in today. This led, initially, to a timid analysis of interesting similarities between personal style blogs and eighteenth-century French fashion plates. My everyday observations of these images constantly spark musings on what they reflect of the time we are living in and what they signify for contemporary femininity.

Hence, this thesis, predominantly inspired by Hollander, aims to dissect how we see a fashion moment through current pictorial – digital - representations. In this context, the “fashion moment” is singled out as a very specific time frame: digital images produced from 2012-2013. It uses three forms of digital fashion representations: street-style photography, personal style blogs and Instagram. It focuses on the work of Tommy Ton, Adam Katz and Carola de Armas. In order to limit my scope of analysis, I view their street-style photography set around the major shows during the biannual fashion week circuit, where these three photographers are driven every season to capture their subjects. It includes the images created by three personal style bloggers: an Italian, a Parisian and a New Yorker: Chiara Feragni, from The Blonde Salad,; Alix Bancourt, from The Cherry Blossom Girl; and Leandra Medine, from Man Repeller. I have selected four images from each of the women’s blogs for analysis. Finally, it also includes Instagram, one of the latest additions to digital technologies; a visual-


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driven realm taking place on the surface of compact iPhone screens, with flows of images vertiginously being replenished by the minute, where contemporary fashion brands, designers, stylists and insiders have found a fitting platform for the quickened paces of current fashion.

Using a visual semiotic approach, I look at the images of street style photography, personal style blogs and Instagram in order to trace differences and similarities, searching and defining invariant visual features and connecting these to a mixed body of theories from diverse disciplines. This range embraces both fashion and media studies, anthropological consumption, feminist philosophy, cultural theory and postmodern assessments of fashion. I connect differences and similarities to literature on digital media and the impact it has had on the aesthetics of fashion. I touch upon the ways in which digital technologies have also enabled transformations of vision, new ways of subjectivity and distinctive ways of looking. A wider theme that runs through my research is the feminine ideal and gaze as rendered in the images.

A digital fashion image might reveal a high-definition close-up of a female torso, while describing the mixture of pattern and color in her blouse and jacket; the particular way her hand clasps a candyhued clutch. Headless women appear standing against an abstract urban backdrop, their bodies clothed in unexpected, clashing, yet harmonic colorful prints. Or frontal head-to-toe shots will show a glowing female, dressed in contrasting patterns of plaid, a boxy jacket placed carefully over her shoulders. The aim of these tropes is to show detail in composition, to allow the observer to look at every single element that composes a contemporary fashionable look. There are photographs of legs caught in movement, going somewhere, feet pushed upwards in arresting shoes – in lustful coral red or with heels in the whimsical shape of the Eiffel Tower. These are objectified images comparable to movie posters, stills, and cinematographic scenes, already examined by feminist theorists. These digital images are interrogated throughout, using a variety of theoretical frameworks. Through them, I unpack themes of zeitgeist, subjectivity, hypermodernity, consumerism, the communication of


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fashionable self, vision and self-knowledge, an aesthetic of ephemerality, rhizomatic time, eclecticism and contemporary ideals of femininity, also questioning the waves of feminist theory and where this places feminist ideology today.

Hollander argued that the visual language developed by fashion photography came to ape the look of snapshots, and that ‘modern visual taste’ came to be grounded on instantaneity.4 This thesis draws on this notion in order to speak of a ‘hypermodern visual taste’, shaped in and by digital images. Hypermodernity is the term utilized and coined by French philosopher Giles Lipovetsky in Hypermodern Times, a 2005 essay that meant to actualize the dated concept of postmodernism. In short, hypermodernity is a societal status in which freedom and individuality predominate. Within this context, there is an important emphasis on the values and developments of new technologies of information. Hypermodernity is also a context in which norms are imposed by choice; it is also about the realm of the spectacle, where ideological discourses have been taken over by the logic of fashion and where there is a multiplication of subjective viewpoints and singularities; stances that, according to Lipovetsky, are not necessarily defined by creativity or reflectivity, but by flexibility and variety.

These elements, described by Lipovetsky, combine with another form of diversity: stylistic eclecticism, a feature commonly attributed to postmodernity. This combination creates a temporal framework for the developments of subjectivity and perception of dress through digital imagery. Eclecticism is a recurring theme in the images of street-style photography that render a contemporary fashionable ideal; it is also common ground in the self-representations of personal style bloggers and often stands as a trait of contemporary fashionability, a virtue in stylistic or sartorial creativity and audacity. I am defining eclecticism as a style in which things that are not usually combined can go together, where contrary elements can display a harmonic, fashionable whole. This eclecticism, I argue, is exaggerated by a digital fashion context. It can be visible within a single outfit, but also in

                                                                                                              4  Hollander, 322.    


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the ability to style oneself differently on a daily basis. Fashionability today celebrates variety in guises; hence, a woman can look edgy one day and ladylike the next, or she can combine both references in a single ensemble.

A subjectivity tied to eclectism, has a lot to do with time and space. In a hypermodern context, a setting where digital technologies have created instantaneous access to information, communication and images, the experience of time and space has been dramatically compressed, reduced in such a way that it has also had an effect on the temporality of fashion. Fashion cycles have been radically condensed, recycling has speeded up, novelty has become an arduous endeavor, and the traditional logic of fashion – the logic of replacement, the voracious pursuit of the new – has been redefined by a logic of accumulation (or supplementation)5. The old and the new exist side by side; stylistic multiplicity proliferates, and no single style has been able to completely dominate the field of fashion since the 1960s. Instead, the fashion landscape has become increasingly polymorphic, with no style being more in fashion than the other, but with multiple styles overlapping each other instead. In this context, all styles enjoy a general contemporaneity. This heterogeneity, which validates virtually any style, regardless of the cycle or season, is also defined here as eclecticism. This eclecticism in fashion and aesthetic expression also remits to Lipovetsky’s idea on the multiplication of subjective viewpoints that is characteristic of hypermodernity.

Themes of consumption are also vital to this analysis. Fashion is conventionally known for its pursuit of novelty and untiring renewal. Fashionability usually implies the quick, voracious replacement and renovation of commodities. Modern consumption, in this sense, places high value on an aesthetic of ephemerality. In this theoretical context, consumption can be related to Lipovetsky’s concept of hyperconsumerism. The most notorious difference between postmodernity and hypermodernity is the experience of time it creates. In this sense, hyperconsumerism is the urge to revivify time through

                                                                                                              5  Lars Svendsen, Fashion: A Philosophy. (London: Reaktion Books, 2006) 31-33    


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the renewal of commodities, a practice that exacerbates the logic of replacement already intrinsic to fashion.

Digital images, created within a hypermodern context, are propelled by this logic of replacement, as the blogosphere and the ever-changing flux of images on Instagram, for example, are constantly being replenished by new images, posts, links and virtual texts. Hence, in a hypermodern context, where the logic of fashion is ubiquitous, digital technologies both reflect and configure a dynamic of continuous speed and replacement. The way we look at these images, and hence the way we experience fashion, must have an effect on contemporary perceptions of dress and subjectivity.

This idea that a pictorial practice of representation can coincide with the subject it renders is central to the topic of this thesis. The way fashion is visually represented today through digital images coincides with the reality of the fashion it renders. Form and subject overlap. Just as the blogosphere mirrors the very logic of fashion, in a similar way, the nature of digital images matches the fleetingness, speed, immediacy, saturation of detail, eclecticism, and narcissism that defines fashion today, and the nature of its everyday life. If fashion is, as described by Hollander, a lot about looking, digital technologies have created their own ways of subjectivity; particular forms of experiencing both time and space; peculiar modes of perception that define what is fashionable today. In a digital context, subjectivity becomes even more dominated by the act of looking. This context brings about a transformation of vision and specific viewing practices. It is possible to see, all through the day, at any moment, from any place, the realm of the Internet, its ever-flowing, constantly relieved streams of images. Digital images of fashion saturate computer and telephone screens. These images stand as our present pictorial representations of fashion. What they say about the visual truth of fashionable dress today is what this thesis aims to further unveil.


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In contrast to paintings in an exhibition or to the act of going to the cinema, digital fashion images are stripped of spatial constraints, meaning they can be accessed by virtually anyone who has a computer or a mobile telephone. This gives them a distinctive temporality - they can be viewed anywhere at any time and they are constantly being changed and replaced. If Impressionist paintings captured the hesitancy and new speeds of urban, late-nineteenth century Paris, digital images reflect the velocity of the digital age; a sense of time that is fluid and fragmented, made of a series of moments that can be encountered in whatever order the person who is looking decides. They also reflect how, today, the pursuit of newness - an intrinsic trait in the traditional logic of fashion – has changed. Whereas newness in fashion used to concentrate around the biannual fashion week circuit, newness is now a permanent present, constantly made visible by the Internet.6 This shift in the idea of newness feeds eclecticism and the contemporaneity of all styles.

Digital images of fashion, replenished daily and constantly, mediate fashion as something that is always transient, passing and gone.7 In addition, they crystallize the fact that digital technologies have made it possible for subjects formerly excluded from the fashion system to actively participate as producers of content and representation of fashion. In this context, anyone can not only see but also produce these images. This again can be related to Lipovetsky in what he described as one of hypermodernity’s most defining traits: the vertiginous multiplication of subjective viewpoints. As more people are able to participate in the representation of fashion, subjectivity widens and proliferates. And the fact that newness is being pursued through the replenishment of digital images with an unending pace also connects to Lipovetsky’s ideas of hyperconsumerism, which calls for the renewal of time through commodities. The temporality created by these digital images creates a way of seeing and experiencing fashion. In this context, fashion feels tangible and proximate because it is so highly accessible as digital image.

                                                                                                              6  Agnés Rocamora, “Hypertextuality and Remediation in the Fashion Media: The case of fashion blogs”, in Journalism Practice, 6:1 (2012) 97. 7  Rocamora, 98.


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The first chapter of this thesis analyzes the digital street-style photography captured outside of the major fashion shows, during the biannual runway circuit. It looks into the ways this genre of street style photography has created ways of looking at fashion; shaping the ways we perceive fashionable dress today. The works of Tommy Ton, Adam Katz and Carola de Armas are analyzed through a visual semiotic approach. I argue that the style of photographic representation in these images blends visual tropes drawn from fashion magazines and conventional concepts of street style. While they give the concept of street style new meaning and visibility, these images demonstrate the way the street, as a backdrop for the articulation of fashion, has shifted within a digital context. Using the concept of ‘remediation’, in which old and new media reshape each other without radically replacing one another, it argues that digital street-style photography transforms our vision of street style, reflecting its digital nature in both form and content. The photographs, which reflect contemporary fashion’s eclecticism, also mirror a fashion that is democratic, not just because of its use of the street, but also because it is highly and speedily accessible as digital image.

In chapter two, I explore the ways we can look at contemporary fashion through the images produced by three personal style bloggers. The phenomenon of personal style blogs, which began developing in the mid 00’s, is now one of the most crucial players in the creation of contemporary fashion discourse and it reflects a fashion landscape where more and more individuals are able to interpret fashion. Because modes of perception are closely linked to subjectivity, this section touches upon ideas of feminine identity formation in a digital, decentralized and democratized fashion context. It explores how personal style bloggers are able to self-represent and exert a control over their image, subverting the traditional so-called “male gaze.” The narcissism and the fundamental role of appearance and commodities in identity formation, however, make control over their portraiture ultimately ambivalent. By analyzing selected posts and images from Chiara Ferragni from


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theblondesalad, Alix Bancourt from thecherryblossomgirl and Leandra Medine from themanrepeller, it assesses concepts related to the feminine self, self-representation through digital technologies, sartorial variety, the computer and telephone screen as mirrors and the temporality of contemporary fashion. It also looks into how personal fashion blogs remediate visual tropes traditionally found in fashion magazines. Overall, it analyzes a way of looking that clearly reflects subjectivities in a digital fashion context.

The third and concluding section is centered on Instagram and the “hyper-perceptions” of fashion the platform enables. As one of new media’s most recent developments and as one of the fashion industry’s current darlings, Instagram’s technology contains most of the characteristic elements of the general blogosphere – speed, hypertextuality, fluid time, the ongoing, endless replenishment of fashionable goods and images. However, Instagram has taken all of this to an entire different level, by making access and immediacy portable, within the reach of our pockets. This is because Instagram can only fully operate via iPhones or iPads. Most of the visual tropes developed by both street style blogs and personal style blogs are found within the domains of Instagram, but they are all taken into new levels of speed and immediacy. Ultimately, I argue that Instagram is an evolution of the developments of new media in the past few years and that, as a pictorial style of representation, it offers imagery that matches with astounding precision the current logic of contemporary fashion. Research and analysis here have discovered that the digital fashion gaze can be considered a female gaze; with visual tropes that resort to details in order to visually and accurately scrutinize clothes and styles. This “female gaze”, however, is not exempt from the narcissism, consumerism and the definition of self through appearance, thus reflecting the ambivalence of contemporary femininity within current fashion.

This thesis is ultimately about the ways we look at clothes through digital images. And the ways in which clothes are represented through these images has to do with wider contexts of the


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contemporary landscape they are set in: subjectivity, consumption, temporality and aesthetic values. Through these images, albeit an admittedly and necessarily extremely limited selection, I attempt to unveil our hypermodern, digital pictorial ideal of fashion today.


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LITERATURE REVIEW

This thesis sets out to analyze a specific selection of digital fashion images, and in setting out their differences and similarities, it aims to connect them to a varied theoretical body of literature in order to unpack themes of subjectivity, consumption, eclecticism, ideals of femininity and digital technologies. It proposes to analyze how technology and new media have shaped contemporary perceptions of dress. The visual tropes found in the three platforms being analyzed—street photography, personal blogs and Instagram—overlap, feeding from each other and replicating across their different formats. This literature review relates equally to all three areas. Because this thesis analyzes digital fashion, I have drawn my sources from various fields in order to create a theoretical framework from which to work. Media theory and analysis, fashion studies and analysis, feminist theory and philosophy, perspectives on consumption and cultural and postmodern theory are all combined. My literature review covers those authors and readings I have found most helpful for my examination. Delving into digital fashion has required a blurring of genres or fields; consequently, because the theory for my analysis comes from diverse areas, the literature review is somewhat extensive. I believe that the literature review itself, the connections made, are part of what this thesis might contribute to fashion studies.


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*

As stated in my introduction, Hollander’s theories from Seeing Through Clothes have influenced my ideas as to how images shape ideals of fashion. Giles Lipovetsky’s Hypermodern Times, an essay that actualizes the term ‘postmodernity,’ provides a cultural context wherein these digital images are produced. This is particularly relevant here as one of the things being interrogated in these images is what they reveal about the fashion moment they represent. As an evolution of postmodernity, hypermodernity is a time dominated by signs and appearances and this has particular implications for digital images of fashion. I also introduce Llewelyn Negryn’s concept of the self as image and weave in Mike Featherstone’s and Angela McRobbie’s ideas on the importance of the image in postmodern culture. I have found, furthermore, in Kelli Fuery´s New Media: Culture and Image a theoretical framework with which to analyze digital fashion images. Fuery theorizes on how new media crystallizes ‘transformations of vision’, as well as changes in subjectivity and identity formation. I apply these shifts in subjectivity to the perception of contemporary fashion through digital images. To better understand the cultural practices in production, consumption and circulation of fashion enabled by digital technologies I use additional media theory, including the works of Gachoucha Kretz, Lev Manovich, Marshall McLuhan and Douglas Kellner.

Of the latest works on fashion and digital media in the field of fashion studies, Agnès Rocamora´s work on the blogosphere and digital representations of fashion is of particular relevance here, and I include one of the field´s most up-to-date explorations on the subject: Fashion Media: Past and Present, published in January of 2014, at the same time this was being written. An essay from the same book, on the ways digital technologies affect bodily aesthetics, by sociologist Elizabeth Wissinger is also relevant here. Analysis on fashion photography, style blogs and street style from within the field are


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also included, by using ideas from the works of Sophie Woodward and Alistar O’Neill. Their works are not synthetized in this literature review but are discussed in chapters one and two.

Because a chapter of this thesis is concerned with personal style blogs and the feminine ideal these spaces render, I also include feminist theory, particularly the works of Diana Tietjens Meyers and Iris Marion Young. Their ideas are discussed in the second chapter, on personal style blogs. These perspectives provide a way of reading the images found in the virtual spaces in which female fashion bloggers represent a digital fashionable self. Their theories aid in interrogating what these images say about narcissism, the relation of women to looking when it comes to clothes, appearance as a way of defining the female self, and female subjectivity as brought forth by digital technology.

Ben Highmore´s idea that a practice of representation can coincide with its subject matter is highly important to my discussion, as it deals with the fact that form and subject can overlap. Although Highmore is speaking of nineteenth-century French Impressionism, his ideas are highly helpful in analyzing how digital images of fashion match the contemporary fashion they render.

Grasping the aesthetic feeling of hypermodernity

Fashion, for Hollander, is “the whole spectrum of desirable ways of looking at any given time.”8 Changes in fashion are, in her understanding, more visually symbolic than practically driven. This explains why fashion, for Hollander, depends on a visual imagination and why the perception of clothing is accomplished directly through a filter of artistic convention. The visual style in which

                                                                                                              8  Hollander, 350.  


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clothes and the body are synthetized is what constitutes the accepted look of natural reality of a given time. Dressing is conceived here as a form of visual art, with the most important aspect of clothing being how it is perceived. For Hollander, visual representation defines the perception of clothing: (…) dressing is an act usually undertaken with reference to pictures – mental pictures, which are personally edited versions of actual ones. The style in which the image of the clothed figure is rendered – in whatever representation art – is most comfortably consumed and absorbed as realistic at any given time – governs the way we create and perceive our own clothed self. Such images in art are acceptable as models because they are offered not as models at all but as renderings of the truth.9

In 1863, Charles Baudelaire remarked on the way images can depict the spirit of the time they are created in. “I have before me a series of fashion-plates dating from the Revolution and finishing more or less with the Consulate, they are often very beautiful and drawn with wit; but what to me is every bit as important, and what I am happy to find in all or almost all of them, is the moral and aesthetic feeling of their time.”10 Baudelaire indicates that when it comes to grasping the ‘aesthetic feeling’ of a period in history, no other medium is as illuminating as the visual representations of fashion. For Baudelaire, in this case, it was fashion plates; in other cases, it can also be Impressionism, 1930s cinema or the photographs in a glossy magazine catching urban women moving in a city. Today, it can be the blogosphere and the images flowing on computer and telephone screens. In this order, a defining question when looking at these images is what they reveal about our current time, a context that in this thesis is referred to as hypermodernity.

Because this thesis aims to analyze the visual representations that shape perceptions of clothes in a contemporary fashion moment, the concept of time is especially significant. This is why both postmodernity and hypermodernity are relevant concepts here. Hypermodernity is the term coined by French philosopher Giles Lipovetsky in his pursuit of finding a more suitable term than postmodernity – a concept that entered the intellectual sphere as early as the 1980s. By the early

                                                                                                              9

Hollander, 349.

10 Charles,

 

Baudelaire. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays (New York: Phaidon, 1965), 3.


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2000s, for Lipovetsky, postmodernity had exhausted its capacity to reflect the state of current times. What is particularly interesting is that Lipovetsky claims that hypermodernity is a society governed by the temporality of fashion or, in other words, a society dominated by the very logic of fashion. The term is used here also as a way of defining the contemporary historical context in which digital images of fashion are being produced.

In order to understand this aspect of hypermodernity, it is important to define the ‘logic of fashion.’ Fashion as we know it is a modern phenomenon. And according to Lipovetsky, modernity brought forth a shift in subjectivity, where the past was dismissed and novelty was promoted. In this new context, the individual gained importance over collective interest, taste became subjective and “the reign of the ephemeral” was systematized. In its pursuit of novelty, fashion inevitably promoted ephemerality. In order for fashion to become such a key player in modernity, Lipovetsky argues, a revolution in the representation of individuality was required. To stand out from the crowd, individuals had to resort to the social promotion of signs of personal difference. These signs of personal difference were greatly manifested through clothing. As society became restructured in accordance to the logic of seduction and permanent renewal, modernity lead into postmodernity.

Although hypermodernity is a key concept here, postmodernity remains important (and will be discussed here). The postmodern period indicated the advent of a social temporality marked by the “primacy of the here-and-now”. But the label ‘postmodern’ has, according to Lipovetsky, exhausted its ability to express entirely the current world. What we are experiencing today is a modernity raised to the nth power. One of the main aspects that sets hypermodernity apart from postmodernity is the way social time is organized in both contexts. Lipovetsky argues that hypermodernity has multiplied divergent temporalities –leisure time, flexi time, the time of youth and the elderly, and our abilities to


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choose them. “To the deregulations of neocapitalism there corresponds an immense deregulation and individualization of time.”11 This restructuring has further consequences: At the heart of the reordering of the way social time is organized lies the move from a capitalism of production to an economy of consumption, the replacement of an unbending disciplinary society to a ‘society of fashion’ restructured from top to bottom by the technologies of ephemerality, novelty and permanent seduction.(…) The world of consumption and mass communication appears like a waking dream, a world of seduction and ceaseless movement whose model is none other than the system of fashion.12 It is interesting that Lipovetsky declares the system of fashion as a founding model for hypermodern society, considering contemporary digital technologies are also dominated by fashion. Fashion seems to be everywhere on the Internet. So what are the consequences of the spread of the logic of fashion and what effect does this have in the aesthetics of fashion rendered in digital images? While the principle of fashion (‘new and better than ever before!`) has imposed itself without rivals, the cult of the new is asserting itself as an everyday and widespread passion. Societies reorganized by the logic and the very temporality of fashion have taken root: in other words, they are dominated by the present, which replaces collective actions by private happiness, tradition by movement, hopes for the future by the ecstasy of permanent novelty. A whole hedonistic and psychologistic culture has come into being: it incites everyone to satisfy their needs immediately, it stimulates their clamor for pleasure, idolizes self-fulfillment, and sets the early paradise of well-being, comfort and leisure on a pedestal.13

This pre-eminence of the present has established itself through promoting an excess of goods and images. A society reorganized by the logic of fashion is dominated by the present. This temporality is nowhere clearer than in the blogosphere and its fluid sense of time. This promotion of an excess of goods and images is highly palpable in the experience of digital media related to fashion. It is especially visible in one of digital technologies’ most recent additions: Instagram, which I delve into in the conclusion of this thesis.

                                                                                                              11  Giles, Lipovetsky. Hypermodern Times. (Cambridge: Polity, 2005) 36.   12  Lipovetsky, 13  Lipovetsky,

36. 37.


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Hypermodernity is also inseparable from self-expression and self-consciousness, both accentuated by the ephemeral action of the media. “We are increasingly subjected to the constraints of rapid time, and on the other hand there is a growth in people’s independence, and in their ability to make subjective choices and reflect on themselves.”14 This connects rather well with the idea that digital representations of fashion, such as personal style blogs or Instagram accounts, can be based on the narration of the self and the construction of an identity. Individual self-expression is crucial to the discourses created in these digital spaces.

Both the experience of time and space and the processes of identity formation are linked to subjectivity, so one might ask what characterizes hypermodern subjectivity. Lipovetsky speaks of a hypermarket of lifestyles, a world of consumption, leisure and technologies that have made possible the growing independence from collective temporal constraints and whose defining effect is the individualization of activities in which temporal rhythms and itineraries become desynchronized. The social present then acts as “a social vector” where aspirations and behaviors become individualized.

Self-expression and identity are also closely linked to consumption, and in a hypermodern context, consumerism expresses a desire to rejuvenate the experience of time, to revivify it by novelties that present themselves as fresh starts. Simultaneously, hypermodernity also establishes what Lipovetsky calls a hyperactive performance without concrete or sensory reality, an era in which pleasures are made more sensual and aesthetic.

                                                                                                              14  Lipovetsky, 50.  


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The logic of hypermodern fashion

Hypermodernity is also defined as a societal status dominated by the logic of fashion. Modern fashion as a phenomenon gained full force in the eighteenth century, when the bourgeoisie was competing with the feudal aristocracy and when signs of difference were efficiently expressed through the clothes one wore. In Fashion: A Philosophy, Lars Svendsen explains the evolution of this logic.15 The structure of modern fashion is, he says, the pleasure and the pursuit of novelty. The pleasure taken from change brought forth a new sense of time and a transformation in subjectivity. As Lipovetsky also claims, traditions became secondary, taste became subjective and the ephemeral began to reign. Individuality came to the fore, promoting a new consciousness based on uniqueness and the individual need to express it. In extolling singularity, the social promotion of signs of personal difference became a determining factor. Personal identity came to be expressed through the display of clothes and newness was granted unprecedented importance.

Time became vital to fashion; novelty was its very allure. Ultimately, what modern fashion created was an aesthetic value based on sheer temporality, in which the new is always essentially transient. Thus, innovation became modernity´s aesthetic norm and objects of fashion needed nothing more than to be novel. Velocity positioned itself at the very heart of fashion, a system based on the capacity to be potentially endless. But velocity itself exhausted this very principle. Svendsen argues that fashion’s linear temporality was broken down and that with the number of fashion shows that go on today – the Couture shows, the biannual spring/summer and fall/winter circuit, the recently installed and popularized pre-fall and cruise/resort, to name a few – how can novelty still be fashion’s primary target?

                                                                                                              15  Svendsen, 31-33.  


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Furthermore, the compression in the experience of time and space has also had an effect on fashion´s temporality, making it cyclic and no longer linear. Since the 1970s, cycles have shrunken dramatically, leaving little or no space at all for new styles. According to Svendsen, by the 1990s, it had already become hard to see anything else but a series of recyclings, “albeit in spectacular variety.” Recycling has speeded up to the point of making practically all sorts of styles overlap. Since then, this recycling rarely allows a style to go out of fashion before it is back. The result, according to Svendsen, is a contemporary fashion characterized by a general contemporaneity of all styles. 16

The traditional logic of fashion, and the one Lipovetsky argues has spread into all other areas of society, is a logic of replacement, of constant renewal through objects of fashion or commodities, a logic based on the constant replenishment of appearance. As fashion entered postmodernity, this logic evolved into one of supplementation or accumulation, as Svendsen calls it, in which the old and new (or the old and old) coexist. Perhaps this shift occurred because as the logic of replacement infiltrated, “permanently and ultimately” the world of production and consumption, fashion had to adjust to the new times it was being lead into. Or, in other words, because it spread to all areas of society, the logic of fashion evolved from one of replacement to one of accumulation. In this context, where fashion becomes a cultural ubiquitous model, stylistic eclecticism is matched by the way individual differences multiply and subjective autonomy widens. These shifts in subjectivity also imply new ways of looking as well as changes in the perception of dress.

