During fashion month, when every fashion site with a photo department publishes slideshow after slideshow of “street style,” in and around the tents, you pretty quickly note the recurring characters. There’s model-turned-blogger Hanneli Mustaparta, there’s accessory-obsessed Man Repeller, there’s Susie Bubble in artfully clashing everything and, of course, Bryan Boy. These and other superstar fashion bloggers are always outfitted in a morass of prints, wearing hot-off-the-runway statement shoes and toting the season’s most prominent It Bag. They always sit front row.
Although it’s pretty impressive when a blogger has much-coveted Alaia shoes or Margiela vests (especially when they haven’t even hit stores yet), what some readers may not realize is that the blogger in question probably didn’t pay for those things. Often times, gifts are sent personally by the design team, with a handwritten note.
Gifting, of course, is so common in fashion as to be part of the job (as Jennifer candidly and hilariously dissected recently). Still, sometimes the line between what’s a cool perk–free drinks at a glitzy event, goody bags, deep discounts–and what’s an integrity-polluting “gift” isn’t always clear. While many major online publications have simple rules in place to maintain the integrity of their editors (a common one is not to accept gifts worth more than $50), others consider these free-flowing samples as part of the salary.
Which brings us to our first point: the only high-profile person in the entire fashion industry with unimpeachable integrity, dignity, and decency is Bill Cunningham.
Our second point is that bigger sites usually have some regulatory apparatus in place to make sure editors aren’t just blogging about the brands that give them gifts.
…Our third point is that self-employed personal style bloggers have only themselves to regulate.
The initial problem presented by gifting is that it calls into question the (potentially stupid) nature of personal style blogging: is it really personal style you’re demonstrating, when covered in things you didn’t buy? Or find? Or choose? (Hence, “curated”) If the shoes are courtesy Alexander Wang, and the pajama pants courtesy Celine, and the top courtesy Miu Miu… how is a blogger any more than a paper doll with social media efficacy? (Sidenote: we propose a new name for the genre, “corporate style blogging”)
Next there’s the problem of wearing those clothes and speaking well of those brands in the hopes of keeping those freebies coming. The $2000 handbag is an obvious conflict of interest, but it gets even trickier when bloggers are then invited to the shows, ostensibly to review them. They are not critics, obviously, unless a critic’s job is to gush ad nauseum and a critic’s back is considered valuable ad space.