The Truth Behind Fashion Blogging on Instagram
Before I left London to travel, I’d have classed myself as a lifestyle and fashion blogger. I’ve always loved clothes, shopping and combining outfits and photographing these to share on Instagram compromised a big part of my average week. However, quickly the pressure to be featuring the newest, most on-trend styles caught up and I began to learn the tricks of the trade. Having not just stepped, but leapt – I now live out of one packing cube of clothes in a 15KG backpack – out of that world, I found myself reflecting.
Late November I’ll be back in the UK and, although travel will continue to be a big part of my life, I’ve started thinking about what my content might look like when I transition back into a bit more normality in London. That’s a post for another day, but what I do know is that fashion will become a bigger part of my life and my work again.
It makes me happy. It’s a passion I’ve held since childhood, when I’d spend hours sifting through my mums wardrobe, sketching out designs and dressing cartoons on Stardoll. However I know that since travelling full-time my thoughts, feelings and approach to so many subjects has changed. My approach to fashion has definitely changed!
Again, I think that’s another post for another today but for now I wanted to be super transparent about what fashion blogging used to look like for me, and still does for a lot of Instagram. My point isn’t to repent or to shame or to throw shade but to ensure that you – the consumers – are aware of the behind the scenes and the pressures that encourage them.
Obviously this is not the case for every outfit or every post. Nor am I generalising but purely looking to share my experience. It goes without saying that 80% of outfits shared are still in my wardrobe, but here’s the reality behind the rest.
Buying, shooting and returning
Let’s just dive right in at the deep end. A lot of what you see on Instagram still has the tags on. Why? Because who can possibly own all the new-in, hot trend pieces across all major high street stores and still pay their electricity bill, or at the least, have somewhere to store them?
Due to the pressure to be constantly featuring new, available and ‘likeable’ styles, somewhere along the line buying and returning became commonplace. The concept itself is not exactly new, nor that different from figures wearing press samples as a one off, the difference here is simply that this is an individual shopping, paying, shooting and then sending back for a refund.
Does it really matter? Yes and no. Brands are wise to it – ASOS even introduced an account-banning policy for repeat offenders – and of course it must cost them money in returns, but then they’re also receiving a lot of free advertising, repost-able content and sales via influencers. My sympathies here do not lie with a mass corporation.
They don’t even really lie with the consumer. I think it’s important there’s transparency; you might feel a bit sad if you’re buying your favourite bloggers ‘favourite’ new skirt, only to find it was back in the hands of the post office the next day. Really though, if you like the skirt, you haven’t been conned; you choose what you do and don’t purchase. Further, I’d hope anyone using this method is sharing things they genuinely do like and would buy.
A dress I loved, but sent back. I was abroad by mid-December so didn’t have anywhere to actually wear it.
Things get tricky when it’s just for the ‘gram. See below.
No, my sympathies are there with the blogger. Why? Because I’ve been there, done that, felt the pressure and bought into a practice that never sat right with me but also seemed like the only way. I’m more than happy to hold my hands up and admit that several items I’ve featured in the past went back again.
I’d reason with myself that essentially I was modelling the clothes. I liked them, I really genuinely did, I just simply couldn’t afford to keep it all or didn’t have space or enough purpose. But it didn’t feel good.
So why do it?
Trend led and the pressure to wear new in
It’s no secret that trends ‘perform’ well on Instagram. Suddenly everyone is going mad for see-through bags (still don’t get that one), for denim-coords or for that Topshop dress. People like them, in the emotional and literal thumb-tapping sense of the word.
Brands repost them, followers want to see them and shop them, the posts get high engagement.
Remember this is a job, an industry: it’s a no brainer to feature high-performance items. Right?
Further, followers come to expect ‘new in’. They want to be able to shop what their favourite Instagrammer is wearing, a swipe-up makes things quick and convenient and sometimes they even get pretty shirty when something is old or unavailable. Ask any fashion blogger and they’ve probably received a myriad of “link for the skirt?” DMs.
