The iPhone, the influencer, and the very uninspiring wardrobe

Forget Narnia and cascading fur coats. If Lucy stepped into the wardrobe today, all she’d find are Air Jordans, Dad blazers and Nasty Gal jeans.

I’m bored. I’m bored of home workouts, Zoom meetings, TikTok dances and cooking for myself. But mostly, I’m bored of influencers. I’m bored of their matcha lattes, beige trench coats, their slate wall backdrops and their vacant stares. In fact, they look pretty bored themselves. 

It would be cruel to pigeonhole everyone with a significant online following as a ‘boring influencer’. Yet it’s this realm of cookie-cutter social media somebodies that, well, influence the most of us as they rack up followings that stretch into the millions. Take Lissy Roddy, for example, whose streetwear style and nonchalant demeanour have helped her amass no fewer than 1.4 million Instagram followers. Since 2014 when she started posting her outfits, she’s gone from amateur mirror selfies to private registration G-Wagons and Grecian sunsets. All of her looks are instantly shoppable via the link in her bio, saving followers the inconvenience of scouring Google to imitate her style. With their oversized blazers and 60s style hair flicks, accounts like these have a generation hanging from a puppet string. 

Lissy isn’t an anomaly. A shopping swipe up link from these accounts can transform an entire cohort’s aesthetic overnight. If influencers can look this good all the time, then why can’t we? We screenshot these little squares or add them to saved folders labelled ‘outfit inspo.’ But what happens when an entire demographic is wearing the same thing? In short, it’s less style, more capitalism, where the act of acquisition trumps the art of personal expression. Our wardrobes are less an accumulation of lived-in experiences – movies we’ve cried over, places we’ve lived, an ex-boyfriend’s shirt we stole – and more an accumulation of clothes we saw strangers wearing online.

Gucci belts, Triple S sneakers and By Far bags are all an instantly recognisable part of Insta’s avant-basic influencer aesthetic. And if these products are outside of your price range, it’s never been easier to snap up fast fashion knockoffs. The convenience of the internet, plus the added bonus of knowing when something looks good in a photo, means we’re spending less time exploring, sourcing and styling items to truly represent who we are. Instead, fashion is served to us on a platter of commission discounts and direct product links. So, when getting dressed seems this easy, how could we say no? 

However, blaming the individual would be ignoring the real culprits: those who sit at the top, greedily rubbing their hands as an army of teens flock to snap up their Paloma Wool dupes. Fast fashion corporations are a dab hand at recognising the power influencers have over consumer behaviour. Take the TikTok leggings, for example. They garnered a tidal wave of attention after TikTok users worldwide hailed their ability to essentially ‘lift’ bums and create a perter silhouette. The trend mushroomed at such a rate that it was only a matter of time before UK brand Pretty Little Thing capitalised on their success, creating their own line of ‘TikTok’ leggings at a cut-rate cost. You want the chance to look and dress like your social media paragons for cheaper? You’ll be sure to find it there (at the cost of safe conditions for workers and an ecological crisis…)

It’s no wonder fast fashion brands are reaping the rewards of influencer culture. On social media, novelty reigns supreme. Its fickleness has manifested in a constant rotation of new aesthetics. Freshly purchased and/or gifted clothes are given their weekly airtime in a styling video or a couple of posts before being discarded in favour of the next haul. Scrolling through an influencer’s feed is like exploring the forgotten land; a place where fleeting trends that once reigned now sit awkwardly in fashion purgatory. But this impulsion for newness only encourages highly unsustainable shopping habits. There’s no denying that these influencers can curate an attractive Instagram page, but at what cost? Through perpetuating a throwaway culture they are also detaching any lasting value from our wardrobes in the process. Clothes were once long-term lovers. Now, they’re one-night-stands that we don’t text back in the morning. Right now, our closets make it clear that we know how to navigate the internet, but they are saying less and less about who we really are.

That said, social media can also inspire and democratise fashion, making it more accessible to demographics who were once gatekept from the industry. But we’re at a point where we’re allowing social platforms to dictate our style, rather than support it. Instagram is home to countless talented creatives with their own unique style and point of view, but the algorithm tends to reward mediocrity above innovation meaning the influencers who rise to the top often all look and dress the same. They’re slim, conventionally attractive and, more often than not, white. The algorithm seems to favour those who fit neatly into this demographic, putting a cap on the number of followers garnered by creatives who subvert and challenge accepted standards of beauty and style. Conformity is rewarded over creativity so it’s no wonder dressing the same as everyone else is seen as aspirational rather than the fashion faux pas it once was. This homogenising effect on fashion and culture shows how Instagram has shifted from a light hearted, community-based photo sharing app to a wide-scale shopping platform. Convenient consumption is now the focus, and TikTok seems to be following suit.

We would all like to reduce our screen time, especially since the pandemic has made screens the beginning and end of work, relaxing and socialising. Maybe if we stepped away from our phones for longer, we would be more thoughtful about exploring what we feel truly comfortable in, instead of what looks good on the grid. Swapping impulse swipe ups for slower consumption is not only better for the environment but means cultivating a wardrobe that reflects who you are and who you want to be instead of constantly chasing the next big thing according to Instagram. 

Of course, fashion influencers existed in other forms long before social media and our personal styles will always be an accumulation of people we admire, but fervent imitation just because it’s the convenient option is taking some of the fun out of experimenting with fashion. It’s time to find clothes we want to actually live our lives in rather than just dressing for the likes as idealised digi style icons navigate our choices. There’s nothing wrong with being influenced by someone else’s style. After all, that’s exactly what influencers are supposed to do, but the next time you add that House of Sunny sweater to your basket it’s worth asking yourself, do you love it enough to wear it for years or do you only like it because the algorithm told you that you should?

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