In “Orlando” by Virginia Woolf, she writes: “There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us, and not we, them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.”
That’s a quote that has stuck with me for a long time. Where the likes of David Bowie and Keith Richards have defined what’s now known as the rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic, others wear the garb in an aspirational sense. When skaters wore Thrasher to show their support of subcultural publications, others donned the hoodies once they hit the mainstream. Nowadays, style is trending towards a sense of conformity. I think the biggest culprit for the proliferation of unoriginality is Instagram.
Instagram is a wonderful platform for the dissemination of fashion. Through Instagram I have connected with people from all over the world with an interest in fashion, and some of these people have become close friends. I sometimes find myself spending more time messaging people from these fashion groups than my best friends from high school — not because we’re better friends, but because we finally have a platform where we can nerd out about fashion. It’s something that I craved for the longest time: Finding people who were equally passionate about clothing.
When I found platforms like Instagram and Reddit that let me connect with both lifelong friends and strangers, I was hooked. At the same time, the thirst for Instagram success is not a foreign concept; there are countless articles outlining the twelve-step program for gaining followers. For some it’s a way of making money, but for most it’s simply driven by a desire to share content with similarly-interested people and to feast in the likes and followers.
When I really started to spend time on Instagram, exploring different fashion-related hashtags and accounts, I had the realization that people love to dress the same way. That’s not necessarily to say that the exact outfit is replicated by dozens, if not hundreds, of people, but that a certain, paint-by-numbers approach is taken to fashion. The people you see under the tag #thefeargeneration dress up in Jerry Lorenzo cosplay, while a search of the #supremenewyork tag will yield enough box-logo hoodies to put a salty taste in your mouth for coming up empty on the last drop. The thing is that there are people who will post outfits that deviate from the cookie-cutter aesthetic, but the problem with Instagram is the fact that these photos don’t get as many likes, comments or lead to as many followers as simpler outfits. It’s difficult for anyone who is motivated by internet fame to push boundaries because it won’t lead to the same success as sticking with what works.
I think this overlooks a key point, which is the fact that many people know that they want to dress well or dress in a certain way but don’t know how to achieve that aesthetic. It’s very easy to look to a person whose fashion sense has been applauded by the masses on Instagram and work to emulate it at the start. Once someone is comfortable with their new look, they will begin to post their own fits to the Internet. From there, it’s undeniable that many people like the self-gratification of knowing that well-established fashion accounts are dressing like them, so they are more likely to follow accounts and like photos that reaffirm their fashion choices.
From here the cycle begins again: Someone looking to begin to define their style will look up to more well-established users for tips and tricks. Because these users know that the more avant-garde outfits aren’t going to give them sufficient exposure, they will continue to post basic outfits to Instagram, which will once again inspire someone who is just getting into fashion, which will increase the body of people who are focused on a certain look. All of this boils down to the fact that so long as people are driven by likes and followers, which isn’t likely to stop anytime soon, the current state of Instagram fashion is going to stagnate for the foreseeable future.