So here is my very first published article, taken from my magazine project I have to hand in in a weeks time for my masters, and kindly published by Bertrand, editor-in-chief of The Bertrand Times. Many thanks to him for his great layout and, of course, as ever a great magazine. Check out the whole magazine, as well as previous issues at: http://issuu.com/bertrando3/docs/the_bertrand_times_-_n_29_-_january_2011. And here is my article, which will also be one of the central features of my magazine project, based around street style:
And here is a more readable version:
Documenting Street Style: The Universal Lookbook
Walk through any busy area of central London. It’s guaranteed that you will pass at least twenty odd people with cameras dangling from their necks. Guaranteed is also the fact that at least half of those who saunter past, looking you up and down, will be out and about in order to snap the style of the everyday Londoner. People such as you and me have now taken centre stage in cyberworld, as well as in the pages of monthly glossies, where everyone from amateur photographers to fashion-conscious bloggers have leapt at the chance of finding the kookiest character, the most stylish, the least overdressed…the list is endless. Two words however, place all these characters under a common denominator: street style. Defining it, having it, finding it, developing it, copying it, documenting it. How has the street style phenomenon, and more specifically, the desire to catalogue other people’s styles, become such a critical part of how we define fashion today?
Ted Polhemus, the famous American anthropologist, writer and photographer who has explored the idea of street style numerous times in his papers, gives a clear starting point: ‘The history of street style is a history of tribes’. Towards the end of the Second World War, young people’s incomes were at their highest. This prompted youth culture to start expressing itself in a more individual way, casting aside the traditional wearing of adult-emulating garments or those which were suited to a particular time of day or night. Inspired by the emergence of different musical styles, as well as by the growing popularity of designers such as Mary Quant who made affordable urban clothing for young people, the youth started distinguishing themselves. Music started to influence clothes, clothes influenced identity and so the young people of the mid 20th century defined their differences not only from the adult world but also from one another in terms of tastes and styles. Cue the emergence of Mods*, Rockers**, Teddy boys***, and of course, the Punk movement**** which swept the 70s and 80s, led vicariously on by groups such as The Sex Pistols. Street style had laid its foundations.
*Mods: A subculture emerging from London in the late 1950s consisting of the wearing of tailor-made suits, the listening to ska, soul and R&B and riding on Italian scooters.
**Rockers: A subculture originating in the UK around the 1950s consisting of the wearing of leather jackets and the listening to rock n’ roll music.
***Teddy Boys: Another subculture emerging from post-war Britain. Inspired by the dandies of the 19th century they wore drape jackets, drainpipe trousers and chunky brogues.
****Punk: The movement emerged in the mid-1970s in the UK, US and Australia. Inspired by bands such as Minor Threat and The Sex Pistols, Punks wore ripped up clothes held together by safety pins and bodily piercing teamed with brightly coloured hair for shock value.
In 1980, a little known fanzine called i-D was started up by Terry Jones, previous art director of Vogue during the 70s. Who would have predicted that these first 40 hand stapled pages immortalized the documentation of street style? ‘The idea was to break down the pigeon-holing of identity and fashion; to go beyond the façade of fashion so you could play it as a game. So you could have more fun with the codes of fashion,’ says Jones himself. But i-D consisted of more than just pages showing the everyday amalgamation and transformation of individual style. Whilst in its ‘Straight Up’ issue of August 2003 the magazine proudly states its inception and invention of the straight up shot*, the team, led fiercely by Jones, have never really abandoned this idea, as they continue to invite the reader to display their personality and style. All the while the reality of everyday clothing was documented and the simple portraits of people in i-D, proudly displaying their attire, slowly democratized fashion by making the idea of the average person as a style role-model perfectly acceptable and, moreover, inspirational. Jones is not ignorant to the irony of it all either: ‘What I'm amazed at is the stuff that no one was interested in 1980. Street fashion is what everyone's interested now’**.
*Straight-up (as stated in i-D August 2003, ‘The Straight-Up Issue, No. 234): Documentary style of photography that uses head-to-toe street portraits to capture people in both real and imaginary situations and to ask them a series of questions defining their lives, loves and beliefs. Invented in 1980 by i-D.
** All direct quotes of Terry Jones taken from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/id-magazine-identity-parade-510928.html
It’s now 2005. Scott Schuman sets up The Sartorialist blog as a way to post images of interesting outfits worn by people he sees on the streets of New York. Working with the simplest of ideas, The Sartorialist offers a picture and sometimes a caption to accompany, thus digitalasing in a mass form the straight-up shots pioneered by Terry Jones of i-D. This is the documentation of street fashion at its raw core. An ordinary man takes a camera and makes a personal collection of styles that inspire and influence him. It’s personal, but relates to people at the same time; it contains intimate portraits which also draw the reader in as they realize their own potential as a global style inspiration in a single moment immortalized by Schuman’s camera. It is these dualities which have kept Schuman on top, with Time Magazine even naming him one of their Top 100 Design Influences. Yet let’s not forget the huge role of Internet here, since it has given Schuman’s blog the platform to become an international presence. It was the much-needed boost which showcased his genius simplicity: his recognition of the way that ordinary subjects can inspire people around the world at a time when street style had never really been made accessible on the web and to the mass gaze in such a way. For this reason, The Sartorialist is now one of the most followed blogs on the web and has even culminated in an anthology of Schuman’s favourite street shots which was published in 2009.
What is amazing about this street style phenomenon today is that anyone in a trigger-happy mood can become a prolific and subtle documenter of the styles of a certain neighbourhood, city or region. Moreover, people are now actually interested in seeing what your average city/country/urban student/shop-owner/granny/schoolchild is wearing. You only need look at the popularity of street style blogs which are popping up all over the net to get a sense of the scale of this movement. Indeed, bloggers are now taking it to the next level, documenting not only the street style of surrounding people but also their own personal day-to-day apparel, posted with recommendations about where the reader might buy similar items. It seems that we may well be on the brink of a social revolution whereby the emulation of our peers and their everyday looks is becoming increasingly more relevant to the average consumer who cannot afford to keep up with the cost and pretentiousness of the catwalk. Above all though, documenting street style gives a power to the ordinary individual never previously seen before. No longer is it the influential magazine editors and fashion directors who get to decide what is cool and worth showcasing. The ease of displaying street style allows a chance for anyone, no matter where they bought their clothes, no matter their size or shape, to model their personal style. As we stand at the turn of a decade where models, photographers and designers continue to be paid extortionate amounts, isn’t there something reassuring in knowing that you can make a similar impact on the fashion world with just your camera phone, old suede shoes and Primark bag?
Hope you enjoy it :)