An excess of signs and images: postmodernity and the self as image Postmodernity is a direct antecedent to hypermodernity, and both share certain features that are important when it comes to understanding consumption, subjectivity and identity formation. Postmodernity is also crucial in understanding the concept of a consumerist society in which,

                                                                                                              16  Svendsen, 36.  


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according to Mike Featherstone, there is a marked shift from consumption as a mere reflex of production, to consumption as central to social reproduction. Consumer culture points to goods as commodities and consumption progressively involves the consumption of signs and images: Hence the term consumer culture points to the ways in which consumption ceases to be a simple appropriation of utilities, or use values, to become a consumption of signs and images in which emphasis upon the capacity to endlessly reshape the cultural or symbolic aspect of the commodity makes it more appropriate to speak of commodity-signs. The culture of the consumer society is therefore held to be a vast floating complex of fragmentary signs and images, which produces an endless signplay which destabilize long-held symbolic meanings and cultural order.17 These ideas are useful when analyzing contemporary digital fashion images. Consumer culture and postmodernism are both characterized by the fragmentation and overproduction of culture and images. Both are also often associated with a fragmentation of time into a “series of perpetual presents” that create a constant flow and juxtaposition of images and signs. The inability to chain this fragmented reality is what leads to the “aestheticization of everyday life”, according to Featherstone.

Consumer culture and postmodernism are also linked to globalization, a process of global compression enabled by “the increasing volume and rapidity of the flows of money, goods, people, information, technology and images”. In this context, the exposure to more images also implies the exposure to a multiplicity of images of others, which creates the need to modify and change ideas related to self-identity and self-image. Although Featherstone, who was writing in the 1990s, is referring more precisely to television and media platforms such as MTV, this idea is reminiscent of the dynamics found today in digital technologies on computers and mobile telephones. The consumption of signs and images is applicable to the fluid blogosphere. And this ever-flowing, immediate exposure to images of fashion commodities, sartorial messages, individuals and lifestyles is bound to have an effect on the subject who looks at them.

                                                                                                              17  Mike Featherstone. Undoing Culture: Globalization, Postmodernism and Identity. (London: Sage Publications,

1995), 75.


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As noted earlier, Lipovetsky argued that what we experience in hypermodernity is a modernity raised to the nth power. Both modernity and hypermodernity create modes of perception, ways of seeing that shape the perceptions of dress. Let us go back for a minute to the experience of modernity in order to understand how the current state of things can be referred to as hyper. This experience can be exemplified through one of modernity´s most endurable figures, here as described by Featherstone: The flâneur, the stroller or idler in the big cities described by Baudelaire, Benjamin and Simmel, enjoyed the immersion in the crowd, the variety of faces, body types and fashions as well as the flood of images on the advertising hoardings and billboards, in window displays, department stores, exhibitions and world fairs which made up the urban landscape. He or she experienced a sense of mixing and sign-play as formerly sealed apart categories of people and culture were juxtaposed, setting off half-remembered memories and allegories. (…) The flâneur experienced swings between immersion in the immediacy of life and the distanced voyeuristic contemplation of it from a seemingly invisible perspective as people moved around amongst others who also adopted the ‘distanced’ blasé attitude which acted as a defense against overstimulation.18 This overstimulation, brought now into a hypermodern experience, can be seen as a form of ‘digital wandering’, which the Internet, the blogosphere and platforms such as Instagram allow. In digital culture, we all have the possibility of becoming the flâneur, albeit in a virtual reality. In this sense, digital technologies allow us a modern experience raised to the nth power. I will return to this point further on. For now, it is important to establish that if the modern experience was built on the exposure to sign-play, postmodernity operated on the basis of an overproduction of signs and images, whilst the hypermodern fashion moment I am analyzing in this thesis creates an overproduction of specifically digital fashion images.

In Postmodernism and Popular Culture, Angela McRobbie argues that postmodernism considers images as they relate to and across each other; deflecting attention away from the singular scrutinizing gaze of the semiologist and asking that it be replaced by a multiplicity of fragmented and frequently interrupted ‘looks.’ “Symbolically, the image has assumed contemporary dominance. It is no longer possible to talk about image and reality, media and society. Each pair has become so deeply

                                                                                                              18  Featherstone, 151.  


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intertwined that it is difficult to draw the line between them.”19 Images have pushed their way into the very fabric of our social lives, entering how we look and what we earn.

In a context where images are not just overproduced but are also circulating 24/7, identity formation and subjectivity are shaped by such abundance in imagery. In “The Self as Image: A Critical Appraisal of Postmodern Theories of Fashion”, Llewelyn Negrin discusses how important the image is to contemporary identities. In her essay she critiques the way postmodern theories of fashion indulge the idea that the self is defined mainly through and by image. In its attempt to revise feminist critiques of fashion, which were mostly based on functionalist paradigms and which called for modes of dress that were more “natural” or in sync with the body, postmodern theories rehabilitated the legitimacy of aesthetic pleasure of dress. Feminists who theorized on fashion since as far back as the late nineteenth century were often concerned with the idea that fashions, with their complexities and unpractical nature, subjugated women to men, their pleasures and their gaze. They thus saw the investment of women in the excessive cultivation of their appearance as an imprisonment and the inability to be or act beyond aesthetic form. Hence, these feminist critiques motivated female forms of dress to be “functional” and “natural.”

But postmodern fashion theorists contested this by arguing that neither functionality nor the body are preempted concepts, but defined by culture and context instead. Bodily adornment, some of them argued, has rarely anything to do with either nature or function. Some of them also contended that variety in female dress was more disruptive than oppressive, and that dress can be a form of masquerade, an invitation of play with identities. Negrin, however, considers that in rehabilitating the pleasures of fashion, postmodern theorists leaned too much on the side of image: The problem, however, is that a mode of dress which declares the constructed nature of identity is not sufficient to define it as liberatory. Indeed, in the present age, when self-identity has increasingly been defined in terms of one´s physical

                                                                                                              19  Angela McRobbie, Postmodernism and Popular Culture (London: Routledge, 1994,) 17.  


25 appearance by the advertising industry, one could argue that modes of dress which promote the view of the self as a series of changing guises are conservative insofar as they leave unchallenged the reduction of self-identity to an image which is constructed by the commodities one buys. 20

The concept of self as image is relevant here in that it can be related to subjectivity and identity formations in a context of digital imagery of fashion. It can also be seen as an evolution of the domination of the image brought forth by postmodernity, globalization and consumer culture. Constructing identity largely through fashion and appearance plays into the dynamics of the contemporary image culture that reduces art, politics and the theatrics of everyday life to the play of images. In this context, which can be considered hypermodern, what is predominant is a hedonistic experimentation with different styles of appearance, and an ideology based on the consumption of commodities. In contemporary consumer culture, a new conception of the self has emerged – the self as performer. And this self as performer is also set in a context in which objects of consumption function as signs whose meaning comes from their relation to other signs: The phenomenon of fashion epitomizes the present age, which is characterized by the growing independence and importance of the sign, for it is a system of freely circulating signs which commute and permutate without limits, colonizing ever more areas of social life from clothing, to politics, economics, morality, sexuality, etc. Signs, including the clothes we wear, no longer represent something which exists independently of them, but rather are taken as the only reality. We live in a world constituted solely of images which are no longer seen to refer to anything behind themselves but are themselves constitutive of what is taken to be real. The modern individual is fashioned and is more interested in the authority of the sign than in the elements it represents. Once clothing becomes dominated by the logic of fashion, its meaning transmutes in a completely random manner (…)21

Digital technologies have contributed to the domination of the image in contemporary culture. Digital culture and the Internet not only make the overproduction of images possible, but they also demonstrate that, today, images circulate freely, massively and vertiginously, allowing an unmediated form of voyeurism. This results in new ways of looking and shifts in subjectivity. It also affects pictorial representations of fashion and how they are perceived.

                                                                                                              20  Llewelyn Negrin. “The Self as Image: A Critical Appraisal of Postmodern Theories of Fashion”, in The Fashion History Reader: Global Perspectives., eds. George Riello & Peter McNeill (New York: Routledge, 2012), 514. 21  Negrin, 516.


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New media: digital ways of looking and hypermodern identities With a general picture of the “mood” of our times found in Lipovetsky (who was writing in 2005), Featherstone and McRobbie (whose work is both set in the mid-nineties), and Negrin, whose critique of postmodern theories of fashion was written published in 2010, Kelli Fuery’s New Media: Culture and Image provides a significant theoretical framework with which to analyze ways of looking or modes of perception implied in digital pictorial representations of fashion and the ways in which they create cultural practices and ways of seeing contemporary fashion. When theorizing digital media, one is not only discussing new practices related to technological innovation, but also practices that have an impact on our understanding of the world as subjects. Our relation to space and time, our ways of looking and perceiving, and the general way we make sense of the world we are immersed in are all affected by these technologies. This can be connected to the legendary premise coined by Marshall McLuhan in the mid-sixties, when he affirmed, “the medium is the message.”22 McLuhan addresses the fact that the personal and social consequences of any medium are a result of “the new scale” that is introduced into our affairs. Media or technology is, for McLuhan, an extension of ourselves; hence, media reflects the psychic or social consequences of the designs and patterns that advance existing processes. The “message” of any technology, he argues, is the shift of pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.23 On a similar note, Douglas Kellner writes of a media culture in which images, sounds and spectacles help produce the fabric of everyday lives.24 This media culture, he says, dominates our free time, shapes our political views of the world, shapes our social behavior and provides channels for individuals to create and express identities. Media culture shapes the core values that define our era; it enables individuals to insert themselves and participate in an

                                                                                                              22  Marshall McLuhan. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Corte Madera: Gingko Press, September 2003). 23  McLuhan, 20. 24  Douglas, Kellner. Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics between the Modern and the Postmodern (New York: Routledge, 1995,) 1.


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unprecedented global culture. Thus, both theorists coincide with the idea that digital technology speaks of wider cultural themes. And this is at the core of Fuery’s ideas.

Fuery examines the idea of new media in terms of the subject, culture and image. She views new media as a cultural superstructure that informs and influences wider social processes and relationships. In her argument, Fuery uses Thomas Kuhn’s concept of ‘paradigm shift’, which changed the idea that scientific knowledge is independent and objective, placing it along other forms of knowledge that were subjected to the “vagaries and travails of cultural forces.” Kuhn’s main point was that scientific changes were embedded in other processes and that what scientific revolutions do is make people see the world differently. This he called ‘transformations of vision’, which, at one level, might be seen as a shift in subjectivity. For Fuery, what is ‘new’ involves a sense of fresh perspective on something that is familiar to everyday use but has come into new use; something whose familiarity has been advanced. Good examples of this are mobile telephones because, according to Fuery, they illustrate how quickly our use and perception of them can change. 25 Since they started to circulate, mobile telephones have dramatically changed our patterns of communication and, in a short amount of time, have also come to include more elements: instant text messages, video messages, music facilities, high-resolution photography, filters, photo-sharing, image edition, etc.

New media technologies have not just brought technical changes, they have also altered our patterns of behavior and communication – from liberating us from the need to be at a specific time or place, to the ways the new subsumes existing modes and alters them. An example of this is the Internet, which has created a process of moving from a traditional textual form to the screen, which replicates the page of a book, moving from text to hypertext. In this sense it is polymorphic because it does not abandon its old mode (literary type), but alters it in a way that makes it new. This is why new media

                                                                                                              25  Kelli Fuery, New Media: Culture and Image (New York: Palgrave, 2009), 19.  


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conflates the technical and the aesthetic. “The newness of new media is not necessarily its technical inventions, it is the transformation of vision that affects how we make sense of, and even make the world and its social orders”, Fuery says.26 From this Kuhnian perspective, the new in new media is more about how it relates to wider cultural issues and less about technological aspects. When engaging with new media what we address are cultural and social aspects of the technological changes they imply.

We live in a time dominated by images and this is closely related to the fact that technology has become an everyday cultural practice. Images are highly available because of the access digital technologies give us to them. This distorts traditional methods of interpretation, changing interpretative perception. This is also because physical interaction in the interactivity of new media asks for new ways of thinking – and of seeing. In this sense, new media brings to the foundation of culture a dramatic difference in thinking and handling concepts of space and time. Fuery assesses this new spatial-temporal handling through the role pleasure plays in the uses of new media. Most specifically, she looks at how new technology has impacted cultural patterns of consumption, reevaluating its relation to pleasure. Hence, she considers the link between pleasure, new media and the subject from a psychoanalytic perspective, taking up the issue of the gaze and its connection to the image. According to Fuery, new media has played a decisive role in reconfiguring pleasure and by exploring the concept of pleasure she looks at the mechanism of the gaze in the context of new media.27

                                                                                                              26  Fuery, 21. 27  Prior to Fuery, however, Arjun Appadurai discussed pleasure as the organizing principle of modern consumption. According to Appadurai, within the context of a consumer revolution, time becomes commodified and consumption becomes the temporal marker of leisure. Consumption becomes, according to Appadurai, a form of work, a daily practice through which nostalgia and fantasy are drawn together through commodities. This landscape is also defined by polyrhythmic temporal structures, an idea that can be tied to Lipovetsky’s idea of desynchronized “subjective singularities.” Consumption turns into pleasure and pleasure becomes the foundation of modern consumption. This consumption is, according to Appadurai, mainly driven by the “valorization of


29

In Fuery´s case, she seeks to identify how the image can be interpreted through the model of pleasure and how pleasure informs and produces new media culture. The role of pleasure helps to understand the implications new media has for the subject and her modes of cultural consumption. This, in turn, can be connected to the perceptions of dress in the digital images being analyzed in this thesis.

Fuery´s connecting model is the gaze, and she uses it in order to show the complex nature of pleasure within two forms of perception: browsing and looking. In this exploration, scopophilia – the love of looking – is related to the mode of perception specifically enabled by new media: browsing. According to Fuery, browsing denotes a superficial glance and is a concept that emerged in theorizations on television in the 1970s and 1980s. The ‘texts’ projected by televisions created their own narratives, which in turn created ways of seeing: The narratives in television programming had created a new technique of textual consumption which relied on attracting the glance rather than the gaze. Television was produced and broadcast to accommodate and continue viewers ‘disposable’ viewing practices – watching one show for a moment before the next or so on; or glancing at a television program whilst being involved in other activities (reading, conversation, homework.)28 Looking, on the other hand, implies a “more invested act of seeing” – looking takes time. But temporality is not, according to Fuery, the only element that sets both browsing and looking apart; there is also the type of pleasure gained from the two acts. To analyze this, she resorts to the gaze and its relation to pleasure, as theorized by Sigmund Freud in his idea of scopophilia. Since the 1970s, psychoanalytic methodology became popular because of its use within film studies, most specifically because of Laura Mulvey, who used Freud´s notion of scopophilia in her inspections on how women were being looked at in the cinema. Scopophilia, for Freud, is related to the ways

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        ephemerality”, dominated by the love to look. This love of looking or scopophilia, fits well with the nature of digital media and its imagery of fashion. Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large. (Minnesota: Minnesota University Press, 1996) 79.   28  Fuery,

113.


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subjects gain pleasure from the act of looking and how they become socialized through it. The question for Fuery is then: how do new media impact the scopophilia of the new media subject?

Subjectivity – or our positioning as subjects – changes when it becomes dominated by the act of looking. In Fuery´s framework, scopophilia is more about how, as individuals, we become subjects in response to our desires and process of the gaze, more than what we actually look at. Pleasure, then, is a fundamental attribute of the development, use and consumption of new media. The theory of scopophilia was important for television and film studies because it explored what was then a new form of subjectivity. But looking is still important in the ways we participate in new media, which is why scopophilia is still a valuable concept for analyzing the visual practices that stem from a digital context.

Subjectivity in a digital context as analyzed by Fuery is relevant to this thesis because it also remits to Hollander and her theory on how fashionability in dress is governed by visual convention. “How a culture affects and operates its gaze is instrumental in determining how a cultural discourse, and subsequently cultural practices and fashions, work”, Fuery says. It is through the gaze that we make sense of what is new and how we interpret the new. New media texts offer a platform that “holds the potential for new ‘ways of seeing’ these texts.” What new media texts offer is a sense of interactivity that becomes part of the digital gaze. Digital technologies imply interactivity as part of the viewing experience. This interactivity is essential to a new way of looking for and of new media aesthetics, but it also corresponds to an already established way of looking and participating in textual pleasure. “The remediated texts of new media make different demands on the spectating subject because, although they draw on the established system of scopophilia, they also fashion new viewing points.”29

                                                                                                              29  Fuery, 119.  


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This can be related back to Hollander, considering that just as the gaze manages and governs what and how we interpret a discourse, the style of visual convention governs what is fashionable at any given time. Pictorial representations of fashion and the way we look at them are defined by the narrative structures created by the media they belong to. Digitality makes it harder for the forced construction of the gaze to remain in one place because of the user practices employed in new media. There exists little control over where you go on the net, or in what order, or at least this is what we believe. Unlike film and television, there is no organized timeframe through which to view a specific set of images, and this lack of time prescription leads us to think that there is little regulation of what can and can’t be viewed.30 In this sense, narrative structure is crucial to the delivery and action of gazing. New media images have changed traditional interpretative processes concerning time. As Fuery explains, prior media forms operated on the exchange of the viewer responding to an image (film, video, television, magazine, painting and so on) in a dialogic fashion. This interpretative dialogism has been altered by the fact that the Internet allows us to be both consumers and producers of content. It is through the image that we as new media subjects come to understand and interpret digital culture.31

Just as the image plays a crucial role in identity formation for Negrin, self-digitalization through images has become an essential aspect in hypermodern formations of identity. One of the most relevant aspects of Fuery´s work to this thesis is that she stresses new media’s relation to new subject positions and aspects of identity formation, and both elements are analyzed here in the forthcoming chapters on personal style blogs and Instagram streams. In the present day, the formation of identity can be achieved through the “attachment” to new media.

                                                                                                              30  Fuery, 121. 31  In Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, Anne Friedberg discusses the ‘detemporalized subjectivities’ brought forth by media such as cinema and television. The ubiquity of both media, she says, has fed a ‘derealized’ sense of presence and identity. These apparatuses have created a mobilized ‘virtual’ gaze. Such a virtual gaze is a received perception which is mediated through representation. For Friedberg, postmodernity is marked by “the increased centrality of the mobilized and virtual gaze as a fundamental feature of everyday life.” This mobilized virtual gaze has no spatial constraints and has an effect in cultural practices and experience. Anne Friedberg, Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993) 1-6.


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The impact new media has had on the social order and identity formation can be exemplified through the concept of celebrity. In a context of democratic and decentralized fashion, this concept is particularly relevant, as one of the most notable effects of the blogosphere in the past few years has been to allow formerly excluded individuals to actively participate in the creation of fashion representation and discourse. This has been the case of certain fashion bloggers, who began their visual diaries around 2008 and who have been raised to global stardom thanks to the visibility gained through the creation of a digital identity. Some of these bloggers have leaped from fashion enthusiasts to celebrities. This can also be related to street-style photography and Instagram, which I explore further on. According to Fuery, the concept of celebrity within a context of new media has created a plural form of celebrity--not because it is now egalitarian, but because it has created an illusion of plurality.

This idea can be perfectly applied to the contemporary landscape, in which fashion, as digital image, circulates rapidly, immediately and freely, giving the illusion that anyone is and can be a part of it. It is also a context in which digital technologies and the possibility to self-represent and self-digitalize unravels narcissism. In terms of identity and subjectivity, new media has provided a mechanism whereby the individual can self-celebritize; forming celebrity versions of themselves on the net, in blogs or digital versions. Such fetishism is also based on the fact that the production of celebrity can be instantaneous. New media has therefore ceded rise to a new type of celebrity – which depends more on the ego and on the image for existence.

The digital imaging regime

In line with Fuery´s idea that when we examine digital technologies we can explore cultural practices more than technological innovations, the sociologist Elizabeth Wissinger’s essay “Fashion Modeling:


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Blink Technologies and New Imaging Regimes”, in Fashion Media: Past and Present – recently released in January 2014 – examines how bodily aesthetics can derive from technological developments. Although Wissinger’s piece is centered on the effects technology has on modeling, her ideas are relevant to this thesis in that they demonstrate how new media can affect modes of perception and ways of seeing. Wissinger talks about “imaging systems”, such as systems of cable television and the Internet, and the ways in which they create a new imaging regime. She uses the concept of the blink to conceptualize the volatility of this imaging regime. This ‘regime of the blink’, as she calls it, has created an overproduction and availability of information and images, which generate new techniques of attention, fostering a type of cultural attention deficit disorder, shortening attention spans and making brand advertisements focus more on image and their impact effects. 32 In the case of modeling, for example, the regime of the blink has affected the structure and function of the fashion show, causing a “bleaching of the catwalk” and abetting a shrinking of the model’s body. In addition, the Internet’s globalizing tendencies have made it easier to summon models from all over the world, as access to images of fashion has augmented knowledge on the industry. The fashion shows, which until the 1980s had models whose careers were slower-paced and significantly longer, have been affected by the hunger for new faces caused by the overexposure made possible by the 24/7 availability of fashion images on the Internet. This also brings forth competition for attention and an audience that becomes easily distracted, a public defined by a “networked jumpiness”.

Wissinger further argues that the rise of digital imaging as a dominant regime has also blown up the desire to manipulate appearances – a motif that has been present in the history of photographic retouching. Since the 1990s, Photoshop has created a context in which the new digital unreal creates a tension with the images of real people, resulting in an even stronger push for models to acquire an impossible look. What is relevant here is the way in which technology affects the ways of seeing; as achieving the fashionable look rendered through such a technology demands the production of

                                                                                                              32  Elizabeth Wissinger, “Fashion Modeling, Blink Technologies and New Imaging Regimes,” in Fashion Media: Past and Present, eds. Durdja Bartlett, et al (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 136.


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images that stand out and catch the attention of “an increasingly fickle public.” Hence, for Wissinger, the ideal of a slender model body has not only to do with the feminist outlook that sees in this aesthetic type a patriarchal way of keeping women frail and easily controlled within the dictates of fashion, but also with the level of technological development. Developments in imaging technology are a casual factor here. New media technologies push the fashionable ideal to the most slender and whitest extreme. After the sixties and with the ubiquity of television, the image of the model in motion, looking fashionable from different angles created the narrow frame we are familiarized with today. After the “global imaging tsunami of cable technology and the Internet”, the attenuation became more extreme.

Consequently, Wissinger adds, the kinds of technology that shrink distance and accelerate time typical of this regime also made large mergers possible in the fashion world. These mergers, which include the formation of titanic multination luxury goods conglomerates, amass high-end brands under the same economic group. This has reduced the space for artistic expression whilst increasing demands to meet much more voracious commercial needs. These changes have implications for the standards sought in models. Wissinger makes a fascinating argument when she writes that the current cultural understanding of the fashionable look settled when modeling became a profession, in the 1920s. At this time, the dominant aesthetic was found in the pale, slender figure of the flapper. This white and slim image also became fashionable at the moment when photography became what Hollander called the general ‘visual truth’. Hence, this conjuncture linked what Wissinger calls the fashionable body and the slender body, cementing the two ideas together in the popular consciousness.

What the regime of the blink has caused, with its speed-up in the exposure to images, is that the general ideal of tall and slender as fashionable has been pushed to the limit, causing models to be motivated into being, leaner, paler and longer. Because attention spans today are so short, fashion


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designers and purveyors must find the way to project an image that conveys fashionability in a split second. This, Wissinger says, is achieved by finding models that possess the extreme whiteness and slenderness that, in the collective imaginary, are instantly read as synonyms of fashionability. In the regime of the blink, the look of fashion models changes in response to the demands of the new imaging structure.

Digital technologies, then, cause structural shifts in perception and the way we look at things. In this context, everyday life becomes mediatized, fostering a digital and information-based economy where symbolic production gains prominence: The imaging regime dominated by the Internet has changed many things. In a world now punctuated by pop-ups, pings and tweets, we relate to images differently. Images dance at the margins of our vision whether we are at work or at play. With the dawn of this imaging regime in the late 1980s and early 1990s, attention spans have been overwhelmed, pathways of suggestion have proliferated and the volatility of markets have reached a rapid boil.33 We live in a context dominated by the blink, where velocity and a great number of images flood our lives. This visual regime has produced an explosion in the availability of information and it moves faster than the human ability to process it. This requires new techniques of attention and our ways of looking come to be marked by the velocity with which the images circulate; as Wissinger says, we flit from one image to the next with little time to consciously reflect on it and at times without actually being able to register what we see.

Hypertextuality, rhizomatic time and fashion in the blogosphere Wissinger’s arguments make it clear that the structure of an imaging regime can be made to match the ways of looking such a regime creates. In a similar way, the blogosphere has come to match the very dynamics of fashion. Such is the argument made by Agnès Rocamora in “Hypertextuality and Remediation in Fashion Media: The case of fashion blogs”, an essay that was coincidentally reedited

                                                                                                              33  Wissinger, 134.  


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for the same book in which Wissinger’s essay is found, but that I had encountered at the beginning of my research and in which I have found another important theoretical framework in which to analyze the digital images chosen here. Both essays constitute some of the most recent work on digital media in the field of fashion studies.

Rocamora discusses the rise of the blogosphere and the impact of new technologies on the mediation of fashion. In analyzing fashion blogs, she analyzes that aspect of them that represents a novel way of generating fashion news, and a departure from the printed press: the concept of hypertextuality. Rocamora also discusses the “transformation of vision” of fashion which this hypertextuality sustains and exposes the effects of blogs in the production, circulation and consumption of fashion discourse.

Hypertextuality refers to a structure where a wide range of texts and images are linked, in non-linear ways. These configurations are always changing and their non-linearity creates multilayered contents, which can always lead to more words, more images and more sounds. She relates this dynamic to the idea of ‘rhizomatic time’, where rhizomes, also linked together in non-linear ways, act as short-lived memories. Both concepts serve to explain the very nature of the blogosphere: dominated by a logic or replacement. In this permanent replacement of content, fashion blogs project fashion as something “transient, passing, already gone.” Hypertexts in blogs are not fixed and this creates what Rocamora calls a ‘digital wandering and flânerie’. The conventional figure of the flâneur, wondering the streets and absorbing flowing amounts of visual information is, according to Rocamora, reminiscent of another type of flânerie: shopping. In life, individuals move from one space or shop to another – in the blogosphere they browse, a way of looking that also brings Fuery into mind. What is also particular to fashion blogs is that browsing can also lead to shopping with almost immediate access. The fashionable object a user might see on screen, while digitally wandering, can probably be purchased fairly immediately.


