How Authenticity Is Making a Street Style Comeback
When Bill Cunningham and Scott Schuman first started shooting street style, it was just about people with an innate sense of fashion. Just people with great style. It's been 15 years since Schuman launched his blog The Sartorialist and spawned an obsession with street style. Now, it's a more complicated business. With the rise of bloggers in 2009, influencers first began monetizing their followings, forging brand partnerships that landed them in the front rows of fashion shows and on every street style slideshow on the internet, dressed in the brands and designers who were writing the checks and hosting their Fashion Week experiences.
Overnight, it seemed that part of the industry exploded, exalting influencers to celebrity status and making them — not the runways or the industry's old guard — the stars of the show. Street style was no longer about style-savvy magazine editors or showgoers getting snapped spontaneously, and no longer about original style.
Above: Taylor Tomasi Hill on her way to a show in 2011.
Street style was no longer about style-savvy magazine editors or showgoers getting snapped spontaneously, and no longer about original style.
For me, as a fashion editor starting out over a decade ago, the shift was palpable. I went from poring over photos of magazine editors like Taylor Tomasi Hill and Shiona Turini's looks, studying the layering, the draping, the architecture of their personal style, to seeing street style in the last few years as simply a place to view viral trends and hot-ticket items — Balenciaga's trainers, Bottega Veneta's pouches. It's become more about brands and the influencers they work with — not to mention white-washed and homogenous — leaving less room for self-expression and the things that first, and arguably, made it so exciting to follow.
But not unlike the rest of the fashion industry, street style is changing. With the pandemic forcing a shift in the Fashion Week calendar — fewer and smaller in-person shows, less travel — and simultaneously, a socially conscious rewiring, there's a noticeable difference in the looks we're seeing at Fashion Week, and the photographers who know it best agree.
Above: Two showgoers carrying matching Bottega Veneta bags at Milan Fashion Week in February 2020.
Seleen Saleh, who's photographed street style around the world and just released her book, Street Culture, documenting the street style of BIPOC creatives, put her finger on it right after the images from Copenhagen Fashion Week first hit, telling us, "The images coming out of Copenhagen were refreshing! There was more focus on Black showgoers and great style. There was also less focus on influencers."
The sentiment when we spoke with both Seleen and Acielle, of Style du Monde — who captures images for Vogue, The New York Times, and POPSUGAR — is that street style will reflect the larger reprioritization the whole industry is making. "I'm mostly looking forward to more inclusivity and diversity in the fashion world. Sustainability is more than a trend. We see fashion brands practicing zero waste and slow fashion, upcycling and recycling," Acielle told us of the things that are getting her excited for the future. And if we connect the dots, that emphasis on slowing down and thinking about sustainability and about representation (which has been so seriously lacking from the industry) means we're reimagining who and what we want to see from street style, too. That could mean less from big brands, fewer It items, and more from micro influencers, who are engaging with smaller labels, showing off vintage and recycled clothing. And like Seleen suggests, Copenhagen's street style is our early indication that that's already happening.
Above: A showgoer out and about at spring '21 Fashion Week in New York City.
"I always sought out unique individuals, including Black creatives. People have always wanted to see more of an authentic view of street style."
For the photographers, that also means getting back to what's exciting about the job and what they look for when they're shooting street style. "For me, style is all about self-expression. Simple, practical clothes can be styled in surprising and interesting ways. It's all about creativity. I've always seen street style as a source of inspiration. Every day, every show is different. There is always somebody that surprises me with a unique combination of patterns and fabrics, maybe classic with a twist," Acielle told us.
"My favorite thing about street style is getting really excited about someone and what they are wearing. I want to know more." Seleen elaborated, "I always sought out unique individuals, including Black creatives. People have always wanted to see more of an authentic view of street style. I believe now more publications are moving into that direction and more photographers are focusing on that as well."
The proof is in the latest photos coming out of New York Fashion Week, where, outside of masks, there is no major accessory craze, no ubiquitous fashion trend, no major influencers dominating the much smaller crowds.
With that, I keep going back to Seleen and Acielle's words, buoyed by their interpretation of the future and the creativity they each find in their work. Simply put, "the best style is authentic," Seleen reminds us. Now, we're primed for a moment when showcasing that authenticity may actually eclipse the showboating, and the spectacle that street style has more recently become may soon be a sign of an era gone by.