You’re our audience. We do not have a platform without you, we want to please you. We want you to like us, to like our content and to like our content.
So we wear the dress.
Except the awesome engagement that dress gets only rides out one post, maybe two. By its second, third or fourth feature, it’s old news. So the cycle begins! The pressure to be photographing and producing new content featuring new items, sometimes literally on a daily basis, can become pretty intense.
Things that look good on the ‘gram
Certain items photograph well. Outfits that are brighter, or fancier or just that little bit more eccentric than what you might actually wear to go and meet your pal for lunch tend to be really popular.
These ‘grammable styles therefore become extra alluring and I know that on more than one occasion, something I’d seldom actually wear has made its way into my online basket because I know it will look great in a photo. In reality, I haven’t been that comfortable. It’s been a waste of money because I’ve bought into a fast-fashion that isn’t really me and I probably haven’t worn it beyond that set of photographs.
Bad for my wallet, bad for the environment, bad for my wardrobe space and bad for my mental health too. That might sound dramatic but following this process usually involves some kind of self-doubt that the clothes I actually feel comfortable in are not cool enough or likeable enough. Told you it was complicated.
Note: I’m not talking about dressing for a scene. If you’re producing specific, styled content that involves carefully matching an outfit to a location and to a story in the way you would an actual fashion photoshoot then that’s fair enough. In a way, the outfit becomes a prop: a part of a whole and the end result is usually more stylised and artistic.
Of course, all of the above content is produced for free, or at an expense (the cost of a photographer etc). So what do we do? We hope to make some money from affiliate linking the items we’ve styled. The problem is, you can’t affiliate link something that isn’t for sale anymore and often followers are not particularly satisfied with a ‘here’s a similar one’ approach.
Then there’s the coveted big-name brand reposts. A feature from Topshop to their millions of followers can earn someone a few extra thousand of their own. To even be considered you’re going to have to be wearing new-in items and often it’s only certain hero pieces.
Some brands are even sending out a weekly email to their network of influencers detailing exactly which items they will be focusing on in the coming weeks and requesting imagery that features them. You want to be considered for a repost? You better go buy those jeans then.
Gifted clothing and press samples
Here’s how press sample clothing usually works;
- They know your size and address and send new hero items periodically (without checking first)
- They contact and ask you to pick from a set collection or from new in
- You contact and ask to do the above, or request something specific e.g. for an event
All well and good. I’m not the biggest fan of the first point because I’d prefer not to end up with things I haven’t picked, but the concept of press sample clothing isn’t a bad one. It’s a win-win really; new clothes to wear and shoot, free advertising (or at the low cost of the sample, at least) for the brand.
It’s a chance to receive new pieces to shoot (see motive above), to build a relationship with the brand and to go shopping without getting out the plastic. The only point where this can become a bit negative is choosing things for the sake of it. Which I’ve definitely done. Perhaps I’ve picked something that I like but don’t love simply because I’ve had the opportunity to select a few pieces. Or chosen something that photographs well, but then sits at the back of my wardrobe for the foreseeable future.
So what does this mean?
That you shouldn’t trust influencers? Of course not. Hell, I’d be shooting myself in the foot pressing publish. I believe that the more transparent we are about the workings of the industry, the more we legitimise it. I want followers to understand the behind the scenes and the thought processes; to see that although you may be following someone for their personality or their taste, you’re also following a business woman who sometimes makes tactical decisions.
I know that my own fashion practices will have changed a lot from the above when my content swings that way a little more again. Largely that’s because travel has changed me a lot as a person and the way I see the planet too.
You may think the above seems a bit silly, but try to see that it demonstrates just how much people care about the online space that they’re operating within, about what you think. Your thumb is your vote; liking, commenting and sharing content is a big fat YES in it’s direction. That doesn’t mean stop engaging with new-in or shunning fast fashion, it means taking a moment to consider whether you’re happy to see an influencer wearing old or secondhand items? If you are, show the love!
What do you think? Comment below or swing by my DMs on Instagram!