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“The profusion of digital signs echoes the abundance pertaining to fashion, once again fittingly matching its logic and serving its interest.”34 This phrase can be connected to Ben Highmore´s ideas on how a practice of representation can coincide with the subject it renders found in the introduction to The Everyday Life Reader. There, Highmore lays out the ways in which a complex and elusive topic such as the everyday can be conceptualized. What applies here are his arguments on Western art’s relation with the quotidian. Highmore is concerned with the style of French Impressionism, specifically with the radicalness its artists achieved in both subject matter and form. Impressionism is often defined by its ‘painterly awkwardness’ or sketchy-ness, both characteristics in the pictorial style and the everyday experience of Paris in the late nineteenth century. What is at issue here, writes Highmore, is “the difficulty of translating the materiality of the representation (the way something is written or painted or filmed) into the experiential realm of the everyday.”35

For Highmore, Paris embodied the very instance of modernity. Daily life was being drenched with new speeds, anonymity, fleeting encounters with clothed strangers on the streets, and a developing flow of commodity exchange. What was needed to capture this new reality, in terms of pictorial representation, was not satiated by the traditional conventions of time, but required new forms of rendering. Hence, Highmore continues, the hesitancy, impromptu, stuttering and flowing paintwork of Impressionism36 that resulted relates as much to the struggle of reimagining a pictorial practice as to the very experience of such reality. Impressionism’s very hesitancy in form parallels the subject of its interpretation: modern, everyday Paris. This adequacy, Highmore clarifies, is not perfect, but there is “something” in the hesitant pictorial execution that is more fitting to the registration of the subject it caught to capture.

                                                                                                              34  Rocamora, Agnès, “Hypertextuality and Remediation in the Fashion Media: The case of fashion blogs”, in

Journalism Practice, 6:1, (2012) 96. 35 Ben,

Highmore, “Introduction: Questioning Everyday Life”, in The Everyday Life Reader (London: Routledge, 2002) 26. 36 Highmore, 27.


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This idea that a pictorial practice of representation can coincide with the subject it renders is related to the central topic of this thesis. In a very similar way, contemporary digital images of fashion as a form of representation match its very subject: a fashion moment dominated by the effects of digital culture. Today, I argue that the blogosphere matches fashion´s logic and that digital images of fashion coincide with its subject: contemporary fashion. The fashion blogosphere also underscores the fact that contemporary fashion is decentralized. Fashion blogs allow places that were formerly invisible to the fashion system to surface and become visible. This decentralization also takes place on the level of “taste makers” – individuals with no “institutional affiliation” to fashion that have become influencers through their blogs. In this sense, Rocamora says, the newness of fashion blogs lays in the way it changes the approach to fashion, a fashion that is no longer centered on traditional experts “but that echoes openness and the decentredness pertaining to blogs’ hypertextuality.”37

In “Personal Style Blogs: Screens and Mirrors in Digital Self-Portraits”, Rocamora discusses personal style blogs as spaces that use technologies of the self in the construction of identity. Such technologies are fashion, blogging, photography and computer screens. Rocamora, however, focuses on gender and explores the empowering and disempowering forces in the representation of femininity through these spaces. The computer screen is treated here as a mirror, where women’s position as specular object is somewhat reproduced and also contested, considering that these blogs are also spaces for alternative visions of femininity. In her argument, Rocamora relates the mirror to the computer screen. In a contemporary context, the screen dominates cultural life as a place for the expression of identity. Rocamora calls computer screens “the mirrors of hyper-modernity”. In line with Fuery, Rocamora concludes that more important than the technological innovations they illustrate, personal fashion blogs shed light on the forms of representation of fashion they allow, a fashion, Rocamora says “that is not centered on a producing elite and ruled by the male gaze but a

                                                                                                              37  Rocamora,

“Personal Style Blogs”, 101.


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fashion open to appropriation and interpretation, including that of women’s visions of themselves and by themselves.”38

The feminist and cultural theorist, Celia Lury also discusses the ways in which the photographic image has contributed to novel configurations of personhood, self-knowledge and truths.39 One could associate this to Hollander’s idea of the way art monitors perceptions of dress and visualization of the clothed self. Seeing photographically has trained our eyes and gaze in particular ways, and these ways of seeing have transformed contemporary self-understanding. Lury touches on the ways computer-aided photography and processes of digitalization have lead to the emergence of nondimensional personalities. These non-dimensional personalities can be associated with the idea of the ‘digital self’. This self, which is a performer, created through digital self-representation, is also marked by the ‘speeds of perception’ enabled by photography. Lury, however, was writing in the midnineties, and the speeds she is referring to have become far more vertiginous since the inception of the blogosphere in the early 00s.

In “Pixelize Me: A Semiotic Approach to Self-Digitalization in Fashion Blogs”, Gachoucha Kretz, a researcher of luxury consumption and social media branding, and head of the ISC Paris Marketing Research Lab analyzes the concept of self-representation in web spaces. Kretz was writing in 2010, a time in which fashion blogs were still unexplored by the academy. Although, her analysis is done from a perspective of consumer research, it corroborates the idea that digital technologies shape modes of subjectivity. It must also be noted that consumption is one of the important and wider issues within which visual representations of fashion are framed.

                                                                                                              38  Rocamora, “Personal Style Blogs”, 422. 39  Celia Lury, Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory and Identity. (London: Routledge, 1997).  


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The act of self-presenting in virtual domains takes place in a context in which consumption markets have become places for consumers to serve identity projects.40 In self-digitalization consumers use favorite possessions in order to self-present. Self-presentation is here defined as the performance of action that symbolically communicates information about the self to others and is therefore a meaning-making process about the self. The virtual universe is where this “digital self” is curated and created--an idea that resonates with Rocamora´s arguments on the narration of the self rendered in personal fashion blogs. Personal websites of this sort, Kretz asserts, are a “playground for postmodern personalities”, spaces that configure new channels for mass communication and that allow virtually anyone to become a producer – and not just a consumer – of media content.

This life on the screen connotes multiplicity and heterogeneity, vital features of postmodernism and hypermodernity. The computer becomes a sort of prosthetic device that propels digital interaction where identities are negotiated and reinvented. Overall, digital self-presentation is a meaning-making process that involves shifts in identity and subjectivity. The individuals behind this genre of blogs use the Internet to self-present through consumption habits of fashion and luxury brands. The concept of self-presentation is not a new one, but acquires new meanings within the realm of selfdigitalization (an idea that resonates with Fuery´s notion that the newness of new media resides in its ability to advance something old in a new way.) In consumer research, the theory of self-presentation in virtual spaces has contributed to the contemporary rationale of consumerism.

In these new ways of seeing and of identity construction brought forth by digital technologies, the screen plays an important role, as was demonstrated through Rocamora´s arguments. In The Language of New Media, written in 2001, Lev Manovich offered one of the first formal theorizations on new media and digital technologies. There, he explores the history of the computer screen, analyzing the

                                                                                                              40  Kretz, Gachoucha. “Pixelize Me!: A Semiotic Approach of Self-Digitalization in Fashion Blogs”, in Advances in Consumer Research, 37 (2010) 393-399.


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existence of “another three-dimensional world enclosed by a frame and situated inside our normal space.” 41 He describes three types of screens: the “classical screen”, a flat, rectangular surface, intended for frontal viewing; the “dynamic screen”, which can display an image changing over time, in other words, the screen used for cinema, television and video; and finally the “real-time screen”, or the computer screen, which can be continually updated in real time, allows us to see multiple images simultaneously as well as control their flow as we see them appear in real time. This screen shows the present.

“We may debate whether our society is a society of spectacle or of simulation, but, undoubtedly, it is a society of the screen”, Manovich asserts. It is by looking at a screen, he also says, that the user can experience the illusion of navigating through virtual spaces, of being physically present somewhere else or being hailed by the computer itself.42 Manovich´s arguments are quite precise in verbalizing the reality that has become naturalized in contemporary culture, but he was writing in 2001, when new media was just settling into our daily cultural practices. Today, we live a “spaceless intensity”, on screens, where the time that passes is replaced by a time that exposes itself instantaneously.43

Today, computer screens are also accompanied by the proliferation and ubiquity of mobile phones and iPads, which act as a sort of hybrid between the two. This means digital technologies have become even more portable, amplifying immediacy and the liberation of spatiality. In such a landscape, fashion can be produced and accessed as digital image, by virtually anyone, from any place, at any time. Clothes are perceived on telephone and computer screens and the ways we look at them are contained within images whose production, representation and consumption is

                                                                                                              41  Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media. (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001) 95. 42  Manovich, 94. 43  Paul, Virilio. The Lost Dimension. (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991) 14.


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characterized by the very nature of our digital times. Hollander´s idea must therefore be expanded to encompass these new ways and means of visualizing and effecting fashionable personas.

In Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, Ann Friedberg explores the interesting concept of the mobilized “virtual” gaze.44 This “virtual gaze”, she writes, is not an actual direct, received perception, but a perception mediated through representation. This gaze emerges as a consequence of the ubiquity of cinema and televisual representations within postmodernity. Friedberg argues that both cinema and television have produced “detemporalized subjectivities”, feeding a derealized sense of identity and presence in the postmodern subject. In her argument, postmodernity is marked precisely by the centrality of this mobilized and virtual gaze as a defining feature of everyday life. In this context, the spatial and temporal displacements that are a part of a mobilized virtual gaze erode the boundaries between what is public and private, as images in both realms - seen in malls or cinemas as well as in televisions viewed at home – overlap. Friedberg’s concept resonates with the ideas exposed here on digital technologies. This thesis develops a similar idea, analyzing a virtual gaze within the realm of the Internet, in the experiences enabled by computer and telephone screens. If postmodernity is defined by the liberation of spatial constraints and new ways of experiencing time, the hypermodern context where fashion is represented today takes this even further. Digital images are carried in pockets through the use of mobile telephones, accentuating the detemporalization and derealization of a digital gaze.

                                                                                                              44  Friedberg, 2.  


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I. DIGITAL STREET-STYLE PHOTOGRAPHY: A REMEDIATION OF VISION As soon as New York Fashion Week inaugurates the international biannual runway circuit, dedicated followers of fashion today know, that if they access the correct online sites, they will be able to satiate their visual appetite for the fashionable energy carrying on within and outside the shows. In the past few years websites such as Style.com and the New York Time’s The Cut, for example, have allowed the public to view the runway presentations shortly after they have been showcased, serving as go-to platforms for those who devotedly trail the most up-to-date trends. This sense of immediacy and access characterizes the general context in which contemporary fashion is set, a setting dominated by digital technologies and the overflowing production of information and images.

Access and immediacy have also been promoted by other platforms such as Twitter, where editors, bloggers and high-end industry insiders can inform, minute by minute, what they see within the venues, formulating comments and photographs –in 140-character phrases- as the clothes are being strutted down the catwalk. It has also been a digital tradition of the past few years that, briefly after a day of presentations has concluded, a wide number of websites will publish images of front row


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attendees, scenes from the backstage and detailed shots of clothes and accessories as seen from different angles on the runways.

Like this, the Internet has enabled a general sense of access to fashion, as images and coverage on the subject flood computer and mobile telephone screens with incredible speed, on a 24/7 basis. Some designer brands – such as Burberry and Proenza Schouler- have also ventured into live-streaming their runway presentations and today, there are companies like Moda Operandi, which allow the viewer to shop clothes straight from the runway, avoiding the traditional six-month wait. Additionally, in the last three years, newer platforms such as Instagram have taken this speed in fashion to new limits, allowing fashion insiders to produce and share images and brief videos instantly, as the shows are taking place. Spectators may watch fashion show finales live, from the compact screens of their iPhones. This endless rush of instant information and rapidly circulating images marks our contemporary fashion context and the ways we see it.

But the attention and access have not only been centered on the catwalks. In the last few years it has also veered towards the action that takes place outside of the shows, in what has become a widely popular brand of street-style photography. In these images, drenched with energy, ‘fashionettes’– both recognizable and unknown – rush from show to show, beautifully, carefully or interestingly dressed. These photographs, or candid shots, which render fashionably dressed women, posing with joy or captured in spontaneous movement, proliferate within the digital landscape of today. This thesis argues that these images constitute a major category of pictorial representations through which we view fashionable dress in the present.

As noted earlier, according to Anne Hollander, it is the style of pictorial representation that governs an epoch´s ideal of fashionable dress. This ideal perception is accomplished through the images offered by representational artists within its historical context. In this sense, it is also here argued that


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street style photographers can be considered representational artists of our day and that this genre of street style photography shapes the way we view fashionable dress. Hence, this chapter interrogates the ways we see fashion through these images. It examines the street-style photography that takes place outside of the major fashion shows, during the international runway circuit of New York, London, Milan and Paris, and produced during the specific period 2012 to 2013. It focuses on three photographers of this kind: Tommy Ton, Adam Katz and Carola de Armas. Engaging in a visual semiotic approach, it analyzes nine photographs (three from each photographer), exploring the ways these images create a particular way of looking at contemporary fashion. Street-style photography blogs began their process of popularization around 2006, when blogs such as The Sartorialist, Garance Doré and Facehunter came into the digital scene. These blogs specialized in straight shots of randomly acquainted individuals on the streets of cities such as Milan, New York, Copenhagen and Paris. With time, the genre was increasingly emulated by more photographers, thanks to the power of the Internet, with dozens of blogs blooming across the global cyberspace.

TOMMY TON In 2007, however, a new name leaped into the scene, and with it came a new style of representation that would forever change the way street-style photography was being represented. Tommy Ton, a 30-year-old Canadian of Asian descent, began as a fashion intern in the accessories department of Holt Renfew, a leading luxury store. In 2005, at the time when web magazines and blogs were beginning to appear, Ton created Jak & Jill, a blog initially intended to review the product and people of Toronto. In 2007, Lynda Latner, the owner of vintagecouture.com, offered Ton the possibility of going to the London and Paris shows. After this first trip, the Canadian magazine Flare assigned him a page exclusively dedicated to street style shots.

At this point, head-to-toe photographs, as popularized by Scott Schumann from The Sartorialist and Yvan Rodic from Facehunter, which had absorbed the visual language of the straight-up photograph


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from the 1980s, dominated the way in which digital street style photography was being produced. In 2008, however, Ton began to shift this approach, by engaging in candid shots of his subjects, avoiding the deliberate pose that the straight-up or the head-to-toe trope implied. Thus began a new series of street-style tropes that centered on detail, close-ups and a dynamism that today is indistinguishably a part of Tommy Ton`s style and influence: Ton’s landscape-style images focused in on the little details that caught his welltrained fashion eye — a towering Louboutin stiletto here, a pop of colour there on his favourite subjects as they walked into the shows. He rarely asked them to pose. Ton was developing a photographic style that has now become instantly recognisable as his own, capturing the raw energy and excitement of fashion week. Fellow blogger Tavi Gevinson later remarked, “You always know what a Tommy Ton photograph looks like.”45 By 2009, Ton was being seated at the front-row of fashion shows in Europe and became associated with Style.com, one of contemporary fashion’s most important online websites. He has shot for American Vogue, GQ, Elle UK and Vogue Nippon. His photographs, on Style.com are representative of what street-style photography looks like today and many of the photographers that have followed him and become popular in the last few years or even months, all take cues from Ton´s signature style.

What exactly do these images look like? What are their tropes? And what impact have they had in the ways we look at fashion? These images are a feast of sartorial variety. They often include the harmonic collision of contrasting elements. Tommy Ton’s images are distinctive because they usually zoom into detail. This means that the resulting photograph renders cropped images of the female body. Headless torsos are often shown in order to highlight the richness of color, composition and details in the ensemble. Ton will also use head-to-toe shots, generally with the woman caught on camera moving or walking. Sometimes this movement will be presented in the form of a group of women’s legs, stepping forward on the urban sidewalk. Sometimes the image will focus strictly on a

                                                                                                              45  Imran Amed. “The Business of Blogging: Tommy Ton”, Business of Fashion March 28, 2011. Accessed March

2 2014. http://www.businessoffashion.com/2011/03/the-business-of-blogging-tommy-ton.html.


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pair of whimsical shoes – with Eiffel Tower shaped heels, for example. But, in general, what these images create is an astounding sense of detail that is both enabled by Ton´s own way of looking at fashionable ensembles outside the major shows as much as by the technological characteristics the images possess. An image might have a sharp point of focus, whilst the background appears slightly blurred. Digital photography allows for astounding magnifying effects and its development in the last few years has also allowed for the resulting images to present a hyperreal quality, much like the one found in High-Definition television screens. This creates a sense of realism that impacts the visualization experience.

The detailing of the shots allows for the viewer to fully grasp and analyze how the look has been achieved. This can be considered resonant with Hollander’s own ideas of how people fashion themselves in reference to external pictures. Sometimes, because we are not shown the identity of the woman who is being photographed, what truly stands out is the power of the aesthetic composition – the marvelous color of a coat, the gesture in the way someone holds her purse, the wit with which a fashionable creature can combine elements that seem completely contradictory between themselves. While some people might critique this as an “objectification” of the female body – given that some of the images might only display legs, feet, hands and torsos - the meaning produced by these images is seen here related to the idea of eclecticism, one of contemporary fashion’s salient characteristics. What the images also convey is the power of the digital image in its ability to travel swiftly across the blogosphere, generating an immediate access, albeit in purely visual form. By being able to see these images quickly, dedicated followers of fashion feel a sense of proximity to what is going on within the fashion week global circuit. Ultimately, it is a central argument here that these images demonstrate how, as Ben Highmore pointed out, 46 the pictorial practice of representation can coincide with the subject it renders. These visual representations coincide with the reality of contemporary fashion.

                                                                                                              46  Highmore, 27.  


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Ton’s images match the dynamism, saturation of detail, eclecticism and narcissism that defines fashion today. They also connect well with hypermodernity in that they visually materialize what Lipovetsky called the multiplication of subjective viewpoints. These images render multiple sartorial viewpoints in spectacular variety. The images also crystallize the complexities created by globalized digital networks where tradition and modernity combine. Deeply rooted in visual tropes of street fashion consecrated by traditional media, these images remediate such tropes, giving them new visibility and new nuances enabled by digital ways of representation.

Selecting the images for analysis here is a challenging task for their quantity is indescribable. In selecting the photographs included here, I have attempted to reflect distinctive tropes of the genre. I have also tried to choose images that epitomize the work of the three photographers. Tommy Ton is the most influential and three of his images are scrutinized here. Two anonymous women, both dressed in clashing prints occupy the photograph (Fig. 1). Their identities are not revealed to us as their faces are left out of the image. In what could be considered homage to the straight-up of the 1980s, the women are standing against an urban wall. The one on the left wears a caramel, white and black knit sweater, combined with a printed black, white and green-turquoise skirt. The bag, hanging from her right arm matches the caramel hue in the sweater she wears. The studded, caramel-hued protective case covering the iPhone she holds subtly matches the sweater and the purse. Her neon painted fingernails match the yellow in her bracelet. The woman on the right displays a similar interplay of subtle combinations. She wears a pink, blue, orange and white printed top, the orange in it matching the mirror lenses in the sunglasses that hang on her chest. The skirt she wears is also printed, but displays green, deep lavender, turquoise and grey. The shiny, metallic clutch in her hand seems an extension of the skirt – similar, but not quite the same, with turquoise and pearly metallic ornaments. The touches of red in the protective case of her iPhone, the outer structure of her clutch and her wristwatch all match in a delicate playful way.


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None of the pieces in either of these ensembles would seem to combine on the first impression, but the delicate matchups in the colors and patterns create a harmonic whole that´s lively, unexpected and vivacious. The photograph is representative of Tommy Ton´s work in that it closes in on these details, allowing the spectator to see how the ensembles are achieved. Additionally, this combination of disparate elements is what I refer to in this thesis as eclecticism, an aesthetic landscape characterized by stylistic multiplicity.

A second photograph renders the torso of a woman, wearing a cobalt blue blouse and a pastel blue clutch (Fig.2). A stylistic interplay is also in evidence here, as the cobalt blue of the top is matched by the same color in the skirt or dress she is wearing, which also combines with the candy-colored blue of her clutch. The golden accents in both the purse and her jewelry play together, creating focal points of similarity. The photograph renders a fleeting gesture, an unknown woman and a fragment of her ensemble. This type of image, also a trope in both Ton´s work and digital street fashion photography in general, has trained the contemporary fashion gaze to develop a fixation on detail. If we revise the logic behind contemporary fashion, we can refresh the idea that it is based on a temporality that is so rapid that it leaves little space for innovation or new styles. This has bred new forms of originality or expressiveness, with the art of combination being one of its most important outlets. Because all styles are contemporarily valid today, styling has come to the forefront as something powerfully fashionable.

A third and final photograph uses another of Ton’s tropes: a candid shot of women’s legs caught in movement. (Fig. 3) As Rocamora and O’Neill argued in “Fashioning the Street: Images of the Street in the Fashion Media”47, the image evokes the street as a setting, but geographical particularities are diluted, merging into the use of the street as a blank canvas, a homogeneous virtual city called the

                                                                                                              47  Agnès Rocamora and Alistair O´Neill, “Fashioning the Street: Images of the Street in the Fashion Media”, in Fashion as Photograph: Viewing and Reviewing Images of fashion (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012), 185-197.    


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Internet. The woman on the left wears a powder blue, black, creamy yellow and forest green graphicprinted coat. The bag hanging from her right arm matches the shapes of the print on the coat, retaining a graphic quality although varying in color: it is yellow, white and black instead. Her highheeled shoes are gold, black and red. This description might not seem to offer the vision of a very cohesive ensemble, but again the imaginative playfulness in the styling creates a powerful look, made of differentiated elements that harmonically collide. The woman on the right wears a dotted-knitted maroon suit, with a furry petroleum blue bag punctuated by orange circles. Her velvety, jeweled tone shoes are adorned with whimsical pearl-like balls. Thus, these circular forms link the pieces of her outfit.

In “The Detail: Setting Fashion Systems in Motion”, Prudence Black48 discusses the way consumers are ‘enticed’ by the fashionable element at the level of detail that gives a garment “its tension or significance” within the fashion system. According to Black, fashion details “speak”; they might even speak louder than the whole, she says: How we think about fashion today, perhaps always is not at the level of perception of a total system, but with the experience of accretion of detail. It is the detail that takes your eye; the tear in the shirt, the stain, the ruffled collar. The detail pierces the appearance, the smoothness of the image.49 It is the quality of the detail that can make a difference, Black claims. “I would suggest that fashion today has to be understood at the level of detail”, she says. In a digital context, where ways of seeing are impacted by the forms of representation enabled by digital media, the detail gains a new form of visibility. The technological abilities in digital cameras, which allow astounding zoom-ins and the production of multiple photographs by the second, allow photographers to capture such details in the fashionable dress of the women outside the major fashion shows, for example. Because images of street style photography began to circulate so quickly across cyberspace, head-to-toe shots were not

                                                                                                              48  Prudence, Black, “The Detail: Setting Fashion Systems in Motion”, in Fashion Theory, 13:4 (2009), 499-510. 49  Black, 500.  


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enough to satiate the digital gaze. Although these kind of photographs are still highly visible in street style photography galleries, the detailed images like the ones Ton creates have become one of its most visible tropes. This attention to detail is both technical and aesthetic; it reflects an imagery enabled by digital technology and it mirrors a new way of looking created by such representations.

ADAM KATZ Adam Katz Sinding is a 31-year-old self-made photographer who grew up in a Seattle and majored in art history in Paris. His blog La21eme.com was created in 2007, at the same time that Tommy Ton and Schott Schuman from The Sartorialist were already on the scene. Katz, currently based in New York, arrived in the city in 2010, but his astounding rise as one of the most popular street style photographers of the moment has taken place in the last six months. His photographs are currently featured in the online galleries of W Magazine, Elle France, Elle UK, American Elle, Flare, Grazia Italy, Harper´s Baazar (the American, Australian, Arabian and Greek versions), Lucky Magazine, New York Magazine, Style.com, V Magazine, Vogue, Refinery 29 and WhoWhatWear.com. This impressive array of publications that feature his work demonstrate that he is one of the most ubiquitous photographers of the moment, with his name peaking out under the credits of the digital photographs dedicated followers of fashion pursue to get a sense of the fashion week street-style action.

In his website, however, Katz introduces his profile with the following phrase: “This is NOT a street style blog.”50 In a January 2014 interview he explains why: First, I hate the words blog and street style. It just generalizes everything and it causes you to look at the photos as a superficial thing, and then people just go to the site, thinking, ‘I’m going to find trends’ or ‘I’m going to find cool shoes.” And sure, the majority of people that go to my site are probably looking for that, but for me, I am trying to show a personality or show an idea of who the person is and just show something beyond the superficial, even though it is, without a doubt, superficial. It is fashion week and it is fashion people. But, I try to show something beyond that.51

                                                                                                              50  La21eme. www.la21eme.com 51  “Interview Series: Adam Katz Sinding”, The Fashion Law, January 15, 2014. Accessed February 22 2014.

http://www.thefashionlaw.com/interview-series-adam-katz-sinding/


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Katz´s photographs do have a more photo-journalistic feel to them. The angles are wider. The takes are cleaner. He usually focuses on one single powerful element, blurring the rest behind it. In contrast to Ton’s pictorial style of representation, Katz’s realism is more straightforward in that it is mindful of frozen images drawn from a documentary. But it is also similar to Ton in the way it focuses on detail; for example, in the way he captures a group of women’s leg in movement, or the gesture of a woman holding her clutch against her chest. Tommy Ton’s own tropes have influenced the work of photographers like Katz, especially visible in the images that close in on a part of the body and the garments and accessories that adorn it.

The three images I have selected by Katz (Figs. 4,5,6) all try to reflect his photo-journalistic style and his preference for creating a powerful focal point by emphasizing a single, outstanding element. He does this by blurring the background or the elements that surround the one thing he wishes to emphasize. Katz´s photographs also evoke the ideas on the use of the street as a place for the articulation of fashion. The shoes he captures, the gesture in a woman as she glides by or the way she is caught walking, are usually set against an urban backdrop whose location is often only recognized because of the photograph’s caption. As Berry discusses, the street becomes a homogeneous setting, a “blank canvas”, as Rocamora and O’Neill put it.

In the first photograph, three women are caught crossing a zebra crossing, dressed in black, white and ivory. (Fig. 4) There is an interesting chromatic interplay between the dark grey of the street ground and their ensembles. The women´s faces are not shown; hence, the photograph renders only a part of their bodies, accentuating the clothes being worn. Katz, however, has given emphasis to the woman on the foreground. Her ensemble is revealed with greater quality: black leather trousers, an asymmetrical black and white top with a flowing end trailing behind her and exquisite tie-up black, strappy sandals, (probably Aquazurra.) It is possible to observe what the women behind her are wearing – also black and white, and nude and ivory – but it is her image that stands out due to the


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effect achieved by Katz. What is also interesting about this image is that, blurred in the back, are a set of photographers doing the exact same thing Katz is doing, albeit from a different angle. The image reveals the active presence of street-style photographers outside of the fashion shows—or the concept of the spectacle.

