Is Street Style Losing the Plot?

Do people dress like that every day? The looks outside Fashion Week can make anyone rethink their #ootd (Outfit of the Day) if that’s where the yard stick lies. But that’s the frenzy surrounding the ‘Big Four Fashion Weeks’. Each year starts with fashion enthusiasts and insiders putting their most fashionable feet forward; taking media centre stage. At home, the fashion calendar kicks off too. This year has already seen Core Fashion Installation and the Zen Garden Fashion High Tea, both of which have encouraged Nairobians to dress to impress at events.

This is largely because Fashion Week has become more than the catwalk. In fact, more inspiration could be coming from the streets than from the runway. A flurry of photography happens outside the main event trying to capture fashion creativity in its natural habitat that could possibly start a trend; influencing the tide of fashion. With the increased attention, there’s more care going into what to wear to get that all important snap from the paparazzi… without actually looking like that was your intention in the first place. In the original sense of street style, it wasn’t always like this.

This street style phenomenon occurred when the distinct shift from high culture to pop culture occurred. Which basically meant fashion innovation wasn’t limited to the upper class anymore. Sophie Woodward, author of Why Women Wear What They Wear, defines street style as an “idea, phrase, practice, and image that can be located in numerous sites.” In her article “The Myth of Street Style” that was published in Fashion Theory in 2009, Woodward argues that street style comes from the way ordinary people can distinguish themselves somewhat from others. 2many siblings and Neibaz Fashion House seem to come to mind.

2many Siblings x Everyday people stories (cedric nzaka,2015 / Courtesy of 2many siblings)
2many Siblings x Everyday people stories
(cedric nzaka,2015 / Courtesy of 2many siblings)

Through the ‘trickle up effect’ designers are introduced to these trends and ideas from the new generation of urban sub-cultures that challenge established or traditional rules in fashion. They draw their strength from the social and cultural elements of the area that reflect their current lifestyle. It’s the unique personality and personal vision that give that ‘IT’ factor which sometimes isn’t communicated through runway collections.

It’s the unique personality and personal vision that give that ‘IT’ factor which sometimes isn’t communicated through runway collections.

It’s believed that ‘street style photography’ was pioneered by Bill Cunningham, a New York Times Photographer in the 70s.

Gelatin silver photograph at New-York Historical Society (photograph by Bill Cunningham)
Gelatin silver photograph at New-York Historical Society (photograph by Bill Cunningham)

However, it wasn’t until the 90s that it really took off and since then, photographers and influential blogs such as ‘The Sartorialist’ were commissioned to capture these street trends. The metamorphosis of street style photography happened when they started to take pictures of people outside events and the subjects became the insiders instead of everyday people. It earned its own term and industry which can be referred to as Fashion-week style or Peep show style. Where the style stopped imitating the inner-city trends but became ground-zero for the trends.

Where the style stopped imitating the inner-city trends but became ground-zero for the trends.

Now brands have gotten involved with all this peacocking, which complimented their meticulously arranged shoots by showing them in a more informal setting. A real time product placement, if you will, from a ‘product for post’ agreement with whoever is the flavour of the season; be it bloggers or influencers. It’s an affordable way to market the brand and the individual gets freebies. Win-win.

Not quite. One or two pieces from a design house, that’s fine. But swapping out creativity for a display of connection and prestige makes the scene predictable and generic in my opinion. Which reminds me of a National Geographic documentary where they searched for an endangered tiger in its natural environment for months. The wait was tense and at times drove some of the crew to tears. But you know what they kept meeting? Peacocks. Loudly squawking in their faces in order to garner maximum attention for its grand feather display. At first it was majestic but near the end it annoyed the crew and it drove me insane (attention seeker much?). But when they finally caught a glimpse of the tiger, there are no words to describe the kind of relief and elation the crew had. It was everything they had hoped for; Regal, captivating, and not forced at all (yes, the peacocks were still there). The new version of street style has become the peacock. In a group it really just looks like the same feathers of highly constructed merchandise that reiterates the season’s themes.

The new version of street style has become the peacock…highly constructed merchandise that reiterates the season’s themes.

In addition, it’s a bit of a blow finding out that some of these ‘street style stars’ are professionally dressed. It’s a bit of a buzz kill to find out that the ensemble they had on is actually from one of the collections being showcased at the event or has just been launched and is ready-to-wear.  New York Based Writer, Max Berlinger, in his op-ed for The Business of Fashion summarised this best with “while street style used to represent the frontier of self-expression and do-it-yourself spirit. Now it looks as constructed as the runway.”

Don’t get me wrong, I adore street style; in the true sense of the word and in the Fashion Week one too, but there is a pointed lack of inspiration in these pictures. Too often, they reflect a highly merchandised construct that merely reiterates the seasonal themes dictated. We need the idiosyncratic gestures of true personal style back. It’s inevitable that the designers’ garments will make it onto that street-style scene but the overall look should speak about the intrinsic nature of the wearer. We need to get back to the basics of street-style. The true creativity.

 

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