PSA: style doesn’t actually exist on the internet and this is why

Written by Naomi May

In an overly saturated influencer ecosystem, fashion on the internet is becoming increasingly plain, predictable and pretentious.

It happened slowly; very slowly and then all at once, in the way that all great realisations do, creeping up on you in the teasing way a sunrise hoists itself through the sky.

I was scrolling through my Instagram feed – something I try to avoid at all costs – liking this, watching that, when it occurred to me that none of the pictures, Reels or “dumps” I’d double-tapped had been fashion content.

Why, I hear you cry, had you not been liking content about outfits? Isn’t that the very premise of my job as a fashion editor? Well, yes, it is – at least in part. However, this particular session of doomscrolling affirmed something I’ve long suspected: fashion doesn’t really exist on the internet.

Of course, in a very literal sense, it does. A suite of content creators feed their families and keep roofs over their heads by posing for social media snaps in clothes. They have, in turn, added to the creation of the influencer economy in the UK, which is expected to reach £12.5 billion this year. Since the creation of Instagram in 2010, fashions and their wearers have cultivated the app’s reach to make pseudo-professions from, quite literally, wearing clothes.  

The rise of social media and influencers has changed our understanding of style.

Fashion, in my opinion, is not merely about wearing clothes; it’s about cultivating a personal style, one that enables a person to introduce themselves to a room without saying a word. If your wardrobe could talk, what would it say? But the cultivation of personal style is not what sells on the internet. What sells on the internet is having an “aesthetic”; it’s having a themed feed that slots into your own personal brand, which, in turn, makes you more attractive to brands.

Katherine Ormerod, former fashion editor and author of Why Social Media Is Ruining Your Life, is all too familiar with the plight of fashion on the internet. After joining a popular women’s magazine in the early 2010s, Ormerod was tasked with launching its first Instagram account in 2013. Through trial and error, her following quickly grew, establishing her as not only a tastemaker within the media but on the internet too. 

Influencers have snapped up creative director jobs at fashion brands across the board.

“Being an influencer, or content creator, is to be professionally popular,” Ormerod tells Stylist. “The opposite of cultivating a personal style, which might be classic and simple, is what you basically have to do to get attention in a very crowded, loud, competitive environment where everyone is, you know, striving for eyeballs in order to build their businesses.”

She references the fact that influencers’ social media feeds are businesses, which means remaining competitive, rather than prioritising self-expression or a personal style. The emotional side of dressing, ie wearing clothes to suit your mood, isn’t what sells on social media.  

Is the priority of fashion on the internet standing out rather than exhibiting true style?

“We all have different elements that make us who we are, but that’s something that doesn’t do particularly well on social media because you’re meant to be a certain brand. If you’re a feminine 70s girl or a 90s minimalist girl, that has to be your brand and how you dress for social media,” Ormerod adds.

The ubiquity of certain viral brands, colours and pieces on social media are part of the problem. “What does very well on social media seems to be not to look stylish, but to look rich enough to buy something box-fresh and new to wear every day,” she explains. “In my opinion, the old adage was: ‘You can’t buy style.’ That was always the idea, but that doesn’t seem to be the case on social media.”

In the transience of our post-lockdown world where defining a personal style that feels inherently unique feels like trudging through quicksand, I have vowed to steer clear of social media doomscrolling: the priority now is to redefine my own personal style, rather than a virtual fashion persona, and that’s something that can’t be found at the tip of my fingertips. 

Images: Getty

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