In a second photograph, a smiling woman walks towards the camera wearing plaid in both her skirt and top (Fig. 5). Although the separate pieces have different colors and patterns they create an interesting harmonic mixture, also synchronized with current trends. She has paired them with a sharp, dark blazer and carries a small black clutch in her hand. Although she seems to be smiling at the photographer who is capturing her, only half of her face is rendered. Nonetheless, I recognize the woman in the photograph as Christine Centenera, senior fashion editor of Vogue Australia. Behind her, the street serves as backdrop and although blurry and distant, one sees a multitude of individuals. This shows the dynamism of the scene outside of the shows and reflects Katz’s own style of pictorial representation: by further blurring the background of his or her subject, he creates an effect of emphasis, which in turn results in a cleaner style. If it were not for the image’s caption – which specifies that the photograph has been taken in London, in October of 2013 – it would be impossible to guess where it has been taken. This is a recurring theme—the absence of a specific geographic location- in street style photographs of this type.

The third and final photograph shows a woman’s legs, a fragment of her yellow skirt or dress, a bright blue and white striped clutch and remarkable pair of heels in caramel, turquoise and black, with the heels made of small geometric three-dimensional cubes in blush, black and caramel – probably from Balenciaga. (Fig. 6) The woman’s legs are framed within what seem two cars, insinuating that Katz has taken the photograph in a candid, unexpected way, in a spy-like way. The image also focuses on detail, imaginative styling, colliding elements that create a fashionable harmony and the use of the all-encompassing city as backdrop.


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CAROLA DE ARMAS The last photographer being analyzed in this section is Carola Fingerhut de Armas, one of street style photography’s latest newcomers. De Armas began producing images of this genre in February of 2012. Her archive, in both her website and her Tumblr, is far less numerous than Ton’s and Katz’s, but her style of representation demonstrates the ways in which the genre has evolved and anchored its tropes. De Armas follows in the steps of both Ton and Katz, producing images that incorporate the most visible themes in contemporary digital street style photography: close-ups of accessories and styling details, eclectic combinations, joyful women in fashionable attire moving from show to show, sartorial diversity and images that portray a realism achieved through the quality of their digital characteristics (Figs 7, 8, 9). She is different from Ton and Katz in that she produces a lower quantity of images. Both Ton and Katz are consecrated photographers in the genre; de Armas recently began her work. She also focuses more on “street-style stars”. I chose her because the quality of her images attests to the ways digital technology today enables a great sense of realism. Her images feel extraordinarily real. I also selected her because through her photographs it is possible to see how the visual tropes of contemporary street photography have evolved. Because her work started recently, one can see how she takes cues from already globally recognized street style photographers. This has aided in observing how street style images today have their own visual idiom. The fact that she is a woman is also noteworthy. As a photographer and a woman, de Armas is active and making the ‘gaze’ her own.

Critiquing contemporary street-style

In February of 2013, fashion writer and critic Suzy Menkes wrote a piece for T Magazine that caused stirs of controversy. In the article, titled The Circus of Fashion, Menkes observes the current state of


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this type of street-style photography: “Today, the people outside fashion shows are more like peacocks than crows. They pose and preen, in their multipatterned dresses, spidery legs balanced on club-sandwich platform shoes, or in thigh-high boots under sculptured coats blooming with flat flowers.”52 Menkes also observes that the “fuss” around the shows now seems more important than what goes on inside of them. The “action” now takes place outside, where poseurs, as she calls them, are willing to be objects of the paparazzi-like frenzy of photographers. The scene, she says, is filled with legions of editors and bloggers who dress for attention; where the so-called stylish now seem to be show-offs, and where street style has lost its individuality. What Menkes is also critiquing is a blogger culture that aligns itself with brand endorsement, -in contrast to her own journalistic principle of never receiving gifts in order to maintain objectivity – and the self-aggrandizement of ‘online arbiters’ that positively review fashion objects that have been gifted to them by brands. These gifts are often worn by bloggers during fashion week. In this sense, contemporary judgment of fashion, she claims, is based on narcissism. Hence, fashion has become a “mob rule”, a system where the most popular survive and where this popularity is essentially achieved through digital virality. It is a “world where the survival of the gaudiest is a new kind of dress parade”, where fashion shows have thus transformed into a zoo, with “the cattle market of showoff people waiting to be chosen or rejected by the photographers”.

In a similar note, the online publication Business of Fashion published an Op-Ed piece on January of 2014 where the writer, Max Berlinger, claims that contemporary street style imagery is more in line with the constructs of the catwalk or the fashion magazines, straying away from any true representation of personal style: Whatever happened to the “street” in street style? As interest in street style grows, there’s certainly no dearth of images featuring tony editors, buyers and other fashion insiders captured at the world’s major fashion weeks. But there’s a pointed lack of inspiration in these pictures. Too often, they reflect a highly merchandised construct that merely reiterates the

                                                                                                              52  Suzy, Menkes, “The Circus of Fashion”. T Magazine, February 10, 2013. Accessed February 26, 2014.

http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/the-circus-of-fashion/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0.


56 seasonal themes dictated, top-down, from the industry to consumers, at the expense of true personal style. Sometimes, they are even part of a premeditated marketing plan.53

The reason why Berlinger makes such a claim is because the street-style photography produced outside the major shows evidences the ways in which street-style stars may, on many occasions, be wearing what they have been gifted by the designer brands themselves. These images are so constructed, he says, that the one thing they seem to lack are the credits of what the person is wearing. This modality, of displaying an entire ensemble and further dissecting where the clothes come from, derives from fashion magazine editorials and most recently, from personal style bloggers, who publish their daily outfits and finish their posts with captions that specify the brands from which the clothes have been sourced. Berlinger also mentions that, today, some publications have gone as far as creating content in which they advise people on how to be actually photographed outside of the shows, how to become “street style photography bait”.54 The underlying idea to this argument is that street style is or should be about realism, spontaneity and “ordinary people.” For Berlinger, the “new wave of meticulously fabricated stars are all surface”, what we now call street style has actually “stifled true style” becoming a territory for transactional compromises. Street style, he argues, has become as glossy as magazine editorials. What’s more, when street style stars actively court the camera — dressing to be photographed instead of dressing according to one’s own wishes — with carefully planned and executed ensembles, what we get is polish and poise with none of the instinctive and idiosyncratic gestures of true personal style. Ultimately, what we are left with is an awful lot on display, but not much to see.55

It is not true that there is little to be seen in these images. Instead, this thesis argues, they are a way of grasping how we see and experience fashion today. This idea, that street style and the catwalk have merged in terms of their constructedness and artifice, will be explained by briefly reviewing the

                                                                                                              53  Max Berlinger, “Op-Ed – What Happened to Street Style”. Business of Fashion, January 23, 2014. Accessed February 26, 2014. http://www.businessoffashion.com/2014/01/op-ed-happened-street-style.html 54  Amy Odell, “Ten Rules for Getting Shot by Street Style Photographers”. New York Magazine, September 27, 2011. Accessed February 28, 2014. http://nymag.com/thecut/2011/09/street_style_rules.html 55  Berlinger, ibid.


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history of street style and the relation between fashion and the street. In going through this history, I argue that what street style digital images of today do is crystallize a ‘remediation of vision’, a way of seeing that blends visual tropes from fashion magazines as well as forms of representation created by digital media. The concept of ‘remediation’, which derives from Agnès Rocamora´s work relates to Kelli Fuery’s notion of “transformation of vision”. What we see in these images connects to ideas of hypermodernity, eclecticism, remediation, temporality and the logic of contemporary fashion.

A Fashionable Photographic Paradigm

In Representation: Cultural Representations and Cultural Practices, Stuart Hall discusses the idea of dominant representational paradigms. Using Thomas Kuhn’s ideas on paradigm shifts – which Kelli Fuery also uses in her analysis of new media- 56 to describe the ways in which digital technologies create ‘transformations of vision’ –Hall describes the way in which a paradigm contains a ‘world-view’57, or a set of statements that define its subject matter. A paradigm shift, in a Kuhnian perspective, allows familiar things to be seen in revolutionary ways. Hall, however, is applying the concept to photography, understood as a set of visual practices situated in a historical and cultural context. He is referring to a representational paradigm, in order to understand how groups of photographers share a common perspective on representation, how they “cluster together” to ensure the dominance of a paradigm as a form of representation and how they develop an agenda of central themes that express their ‘world-view’. A paradigm-shift in photography, he says, usually denotes a new visual aesthetic, a “novel conception of representation.” But, just like in Kuhn’s scientific paradigm-shift, familiar things are seen, or rather re-seen, in revolutionary ways. In this scheme, one or more photographers develop a new ‘theory’ about representation, to concentrate on a certain type of subject, or to make

                                                                                                              56  Fuery, 120-122. 57  Stuart Hall, Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (London: The Open University, 1997),

77-80.


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images framed or colored in a particular way. The novel image attracts attention from other photographers and this might progressively influence the community to adopt the new visual paradigm. “This occurs through a complex similar to that which happens in sciences, whereby the paradigm becomes institutionalized through training practices.”58

These ideas can be applied to the genre of street-style photography being analyzed here. Digital street-style photography outside of the major fashion shows expresses a particular ‘world-view’, in which fashionable women participating in the fashion week circuit act as a central subject matter. The representational paradigm in this brand of street style photography clusters its own central themes: great amount of detail, dynamism, eclecticism, sartorial variety, the use of the street as backdrop and a sense of realism achieved through digital technology. Another primary theme related to the temporality of these images is that they are taken rapidly and circulate quickly. Tommy Ton might be said to have developed a new ‘theory’ on street style representation, by initiating candid shots instead of asking for his subjects to pose, in shifting to close-ups of detail instead of head-to-toe shots. This has made an impact on other photographers who, although they have developed a style of their own, evoke Ton’s theory on the importance of detail and the way it is rendered.

It might also be said that this style of pictorial representation allows street style photography – a recurrent feature in print media since the 1980s – to be re-seen in new ways. When street style blogs began to be popularized in the 00’s, it seemed as if though they were creating the style of representation. However, the street had already been a ubiquitous setting for fashion representation in magazines, since as far back as the 1940s, and magazines such as i-D and The Face had disseminated the straight-up in its idea of rendering a fashion created by “real” people, on the street. These blogs, however, gave these representational tropes new visibility because of their digital nature; virtually anyone could see an image made in Paris or in Jakarta, from anywhere in the world, through

                                                                                                              58  Hall, 80.  


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a computer screen. The rapidity with which these images began to be replenished also had an impact on what they were rendering. Head-to-shots were no longer enough to satisfy the digital fashion gaze, always hungry to look, always able to look, always desirous of knowing the particulars of clothes and accessories, thanks to its endless rush of information and images.

Additionally, street-style photography has historically had the underlying idea of using the street as an arena for democratic fashion, hence creating a visual discourse based on realism. The digital street style photography used here incorporates ideas of realism and democracy, albeit in different ways. The realism is achieved through the quality of the images, the spontaneity of the gestures in the women captured, the amount of fashionable details caught in one image. The idea of democracy is attained through the fastness with which the images circulate and the accessibility that characterizes them. Dedicated followers of fashion can see these images, at any time, from anywhere, from a computer or an iPhone screen. Consequently, fashion is democratic here in a purely visual way, fabricating the illusion of proximity and closeness in experience of a world that still remains open for a selected few, the highest caste of the fashion flock. By using “the street” as their specific setting, however, these images draw on the ideal that fashion today is democratic, accessible, and made for everyone. The photographs blend in a sense of “realism” with the sartorial fantasy usually attributed to fashion magazines.

The online versions of high-end publications such as Vogue, W, Harper’s Baazar, Marie Claire and Elle, - to name just a few - have all incorporated the genre into their fashion week coverage, featuring daily street-style galleries on their websites during the entire fashion week circuit. One of the most popular websites in which to observe this trend, Style.com, includes the work of Tommy Ton. Although it is clear that the genre has had an impact on the way more traditional fashion media represents fashion, there is a considerable number of blogs that specialize just in the production of such images, which


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have been popular since 2006, with the emergence of eponymous blogs such as The Sartorialist and Facehunter.

The genre of street-style that has become notoriously popular and ubiquitous in contemporary digital imagery is an evolution of traditional notions related to street fashion photography. While these digital images do capture a sense of spontaneity and stylistic diversity, they are, however, not like the type of street fashion formerly produced which was based on fortuitous urban encounters with fashionable subjects on the streets. Although this modality also proliferates in digital imagery, it is not the subject being treated here. The women rendered in the images of contemporary or digital streetstyle photography created outside the shows can range from high-end magazine editors, popular style bloggers, and models off duty or anonymous show attendees, all usually known figures actively participating in fashion week. They might be running from show to show or simply wandering the scene, but they are aware that they may be photographed for their sartorial expressiveness. Some of them are considered “street style stars”, as they are recurrently photographed because of their fashionability.

This style of photographic representation is not entirely new; it is rather a blend of visual tropes created by fashion magazines, traditional concepts of street style and forms of representation created by digital media. As such, they have created a ‘remediated’ way of looking at contemporary fashion, characterized by high speed, stylistic eclecticism and high display of detail. Over the past few years, the scene outside of the fashion show venues has become saturated with tribes of street style photographers that emulate the bewildered mass of paparazzi portrayed by the filmmaker Federico Fellini. The work of these photographers thus can be connected to Anne Hollander´s idea that representational artists are able to offer images of clothes persuasive enough to govern the perception of dress in a whole generation.59 Today, these images serve as some of the mental self-

                                                                                                              59  Hollander, 314.  


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images which people use as reference to dress and style themselves—if the number of viewers of these websites can be used as an indication. Just like Hollander wrote on representational artists, street-style photographers capture the minutiae of present fashionability: “They will record the bulk of skirts, the bend of necks, the crush of sleeves, and general proportions with total ease.”60 For Hollander, fashion photography in the seventies had come “to ape the look of snapshots”. Our contemporary “visual truth”, in turn, is dominated by digital images that match the digital fashion context they represent—a mix of artifice and speed.

Additionally, street style photography is associated with a genre that captures fashionable subjects fortuitously found on the streets of a city. However, the street-style photography this chapter is concerned with corresponds to the images specifically produced outside of the fashion shows, by the entrance of Lincoln Center in New York, or within the grounds of the Tuileries Gardens in Paris. In order to understand how this genre has developed, it is important to remember that since the 1950s, the street has been a principal backdrop for fashion photography. Fashion and the street can be said to hold an enduring romance that goes back to the nineteenth century, when fashion, as a modern phenomenon, was surfacing in Paris. The experience of modernity is therefore inextricably linked to the urban experience of anonymity provided by the city. This association has aligned fashion with concepts of modernity, linking it to the urban and the everyday. As such, fashion photography in the street can be said to offer a sense of immediacy and realism that contrasts the fantasies and dreams of studio-based fashion images. This realism might be interpreted as the democracy of fashion.61

                                                                                                              60  Hollander, 317. 61  Jess Berry, “Street-style: Fashion photography, weblogs and the urban image”, draft paper from conference

Fashhion: Exploring Critical Issues, Oxford, 2010.


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A Remediation of Vision It is important here to bring in Agnès Rocamora´s concept of ‘fashion remediation’.62 New media, she says, may transform existing visions, but they never entirely supplant old media – the new always absorbs some of the characteristics of the old. What is new in new media are the particular ways in which they refashion older media as well as the ways in which old media responds to the challenges brought by new media. This process, in which and the old and new media represent and refashion each other, is called ‘remediation.’

In this sense, then, blogs for example, remediate print or magazines by borrowing their visual tropes. This also happens when bloggers assume poses that conjure the models in magazines –such as the model shot from behind, walking away from the camera. Personal style bloggers also use these modalities. For example, they will also use the straight-up in some of their posts, showing themselves and their outfits on the street, against a city wall. But Rocamora argues that when blogs such as The Sartorialist or The Facehunter appropriated the straight-up genre, it had already been a recurrent trope in the printed fashion press. What blogs have achieved, however, is to give the trope a new visibility “to the point that it has become tightly associated with the fashion blogosphere as if no other media before had represented it.”63 Just as the straight up in i-D and The Face popularized the idea that the street was where “real” fashion was displayed, in a similar way independent blogs today are often viewed as the space where fashion worn by ‘real’ people can be seen. These claims, Rocamora says, are reinforced “by visions and representations of the Web as an unmediated space, which has consolidated the association of street fashion/fashion blogosphere, thereby somewhat occulting the significance of print media in popularizing the genre.”64 The Internet, which is based on immediacy, serves to strengthen this idea of what is “authentic.” Hence, the idea that fashion blogs can present

                                                                                                              62  Agnès Rocamora, ”Hypertextuality and Remediation in the Fashion Media: The Case of Fashion Blogs”, 92106. 63  Rocamora, 102. 64  Rocamora, 102.


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unmediated fashion, is also achieved by the absence of words, considering that street style blogs usually contain images, with little else. Consequently, Rocamora continues, the claim to immediacy as unmediated reality is backed by a claim of immediacy as rapidity, considering the fact that these images, of street fashion blogs, fabricate a temporality based on the present ‘reality’, more real, more alive, with no time even for text.

But remediation is two-sided, and as noted earlier in this chapter, magazines have also incorporated street style into their pages and websites. “This collaboration between blog and print medium draws attention to a defining trait of today’s media culture, that of convergence, or the flow of content across multiple platforms and networks”. 65 Hybridity is thus an essential component in both representation and subject; it can be seen in the way new and old media reshape each other and combine, and it can also be seen in the aesthetic hybridity rendered in digital images of street style.

Fashion and the street

In “ Fashioning the Street: Images of the Street in the Fashion Media”66, Agnès Rocamora and Alistair O´Neill discuss the street´s conspicuous position as a setting for the articulation of fashion. Looking into the consecration of the “straight-up” fashion portrait during the 1980s, in magazines such as i-D and The Face they analyze the street as a visual background that loses its characteristic as a situated place “to become a blank canvas”. The straight-up basically captured a fashionable subject against a brick wall on the street. What these images also achieved was to create an “unmediated integrity” reinforced by the fragments of conversation that were included with the photograph. Pairing of the street and style had other precedents, as mentioned before. By the 1960s, the visual

                                                                                                              65  Rocamora, 103. 66  Rocamora and O’Neill, “Fashioning the Street: Images of the Street in the Fashion Media”, 185-197.  


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trope of woman on the street was radicalized by the emergence of youth as the ideal social category of fashion. The street became youth’s primary context.

In using the urban space, fashion photography, argue Rocamora and O’Neill, was forced to modify its own practices. “It was no longer enough to claim the street as the site where fashionable commodities were radicalized, rather it was now the site where style was constructed prior to the processes of commodification.”67 In this way, the straight-up represents the idea of fashion as a “situated practice of production informed by the street and the catwalk”. The street is the place where “real”, ordinary people are found, whilst the fashion show is an exclusive, closed space. Today, as the media articles discussed observe, this contrast is no longer as acute. The images of street-style photography outside of the major fashion shows include as much artificiality as they do a sense of realism. In this sense, they reflect the current fashion moment. The catwalk has always been the high point of fashion, where new fashions have traditionally been introduced, but from the 1980s onwards, the street has also been a legitimate site of fashionable creativity.

The Face, for example, drew on “the metaphor of the theatre”, highlighting the vitality of performance and the street as “a stage for the display of the sartorial creations of ordinary people and the performance of fashionability.”68 It was with the straight up that “real” people began to be praised as celebrities. In the street-style photograph analyzed here, the theatre remains, albeit in more complex ways, considering that individuals know that they might be photographed if they are dressed accordingly. This adds to an element of artificiality and constructedness, as signaled by both fashion writer and critic Suzy Menkes and fashion journalist Max Berlinger in their journalistic pieces formerly discussed. However, the contemporary theatre is also marked by unprecedented possibility, not just because anonymous individuals might get shot for their sartorial liveliness alongside ‘street

                                                                                                              67  Rocamora and O´Neill, 189. 68  Ibid.  


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style stars’ such as Vogue Japan Anna dello Russo or W´s Fashion Director Giovanna Battaglia, but also because of the sartorial variety being celebrated.

In a short essay called “On the Style Site: Ephemeral Images in Time”,69 Charlotte Bik Bandlieu argues that the symbolic power held by the groupings caught in street style blogs affect the speed of production and the consumer structure: Eclecticism (or sampling culture; the quintessential post-modern term used in the fields of cultural production) is the obvious sociological reaction to the problem of diffusion of our time due to the speed of production and information flow. It is also the obvious ideological reflection of it. What we are dealing with, then, are style communities based on a common ability to interpret and compose complex or eclectic stylistic expressions, in the same way, at the same time; communities based on coinciding dynamic valuations.70 This speed of production and/or information flow feeds contemporary fashion’s stylistic eclecticism. The short-lived temporality of contemporary fashion cycles leaves little space for innovation or creativity. No style is truly ever in or out. This is often a motif in the photographs of this genre of street-style photography: Parisian chic in a woman may precede the photograph of another one who blends clashing digital print; a young creature might be wearing a minimalist cocoon coat with sneakers, another one might be clad in a sleek pencil skirt and whimsical shoes. This has consequences in the way fashion is perceived.

Street style is one of fashion’s many myths. There are, as Sophie Woodward explains in “The Myth of Street Style” 71 , cultural expectations to what street style should be. The concept is usually associated with “quirkiness” and sartorial expressiveness: Street style as an idea, phrase, practice, and image can be located in numerous sites: as part of popular parlance, within media representations of fashion in the street style sections of magazines – in outfits that are assembled in exhibitions and

                                                                                                              69  Charlotte Bik Blandieu,“On the Style Site: Ephemeral Images in Time”, in Images in Time: Flashing Forward, Backward, in front and behind Photography, Langkjaer, Michael A., Aesa Turney, Jo (eds.) (Bath: Wunderkammer Press, 2011), 151-159. 70  Bik Blandieu, 158. 71  Sophie Woodward, “The Myth of Street Style”, in Fashion Theory, 13:1 (2009) 83-102.


66 academics’ accounts. These multiple sites and discourses are interconnected in producing meanings surrounding street style.72

There are well documented histories of street style that relate it to specifically defined subgroupings and less clearly differentiated social categories; there are also academically sourced accounts of “the shifting nuances of street style”, according to Woodward. But street style does not, she argues, emerge just from its own narratives – it is instead registered and comprehended at the intersection of a diverse number of sites: high street, fashion magazines, and the background, relations and preferences of the consumer and his or her social milieu. Woodward’s own article is focused on street style as practice and thus focuses on a Mass Fashion Observation in Nottingham. But what is relevant here is that Woodward understands street style in a way that “neither champions it as the locus of fashion innovation, nor reduces it to the workings of ‘fast fashion’ and the fickle consumer that implies.”73

Woodward proposes to avoid the opposition between “myth” and reality in street style, and chooses to address it as an articulation of different areas. Street style can be investigated as a complexity of practices that may become simplified when reduced to the dichotomy of authenticity or fantasy. In this analysis, street style is analyzed as image, but also as a concept that reflects the fashion moment it is framed in. The street in this street style is no longer just the homogeneous metropolis but the landscape outside of the shows. The photographs convey a sense of realism and spontaneity, but not just in rendering fashionable subjects found on the street but also because of the magnified amount of detail, bodily movement and gesticulation they contain. Being real or constructed no longer radicalizes the style in this kind of street style, considering that fashion today is eclectic because of its vertiginous pace. The democracy in these images is not necessarily related to the idea of the street

                                                                                                              72  Woodward, 84.   73  Woodward, 86.  


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being an arena for democratic style but resides instead in the fact that these images are highly accessible due to how they quickly circulate and are speedily replenished.

Global street style In this thesis, street style is treated as a concept, whose definition shifts within context and time. As a fashion myth, street style denotes the idea of “authenticity” or realism – as, for example, critiqued by Berlinger in his Op-Ed. This is partly because of the way the straight-up popularized the notion that styles being sourced on the street belonged to ordinary people and not just models or designers and that this was consequently “real” fashion. The utilization of the straight-up by i-D and The Face was framed within a context where fashion was being democratized in a postmodern landscape. This had implications to the way street style is viewed, represented and looked at. But we are no longer experiencing postmodernity and street style has evolved in sync to the digital imagery within which it is rendered.

In her article “Street-Style: Fashion, Photography, Weblogs and Urban Images”, Jess Berry argues that street-style blogs have absorbed the visual language of straight-up photography, which consists of full-length immediate portraits in the street situ – a format that is informed by the one popularized in the 1980s by magazines such as i-D and The Face. The street-style blogs that have been in turn popularized since the mid 00´s, - with two of the most popular initiators being The Sartorialist and Facehunter - are able to create a ‘non-spatial dimension’ in their conflation of fashion cities. Because the images use the streets as a canvas, geographical particularities are eventually diluted. At the time they began, Scott Schumman and Yvan Rodic, the creators behind these two blogs, began publishing photographs of stylish subjects they encountered on the streets. Because these images started being produced all over the world – in major fashion capitals such as Paris and New York, but also in locations that might be considered part of the fashion periphery – the street became a space for uniformity. When one looks at these images, it might be difficult to guess where they are produced.


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Global fashion networks have brought forth a trend that indicates decentralization and democratization of fashion, a trend that can also be seen in the production and consumption of fashion, and therefore in its representation. The result is a change in the way we experience the city, as the digital has included a “network society of cyberspace” and, as Berry points out, the location becomes “the homogeneous all-encompassing city of the Internet.”

The increased interactivity, file sharing and social networking characteristics of the Internet have contributed to the globalization of fashion production and consumption. Internet networks have globalized the fashion marketplace and this has had a powerful effect on the way fashion is visually represented and looked at. Shifts in subjectivity are at the core of these technological transformations. In this context, street-style blogs have also motivated a global dialogue that renders the street as a democratic arena, where the public, instead of models, celebrities and designers, can, as Berry says be “at the fore of fashion-making”. These blogs have contributed to the decentralization of elite style capitals.

But this use of the street, that today might seem to have been created by these blogs, is actually a historical trope in fashion photography. Some iconic precursors of this style were Norman Parkinson, who in the 1940s and 1950s used the street as a backdrop to the dynamic movement of the models.74 By doing so, this form of photography absorbed the dynamism of the city itself to suggest immediacy and realism, both contrasting elements to the fantasies and dream-like images fabricated in the photographer´s studio. “In this way the realist image of street-style photography might be understood to express the democracy of fashion, where everyday people in the urban environment challenge the rarefied version of the designers or stylists.” The city as backdrop in straight-up photography has been able to suggest a “generalized metropolis” rather than a distinctive location. This has an impact on contemporary subjectivity. Just as digital media allow us to connect

                                                                                                              74  Berry, 5.  


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with information and images liberated from spatial constraints – meaning we can access the contents of digital technologies or the blogosphere from wherever location we are able to access a computer or a telephone – so this “non-dimensional” spatiality of street style images allows us to feel closer to global fashion. The streets where the fashionable subjects are photographed are no longer just Paris, New York or London, they can also be Buenos Aires or Jakarta, places that have not been a part of the traditional elite of fashion.

