Do you feel frustrated when you see your favourite Instagrammers wearing something you can’t buy? Or would you value the fact that your style inspo is sporting a piece from their archives that’s stood the test of time? Does the endless churn of new clothes on social media get you down, or would you be bored seeing out of stock pieces time and time again? Where does authenticity come into the picture? This and other highly myopic Instagram issues discussed below.
My first Celine bag, purchased for £1,100 at Bicester Village (original price £2,300)
Of the several and burgeoning activities I do to make a living, the one that attracts most interest is the work I do as an influencer. As a quick catch up, my career has so far spanned several job titles—I worked on magazines including Sunday Times Style, Grazia and Glamour as a fashion journalist after completing my Master’s in fashion history at the London College of Fashion, spent some time in in trend forecasting and early e-commerce before setting up my own content agency in 2015, then had a year’s hiatus as an editorial director at a fashion tech company. Now I work for myself, every day could be filed under a different career strand. From website project manager, e-commerce copywriter, print features writer, stylist, recruiter, talent co-ordinator, rebranding specialist and social media and content consultant, I cover the breadth of the digital landscape. I also, as mentioned above, work as an influencer which involves brands paying me for hosting events, wearing their clothes, attending their events and publicising their commercial messages.
I know several former journalists that baulk at the moniker ‘influencer’ and see it as cringey. Enough words have been exchanged between the camps of old and new media for it to be worth me slinging any more mud either way, but suffice it to say, I have no problem with being described as an influencer or even a blogger (though I’m certainly no professional at the latter—and I take my hat off to the bonafide players out there).
The one thing, however, that has never sat right with me about either magazine fashion or social media fashion is the endless drive to wear and buy brand new things. I’ve never been very fussed about being ‘cool’ or edgy and I don’t change my mind enough to have to change my wardrobe every season. It’s not that a new ideas don’t excite me—it’s just that I like beautiful clothes new season or old and I prefer to let pieces ruminate on my wishlist, probably until they’re in the sale before I buy them. Doing the job I do means that I am sent new pieces by brands frequently—and I know I wear something newish pretty much every week. But I’d say at least 50% of my images on social media feature some clothes or shoes that come from the back of my wardrobe rather than hot off the press and that in the context of the influencer world, that isn’t the norm.
Cost per wear, these Paige dungarees were basically free, images all @katherine_ormerod
What isn’t easy is squaring that with the influencer economy. As a business, blogger and influencers often say they are in the inspiration game. But the way the business works often means it’s more accurate to describe it as simple advertising. Growing up when I’d see an amazing film, like Clueless, or pour over a fashion editorial, the clothes that were featured weren’t just a click away—you had to hunt out similar pieces from vintage shops and markets to put your desired look together. So many pieces in magazine shoots would be credited as ‘stylist’s own’ or ‘made to order’, but you used the images as true inspiration—rather than copycatting someone’s style, you channelled the mood in your own way.
“Somewhere along the line, the fact that influencers and bloggers can only make money by featuring in season, in stock products has driven an almost rabid sense of constantly needing something new. It also means that you never see any old clothes.”
Social media began in a similar way, with Tumblr and early blogs creating moodboards which weren’t taggable—it was a creative not a commercial pursuit. While I completely concur that it can be frustrating to see a beautiful dress and not be able to immediately work out its provenance, there’s no doubt that the advent of click to buy has totally transformed the nature of ‘fashion influence’. The business model created by Reward Style – and other fashion affiliates was not only revolutionary in terms of lifestyle advertising, but admirable in their objectives to enable creatives to reap the financial rewards of their endeavours—and in full transparency this blog features RewardStyle links. But somewhere along the line, the fact that influencers and bloggers can only make money by featuring in season, in stock products has driven an almost rabid sense of constantly needing something new. It also means that you never see any old clothes.
Burberry Dress, purchased at Bicester Village for £219 (reduced from £900)
And when I say I old, I mean things that were purchased or ‘gifted’ two months ago…Personally I’m as obsessed with the oldest pieces in my wardrobe as the newest. I’ve got a skirt that I bought in Benetton when I was 13 that still gets pulled out on occasion. There are 5 year old dresses that I whip out on a monthly basis and shoes that have been resoled three times. I’ve got a Miu Miu shirt bought in a sample sale in 2010 that I worship and my favourite dress of all time is an Isabel Marant Etoile floral printed summer frock which was always about an inch too small around the bust, but I still pack it for nearly every holiday. Pictured above in this article is a of black dungarees by Paige which were a stretch to buy at £230 back in 2013, but have since been worn so many times I don’t know where I’d be without them. To me these are the pieces that make up my inherent style and are precious beyond compare. And that’s why I sometimes feel alienated from the head to toe newness that social media showcases so well—when the attention is so focused on things available to buy now, the question is, where are the lived in, worn and loved to death pieces that are full of memories? The pieces you’d rescue from a house on fire? The pieces that really make up a person’s style?
When it comes to designer pieces I’m always extremely cautious about spending huge amounts of money on something that I might only wear once. I’ve made mistakes in the past and it still chafes. Even if you resell your pieces, you rarely make up the full cost, so these days I prefer to play the waiting game. There is nothing more satisfying than unearthing the one that got away two seasons later for a fraction of the price. I couldn’t give two figs if I’m not the first person to be wearing something—I can however, pretty much guarantee that if I love it, I’ll be the last person to still be wearing it three years later. This is not the first time that I’ve mentioned Bicester Village—I am a fully paid up member of the fan club. Again, in full disclosure, I’ve worked in a commercial capacity (hosting an event this year at Epsom races) with the Village—but I was shopping there long before we started working together. Last year I bought a Celine handbag for less than 50% of its initial price—it’s a classic which will never date and I know I’ll be wearing it forever. This summer I picked up a pair of Chloe sandals which I obsessed over for months last year. Back then I decided I just couldn’t part with £550 for a pair of sandals. When I saw them a year later for £230—see left—and I was still as in love with them, the bargain made a lot more sense. They weren’t ‘new’ in terms of what people have seen on social media, but they were new to me and just as special.
There can be a lot of snobbery around pieces which are ‘so last season,’ but I think it’s pretty lamentable. Great style is great style, beautiful pieces are beautiful pieces. Wearing a new purchase before anyone then prompting forgetting about it does not seem aspirational to me. In fact it seems pretty wasteful, crass and inauthentic. It also fuels as need for near-continual consumption, which can be a dangerous mentality to promote. While I totally understand it makes business sense for influencers to wear new things (as they only make money through affiliates if their chosen item is in stock), I would just love to see a few bits and bobs from last year and a mix of old and in-store now—a little more of a window into their treasures as well their exciting new buys. And maybe that would help us all to re-assess last year’s LBD instead of reaching for the credit card.