Because the city becomes a general backdrop, urban style is no longer determined just by location, but also by “the society of cyberspace”. As people are exposed to more images from all over the world, they visualize their sartorial selves through these images. Hence, fashionable subjects express a sartorial language that is more global. Viewers in Jakarta may be watching what is going on Paris, affecting the ways in which they self-fashion. But this is not a unilateral relationship, because emergent fashion cities become influential alongside classic style capitals. This non-dimensionality in street-style photography creates an experience of fashion that feels more accessible. One no longer needs to travel to Paris to experience the mythological styles of the Parisian woman, for example.

This is the case with digital street style blogs that specialize in rendering fashionable people in different cities. But because the images treated in this thesis are specifically taking place outside of the major fashion shows, this means that the images create proximity to the major global fashion weeks. Viewers of contemporary fashion can travel digitally and see what goes on outside of the shows. In seeing this, they feel they have experienced the event in a way, not just because of the quality of the images, but also because of their dynamism, the amount of detail they include and the rapidity with which they circulate. Galleries of street-style photography are replenished on a daily basis during the length of the fashion week circuit. They are a part of the traditional magazines’ online versions, they are showcased in social media – Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram – and they are actualized in the websites of the very photographers that produce them. What is interesting


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is that the runway is just as accessible through images, with live streaming shows and instant photographs being published as the very shows are going on, and yet, there is a sort of collective fascination with the action that goes on outside of them.

No longer just blogs that render the fashionable everyman or everywoman on the street, street style blogs, Berry says, illustrate the complicated and contradictory nature of fashion trends within globalized networks. Globalized fashion, she says, appears to be a complex mix of global and local influences, along with traditional and modern elements. This complexity can be further seen in these street style images because in the present, they seem to merge the constructedness of both the catwalk and the magazine, as much as they include the spontaneity and the realism of traditional street style photography. They include top editors attired in avant-garde off-the-runway expensive garments or unknown attendees who combine Zara with Chanel.

Hence, digital street-style photography outside of the major fashion shows brings together a series of visual tropes and genres already popularized within printed and digital media, displaying them with greater rapidity thanks to the way the galleries are replenished daily during the fashion week circuit. Because pictorial representations of fashion and the way we look at them are defined by the narrative structures they belong to, street style photography outside of the shows create a way of seeing built on excessive detail, close-ups, movement and aesthetic multiplicity. Ultimately, these images, among the most popular style of pictorial fashion representation today, affect how we perceive and fashion contemporary dress. A hybridity of new and old, authentic and artificial, virtual and happening, such images infuse the ways that people construct and see themselves—as discussed in the following chapter on Personal Style Blogs.


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II.

WOMAN-WITH-SCREEN:

PERCEPTIONS OF FASHION AND FEMININITY THROUGH PERSONAL STYLE BLOGS

Fashion blogs have been one of contemporary fashion’s most conspicuous phenomena since they first emerged in the early 00’s. Their rise is set in the late 1990’s, when computer technologies were already enabling new ways of communication. Their multiplication is, according to Agnès Rocamora, closely related to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. In one of the first times in history, a colossal tragedy was both viewed and televised as it was happening live. The further developments of such an event ignited the need to generate updating reports more quickly. One of the most salient characteristics in blogs is the way in which they allow for a topic or event to be swiftly actualized. This, Rocamora says, “lends itself particularly well to the constant desire for new information key events generate; while the presence of a ‘commentary’ section that allows readers to join in a discussion constitutes an important platform for dialogue and communion around such events.”75

Since their appearance, blogs also tended to concentrate on personalized histories and representations of the world. This self-consciousness and self-expression, channeled through these

                                                                                                              75  Rocamora, Agnès, “Personal Fashion Blogs: Screens and Mirrors in Digital Self-Portraits”, 409.  


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digital spaces, are resonant with Giles Lipovetsky’s ideas on the concept of hypermodernity.76 Both elements are accentuated by the ephemeral action of the media. Hypermodernity creates a social landscape in which subjective viewpoints proliferate and where the narration of the self can be made more visible through the instant, rapidly changing and in-flux channels of communication digital technologies allow. Blogs – and most specifically personal style blogs – are reminiscent of another traditional tool in the construction of the self: the diary. Rocamora calls these blogs “hypermodern diaries”, public, rather than private, creators of an ongoing stream of self-consciousness that is digitalized and expressed through clothes and photography.

By 2010, the blogosphere had also become a habitual place for the circulation and production of fashion discourse. 77 Personal style blogs became ubiquitous – consisting mainly of a personal narration, with the young woman creating it posting photographs of her daily ensembles. This subgenre soon became the symbol of a new way of engaging and participating in fashion, with “ordinary” women around the globe translating the fashion system’s trends into the everydayness of their lives. It soon became common for these women to create ensembles that were not necessarily all designer-made. Hence, the mix of “high” and “low”, of designer and fast fashion and of the new and the old became a common ground for these sartorial narrations. Ultimately, this was also reflecting a new context in which interpretations of fashion were deriving from alternative places, creating a decentralized scenario where more people could participate.

This chapter analyzes the way we look at contemporary fashion through the images produced by personal style bloggers. Inspired by Anne Hollander´s idea that the perception of fashionable dress is defined by the pictorial representations of a given context, this thesis argues that personal style blogs unveil present-day governing perceptions of dress, in the way that fashion plates in the eighteenth

                                                                                                              76  Lipovetksy, 1-66. 77  Rocamora, “Personal Style Blogs”, 410.  


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century or cinema in the 1930s did. It specifically looks into some of the images produced by Chiara Feragni, from theblondesalad and Alix Bancourt, from thecherryblossomgirl. It briefly makes reference to the blog created in 2010 by Leandre Medine, The Man Repeller. In looking at these images I unpack themes of subjectivity, the fashionable feminine self, narcissism, self-representation and identity in digital media, interrogating how we see contemporary fashion through these visual fabrications.

*

Personal style blogs began to circulate in cyberspace at the same time when street style blogs began to surface. Hence, they belong to what can be considered a superstructure of new forms of representation enabled by digital culture. It is not surprising, then, that the visual tropes of both genres tend to coincide and overlap. They both reflect a moment in which fashion became markedly democratic and decentralized, thanks to the new visibility afforded by the Internet in the production of images and the circulation of information. This moment can also be described as a hypermodern context, in which multiple subjective points not only begin to proliferate, but also become visible because of the rapidity of the blogosphere. Consequently, both genres, as symbols of new fashion media, began to remediate certain tropes and motifs of older fashion media. Such was the case as we have seen with street style blogs, which appropriated the straight up and the use of the street as a backdrop, tropes used by fashion magazines since the 1940s and most notoriously in the 1980s. A similar case arises with personal style blogs, as some of the dominating tropes in them derive from historical motifs in the fashion photography of magazines. Both street style and personal style blogs make use of the street as their backdrop. Although personal style blogs are also characterized by the creation of intimate scenarios within bloggers’ bedrooms and closets, the street is ubiquitous because it is a symbol of a place where fashion is essentially democratic. Both street style and personal style blogs reflect a new democracy in fashion, in which representation on the topic no longer emanates solely from an exclusive elite or within the major and historical style capitals.


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What sets these two genres apart is that street style photography concentrates on numerous fashionable feminine subjects, whilst personal style blogs are usually created and visually narrated by a single woman who acts as a protagonist. But there is another important element in which they coincide: both digital street style photography – especially after Tommy Ton – and personal style blogs tend to display a vivid amount of detail. Hence, for example, a blog post will usually include a head-to-toe shot of the ensemble, which will be followed by a series of images that zoom into the different elements that compose it. A photograph will closely display the minutiae of the styling, rendering, for instance, a framed vision of a purse and a clutch, a single image that encapsulates the shoes, a very precise take of the hands in order to reveal the detailing of jewels, such as mixed and matched bracelets and/or rings. Most personal style blogs follow this aesthetic order, which is usually concluded with a list of captions that describe where the clothes have been sourced. (Sometimes, the name of the brands will be shown in bold letters as an indicator that they are hyperlinks to be clicked on, leading to the website where the clothes worn might be purchased from, in similar or identical version.) Because of this, personal style blogs also allow the ensembles of the women who wear them to be seen from different angles. Bloggers will be shot from the left and the right, smiling or walking. A single blog post may include up to seven photographs of the same ensemble, displayed from different perspectives. In this way, it can also be said that personal style blogs have created a way of looking at fashionable dress that allows the spectator to visualize in full detail what is being worn.

Today, personal style blogs are one of contemporary fashion’s most ubiquitous phenomena. In the past eight years or so, the genre has significantly and visibly evolved. What began as a wave of young women who dared to become their own arbiters of style by sharing, on a daily basis and through the Internet, detailed and visual narrations of their sartorial individualities, has now become a globally recognized institution of fashion interpreters. As the trend began to stabilize, designer brands began to notice some of these young women, whose beauty and stylistic ingeniousness was perceived as a


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potential and efficient new mode of communication, in a world always hungry for images and information. Today, some of these women are front-row habitués; they engage in creative collaborations with luxury brands, are frequent presences in street style images outside of the major fashion shows and are featured in glossy fashion magazines. Some of them, like Chiara Feragni from theblondesalad, have been able to transform what began as a personal diary, into a business with a consolidated team of half a dozen people and a structured business strategy.

Because they project an image of frivolous women with the financial ability to cater to their fashionable, consumerist whims, few people would seldom associate these women with feminism. But personal style bloggers have managed to do something few women in history have been able to do: self-represent, fashion their own image and exert a sense of control on the ways they are seen. Within a tradition where women have enduringly been specular objects, this is no insignificant achievement. But just as they are able to have this power over their self-representation, personal style bloggers are not exempt from the narcissism, consumerism and great power conceded to appearance that characterizes contemporary fashion. Hence, the images they produce are drenched with the complexities that characterize contemporary femininity and the oscillations between self and image that develop in this scheme. The images they produce are also reflective of the ways in which the fashion system has been utterly altered by new technologies. *

Agnès Rocamora discusses personal style blogs as spaces that use technologies of the self in the construction of identity. In her understanding, the tools that aid this identity articulation are fashion, the act of blogging, photography and computer screens. Rocamora’s analysis is focused on gender, and she interestingly explores the empowering and disempowering forces in the representation of femininity at play in these spaces. The computer screen, where the personal style blogger projects her fashionable self, is seen here as a mirror, where women’s position as specular object is somewhat


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reproduced but also contested, given that some blogs are also places that construct alternative visions of femininity.

Such is the case, for example, with Leandra Medine’s widely popular blog The Man Repeller, created in 2010 with the underlying idea that if a woman dresses to attract the fashion flock, she will most likely repel men. Medine coined the witty term within the fashion industry, creating an imagery which emphasizes how to achieve looks that are highly fashionable and thus, not necessarily appealing to the masculine gaze. Some of her posts might display a head-to-toe shot of a “man getter” look: say, for example, skinny black leather trousers, a sheer, polka dot-print long sleeved body-hugging bodysuit and crystal leopard print pumps (Fig. 10). The series of photos, however, will demonstrate how she progressively achieves a “man repeller” look, by adding unexpected layers to the sexy ensemble. She will add a white button down blouse, rolling up the sleeves and leaving it half open in order for the polka dot bodysuit to show slightly. She will layer a peplum navy and blue skirt over the skinny trousers, add jewels, finish with a Prince of Wales blazer over the shoulders and swap the stilettos for open-toe booties. The result is a remarkably creative and eclectic outfit, based on the type of mixture that is celebrated as fashionable today. (Fig. 11) These same kinds of combinations are recurrent in digital images of street style photographs where Medine herself is often a subject. These combinations play with attracting or repelling men through choice and arrangement of clothing.

Through this witty defiance, Medine has both been able to enjoy a wild success within the fashion industry – as she is a front-row attendee, collaborates with multiple brands, is often featured and works with high-end magazines and has published a book – while also rebelling against more conventional ideas of sartorial femininity. In a way, she has been able to deflect the so-called male gaze, traditionally critiqued in feminist theories of fashion. She also feeds the idea that contemporary


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fashionability for women can be dissociated from conventional femininity. Medine has done this by using the formats and visual language that characterize such blogs.

As they developed, these personal style blogs began to constitute a new outlook on the field of fashion, one that, according to Rocamora, is neither produced single-handedly by an elite nor by the male gaze. While this is true, as the blogs have fully consecrated and become an ever-present force in contemporary fashion, they have also steered further into the direction of what some may deem as artificiality. At the beginning, the whole point of these blogs was for “real” women to express how they experienced fashion, hence they would mix designer clothes with things they already owned or garments they had purchased for low prices. But as they began to gain recognition and notoriety among designer brands, gifts and invitations soon proliferated. Consequently, the blogs became a space for brands to promote themselves, albeit in different ways than a fashion magazine, through the “realness” of the woman who incorporated the clothes into her closet and her life. This has created a situation in which bloggers wear high-end designer clothes that are gifted to them on a regular basis, a fact that has obfuscated a sense of true objectivity in the appreciations they may make. They are also seated in front rows and engage in events organized especially for them. Moreover, what began as an intimate narration, in the bedrooms and within the closets of newly formed bloggers, veered towards more sophisticated editorializing, which became similar to the productions generally found in fashion magazines. This sophistication in the quality of the images found in personal style blogs is also related to the advances of digital photography, which have served to create images of astounding high definition and detail, just as they have in the works of street style photographers, discussed in the previous chapter.


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The encounter, between alternative interpretations of fashion and the constructedness or fantastic quality of the magazine spread, can be seen to coincide with the convergence of the catwalk and the street, as in the case of digital street style blogs. Just as street style had been mythologized within fashion discourses as a category characterized by “authenticity” and “realism”, personal style blogs were also mythologized as spaces where the interpretation of these women was “untouched” by the fashion system. The alternative interpretations these women presented were soon absorbed by the system itself, feeding into the process of remediation between old and new media. Therefore, the designs in fashion magazines of today and the content they present has taken inspiration from the visual language produced by blogs. The same has occurred in the other direction. The imagery in personal style blogs is not entirely removed from the fashion magazine.

Just as street style photography blogs absorbed visual tropes traditionally used in printed media, giving them new visibility through the Internet, personal style blogs have had a similar process with their own tropes. Bloggers are usually photographed on the street, a fact that brings to mind the straight up. They are often caught on camera showing their ensemble against an urban wall, a setting that is mindful of street style photography itself. A lot of the ways in which bloggers are captured – for instance walking away from the camera or caught in movement and delight in an urban setting – are also evocative of the images usually found in glossy fashion magazines. As they have evolved, not only the quality of the images, but also the styling, the hair, makeup and clothes has become increasingly sophisticated. Blogs are beacons of decentered interpretation of fashion but today they are also constructed and polished. This complexity and hybridity can also be considered as reflective of globalized cyber networks. Additionally, and like street style images, these blogs also emphasize detail, allowing the spectator to fully grasp what is being worn, from different angles and through powerful close-ups.


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According to Rocamora, personal fashion blogs document the process of identity construction through clothes. New media plays a pivotal role in the creative process of identity formation. Because the blogosphere is a space in permanent flux, the process of identity formation is also constantly moving. These hypermodern diaries allow self-reflection for these women and the use of photography as a medium through which to explore and confirm their identities. In hypermodernity, the sense of self is highly related to digital images. Digital images, in turn, help to shape perceptions of what is fashionable in dress. Mobile telephones allow women to take photos of themselves in the most diverse situations.

Rocamora also discusses how these blogs give women a power of self-representation – an operational power over their portraiture. “Like mirrors, and thanks to the transfer of images onto computers new technologies have enabled, digital screens allow one to look at oneself. With personal fashion blogs in particular, the logic of self-projection onto a reflective surface in which a woman can look and evaluate herself, and thereby confirm her identity is reproduced.”78 The acute self-awareness of the image, enabled by these technologies, creates the desire to manage and even produce it, Rocamora says. This idea can be related to Hollander, as dressing, for her, is picture-making, an act that visualizes the self based on external images. Citing French feminist theorist Michelle Perrot, Rocamora discusses how images can be a source of delight for women; the pleasure that comes with being depicted, celebrated, ornamented ‘a Virgin above the door of a cathedral, a lady on the frescos of a castle, and, one can now add, fashionable woman on a computer screen, a pleasure presumably heightened by the feeling of control that comes with representing herself.’79 This self-representation has often eluded women and as fashion bloggers appropriate mirrors as a tool for their own practice, they can also produce images that are disruptive to the male gaze and of women as specular objects. The blogger can become the gaze herself.

                                                                                                              78  Rocamora, “Personal Fashion Blogs”, 416. 79  Rocamora, “Personal Fashion Blogs”, 417.  


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For Rocamora, the content of personal style blogs reminds viewers that women are both bearers and makers of meaning; in control of their image through the process of digital self-representation. Woman-with-mirror has been a lasting trope in the representations of femininity found for example in Western art. In these renderings, woman’s worth is often defined by the reflection that looks back at her. In this sense, women, as a way of relating to themselves, Rocamora says, have internalized objectification. Women’s identity is often fixated on the way they look and the way they are looked at. The act of looking is, consequently crucial in femininity.

Precedents of this act of looking in relation to self-fashioning can be traced, for example, to the fashion shows that were presented within films in the 1930s. In “Powder Puff Promotion: The Fashion Show-in-the-Film”, Charlotte Herzog discusses the ways in which these moving images had an effect on the way women of the time looked at clothes, as well as on the they perceived the female bodies wearing and moving in them and the overall effect these images had in the relation they had towards their own feminine and sartorial selves. “The fashion show within the film and its presentation style also taught women how to look and act like mannequins.”80 The careful, rehearsed behavior in the display of the clothes served as a way to conform to the bodily behavior displayed. The styles themselves, Herzog writes, teach women to be mannequin-like. These moving images created what Herzog refers to as the critical “shopper’s eye”, with which women measured themselves against store mannequins, envisioning themselves in the dresses the mannequins displayed. These ideas are both related to Rocamora’s concepts on the importance of the act of looking in femininity, as well as to Hollander’s crucial premise on the way that dressing is always made in reference to external images.

                                                                                                              80  Charlotte Herzog, “’Powder Puff Promotion’  The Fashion Show-in-the-Film”, in Gaines, Jane and Herzog, Charlotte (eds.), Fabrications: Costume and the Female Body. (London: Routledge, 1990), 150.


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In contemporary life, a context culturally dominated by the screen – and the proliferation of images contained in it - this virtual surface is a space for identity production. Screens, Rocamora says, are ‘hypermodern mirrors’. This is not only true because the images a person can produce of him or herself with digital cameras can be instantly downloaded and viewed on the computer screen, but also because iPhones and iPads, for example, allow the camera to be turned and utilized as a mirror. Hence, the world “selfie”, which refers to a self-portrait achieved digitally through the use of mobile telephones, has become abundant in the current cultural landscape. This relation, between mirrors and computer screens, has implications for contemporary subjectivity and, in this case, for the way that women create a digital sartorial self, shaped by the ways they see themselves through the images they create and by the digital images that aid them in creating those images. Fashion blogs can therefore create a way of looking for women, a female gaze, structured by women’s perception, desires and fantasies towards fashion, for an audience that is also predominantly female. This does not, however, elude oscillations between freedom and mastery, and the ambivalence of selfrepresenting through these spaces but also being confined by the dynamics of a contemporary fashion landscape dominated by the self as image, hyperconsumerism and narcissism. This is why, Rocamora says, ‘personal fashion blogs constitute an ambivalent space, a space that echoes the position of women in contemporary society’. These issues, of fantasy, perception, mastery and freedom are analyzed under the light of feminist theory.

“The screen/mirror shows an idealized self the viewer can identify with and therefore appropriate to work on her own identity construction, whilst also indulging in the pleasure of voyeurism her status as a spectator grants her”, writes Rocamora. 81 This can be traced back to Hollander’s ideas on the way people dress, basing their decisions on images of others and pictorial representations of the context they are living in. Like mirrors, Rocamora also says, screens are instruments of control and regulation that allow women to fulfill the role of an object whose duty is to look at herself in order to

                                                                                                              81  Rocamora, “Personal Fashion Blogs”, 417.  


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channel her identity. Images can be tyrannical for women, but they can also be a source of profound delight. Consequently, the power to self-represent, which has often eluded women, is granted to them through the dynamics of the personal style blog. Personal style bloggers can thus evoke powerful fantasies of themselves through these images. Such as is the case of Alix Bancourt from thecherryblossomgirl, whom I analyze further on in this section.

Ultimately, one of Rocamora’s most interesting points is how these spaces open up a place for a “female gaze”, “informed by the pleasures found in disrupting conventional visions of femininity, in experimenting with alternative aesthetics, in dialoguing with ever shifting and unstable fashion rules. It is a gaze structured by women’s perception of and judgment on fashion in a space created and nourished by women for an audience imagined as female.” 82 These bloggers also channel a diversification in bodily aesthetics and beauty ideals. In spite of the fact that some of the most successful bloggers – such as Chiara Feragni from theblondesalad, also analyzed here – possess modellike beauties, women such as Leandra Medine incarnate perceptions of fashionability that open the scope of such beauty ideals. Other bloggers83, not examined here, take this further by expanding fashionability and beauty to plus size aesthetics or fuller bodies with a more Latin American figure. More important than the technological innovations brought forth by these new media, what personal style blogs confirm is that technology alters the way we perceive fashion, and in this case the way women see themselves through fashionable constructions of identity. They are able to create a “female gaze” that is nonetheless framed within contradictory and ambivalent encounters between self-representation and the mirror/screen as surveillance.

                                                                                                              82  Rocamora, “Personal Fashion Blogs, 421. 83  Some of these examples include karlascloset and nicolettemason, thecurvyfashionista, girlwithcurves, Other interesting

bloggers include dinatokio and hanatajima, who use Muslim modest dress in fashionable ways.


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When it comes to perception and ways of looking at fashionable dress, these blogs also reflect the way the blogosphere mirrors the very dynamic fashion rests on. It is also Agnès Rocamora who discusses this idea, when she defines the blogosphere as a hypertextual place.84 Hypertextuality refers to the electronic linking of a wide range of written texts and images, grouped in networks that are always in-flux. In the Internet, a link – also named hyperlink – allows users to move virtually from one place to the next. The term ‘hyper’ refers to something that is above, outside and beyond. One hyperlink or hypertext connects to other texts, always exceeding their limits. Hypertextuality is characterized by texts inscribed in a complex set of more texts, which connect to other texts, exceeding the limits. Hence, this hypertextuality, Rocamora says, is precisely how blogs operate. Fashion blogs are texts in perpetual movement, always new, never-ending. A single post can lead to a large variety of other posts, images or texts. In this sense, hypertexts are non-linear, multiple, associative.

A hypertext is non-linear as it enables ‘multiple entries and trajectories’, allowing the user or reader to approach it in accordance with his or her whims. Hence, ‘the blogosphere is a non-linear space of interrelated textual nodes that be read in any order.’ Hypertext is multiple and associative. Consequently, linking is a key trait in hypertext, which is why content in a blog might link to other blogs or sites, directly or indirectly. (This characteristic is also experienced in Instagram, where a single instantaneous image might include the name of another account, thus leading the user into another account.) This process can be repeated endlessly.

Rocamora relates hypertextuality to the concept of rhizomatic time. Rhizomes are units that make up a system linked together in non-linear ways, always leading to other units. This rhizomatic structure fits the Internet rather well – as they are both spaces in permanent state of change. In contrast, fashion magazine’s texts are contained by the materiality implied by the limits of the pages. In fashion

                                                                                                              84  Agnes Rocamora, “Hypertextuality and Remediation in the Fashion media: The Case of Fashion Blogs”, 94.  


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blogs, however, a single post can lead to a wide array of other texts. The multiple sites, images and posts a text can refer to, turns into a multilayered text that can lead to a ‘potentially unending flow of images, words and sounds.’ Hence, the potential for movement of the blogosphere matches the temporality it produces. Blogs create a temporality made of fragments, brief moments – a characteristic that has become even more potent in Instagram (see conclusion) – moments in which the user encounters images, texts, sites. Time, as configured by the blogosphere, echoes the time as configured by fashion, says Rocamora:

A rhizome by virtue of never being fixed is a “short memory, or an anti-memory”, a state that aptly defines fashion with its constant quest for, and production of, the new. In that respect the rhizomatic structure of the blogosphere aptly lends itself to fashion. The latter’s logic of renewal of clothes and styles is mirrored in the rapid renewal of posts and the endless replacing of one site by another that links enable. This is a logic of replacement that is also that of the Web: each new page takes over another ad infinitum.85 I reiterate that contemporary fashion’s time is faster than ever. What is “new” no longer comes from the biannual collections circuit nor from the magazines. Newness today is a present state, fed and sustained by the Internet. Digital media echoes modern fashion’s ephemerality and capriciousness. The flow of posts in the blogosphere replicates the flow of fashionable goods. And this has become widely visible within personal style blogs, where the actualization and replenishment of such goods happens on a daily basis, rather than seasonally, monthly or even weekly. This replication between fashion and digital media finds its most powerful expression in the way fashion is displayed through Instagram, but personal style bloggers made it visible through the daily actualization of their sites and through constantly shifting outfits, sometimes rarely wearing something more than twice – and never the same exact ensemble. This replenishment of fashionable goods, which allows personal style bloggers to demonstrate their ability to participate in the traditional logic of fashion, which is always replacing things for newer, better, trendier ones, cannot simply be grasped in the visual analysis done here. But this section will analyze three blog posts from Chiara Feragni from theblondesalad and three

                                                                                                              85  Ibid.  


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others from Alix Bitancourt from thecherryblossomgirl, with the understanding that these images cannot possibly entirely reflect the vertiginous capacity of sartorial transformation these women display. This is due to the fact that their blogs have been in existence for over six years, making the amount of outfits worn and virtually displayed immeasurable for this analysis. Followers of this breed of blogs, however, are familiarized with the permanent replenishment of fashionable objects the women display. When it comes to reflect on how this impacts the way we view fashion, it can be related back to Rocamora’s idea on how the blogosphere renders fashion as something that is always transient and gone. Contemporary fashion and the way we experience it, through the vertiginous saturation of immediate information and images, seems like an eternal present – always accessible via digital image, replenished through both goods and photographs.

Chiara Feragni: theblondesalad

One of the most influential fashion bloggers of today, Chiara Ferragni began blogging in October of 2009. She is a long-limbed, statuesque woman, with blonde hair and blue eyes whose sartorial variety and trendiness caught the fashion system’s eye at a time when blogging was becoming a trend. Her blog, theblondesalad receives 600,000 unique visitors and 6 million views on a monthly basis. Her Instagram account – one of the fashion industry’s most followed and replenished – has a follow up of 1.9 million users, with a single photograph generating more than 30.000 “likes” on average. Her Facebook account offers similar numbers, with up to 600,000 likes on an actualized photograph.86

                                                                                                              86  Lisa, Wang, “The Business of Blogging: The Blonde Salad”, Business of Fashion February 27, 2014. Accessed

March 10 2014. http://www.businessoffashion.com/2014/02/business-blogging-blonde-salad.html


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Those who have followed Ferragni on her journey have been able to see, on their computer and telephone screens, an astronomical rise – predominantly enabled by digital technologies themselves. From a pretty fashion enthusiast who studied law in Milan and wore Ugg boots with ‘cute’ outfits, Ferragni is now a front-row guest at the major fashion shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris. She has been named brand ambassador for Redken, the beauty company who does her hair and makeup all through the fashion week circuit. She recently launched a collaboration with Steve Madden, and has had her own shoe line – Chiara Ferragni – for the past two years. She has collaborated with Burberry – who streams its show live on her blog – and Louis Vuitton. She receives regular gifts from Chanel and travels incessantly – a single month may have her routing Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Tokyo, and so forth. In the world of social media a ‘hashtag’ is a term used within the jargons of both Twitter and Instagram that usually includes a word or phrase, preceded by a pound key identifying a specific topic. Ferragni’s non-stop globetrotting and incessant replenishment of clothes and images have resulted in the creation of a rather telling hashtag: #theblondesaladneverstops. Ferragni’s presence is habitual in global street style blogs, included within glossy magazines – with the Russian version of Vogue doing a fantasy-like, dreamy editorial in 2013, and ubiquitous in the world of new media.

In the last few years, the dominant platforms of new media – blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts – have all expanded to overlap each other. Hence, a blogger will have the blog as its main operative platform but will necessarily be engaged in the realm of social media, meaning that her name or accounts spread all over the aforementioned platforms. Personal style blogs, thus, have several narratives. There will be regular, daily actualizations on the blog, which generally include the replenishment of images and most especially of outfits. The post will be shared on the social media the blogger is active in. This means a blog post is massively publicized through the use of digital technologies. In addition to that, these bloggers will have separate narrative threads on platforms such as Instagram where they will most likely share one or several photographs posted on the blog,


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but in which they also create other images, produced exclusively for the platform. This has ignited a whole new series of tropes, which I analyze in the next and final chapter. In general, this has significantly amplified the amount of information and images personal style bloggers produce. This feeds a landscape characterized by the overproduction of images.

Ferragni is, without a doubt, one of the most active bloggers in this landscape. Her blog is actualized daily, her Instagram account generates a total of seven daily photographs on average and her Facebook account is constantly changing with new content. She no longer does all of these productions on her own, but has a consolidated team of six people behind her, presided over by her ex-boyfriend Ricardo Pozzoli. It is Pozzoli who has also contributed to converting theblondesalad into TBS Crew, a well-rounded company who is about to launch a curated store on Depop, a mobile marketplace. It is also his business savviness that has enabled the blog to generate substantial revenue in terms of advertisement.

It should be mentioned that a lot of these blogs currently monetize their content through such advertorial tie-ins, a fact that is again reminiscent of how new media and old media refashion each other. This use of advertisement on blogs echoes the long-standing tradition of publicity in glossy magazines. The difference, however, resides in the fact that personal style blogs are a one-woman show, where the ongoing flux of images and goods centers on a female individual.

In many aspects, Ferragni herself seems to be an embodiment of contemporary fashion, the values it celebrates and the characteristics that define it. On one hand, she gained her visibility and celebrity status through digital media. Her constancy in blog actualizations, her model-esque aesthetic and the fact that she was, as many fashion bloggers around her, mixing high and low – by blending Chanel and Zara, for example – all contributed to her attracting attention from the digital fashion gaze. But Ferragni also reflects the hypertextuality of the blogosphere itself. The amounts of images with her as


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a protagonist that are produced are immeasurable, constantly flowing through the blogosphere, permanently visible on Instagram, peeking from digital street-style galleries. Further, her photographs lead viewers into the websites where they can purchase the items she is wearing. She has also been quite crafty in replenishing her wardrobe in a vertiginous manner. Not only has her style significantly evolved because of the gifts she is endowed by brands such as Burberry, Dior or Chanel, but also because the visibility she has gained has incited her to sophisticate her look and invest more and more in a fashionable appearance. Ferragni is never seen with the exact same ensemble. She might reuse luxury ‘it’ bags or certain shoes and a dress, but the styling is always different and her wardrobe is constantly expanding. Additionally, the quality in the photographs of her blog has significantly evolved, in part because of the developments in digital cameras, but also because of the fact that she has a team; consequently, her appearance has become increasingly more ‘produced’. Ferragni’s sartorial variations – one day she might be attired in denim shorts, Balenciaga boots and a t-shirt, the other she may be an apparition of glamour, dressed in blush pink by Sonia Rykiel, standing next to the Eiffel Tower – are also reflective on the way contemporary fashion celebrates stylistic multiplicity. It also takes us back to the idea of female fashion as masquerade.

As a personal style blogger, and in conjuring Rocamora’s ideas on the way these spaces have served for women to exert a sense of power over their portraiture, Ferragni belongs to this context, in which women have been endowed the possibility to self-represent through these digital performances of the self. However, she is also an exemplar of the levels of narcissism that abound in these processes, where the self is largely defined by image and the fashionable objects an individual can have. For a lot of contemporaries, Ferragni is nothing but a frivolous creature, replicating the position of women as specular object, with a sense of identity that derives solely from the images provided by the digital mirror, or screen. Ferragni’s own global celebrity status derives from what Fuery deemed a selfsustaining system, where the ego is transferred onto the platform. If Ferragni is famous, it is because


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she made herself a celebrity by the uses she has made of digital technologies. What we see in her images is deeply connected with the nature of contemporary fashion.

In this section, I will now analyze three of Ferragni’s blog posts in theblondesalad. The first one “Jewelled Leopard”87, from February 27 2012, shows Ferragni in an urban deluxe ensemble: black skinny jeans, black basic blouse, a Tibi leopard coat, colorful and statement earrings and bangles, and black and nude Isabel Marant pumps. (Figs. 12, 13, 14) The exquisite jewelry is worn over black leather gloves and the ensemble is finished off with Céline sunglasses and a Hermés bag. The post finishes, as is done in many other blogs, with a list of captions that dissect the outfit. The red lipstick she wears is Chanel, the finishing lines indicate. Her hair is let down in gentle blonde tassels. The post includes fifteen photographs of the same ensemble, with Ferragni photographed up close, taking her gloved, bejeweled hand towards her face to display the styling of her look with detail. This look, she writes briefly, has been chosen for the fifth day of Milan Fashion Week, where she has attended the Missoni, Salvatore Ferragamo, Frankie Morello and Versus shows. Other images include a headto-toe shot of Ferragni, with the street as the backdrop. Other shots include her flipping her hair, looking towards the camera, caught in movement, as she is walking, and close-ups that concentrate on the way the purse, the jewels, the gloves and the shoes combine with each other. The post is archetypical of the tropes usually employed in fashion blogs in order to display the fashionability of the woman who stands as its protagonist. Another photograph shows her standing and posing next to Anna dello Russo, street style star and fashion director of Vogue Nippon. She is shown with gestures of delight, that ‘twinkling satisfaction’ of the well-dressed woman, an expression often seen in this breed of bloggers. Rocamora makes an interesting point in asserting that these women are able to self-represent, and it might also be added that, like postmodern theorists of fashion, fashion bloggers seem to rehabilitate the pleasures a woman derives from dress. Delight is often on their

                                                                                                              87  “Jewelled Leopard”, The Blonde Salad, February 27 2012,

http://www.theblondesalad.com/2012/02/jewelled-leopard.html


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facial expression as they pose. Their images constantly evoke the sentiments brought forth by the joy of dressing beautifully.

In the second post analyzed here “Prada Look”, (Figs. 15, 16, 17, 18) from July 2012, Ferragni demonstrates the ways in which fashion bloggers are crucial interpreters of the fashion system. Using a Primark skirt and an American Apparel shirt, she tells her audience her ensemble has been inspired by the past Prada collection. The skirt and top are worn with glittery purple Christian Louboutin heels, a pair of Prada sunglasses and a whimsical Prada pastel blue clutch, which includes the pop art illustration of a martini drink. Hair and make-up are professionally made and because Ferragni wears her hair up, the mixture of garments and the way they are worn give off a delicacy that contrasts with the first look described above. Both looks are exemplars of the sartorial variety that is intrinsic in her narrative. The fact that she is wearing “low” garments makes the look accessible to her viewers, and in wearing actual Prada it endows the ensemble with the luxury of the fashionable woman. The post also uses the visual tropes characteristic in fashion blogs: the woman photographed against a city wall, moving and caught walking, zoomed-in shots of the detailed ways the pieces are worn and a serial thread of photographs that allow the viewer to fully grasp the elements that compose the look of a fashion influencer.

In the final post analyzed here, “In Los Angeles Again” (Figs. 19, 20, 21), Ferragni is shown is her most casual version, attired in grey jeans, a pink Rodarte t-shirt, a Marc Jacobs golden necklace, a cream Chanel 2.55 bag and Valentino lace slippers. She wears glittery, pink, Miu Miu sunglasses, mixed jewelry and her hair is worn straight and down. In the thirteen photographs that amount to the entire post, Ferragni is photographed smiling on the street, posing seriously in a head-to-toe shot, arranging her hair, with a hand inside of a pocket to better display the jewelry she has chosen. Like the others, the post includes the tropes generally employed by personal style blogs to render with


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utter detail the ensemble being worn. Some of the images are also resonant with the straight up and as usual, the street is a ubiquitous setting.

What these three posts and their images briefly demonstrate is that personal style blogs operate on the basis of sartorial variety. Three posts are not sufficient to fully grasp the ongoing sartorial transformations personal style bloggers engage in, but they can exemplify some of the ways in which Ferragni varies her guises. This sartorial variety, perceived in a constant replenishment of fashionable goods and digital images, mirrors the very logic of the blogosphere and of contemporary fashion: always changing, always transient. Fashion bloggers in particular also reflect the ways in which contemporary feminine fashionability is constructed on the basis of variety, imaginative styling, the combination of luxury and fast fashion as well as a particular interpretation of the fashion system through self-digitalization. Additionally, Ferragni’s case is quite helpful in understanding the ways in which the new visibility of fashion via digital technologies, allows for individuals to self-celebritize, and sometimes, become celebrities in the way Ferragni has.

Alix Bancourt – thecherryblossomgirl

In contrast to Chiara Ferragni, Alix Bancourt, known as thecherryblossomgirl is a black haired belle with a strong Parisian, feminine and romantic aesthetic. She is not, like Ferragni, an habitué at the front rows of the fashion shows that take place in the global runway circuit, but she is also a globetrotter, has collaborated with Kenzo and Dior, designed a shoe line for the e-commerce website Farfetch, a lingerie capsule collection for Etam and has recently launched beauty products with Galleries Lafayette, the upmarket French department store. Bancourt’s blog has been in existence longer than Ferragni’s as she started in February of 2007, after working at designer houses such as Alexander McQueen and Chloé. Bancourt got a degree in fashion, specializing in Haute Couture, in Paris, and


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her first stints as a blogger used the digital space as a scrapbook of sorts, where she would report on trends and sporadically incorporate looks and objects of her own.

Seven years later, thecherryblossomgirl possesses a very distinctive aesthetic; drenched in dreamy lighting, with photographs that have a cinematographic feel to them, where subtle hues and fantastic images are constantly fabricated. Paris is, in this case, the blog’s most ubiquitous setting, although since the beginning Bancourt has also created a sense of intimacy by producing photographs in her closet, within her bedroom and in the intimate spaces she inhabits. Her style of pictorial representation blends a childlike sweetness with a whimsical femininity that is sensuous and fantastical. Bancourt’s fashionability is not, like Ferragni’s as explicitly in sync with global fashion. Moreso than the masquerade found in Ferragni’s sartorial narrative, Bancourt’s digital self can be said to be connected with Iris Marion Young’s ideas on the pleasure women derive from clothes through fantasy and transportation. Bancourt’s images enable her to construct particular fantasies, where she selfrepresents combining anything from French archetypes to playful settings where she is the protagonist. (This might include an entire editorial of herself impersonating Disney characters in full hair and makeup, for example.) Some of her images might be a compilation of beautiful objects, like a snow globe with a miniature doll in a signature Dior New Look incrusted in the middle. Other images might show her at a vanity, dressed in pastels and surrounded by a pale ambience, where vintage pieces appear in both the shape of garments or décor. When she launched her lingerie collection for Etam, Bancourt released a series of self-portraits of herself in the sensuous undergarments, posing delicately on her bed, with hair reminiscent of the early sixties and her signature makeup: silky black cat-eye liner and red lips. When she visited Miami, she threaded a visual narrative of high-toned pastels and Art Deco buildings, portraying herself in a high-waisted floral two-piece bathing suit, channeling a pin-up aesthetic. This pin-up playfulness was also evident when she photographed herself in her bedroom, with another two-piece retro bathing suit, in black, with printed cherries. In some of the images, Bancourt places real cherries in settings of velvety red to


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match the motif of her garments. Among other things, she has showed purses in the shape of a paper boats, sandals with pineapple motifs and shoes that evoke the Eiffel Tower. Pastels, pleats, vintage objects, flowers and polka dots are common elements in her fantastic femininity.

In the first post analyzed here, from August 2013, Ca Pourrait Changer (Figs. 22, 23, 24, 25)– titled after a song by Brigitte Bardot – Bancourt appears against a red and white gingham background, seated at a table where she herself wears a feminine, playful dress also in red and white gingham print. Amusingly, the tablecloth matches both the backdrop and her clothes; her black hair is done in a sixties-ish sort of way, her eyes, looking down, have been thoroughly lined in a cat-eye style and her lips stand out in vivacious red. Both her lips and skin match the red and white motif, which is also on the table, seen on a plate of the same print. She holds a spoon, as about to dig into the raspberry, red and white tart served in front of her. On the table, several French marmalade jars are spread, their lids also matching the red and white gingham motif. There is no text in this publication, only eighteen photographs that display the imaginative, beautiful setting in different ways. One of the photographs reveals the woman’s shoes, also in red, against the gingham print. The general tropes employed by Bancourt are similar to the ones found in fashion blogs in general, but the content of her imagery is fantasy-driven, the result of an imaginative self-digitalization that uses the selfrepresentation enabled by the blog to create a whimsical identity.

In another post, “Dancing and Dreaming” (Figs. 26, 27, 28), from September 2013, Bancourt plays on her Frenchness to evoke a dreamy set of images that are mindful of classic tropes found in fashion photography and glossy magazines. With the Eiffel Tower as background, she is shown wearing a creamy midi skirt of sheer layers, combined with a hot pink short-sleeved cashmere sweater, matching fuchsia high-heeled sandals, and a studded Chloé mini bag, also in the same hue. The images are slightly hazy and possess a soft lighting; Bancourt is shown in delighted gestures, in


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captured movements that strike the viewer as dancing, just like the title indicates. The ensemble is not entirely timely or timeless, it can be associated to the 1950s or to a breed of contemporary Parisian chic that channels suavity and simplicity. The image conflates Bancourt with the city of Paris itself, a location she constantly utilizes in defining her sartorial narrative. Although she utilizes the street as a regular setting for the display of her ensembles, like many fashion bloggers do, Bancourt’s imagery is constantly referencing its sense of place, as Paris appears physically as the backdrop and as an overarching motif in the creation of her fashionable self.

This conflation between woman and city is also seen in another post, from August of 2013, named precisely “Tour Eiffel” (Figs. 29, 30). Bancourt is dressed in a Vivienne Westwood floral printed midi skirt, in white, red and green, worn with a classic white button down shirt, a red Chloè mini bag and Yves Saint Laurent sandals. She is photographed sitting on the grounds of a garden, with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop, the blooming flowers matching the colors of her skirt, her recurrent red lips playing in chromatic contrast with her hair and her skin. A detailed shot of the shoes reveals the playfulness that is characteristic in her imagery, as the caged, metallic Yves Saint Laurent sandals she wears seem made to match the very structure of the Eiffel Tower itself. As is customary in fashion blogs, other images allow the viewer to see in full detail what the woman is wearing.

Because they provide women with images that aid in the visualization of the sartorial self, personal style blogs today can be compared to the eighteenth-century French fashion plate, in which the minutiae of what was fashionable was rendered with utter detail. This emphasis on detail made the fashions easier to emulate. Today, in a world saturated by digital images, where fashion is predominantly accessed as digital image, the style of pictorial representation in personal style blogs are able to evoke a fashion context that is decentered and democratized, where femininity remains ambivalent, and in which appearance is determining in the creation of identity and the self. Personal


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style blogs have created a way of looking that encompasses the subjectivities offered by digital technologies.

Personal Style Blogs: The Feminine Gaze

In “The Self as Image: A Critical Appraisal of Postmodern Theories of Fashion”, Llewelyn Negryn addresses just this importance of image in contemporary identities.88 Negryn is discussing the fact that, in revising feminist critiques of fashion, which had usually called for a more “functional” and “natural” way of dress in women, postmodern theories of fashion rehabilitate the legitimacy of aesthetic pleasure in dress. Feminists who had conceptualized fashion, since the nineteenth century, were given to sustain the perception that fashion, excessively ornamental and unpractical, constrained women, subjugating them to the pleasures of the masculine gaze. Thus, such feminists long perceived the investment in beauty, aesthetics and appearance an imprisonment to femininity. Instead, they suggested, women should pursue fashions based on a functionalist paradigm.

Postmodern theorists of fashion, however, contested such suggestions by arguing that neither functionality, practicality nor naturalness are concepts that can be stripped of the definitions given by culture and context. After all, they said, bodily ornamentation rarely derives from the desire to comply with function. In one of its most delightful sides, fashion and dress can be forms of masquerade; whose variety offers women more disruptive powers than it does oppressive constraints. Fashion, as seen by postmodern theorists of fashion, is an invitation to play with identities. Negryn, however, considers that in rehabilitating the pleasures of fashion, postmodern theories leaned too much on the side of the image. A way of dress that values the constructed nature of identity cannot be defined as liberating, she writes. Self-identity today is progressively defined in terms of

                                                                                                              88  Llewelyn Negrin. “The self as image: A critical appraisal of postmodern theories of fashion”, in The Fashion

History Reader: Global Perspectives, eds. George Riello and Peter McNeil (New York: Routledge, 2010).


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appearance. For her, there is a conservative streak in seeing the self is a “series of changing guises”, as it reduces identity to image, and hence the commodities once buys.

This concept, of the self as image, is relevant here as it can be related to subjectivity and identity formation in a landscape dominated by digital imagery in fashion. It can also be associated with a wider context: the progression of the importance of the image brought forth by postmodernism, globalization and consumer culture. Constructing identity through fashion and appearance plays into a contemporary image culture that reduces arts, politics and everyday life to images. In this culture, where the ‘digital self’ has become common, a new underlying conception of self has emerged – the self as performer. This self as performer, Negryn argues, is framed in a scenario where commodities work as signs, whose meaning can only derive from the relation to other signs. It is a system of “freely circulating signs”, characterized by the increasing autonomy and prominence of the sign. Clothes are a constitutive element of such signs, and like others, no longer represent something beyond them, but are rather the only reality. “We live in a world constituted solely of images which are no longer seen to refer to anything behind themselves but are themselves constitutive of what is taken to be real. The modern individual is fashioned and is more interested in the authority of the sign than in the elements it represents. Once clothing becomes dominated by the logic of fashion, its meaning transmutes in a completely random manner.”89

Living in a world and a contemporary culture dominated by images is largely a consequence of digital technologies. The Internet is a non-dimensional space flooded by the overproduction of images. These images circulate freely, massively and indescribably quickly, allowing unmediated forms of voyeurism, the possibility to look liberated from spatial constraints and without restriction. The digital self as performed by personal style bloggers, is largely defined by appearance and fashionable objects of consumption. This problematizes the liberating effects bloggers seem to have gained in

                                                                                                              89  Negryn, 516.  


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their ability to self-represent and exert a sense of control over their image. I would argue that this problematic cannot be viewed as a dichotomy between freedom and mastery, but rather as a symptomatic complexity of the times we are living in. It goes in similar lines with the critiques often made on street style photography, of being “artificial” or lacking “real” style, a “circus” of selfconsciousness, where people calculate deliberate apparitions that will not go unnoticed by the photographers. While it is true that the street style produced outside of the major fashion shows does contain a strong element of self-awareness in its poseurs and that personal style bloggers’ identities are largely shaped on image, these realities cannot be judged in terms of “better” or “worse”, as good or bad. What they do is reflect the ambiguities of a contemporary fashion that is democratized, decentralized and mostly experienced in the form of image. Because of this access to both produce and look at images, this fashion context is also greatly sustained by narcissism.

In looking at the self that is constructed by personal style bloggers under the light of certain feminist theories, one might find a strong element of ambivalence. In Gender in the Mirror: Cultural Imagery and Women’s Agency, Diana Tietjens Meyers looks into the codes of feminine narcissism in order to understand why and how women have gained their stereotypical reputation for narcissism. She reminds us that Narcissus was not a woman but a man and that yet, the symbolic transfer has been so effective that narcissism is often deemed a feminine trait. It is also considered an important characteristic of the woman of fashion. Tietjens Meyers analyzes the abundant specular imagery of women in Western art, where the contemplation of the specular self serves as the most efficient way for a woman to know herself and who she is.90

She calls this trope ‘woman-with-mirror’. This thesis argues that digital images created by fashion bloggers can be considered to generate the contemporary trope of ‘woman-with-screen’. Mirrors, like Rocamora argued, are surfaces that reflect a woman’s identity. In our contemporary culture, mirrors

                                                                                                              90  Diana Tietjens Meyers, Gender in the Mirror: Cultural Imagery and Women’s Agency. (New York: Oxford

University Press, 2002), 105.


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and screens overlap and sometimes merge. Tietjens Meyers discusses how feminine norms in cinema dictate that women depend on mirrors to know who they are. “For women, to know oneself is to know one’s appearance”, she writes.91 In this logic, if a woman’s identity is the image she finds in her mirror – or screen – then cultivating her image is central to her agency. In Tietjen Meyers’ vision, self-beautification as a form of feminine self-definition does, undoubtedly, make women more appealing in “the heterosexual market”, but it also, she thinks, confounds their authentic agency: Woman-with-mirror images and narratives of feminine narcissism collapse the self into the mirror. The representation – the external image – is not psychologically differentiated from that which it represents – the woman. Unlike Narcissus, who believes he is in love with a beautiful, submerged Other, women are positioned to believe that they will perish if the image in the glass disappears.92 In “Women Recovering Our Clothes”, feminist theorist Iris Marion Young also discusses how women see themselves through this tradition of specular objects. “So I am split. I see myself, and I see myself being seen. Might such a split express a woman’s relations to clothes, to images of clothes, to images of herself in clothes, whomever she images herself to be?”93As done in this thesis, Young uses Hollander’s idea on how the meaning of clothes is conditioned by pictorial images. By the early twentieth century, she says, women’s experience of clothing is saturated with the experience of images of women in clothing – in advertising, drawings, and photographs, catalogs and films: Hollander cites the historical specificity of twentieth-century women’s clothing standards and images conditioned by cinema. The nineteenth century held an image of women’s demeanor as statuesque, immobile, hiding or hobbling limbs. The twentieth century, by contrast, emphasizes the mobility of women in clothes – the exhibition of legs, skirts and pants that do not so much inhibit movement. Images of clothes show women on the move – striding down the street, leaping with excitement, running on the sands, leaning over a desk. If she is standing still, her hair or skirt or scarf flies with the wind. Contemporary images of women’s clothes capture a single movement in a narrative whose beginning and end lie outside the frame.94

                                                                                                              91  Tietjens Meyers, 115. 92  Tietjens Meyers, 123. 93  Iris Marion, Young, “Women Recovering Our Clothes”, in On Fashion, Shari Benstock & Suzzanne Ferriss, eds. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994), 198. 94  Young, p. 199


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In the twenty-first century, and through digital images, the experience of images of clothing derives from pictorial representations such as fashion blogs. In these images, the convention of movement is perpetuated. Bloggers are often shown leaping with excitement, walking or crossing a street. They are shown laughing, with an urban street as the backdrop, the image conveying a sense of movement being captured. With time, certain poses have become patterns: bloggers twisting their hair, walking as they smile and pose, walking away from the camera, tilting their faces slightly as they arrange their hair, showing facial expressions that project sexiness, delight, pride in what they’re wearing – much like the expressions usually found in models. These images evoke a fashionable urban woman in movement, but they also offer the minutiae of details that compose what makes them fashionable. Images do render the gestures and bodily movement that today seem natural to women who are looking at them and self-fashioning inspired in them. But the images also channel a narrative, of a woman who is able to keep up with a vertiginous temporality of fashion, always replenishing what she wears and most importantly, making it visible through self-representation:

In wearing our clothes, Hollander suggests, we seek to fashion ourselves in the mode of the dominant pictorial aesthetic. In this project the mirror provides us a means of representation. In the mirror we see not ‘bare facts’ but a clothes image reverberating the dominant magazine and film images of us in our clothes. Contemporary urban life provides countless opportunities for us to see ourselves – in hotel and theatre lobbies, in restaurants and powder rooms, in train stations and store windows.95 Today, twenty years after Young wrote these words, contemporary life, dominated by digital technology, provides even more opportunities for women to see themselves: using mobile telephones to produce photographs of themselves that they will instantly publish on digital media or simply keep privately in order to confirm how they looked at a certain moment or day; making photographs of themselves with digital cameras and transferring those images onto the computer screen, using the surface as a hypermodern mirror; using an iPhone literally as a mirror; publishing images of themselves that allow them to be seen as they want to be seen. Young continues, “The mirror gives

                                                                                                              95  Young, 200.  


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me pictures, and the pictures in magazines and catalogs give me reflections of identities in untold but signified stories. The feminist question is: Whose imagination conjures up the pictures and their meanings?”

Subjectivity is crucially constituted by relations of looking, Young says. In the male-gaze theory, femininity acts as a mirror in which man sees himself reflected through women. Patriarchal institutions enhance male subjectivity by organizing women’s desires and actions to be identified with his, igniting in her the desire to make herself a beautiful object for his gaze and finding feminine pleasure in his satisfaction.96 But female pleasure in clothes derives not just from beautifying herself to be an alluring object to be looked at. Women take pleasure in clothes, not just in wearing clothes, but also in looking at clothes and looking at images of women in clothes, because they encourage fantasies of transport and transformation. We experience our clothes, if Hollander is right, in the context of the images of clothes from magazines, film, TV, that draw at situations and personalities that we can play at.97 Clothes give women the pleasure of fantasy; double dream, Young says, of identity and play. Dress is an invitation to play with identities. These fantasies have always occurred as women look through magazines or hunger for beautiful clothes hanging from racks. They all imply the fleeting possibility of who a woman might become once adorned in them. And still, one single woman can multiply herself through the possibilities clothes offer her and still not lose herself. Fashion, Young writes, is not play but the sign of play.

Personal style bloggers such as Chiara Feragni and Alix Bancourt reflect this play in the imagery they create in their narrations. “The variables in the formulae can be filled with any number of concrete narrative values, and our pleasure in the fantasy of clothes is partly imagining ourselves in those possible stories, entering unreality. The very multiplicity and ambiguity of the fantasy settings evoked

                                                                                                              96  Young, 203. 97  Young, 206.  


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by clothes and fashion imagery of these clothes contribute to such pleasure.”98 Fashion creates unreal identities in utopian places, Young formulates. What happens, then, when these identities are transferred onto a non-dimensional, hypertextual, always changing space such as the Internet? The fantasies become more visible, far more accessible and move in the perpetual transformation that is characteristic of the digital sphere.

Today, screens give women such pictures of fantasy and transportation. Digital technologies provide the experience of a saturated landscape of images. Hence, women visualize their sartorial selves by using the mental pictures provided by digital imagery. In this context, traditional fashion media – such as magazines – has not disappeared, but the blogosphere allows a much more rapid access to information and visuals on fashion. This speeds up the pace in which women see these pictures. Additionally, digital technologies enable women to produce images of themselves, in ways that were not possible when the external images used in the act of dressing were paintings, fashion plates or the cinema. Furthermore, the images created by personal style blogs are not, as Rocamora argued, necessarily devised for the indulgence of the male gaze. In the case of Leandra Medine’s The Man Repeller, for example, it is quite the opposite: fashion is used to disrupt conventional visions of sartorial femininity. Personal style bloggers create themselves for what Rocamora calls a “female gaze”, as the majority of the viewing public in contact with these images is potentially female, women of their time seeking to visualize their sartorial selves through the prism of these images. Perhaps even more so, personal style bloggers self-create for a digital fashion gaze, which values rapidity, eclecticism, a hyper-cycling of both fashionable goods and images, as well as the minutiae of detail: One of the privileges of femininity in rationalized instrumental culture is aesthetic freedom, the freedom to play with shape and color on the body, to do various styles and looks, and through them exhibit and imagine unreal possibilities. Women often actively indulge in such theatrical imagining, which is largely closed to the everyday lives of men or which they live vicariously through the clothes of women. Such female imagination has liberating possibilities because it subverts, unsettles the order of respectable, functional rationality in a world where the rationality supports domination. The unreal that wells through the

                                                                                                              98  Young, 207.  


102 imagination always creates the space for a negation of what is, and thus the possibility of alternatives.99

When it comes to the style of such pictorial representations, it can be said to coincide with its subject matter: contemporary ideals of fashionable femininity. This takes us back to Ben Highmore’s idea of how a form of depiction can overlap with its topic.100 The images produced by personal style bloggers combine several elements that define contemporary fashion. For one, they reflect fashion’s logic of accumulation, where no one style is predominant and where multiple styles are contemporaneously valid if worn with ingeniousness. Although certain bloggers will have distinctive trademarks in what they wear, they will more often than not dress with variety – going from glamorous attire one day to urban informality the next. In this way, personal bloggers remind us of the ways in which fashion can be masquerade. Because the visual information they provide is so fast and because it is being actualized on an almost daily basis, fashionability is achieved through styling. Hence, these images also capture the eclecticism that characterizes fashion today. Their images reflect an ongoing cycling and recycling of fashionable goods, made more visible through the rapidity of the Internet. Images in personal style blogs are also a constant reminder that fashion today is decentered and decentralized; as these women embody the fact that interpretations of fashion are no longer deriving from the system’s traditional elite. Also, because the images and the fashionable goods are replenished almost daily, these images focus largely on detail: on showing what is being worn, in what specific ways and where it comes from. These images also speak loudly to the narcissism that characterizes fashion today, and the ways that digital technologies have opened the possibility to selfcelebritize and self-commodify.

In the literature review earlier in this thesis, I discussed New Media: Culture and Image, wherein Kelli Fuery characterizes the ways in which new media impacts the social order and identity through the

                                                                                                              99

Young, 208-209. Ben, “Introduction: Questioning Everyday Life”, 27-30.

100 Highmore,


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concept of celebrity. In a context where fashion is essentially democratic and decentralized, the concept of celebrity is especially relevant considering that one of the most notorious effects of the blogosphere in the past few years is allowing formerly excluded individuals to actively participate in the creation of fashion representation and discourse. Perhaps personal style bloggers are one of contemporary fashion culture’s clearest examples of this. Some of these bloggers, who began their ‘hypermodern diaries’ around 2008, have managed to rise to global stardom thanks to the visibility they have gained through their sartorial digital selves. Some of them have leaped from fashion enthusiasts to worldwide celebrities and this has been made possible by digital technologies. It is Fuery who says that the newness in new media is not so much related to the technological innovations these platforms might carry, but the new ways in which they make us see older, familiar things:

What is unique about the relationship of celebrity to new media is that, whereas in the past celebrity was defined as something bestowed on the very few, it has now become something for the masses. This is the transformation of celebrity as singular to celebrity of pluralism. The argument here is not, it should be added, some notion of egalitarian celebrity-status, but rather the opposite is the case. The status of celebrity has retained its elitist qualities, but new media has created the illusion of possibility and plurality.101 In a landscape where fashion circulates rapidly, freely and immediately in the shape of digital image, the illusion that anyone can be part of this discourse is easily created. This is reinforced by the fact that digital technologies enable self-representation and self-digitalization. Both components unravel a strong sense of narcissism. Fuery describes it as ‘the assertion of the ego onto the social platform’. Certain aspects of new media, she says, such as the ease with which one can upload and share clips, photographs and narratives of the self, have all enabled such a process: Contributing to this utilization of new media to produce, replicate, and then mass manufacture images and narratives of the self to transform that self into celebrity is a fetishization of the notion of celebrity. The ephemeral and the transitory quality of this fetishism of celebrity is both a consequence and defining quality of new media

                                                                                                              101  Fuery, 138.  


104 celebrity. The mass sense of producing celebrities – and the ease with which they can quickly pass out of this realm – means that new media has become an incredibly efficient engine for such a production.102

In Fuery’s vision, new media has provided a mechanism by which individuals are able to selfcelebritize. They are able to create celebrity versions of themselves on the net, in blogs or different shapes of digital versions. The fetishism of celebrity, Fuery says, is also based on the fact that the production of celebrity can be instantaneous. “It becomes a self-sustaining system; the ease of making the self into a celebrity gives rise to more and more productions, which encourages more production (and, to acknowledge the notion of capital here, allows for greater technological ease and more financial incentive.)”103 In this sense, digital technologies have transformed the vision we have of the concept of celebrity, making it more instantaneous through such means as the blogosphere and making it more dependent on the ego and the image. These ideas are easily suited to the analysis of today’s most successful personal style bloggers.

Agnès Rocamora signaled that personal style bloggers are able to exert a sense of control over their portraiture, a possibility enabled by the act of self-representing through blogs. This selfrepresentation has allowed these women to construct a sense of identity where they can become interpreters of fashion in their own terms and where they can also defy the idea that fashionable women self-beautify for the sake of a masculine gaze. While this is true, it can also be said that personal style bloggers self-represent for a ‘digital fashion gaze’, where they can be perceived as fashion influencers. Ferragni is an example of this, as her sartorial variations reflect contemporary fashion acutely. But Bancourt’s sense of self-representation is more about fantasy than it is about fashionability. Hence, through her blog, we can see the ways in which digital technologies enable variety in hypermodern identity. Ultimately, this can be related back to Lipovetsky’s ideas on how

                                                                                                              102

Fuery, 139. 140.

103 Fuery,


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hypermodernity unleashes a multiplication of subjective viewpoints. And these can be transferred to multiple ideals of fashionable femininity.


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III. THE INSTAGRAM CONCLUSION: THE HYPER-PERCEPTIONS OF CONTEMPORARY FASHION The images glow on the surface of an iPhone screen. A repertoire of diverse photographs is on view, under the category ‘Likes’; they multiply as the finger scrolls down, revealing a myriad of more and more photographs. A black floral top hanging against a white wall, with black and red heels and beauty products underneath; the closed-in shot of an anonymous woman on the street, holding a graphic print, black and white purse against a light, camel coat, worn over a black and white pinstripe skirt and sandals with striped heels, amusingly combined with striped socks. A lovely display of pink flowers and pink books spread over a gracefully decorated coffee table. A cropped shot where only black boots and two black bags – one Givenchy, the other Proenza Schouler – appear. A fashion still life, showing an Elie Saab blue, white and black chain handle bag, placed against Céline’s Spring 2014 graphic art printed skirt. Another similar still life, in bright white, showing a bag, sunglasses, Chanel makeup, perfumes, a bracelet, a wristwatch, a bottle of perfume and a black-and-white Paris postcard, all neatly arranged under the subtitle “Accessories du jour”.

This is the world of Instagram, an iPhone application inaugurated in October of 2010, which today harvests over 130 million monthly users. This particular, brief description, of some of the insurmountable amount of images that circulate here, belong to the personal gallery of photographs that have been liked by the one who writes this. (Fig 31) The example intends to demonstrate that,


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although the application allows the user to view his or her personal favorites, providing him or her with a sense of visual accumulation, the gallery is essentially transient. Transience is Instagram’s very basis, and a dynamic that perfectly matches the levels of rapidity achieved by current digital imageries of fashion.

After a few days, the items that have been ‘liked’ will flee, untraceable, replaced by new preferences. Unless the viewer can retain memory of all the images he or she has marked as favorite, the images that caught his or her eye a month ago vanish. They are still found in the Instagram accounts where they were produced or published, but they are no longer accessible to the user as a repertoire of preferences. Rather they return to the overwhelming amount of images existing in cyberspace. In a world saturated with digital images, it seems most unlikely that a user can remember the amount of photographs they may like in a single day. The fact that an Instagram user is enabled to like hundreds of photographs on a daily basis and that the traces of such likes are fleeting reflects a style of pictorial representation that characterizes this platform. Instagram is one of new media’s most recent developments, a non-dimensional, image-driven realm whose ongoing visual replenishment matches the nature of contemporary, hypermodern fashion.

As this thesis has been stating, the ubiquitous nature of digital technologies has been a part of the general democratization and decentralization of fashion, as they have allowed for new individuals to act as interpreters of the system, new locations to emerge as spaces for the articulation of fashion and have afforded a new visibility to fashion in the shape of digital image. Fashion today is democratic not only because of the fact that it is no longer New York, London, Milan and Paris that are the only places considered fashionable, or because a new cohort of voices has emerged in the shape of fashion bloggers. Fashion’s contemporary democracy is also and greatly due to the fact that is it accessible as digital image. As such it circulates madly, constantly, with vertiginous freedom.


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In articulating the concept of hypermodernity, Giles Lipovetsky explains that the system of fashion is the foundational model for a hypermodern society. The principle of fashion, he says, understood as whatever is new, better and novel than ever before has imposed itself in contemporary society, reorganizing social orders to act on the very temporality of fashion. This temporality, dominated by the present, promotes an excess of goods and images.104 Nowhere is this temporality clearer than in the blogosphere and its fluid, non-linear sense of time. Although the promotion of an excess of goods and images has been highly palpable in the experience of fashion digital media – in personal style blogs, for example, where the replenishment of fashionable goods is a regular dynamic – it seems to have reached a new potency in the realm of Instagram.

If for Lipovetsky, hypermodernity is a form of modernity raised to the nth power, this thesis argues, in similar lines, that Instagram can be said to be new media in its nth power; in it, all the visual tropes developed by fashion media in the last few years combine, in an alchemy of overwhelming instantaneity that has taken fashion’s already speedy pace to new levels. Additionally, Instagram remediates the very logic of the blogosphere, making it speedier but also far more portable – accessible through lightweight mobile telephones. For Lipovetsky, hypermodernity is a societal order dominated by the logic of fashion. Interestingly, Instagram has become the fashion system’s media darling in the past year. Instagram is dominated by fashion as high-end designer houses use it to release advertisement campaigns before they hit glossy spreads in magazines; brands employ it to divulge special offers, new items, and narrations of inside-the-store daily life; fashion editors embrace it to display shoes and bags on a taxi ride, or to upload catwalk pictures, seconds after they have viewed a runway show from the primacy of privileged front row seating. Magazines and e-commerce sites use it as a daily and effective promotional device. Fashion bloggers utilize it to expose the outfit they have assembled for the day and to produce images that break down, with careful detail, the components of how they are dressed. Images often evoke recent purchases, photographs in still-life

                                                                                                              104  Lipovetsky, 36-50.  


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style, composed with flowers, jewelry, shoes and makeup; gifts endowed by brands and a permanently renewed flow of fashionable objects. Fashion is rendered in multiple ways, through the photographs produced by street style photographers, the head-to-toe shots of fashion bloggers announcing their daily posts, a self-portrait of shoes, pants and jewelry taken by a woman of fashion using a phone camera, in displays of objects in the most varying nature and also through the eyes of fashion editors, insiders and reporters, who will share fifteen-second videos of couture runway shows. Instagram is a powerful index of a time in which fashion is more often viewed on screens or in the shape of digital image.

This concluding section analyzes the ways we see fashion through the prism of Instagram, its 612pixel square photographs, and its overwhelming, ongoing flux of replenished images. Through this, I unpack themes of contemporary fashion’s temporality, its levels of speed and fleetingness, the aesthetics of ephemerality that characterize it and the relations between fashion, time, subjectivity, consumerism and digital technologies. It briefly uses Chiara Ferragni’s Instagram account as a case study. Instagram has created a way of seeing that brings together the developments of new fashion media to a single place where, through the ongoing replenishment of goods and images, fashion is always transient. This way of seeing can be connected to the ideas Agnès Rocamora expressed when she spoke of the blogosphere. 105 It should be mentioned that Instagram has not yet been conceptualized within the field of fashion studies. Consequently, this thesis attempts to contribute a starting point of analysis on a platform that is overwhelmingly far-reaching and ubiquitous within contemporary fashion.

This thesis has discussed the concept of remediation, through which old media and new media shape and refashion each other. Hence, for example, street style blogs remediated the tropes found in printed press such as i-D and The Face by giving the straight up a new visibility through the rapidity of

                                                                                                              105  Rocamora, “Hypertextuality and Remediation in Fashion Media: The case of fashion blogs”, 92-106.  


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digital images. In a similar way, fashion blogs have remediated tropes historically found in fashion magazines. What both cases exemplify is the idea that newness of new media consists mostly in allowing us to see familiar things under new light, or in new ways. As discussed previously, this concept of ‘transformations of vision’ derives from Kelli Fuery’s New Media: Culture and Image. Following these theoretical lines, this section argues that Instagram also brings forth transformations of vision, considering that it remediates both street style images and personal style blogs, compacting them into 2 x 2 inch Polaroid-like square images, in a platform that is absolutely freed from spatial constraints and that is vertiginously replenished by the minute.

*

Let us start with a brief, introductory description of its technical aspects. Instagram is an iPhone free application that can also be used on iPads. It is possible to view Instagram accounts on computer screens but it is not possible to upload, like or comment on the photographs. Hence, the very essence of Instagram’s technology is destined for portable devices. Instagram enables users to take photographs, crop and align them, taint them with milkshake-toned filters – in seventeen shades to chose from - apply digital effects of focus and blur, and record fifteen second videos. It also enables them to share the images on other digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. The images produced and perceived on the telephone screen are square-shaped and bear the particularity of being fashioned to recall the aesthetic – in color, frame, and shape – of Polaroid images. Although most photographs uploaded on Instagram are taken with iPhones, it is also possible to import highdefinition images onto the platform.

In order to step into the world of Instagram, iPhone users must download the application and create a personal account. Through this account, users are able to view the images and videos posted by the


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users they chose to follow. The ongoing stream of images varies according to the accounts a particular user might chose. Users can comment and “like” as many images as they wish; they can also view “likes” and comments left by others on different accounts and they are able to view their own favorite photographs under the option “Posts You´ve Liked.” These accumulated images are, as mentioned before, fleeting. If the user likes more photographs on a regular basis, the images that were marked as ‘liked’ a few weeks before will be replaced and disappear. By scrolling down on their iPhone – or iPad screens – a single user can view an ongoing stream of over one hundred images. This flow of images is ever changing, with continuing and speedy uploads every minute. Images usually include captions, can indicate where the photograph was geographically taken and will also generally include ‘hashtags’, a currently popular term in the jargon of new media popularized by Twitter. Hashtags consist of words or phrases, preceded by a pound sign, and they are used to identify messages on a particular topic. They may reflect trending topics, words related to fashion or they can reflect visual tropes that have been positioned by Instagram itself. An example of this hashtag is #fromwhereistand, which fashion users and especially fashion bloggers or fashion individuals use in order to show what they are wearing. (Figs 32, 33)

Instagram has been in circulation for three years, and it seems to reflect the ways digital media has developed in the past decade. Digital technologies have completely altered the fashion system and its aesthetics. Instagram includes a lot of visual tropes that dedicated followers of fashion have grown used to seeing in the blogosphere. But Instagram’s particularity resides in creating the possibility of seeing fashion images from a mobile telephone, presumably within the reach of a pocket. If blogs and digital media have allowed more and more individuals to not just consume but also to produce fashion images, they have also enabled a democratization of fashion, allowing more interpreters than


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ever before and permitting fashion to circulate as image. In this sense, Instagram exacerbates such possibilities, as it allows for virtually anyone to produce images with their iPhone. What is “new” about Instagram is that its operative structure can only be fully engaged with on portable devices. Since the widespread utilization of the Internet, the screen has become a ubiquitous social space, at times acting as a mirror in the construction of identity, as discussed in the chapter on personal style blogs. With Instagram, telephone screens gain particular relevance, enabling fashion to be viewed much more quickly than before. Fashion images are now carried in pockets. Sharing content can be done from anywhere, at any time. This is not entirely new, but does reflect a newer modality of communication, as the Internet, constantly evolving, has progressed into being accessible through light, portable objects. A particular trope brought forth by this idea of screen-as-mirror can be seen, for example in the now ubiquitous term “selfie”. “Selfie” refers to a self-portrait exclusively produced with an iPhone camera, where the individual extends his or her arm in order to photograph him or herself. Selfies are terms that are also mindful of other ideas touched upon in the precedent chapters, it touches on ideas of a sense of self based on performance, a performance which, today, is mostly done in digitalized ways. It also evokes the narcissism of contemporary fashion and the idea that the possibility to self-celebritize via digital technologies materializes a projection of the ego onto digital platforms.

When Rocamora was theorizing the blogosphere, she argued that its movement matches the very temporality it produces. In her view, blogs feed a conception of time that is made of fragments and brief moments; moments in which the user encounters images, texts, sites. Time in the blogosphere echoes time as configured by fashion.106 The time of contemporary fashion is speedier than ever. Whereas what was new in fashion was usually revealed in the biannual fashion week circuit and in the monthly publication of fashion magazines, the present landscape is “ruled by an imperative of immediacy.” Newness, Rocamora says, is a permanent state, fed especially by the Internet. For some

                                                                                                              106  Rocamora, 96.  


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time now, fashion shows have been streamed live, entire runways can be viewed minutes after they have been showcased and virtual spaces dedicated to fashion are constantly filled with newly replaced items and arrivals. But Instagram has taken this to an entirely new level. While it is true that the blogosphere has always replicated the unstoppable flow of fashionable goods, Instagram exploits this in more potent ways, as it operates on an instantaneity that is always changing. The fact that this can be viewed on a mobile telephone creates a new way of seeing this rapidity that characterizes fashion. Instagram, then, implies a new visibility of fast-paced contemporary fashion. This inevitably has a powerful effect on contemporary subjectivity.

As the name itself indicates, Instagram is based on instantaneity. Whereas blogs also bear the mark of speed, as their dynamic is based on constant actualization, their content sharing still requires a more elaborate process. Both personal style bloggers and street style photographers must take time to transfer photographs from the digital camera onto the computer, select the photographs to be published and – in keeping with the aesthetic values of high-definition photography our eyes are trained for today – also submit the images to an editing process. This process is done frequently, on an almost daily basis, but not in the ways enabled by Instagram.

Instagram is different in that a person can do all of the above – produce an image, edit and share it, with his or her iPhone. There is always an element of curation in this process, but the results run at a higher velocity. A single image or video can be uploaded instantly. This might perhaps explain why personal style bloggers will often use Instagram to take morning photos of the details that compose their daily outfit, even if the same outfit can be seen days later better edited on their actual blog. This might also explain why Instagram has become one of the most popular vehicles for fashion insiders to showcase what their eyes perceive during fashion weeks, or why designers and brands use the platform to show previews of collections, display new objects for purchase or create a signature narrative for their aesthetics. The impact of Instagram on fashion has been tremendous, as now,


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more than ever, dedicated followers of fashion can see what they were already seeing quickly, in a short-lived, instant way.

Although it is not entirely possible to view an entire collection on Instagram – in contrast to websites such as Style.com or ny.mag, where viewers can see photographs of the entire runway, and even set the images in motion or grasp certain details – they can get a general idea of the collections as they are being presented. The possibility to get a glimpse, but not entirely to look, creates a way of seeing that is even more fragmented and can be connected to Elizabeth Wissinger’s ideas on what she terms ‘the regime of the blink’. 107 Although Wissinger focuses on modeling and the ways digital technologies affect bodily aesthetics, her ideas are relevant as they clearly demonstrate how new media can affect modes of perception and ways of seeing. (This, again, can be traced back to Anne Hollander, the original inspiration of this thesis, who wrote on how images have a powerful influence on the perceptions of dress.)

Wissinger talks about ‘imaging systems’, such as cable television and the Internet itself, and she discusses the ways in which they create an imaging regime. She uses the concept of the blink to conceptualize the volatility of this regime. The ‘regime of the blink’ has created an overproduction and availability of information and images, which generate new techniques of attention, fostering a type of cultural and collective attention deficit disorder, shortening attention spans and making brand advertisements focus more on the image and their impact effects. The overexposure made possible by the 24/7 availability of fashion images on the Internet, brings forth a competition for attention and an audience that becomes easily distracted, a public defined by a “networked jumpiness”. Nowhere is this experience more palpable than in Instagram. A user engaged in the platform might see, in a matter of minutes, over one hundred photographs. The stream of images is replenished by the minute. Hence, this can perhaps explain why the fashion industry is the most active area of

                                                                                                              107  Wissinger, 133-143.  


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society engaged in the production of this fast-paced imagery. As a style of pictorial representation Instagram offers an imagery that perfectly fits what has become the logic of contemporary fashion.

In the past few months, the media has discussed the notoriety of Instagram within the fashion industry. In an October 2013 piece published in The Guardian, “This year, in fashion, it’s hip to be square…”, Eva Wiseman discusses how we can all be fashion editors through the gimmicks provided by the platform. She describes the way she herself, as a reporter, had been able to follow up with the Paris shows, miles away, in the comfort of her own bed. Wiseman calls Instagram the most important thing for fashion in 2013, a defining community and muse. “There is emotional sincerity in a photo taken fast. With Instagram, I choose my editors. I choose the people on the ground with eyes I admire and it’s theirs, their cut – their single photo of one key look that will sum up a collection for their followers.”108

Wiseman also explains how the images that a style blogger such as Susie Lau might produce with the platform have begun to serve as inspiration in the mood boards of designers themselves. Since Instagram launched, Lau declares to Wiseman, the photographs she produces come to the followers without them having to visit her blog. “For an industry that has a very short attention span and undergoes changes everyday, it’s perfect for capturing people’s attention for a split second.”109 A barometer of opinion, a visual diary and escapism are some of the terms utilized in the piece to further describe Instagram.

Instagram is so ubiquitous, Wiseman says, that it’s become “the fifth fashion city.” This idea is particularly interesting in that it reminds us of the ways in which the street, a ubiquitous backdrop in the representation of fashion, plays a crucial role in the democratization and decentralization of

                                                                                                              108  Eva Wiseman, “This year, in fashion, it’s hip to be square…”, The Guardian, October 12, 2013, accessed March 2, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/oct/13/instagram-changes-fashion-world 109  Ibid.


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fashion. The street as a democratic arena for the articulation of fashion and the fact that digital technologies allow for new urban sites to appear, alongside the classical style capitals of the world, are all related to the ways in which the perception of fashion becomes strongly liberated from spatial constraints. The Internet is a non-dimensional reality in which anyone; from virtually anywhere can access fashion as image. That Instagram be called “the fifth fashion city” confirms this, as it becomes a global space for the articulation and perception of fashion--a space, nonetheless, that lives in people’s pockets.

“This is how we see fashion now,” Wiseman writes, “on palm-sized screens, double-clicking with thumbs. We see the details on couture gowns the second they’re presented, the shoe of the season before the season even starts. Fashion today is designed to be seen on screen – colors that will pop, make you pause. Accessories that look unusual and kitsch enough to be regrammed110 across phones, cities, countries. Instagram has refocused our gaze, and tinted it rose.”111 This suggests how clothing design itself has been affected by the digital gaze.

In a much more recent press article on the subject, published while I was writing this thesis, Mark C. O’Flaherty discusses, in Business of Fashion, that the “iPhone age” has transformed fashion week into what he calls “one glorified, ridiculous, narcissistic, nauseating selfie”, writes O’Flaherty:112

Fashion has embraced digital technology as much as pornography has. Hurrah for that. A fascinated public can watch shows streamed live at home, whereas once they were staged solely for the insider rather than the end consumer. You can click and order items while they are being debuted. This is all well and good. Similarly, serious editors and journalists use their phones as visual notepads. And there is undeniably currency in the Tweet of a styling detail from the front lines, as a show is happening, or indeed a succession of 140-character text reports. But, at the same time, the urge to post anything and everything on social media that is directly linked to a fashion event has become frenzied, hysterical and masturbatory.113

                                                                                                              110  ‘Regram’ is an Instagram term that refers to the practice of re-posting a photograph uploaded by a user. 111  Ibid. 112  Marc C. O’Flaherty, “Op-Ed – Are Camera Phones Killing Fashion?”, Business of Fashion March 6, 2014, Accessed March 6, 2014, http://www.businessoffashion.com/2014/03/cameraphones-killing-fashion.html 113  Ibid.


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According to O’Flaherty, too many people go to the shows to see and be seen, but they are not, he says, there to study the garments or evaluate the collections. “These people reach for their phones as a way to engage and own a part of the experience, while distancing themselves from the fact that they don’t really care about fashion in any significant way”, he writes. His point resonates with one of the key arguments in this thesis: that fashion today also feels democratic because it has become accessible as digital image. This accessibility to the image creates the proximity of illusion, of experiencing, for example, what goes on inside and outside of the fashion shows during the major fashion weeks, but the true textures and feel of the clothes remains virtual.

This notion, of the illusion of proximity provided by the power of the image, can be related back to ideas explored by William Leach in Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture, when he writes on the ways window displays and department stores transformed the relation people had to goods in the early part of the 20th century. Leach discusses L. Frank Baum – a revolutionary visual merchandiser and author of the legendary The Wizard of Oz – and the way his principles on window display stressed the importance of baiting the gaze of the consumer. The use of glass windows and the addition of mirrors, which became commonplace in retail districts thanks to Baum’s innovative conceptions, shifted the idea that staring into windows was vulgar and unsubtle. Staring and even gawking became specifically called for. The display in glass reduced the former common contact with goods in open-market spaces, through smell and touch, and augmented the visual, “transforming the already watching city person into a potentially compulsive viewer. It must have altered the character of the relationship between goods and people by permitting everything to be seen yet rendering it all beyond touch.”114 In a similar way, being able to

                                                                                                              114  William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power and the Rise of a New American Culture. (New York: Vintage Books Edition, 1993), 63.

 


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look with immediate access and from virtually anywhere at contemporary fashion, can be connected to this – as fashion is experienced predominantly in digital, visual form and is not touched.

This augmentation of the visual in the experience of fashion can be related to more contemporary viewpoints. In “Creating Virtual Selves in Second Life”, an essay on creative consumption and production in the digital world, Handan Vicdan and Ebru Ulosoy explore consumer creativity as related to ‘virtual self-construction’ in a virtual world they refer to as Second Life (SL). Although this examination derives from a consumer research perspective, it reflects the momentum that consumer creativity has gained within scholarly fields. Consumer creativity in the digital realm relates to product designs, for example, but also to self-images and identities, as well as individual and social meanings. This takes us back to Fuery and the idea that technological practices imply shifts in behavior and subjectivity. The digital realm allows consumers to imagine and realize things that are not possible in many other consumption contexts.115 In this participation the body is relevant and has particular implications when treated within the virtual world. Some scholars, Vicdan and Ulosoy argue, claim that such technologies allow individuals to transcend the finitude of their embodiment, engaging in disembodied practices. The representation of the self through digitalization complicates these scholarly debates on embodiment and disembodiment. What is relevant of these ideas here is that technological practices mirror insights regarding the self in contemporary life, as virtual worlds enable consumers to engage in ‘disembodied communication’, serving as a territory for the performance of the changing, postmodern self. The Internet allows individuals to fabricate identities that go beyond the limits of embodiment and that are affected by the virtual gaze of other individuals engaging in these technological practices. In the world of Instagram, individuals are using their visual experience more than bodily practices when engaging with fashion. This can also be related to Elizabeth Wissinger’s ideas on how bodily aesthetics and imaging regimes can derive from the technology of a given period. Wissinger asserts that current beauty ideals in modeling are shaped by

                                                                                                              115 Vicdan

Handan and Ulosoy Ebru, “Creating Virtual Selves in Second Life”, in Digital Virtual Consumption, ed. Molesworth, Mike, (New York: Routledge, 2012), 178.


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the imaging regimes created by contemporary technologies. This corroborates that technological innovations related to digital imaging likewise reflect wider cultural themes related to the body and identity.116

While it is true that democracy in fashion has also enabled individuals such as Chiara Ferragni, merely a fashion enthusiast a few years ago, to become global fashion influencers thanks to the visibility afforded by digital technologies, this only reflects that fashion has been opened to new interpreters that nonetheless become a part of the fashion elite. As previously stated, democracy in fashion is achieved in purely visual form and Instagram is the most poignant example of this.

O’Flaherty also describes the ways in which phone cameras are able to register catwalks albeit in blurry and sometimes poor-quality ways. This, he says, is a reflection of ‘the infantilism of culture’, where people have no attention spans – an idea that also reminds us of Wissinger and her ideas on the “regime of the blink”. But although O’Flaherty makes a clear point in the ways in which fashion is devalued through these poor media depictions of collections that have been worked on for months by sophisticated fashion houses, it is not within the arguments of this thesis to completely agree with his vision. The arguments presented here do not comply with the idea that phone cameras are “killing” fashion, but rather that they have created new ways for us to both see and experience contemporary fashion.

Giles Lipovetsky signaled that one of hypermodernity’s most salient traits is the fact that the logic of fashion has spread to all areas of society. It is thus argued here that this dispersal has also been possible thanks to digital technologies. Hypermodern individuals who are familiar with Instagram

                                                                                                              116  Wissinger, Elizabeth, “Fashion Modeling, Blink Technologies and New Imaging Regimes”, 133-143.    


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reckon the ways in which Fashion floods the platform. This means fashion becomes ubiquitous as image and thus the idea that its logic has spread seems reasonable.

Ways of seeing in Instagram

It is common for both street style photographers and personal style bloggers to utilize Instagram as a supporting platform for their narratives. Visual tropes in both genres are often found on the iPhone streams. Hence, it can be said that Instagram contains the visual language developed within digital technologies of the past few years. What Instagram has done, however, is transform the space of fashion’s visibility, transferring imagery from computer to telephone screens.

There are, however, some visual tropes created by Instagram itself. Because of its photographic format – approximately 2 x 2 inch Polaroid-shaped images – Instagram is fitting for the display of fashionable details and objects. Because it allows sharing to be instantaneous it also allows fashion insiders to actively display the ongoing replenishment of their purchases, ensembles, acquisitions and lifestyles. In a way, through its filters and the capacity for people to control the images they share, Instagram allows individuals to perform a sort of editorial curation on the images they choose to share as representative of their lives. This is also enhanced by the filters it offers as well as the possibility to align and straighten images, crop them or fill them with certain blurring effects. Hollander argued that people get dressed bearing in mind the images of other clothed bodies that they viewed through the filters of artistic convention of their time. Thus, people emulated the fashionable combinations and the bodily gestures found in pictorial representations. In a similar way, the tropes created by Instagram – not only in ways of dressing but also in the forms objects are shown and displayed – become mental images for individuals to bear in mind when they produce the curated images they share.


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Some of the tropes that are characteristic in Instagram today are as follows: images in the style of still-life arrangements where fashionable objects may reflect the newly acquired goods of fashion bloggers, (Figs 34, 35) the gifts some fashion insider has recently received or the new arrivals that have recently reached a store or e-commerce site. Shots taken from above, in which a woman of fashion, for example, produces the photograph herself, perhaps to display the jewels on her wrists or the way her clothes and accessories look while she takes the photograph from where she stands. (Figs 32, 33) Because Instagram also serves as a visual diary, a lot of individuals use it to narrate a sense of self through lifestyle experiences in, for example, exotic travels, luscious meals or beautiful settings. (Figs 36, 37) This, again, goes back to the idea of the constitution of self on the basis of appearance and commodities. Individuals involved in fashion will also recurrently include such experiences in their visual fabrications. Another common trope amongst the fashion flock includes the neat arrangement of different objects, sometimes linked by a chromatic motif. (Figs 38, 40) It is also common for accounts specialized in fashion to feature the kinds of close-ups usually seen in both street style images and personal style blogs. (Fig 39) Hence, there is a continuous overlap between the blogosphere and Instagram that includes ways of visualizing and sharing fashion moments.

Fashionable Instants: Ferragni’s Instagram Instagram, propelled by “the tyranny of the new”, is framed within a fashion context in which what’s “new” is no longer fixed, but always happening. Fashion, on screens, is ever in flux. What is new one instant fleets at the next moment in the open-ended system of hypertextuality – always in a state of becoming. Such is the dynamics Instagram operates on. If the blogosphere has been able to demonstrate a constant state of transience, Instagram adds to this by making fleetingness more vertiginous and acute.


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The intrinsic ephemerality of its imagery is what posits the strongest methodological challenges when it comes to analyzing the platform. Several characteristics link Instagram to the concept of temporality. In its dynamic, it produces a sense of time that is rapid, ephemeral, fleeting and closer to models of time that can be called rhizomatic, hypertextual and pointillist. There are no dates in Instagram images, for example, only the vague indicator of the number of hours, days and weeks that have passed since their initial publication. If one looks, for example, at Chiara Ferragni’s Instagram account – one of the most followed in the fashion sphere, with 1.9 million users – the application reveals that her first post was made over 97 weeks ago. As I write this, her last post reads “1h” on the upper right corner of the telephone screen. The image, however, is already lost within the sea of the “live” Instagram stream, which has rapidly replaced Ferragni’s photograph with more instant images. I can see it on Ferragni`s account if I deliberately choose to view it, but it is no longer available in the immediate flow of images. A single hour in Instagram means hundreds of images replacing others at lightning speed.

A user might “like” up to fifty images in a matter of minutes, but he or she is unable to track down the image of his or her enjoyment. Instagram records what you “like” momentarily, during a few days. This makes enjoyment transient and sometimes hard to reencounter or reach. Unless a user takes a screen shot of an image they do not wish to lose definitely, the image remains only to be found in the account it was originally posted in. An extraordinary capacity to remember is required to recall all the accounts where the numerous images that have been “liked” are set in. This capacity seems desynchronized with a context dominated by the ‘regime of the blink’.

Hence, the process of data observation is difficult, as Instagram is, very much like the blogosphere, always in flux. It is also true that if a newcomer to the system is to encounter, for example, Ferragni’s account, he or she might not quite grasp the narrative threads that support the accumulated images. Because I personally have followed Ferragni since she first began her blog and because I have been


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acquainted with her Instagram account for over a year, I am better situated in her context. But the untiring stream of snapshots of her life has a non-linear characteristic. They are brief visual episodes of a young, blonde, model-looking female, indulging in the delight of new, constantly renewed clothes; spatially shifting from one location to another; replacing a narrating instant with another, and another and another.

A basis semiotic approach calls for a close scrutiny of details. It requires drawing differences and similarities, searching for invariant features. I have attempted here to use Chiara Ferragni as a case study for Instagram. Because of this, I not only observed Ferragni’s account on a daily basis – with up to ten images posted in one day, a number that amounts to an average of seventy images per week, and two-hundred and eighty on a monthly basis – but I also attempted to look back on the evolution of her visual narrative. Faced with over 7.000 images, in order to observe them, I had to scroll down patiently to catch a glimpse. If, for some reason, I was returned to the beginning or if I accidentally undid my process, I would have to start from zero. As this happened on several occasions, I have come to realize that one of the major challenges in conceptualizing a platform such as Instagram is the saturation of images one is faced with. Blogs, on the other hand, include “digital archives”, where posts are categorized by months and years. Instagram has no such feature. The observer is faced with a myriad of accumulated images on a telephone screen. He or she must scroll patiently in order to see the entire thread, from the beginning. He or she is faced with thousands and thousands of images that, at times, are hard to decide how to look at.

It is hard to draw final conclusions from systems that are constantly changing. Instagram is built on a logic of visual replacement that is very hard to keep up with. There are no archives, but short-lived memories. There is no linear narrative to follow, but streams and streams of images replacing one another incessantly. There is no certainty of what will become of the platform, if it will fade as a transient trend, if it will stop being gratuitous or if it will sustain itself as blogs have since the


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beginning of the 00’s. Analyzing fashion as digital, fleeting image also implies the challenge of trying to conceptualize something that is always changing. One of the most challenging things in analyzing Instagram academically is being faced with its fluid nature. In conflating the technical and the aesthetic, new media are able to produce ‘paradigm shifts’ or ‘transformations of vision’.

This instantaneity must be related to consumerism. In examining Instagram, themes of temporality in the aesthetics of fashion are highly significant. Arjun Appadurai discusses the way consumption creates time.117 Although he focuses more on the concept of nostalgia, his thinking is relevant here. Within the context of a consumer revolution, time becomes commodified and consumption becomes a temporal marker of leisure. Consumption becomes, according to Appadurai, a form of work, a daily practice through which nostalgia and fantasy are drawn together through commodities. This landscape is also defined by polyrhythmic temporal structures, an idea that can be tied to Lipovetsy’s definitions of hypermodernity as a landscape dominated by desynchronized “subjective singularities.” Consumption turns into pleasure and pleasure becomes the organizing principle of modern consumption:

As far as the experience of time is concerned, the pleasure that lies at the center of modern consumption is neither the pleasure of the tension between fantasy and utility nor the tension between individual desire and collective disciplines, although these latter contrasts are relevant to any larger account of modern consumerism. The pleasure that has been inculcated into the subjects who act as modern consumers is to be found in the tension between nostalgia and fantasy; where the present is represented as if it were already past. This inculcation of pleasure of ephemerality is at the heart of the disciplining of the modern consumer. The valorization of ephemerality expresses itself at a variety of social and cultural levels: the short shelf life of products and lifestyles, the speed of fashion change; the velocity of expenditure; the polyrhythms of credit, acquisition, and gift, the transience of television images, the aura of periodization that hangs over both products and lifestyles in the imagery of mass media. The muchvaunted feature of modern consumption –namely, the search for novelty – is only a symptom of a deeper discipline of consumption in which desire is organized around the aesthetic of ephemerality.118

                                                                                                              117  Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large. (University of Minessota Press, 1996), 79. 118  Appadurai, 82.  


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The ‘valorization of ephemerality’ is indeed, according to Appadurai, the key to modern consumption. Consumption, as a discipline, is thus organized around the aesthetics of ephemerality. In regimes of fashion”, he argues, “the body is the site for the inscription of a generalized desire to consume in the context of the aesthetic of ephemerality.” The techniques of the body relevant to this mode of consumption involve what feminist film theory called scopophilia, or the love of looking, which I have discussed in my analysis of personal style blogs.

This “pleasure of the gaze” fits well with the dynamics of digital media and with the very nature of Instagram. The application is an image-sharing universe in which ephemeral photographs provide an experience of permanent transience. The very basis of Instagram seems to be an ‘aesthetic of ephemerality.’ And this is not only because the stream on the iPhone screen is constantly flooded with fluxing flows of new images, but also because, as is the case with Ferragni’s account, the images involve shifting places, moments and commodities. One of the cornerstones in Ferragni’s digital selfnarrative is the permanent demonstration of new commodities: the trends of the seasons, the current “it” bag, the items recommended on websites and magazines. A look at Ferragni’s account, with a saturated flow of daily images, also provides a powerful sense of a present that is always fleeting. Everyday she narrates, through pictorial instants, what she does, buys, wears, sees.

As we have seen in personal blogging, the sole purpose of fashionable self-digitalization is to construct a narration that revolves around the renewal of styles and clothes. The production of these images is also directly linked to contemporary consumerism. A recurring feature in both personal style blogs and Instagram fashion images is the indication of where the clothes are from, in other words, the specifying of brands and designer names. In a digital context, this can not only imply looking at fashionable clothes, but also the possibility of rapid emulation; it not only signifies


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knowing where the clothes come from, but also the possibility to purchase the item online. These themes can be linked to contemporary consumerism.

In a recent New York Times piece on Instagram, the writer refers to the platform as a modern-day bazaar, where she can digitally experience the thrill of encountering beauties or rarities to purchase. Small fashion entrepreneurs and sellers are using it to generate new customers and as a new ecommerce strategy, more personalized, and where the display is aestheticized by applying some of the most common Instagram tropes.

In Consuming Life, Zygmunt Bauman constructs a model of consumerism as a “principal propelling and operating force of society.”119 Bauman creates a stark contrast between a “solid modern society of producers” versus a “society of consumers.” Consumerism, he explains, associates happiness with a high volume and intensity of desires, which imply a “speedy replacement of objects.” It is, in other words, the pursuit of an untiring newness; an idea that resonates with Lipovetsky’s hyperconsumerism and the notion that the “logic of fashion” is socially widespread. It also echoes Rocamora’s observations on the ways the blogosphere “lends itself to fashion.” This “liquid modern setting”, as Bauman describes it, renegotiates the meaning of time: As lived by its members, time in the liquid modern society of consumers is neither cyclical nor linear, as it used to be for members of other known societies. It is instead, to use Michel Maffesoli´s metaphor, pointillist – or, to deploy Nicole Aubert’s almost synonymous term, punctuated time, marked as much (if not more) by the profusion of ruptures and discontinuities, by intervals separating successive spots and breaking the links between them, than by the specific content of the posts. Pointillist time is more prominent for its inconsistency and lack of cohesion than for its elements of continuity and consistency.120 A pointillist time model seems fitting when defining the sort of temporality that is created by Instagram. Further, Bauman proceeds: “Pointillist time is broken up, or even pulverized, into a

                                                                                                              119  Zygmunt Bauman, Consuming Life. (Cambridge: Polity, 2007) 33.   120  Bauman, 35.  


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multitude of ‘eternal instants’ –events, incidents, accidents, adventures, episodes- self-enclosed monads, separate morsels, each morsel reduced to a point ever more closely approximating its geometric ideal of non-dimensionality.

This can be applied to the overall operative system behind Instagram. There, an image can be seen as one of these “self-enclosed monads”. A random flick through the images of Instagram generates in the viewer something like this. The flood of images is visible as the user scrolls down the screen. An image shows a pair of shoes, another frames a “new arrival” at a New York department store; next, a fashion blogger in Texas will be displaying an image of her present attire or view, another blogger, maybe in New York, will show the shoes she has picked to wear for the evening. This idea of “separate morsels,” seems apt to describe the snapshots published minute by minute on Instagram. The concept of a “rhizomatic structure” also is fitting. A rhizome is, as argued by Rocamora, “an acentered system that is always changing and made up of units – so-called ‘plateaus’- that are linked together in a non-linear way, in a network formation.”121

As discussed previously, a rhizome, then, is a “short memory, or an anti-memory”, something never fixed, always looking for and producing “the new”. Fashion’s logic is the constant, untiring renewal of clothes. Instagram operates on the quest for persistent replacement of images. This temporality, always changing and transient, is part of a context where technology and speedy information makes it difficult to create narratives. Images on Instagram are, as Bauman calls it, a “succession of presents”. Both fashion and Instagram operate on a logic of replacement – to replace fashionable objects with other ones, to replace instant images and snapshots with new ones. This is also visible in Ferragni’s account. Much of her self-digitalization through Instagram is based on the exhibition of new fashion commodities that renew the image of her clothed body. Both her narrative and Instagram’s relation

                                                                                                              121  Rocamora, “Hypertextuality and Remediation in the Fashion Media”, 96.    


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to fashion create the illusion that newness is never satiated, always happening, and/or in a perpetual state of becoming.

In pointillist time, every time-point is impregnated with further possibility, with the chance of another possibility, so creating unending chains of more possible time-points. An image on Chiara Ferragni’s account, for instance, a photo of her smiling against a pink wall, is always a time-point, the promise of more images. Perhaps the first image of the day is a head-to-toe shot of her ensemble and her second or third post will be a close-up: the aspect of her shoes, the jewelry on her wrist, the combination of pieces on her torso.

Chiara Ferragni’s Instagram account, therefore, is a “collection of instants”, shared everyday, sometimes on an hourly basis. She is in tune with fashion’s present speed. She utilizes the velocity of a digital platform such as Instagram to channel this speed, through images. Time, in her selfdigitalized presentation, is observable through the ever-shifting flow of fashion commodities that renew and transform her; as much as in the ways she demonstrates these changes. She posts images that are ever in flux; images that reflect the flux she herself experiences through clothes. Her followers see these images on the iPhone screen with the velocity of the digital. The images, in sum, have a non-linear narrative, but they are joined by one overarching motif: an aesthetic that feeds, valorizes and celebrates ephemerality and also unlimited possibilities for the Instagram viewer.

Instagram has created a particular way of looking that echoes the fast-paced rhythms of contemporary fashion and the digital technologies that have made it so visible in the past few years. Subjectivity, or our positioning as subjects, changes when it comes dominated by the act of looking. Kelli Fuery, for example, argues that scopophilia is more about how, as individuals, we become subjects in response to our desires and our gaze. Pleasure, then, is a fundamental attribute for the development, use and consumption of new media. The theory of scopophilia was highly relevant for


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television and cinema theory because it explored what was then a new form of subjectivity. But looking is still crucial in the ways we participate in new media, which is why the idea of scopophilia is still a valuable concept for analyzing the visual practices that stem from a digital context. In Instagram, the love to look is possible because the platform allows the possibility to look without restriction. But Instagram is also highly related to a way of looking that is also marked by rapidity and fleetingness, which is why browsing is also relevant as a mode of perception. Browsing denotes a superficial glance and is also a concept related to television and cinema narrative structures. It can be said that the way of looking Instagram has enabled mixes both scopophilia – the love of looking – with a way of looking that is highly jumpy and fleeting. Hence, perception of fashion on Instagram mirrors the way perception is shaped by a landscape saturated with an untiring flow of fashion as digital image.

Concluding Thoughts Inspired by Anne Hollander’s ideas that the style of pictorial representation is what defines ideals of fashionability in a given context, this thesis has set out to assess the images that help shape the perception of fashionable dress in a contemporary, digital fashion context. The power that images have in our relation to clothes and our experience of fashion has been explored here through some of the distinctive ways of looking created by digital fashion: street style photography outside of the major fashion shows, images produced by personal style bloggers and the unending flow of images and fashionable goods that carries out minute by minute on Instagram. This exploration has also been grounded on Ben Highmore’s theory that a practice of representation can match the subject matter it renders. Highmore’s ideas on French Impressionism, which conclude that the very style of painting matches the reality it was attempting to capture, are used here to conclude that the images treated in this thesis create a hyper-techno Impressionism. Brushwork in Impressionist paintings, usually hesitant and blurry, reflects the very hesitancy and blurriness of an urban Parisian setting that was moving to new rhythms set by modernity. In a similar way, the attention to detail, the rapidity,


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the digital hyperreality and the eclecticism found in contemporary images of fashion, matches a hypermodern fashion moment set in the non-dimensional, global space of the Internet. Today’s “impressionism” is achieved through digital photography, instead of painting. In both cases, however, form of representation and subject coincide. Indeed, is it an accident that the use of the painterly term “pointillism” has been used by Bauman to describe digital time?

Because the images produced in any context have an effect on subjectivities and identities, the digital portrayal of fashion items today has had an impact on the way women dress and style themselves. Charlotte Herzog, for example, discussed the ways in which the moving images of fashion shows included in films of the 1930s helped women who were watching at the time to assimilate the mannequin-like movements of the women displaying the clothes in the scenes. These women used these moving images as external ones in the process of visualizing their own sartorial selves. Herzog’s discussion can be viewed as a precedent in the ways that fashion media creates images for women to look at and emulate. Looking is important in relation to the act of dressing, but it is also crucial to femininity, as was explored in the second chapter.

The way personal style bloggers fashion themselves serves as an important reference to women who look at digital fashion as a reference today. These bloggers allow dedicated followers of fashion to know where they got their clothes from, as blog posts will usually end with captions that indicate the brands and designers of the garments. Often, bloggers will receive such garments as gifts from brands themselves and the captions that conclude a post will also be links, where a viewer can click on and purchase the piece without delay. This means that this portrayal of fashion items has had an important effect on fashion merchandising, as bloggers can currently be considered a way of publicity for brands and designers who align their products with the blogger, much as in the past and still present in print magazines, where editorial and advertising content can be said to converge. It also has a powerful effect on the temporality of fashion, partly because successful bloggers replenish the


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blog’s images and their ensembles on a daily basis, and also because the women looking at the images can purchase what they see on screen. Such images encourage women to constantly change their own outfits, seek new identities through consumerism, and indulge in an eclectic self-styling.

Contemporary images of fashion encourage eclecticism or sartorial variety. Street style photographs render the validity enjoyed by virtually any style today. The mixture of contrary elements is praised as imaginative and powerfully fashionable. Personal style bloggers, in turn, promote eclecticism by encouraging the idea that trying on different and new identities through the different things they wear is also fashionable. This can be tied back to postmodern theories of fashion and the ways in which they rehabilitated the pleasures of female dress. When contesting functionalist paradigms of dress encouraged by feminist theories, postmodern theories of fashion claimed that in allowing women to experience fashion as masquerade, in enjoying the freedom of trying different guises through fashion without losing one’s identity, women were able to disrupt conventions of femininity. These disruptions were seen as liberatory instead of constricting. This idea, that fashion can serve to deflect the male gaze and that women can decide how they are looked at, was also explored in chapter 2 of this thesis, through Rocamora’s interesting arguments on how fashion bloggers, or women-with-screen exert an agency over their portraiture. However, this control over their image is not freed from thorny ambivalences in which women are still defined by appearance and still selfrepresent as specular object.

What I have gotten from this digital gaze is that the visual appetite for detail, which sometimes results in portraying headless women or in displaying a fragment of their bodies, has little to do with the objectification of women, as could be read under certain feminist perspectives. The fact that photographers such as Tommy Ton have created a way of looking that concentrates on female parts of the body has more do with a digital gaze that is interested in detail than in objectifying the female body or perhaps more interested in the clothing than in the body. In this sense, I argue that the


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digital gaze is predominantly a female gaze, where women can see clothes and styling in ways that appeal to their own relation to fashion. These close-ups and zoom-ins, which capture images of legs, headless torsos or the image of moving feet in heels, cater to the ways women want to look at fashion: in a detailed ways that allows them to use such images as a reference when they style themselves. Digital technologies have enabled such detailed visions. As I have personally watched these images for the past seven years, I have seen the visual evolution of the technology; watching as the images become not only more realistic thanks to the high definition of the digital cameras, but also observing how visual tropes that gravitate towards the display of detail have evolved. Women today can not only see how the ensembles are meticulously assembled through these images, but they can also enjoy the possibility of purchasing similar or the identical pieces that make it which may be read as empowering them—if only even to find superficially changing identities.

This female gaze, however, is essentially ambivalent. And I share Rocamora’s belief that these images mirror the contradictions of contemporary femininity. While it is true that bloggers and women today can control how they are seen, as they are the ones who can produce images of themselves, or look at themselves on computer and iPhone screens as if looking at themselves in mirrors, the control they have over their portraiture is still highly measured by the importance of appearance. Appearance and fashionable commodities are both defining in the performance of a digital feminine self. This means that female identity is still strongly determined by the way women look. Ambivalences can also be found in, for example, Leandra Medine’s provocative and witty term man repeller. While Medine is able to create a disruptive sartorial femininity, with wit, eclecticism and creativity, she is still defining herself by thinking about men. Medine’s point of departure in being sartorially feminist is still trapped within the idea that women must bear in mind the male gaze in order to create a sense of identity.


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I spoke at the beginning of the ways in which digital technologies enable contemporary subjects to perceive fashion without the limitations of spatial constraints and with a fast-paced rhythm fed by the dynamics of the Internet. What I am also talking about is instantaneity and the fact that platforms such as Instagram, which bring together all of the visual tropes that have been developing since the early 00’s, in mediums such as street style blogs and personal style blogs, create a way of looking at fashion that is marked by fleetingness and unending transformation, an absence of corporality or a sense of weightlessness. It is an instantaneity that creates a hyper-perception of the fashion moment we are living in, which will no doubt be different or have vanished at the instant the reader finishes this text.


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The Digital Fashion Gaze  

Vanessa Rosales Thesis for Master of the Arts in Fashion Studies, Parsons The New School for Design

The Digital Fashion Gaze  

Vanessa Rosales Thesis for Master of the Arts in Fashion Studies, Parsons The New School for Design

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