Wednesday, October 14, 2009

why we need feminist fashion blogs.

There is an abundance of intelligent (and stylish) young women out there starting fashion blogs for all sorts of reasons; to show off their pretty clothes, to have one place to post all of their high fashion haute couture desires, to increase their sales on ebay or etsy, or, of course, in the hopes of finding fame and fortune. With magazines like Vogue and Glamour increasingly losing ad revenue and audiences to the Internet, more and more young women are being profiled and reverred in the mainstream media. To top it off, artists like Kanye West and Justin Timberlake, known for their cutting edge taste in fashion, have been plugging bloggers like Sea of Shoes' Jane Aldridge and Hannah + Landon.

So,why am I following the influx of bloggers myself? Am I striving for fame and fortune, or do I just want to brag about how stylish I can be? Well, let's start with a little history of my relationship with the Internet and fashion. I've been keeping a personal blog since I was 16 years old [which, for the record, is terribly embarrassing to read but I can't quite bring myself to delete it]. I soon ventured to greener, slightly more mature pastures when livejournal became available for free, starting with ocean_child and its most current incarnation, garconniere. I am quite active in a number of livejournal communities, varying from film_stills, thrfitwhore, to the more exclusively fashion based networks of newestwrinkle [first post in 2005], vintage_look, daughterofether and others. Sometimes I simply watch and read the comments, other times I post what I wear and ask for opinions.

On more than one occassion, I thought of boycotting fashion communities simply because the cons outweighed the pros; the privilege of white girls dressing up as indian princesses for halloween and accusing those who criticize them as being too serious, the "those pants/that dress/that style only looks good on skinny girls" comments (eating disorder trigger warning for that last link) on people's bodies who dared to venture outside of the conventional box. I briefly tried creating my own fashion community for those who were sick of the racist, fatphobic, and heteronormative conjecture being spouted in newestwrinkle and hot_fashion by creating stylishandsassy; it was quite a fruitless experiment (i was pretty much the only one who posted, and membership peaked at 50 members, compared to newestwrinkle's 7755) and it is now populated with gaudy ads for ebay and other internet sales. It was good while it lasted, but it proves that it is quite difficult to establish an online community to discuss this issues at length with engaging people, and then to maintain that community.

With all of these complaints, you may be wondering, why the fuck did you keep reading if it just made you angry? Well, the few positive aspects sometimes outweighed the many negative ones. Getting comments from people saying "you really know how to dress," or "nice armpits, friend!" when the people I was interacting with in reality would often mock my style or be repulsed by my distaste for razors. But moreso, it was seeing women like zana, [link from a post in 2005, ] who now has a great blog called garbagedress, witty commentors like hahawhat, creativetypes, etc. who never seemed to post enough compared to the sea of (mostly) teenaged white girls who bought clothes with daddy's credit card. What kept pulling me to check and engage with these communities regularly were the interactions between the members of the community: girls who liked fashion, were unapologetic about it even though it is often dismissed as superficial, and were never necessarily the people that fashion was marketed towards. Punk diy haircuts, skirts they made themselves out of old thrifted pillowcases, creative ways of pairing modern and vintage pieces, bodies that were outside of the size 0-12 size spectrum, people who mixed patterns i would have never thought could work together, but, surprisingly did. It was a combination of my admiration for these people based on their style and what they had to say. Their positive or witty responses towards negative dismissive comments usually won my heart. Simply by seeing someone post their outfits once every 4 or 5 months on a livejournal community made me feel as if I knew that person, and sometimes, they me.

It was comforting, especially in my late teens when I started posting, to find that I was not alone in my desire to be stylish without having the means to buy designer shoes or all of the things I wanted, even if it was virtually. Comforting to know that one could be politicized about capitalism, consumerism but still like fashion. To see the potential revolutionary aspects of fashion, to unpack the historical meanings behind garments, and to learn from each other's successes and mistakes. To see other queer girls who liked wearing dresses.

When I ventured back into the world of blogger and discovered fashion blogs a year or two ago, I was frankly shocked by the homogeneity. The themes and content become astoundingly redundant: here's "what i wore today," I'm not going to buy anything new for a year, here are cute vintage dresses I'm selling on etsy, etc. But where was the commentary? Where was that personal, political touch I love? Are these blogs really a new place for young women to develop their opinions and ideas about fashion? Or is it just another place to reproduce the ideals long spouted by runways and fashion magazines around the world for decades?

Instead of just bitching and complaining about the prevalence of pretty and lack of savvy substance, I decided to borrow the idea from activism communities: if you want something to exist or change and it doesn't, do it yourself. I want this blog to be a place where I can explore political notions of fashion (without using too much inaccessible jargon) and have other people give me feedback, and maybe even encourage other feminists interested in fashion to start their own blogs to start even more conversations. I have a million ideas I want to unpack, or that I have tried to explore in the past, and it is so much more exciting to have a facet where I can really develop these ideas in more detail.

That is not to say this will be a text-only blog writing about the politics of cultural appropriation, the theoretical underpinnings of self-portraits, and so on: I will engage with some of the staples of fashion blogs as a way of exploring the reasons why so many people do them as well. But! I wrote these ideas out as some kind of a manifesto, as something to stay true to while I blog. To remind myself of my original intentions as this progresses.

Here are some features I hope to have on my blog regularly (monthly or bimonthly):
- What I wore today posts
- Archives: I hope to share a lot of things I have already written about fashion by digging up old posts and going through my own personal archives.
- Links to interesting articles, radio shows, podcasts, magazines, academic journals, and other blogs that have interesting takes on fashion
- Film Features: if you've read my livejournal, you know I am a huge fan of films. I even hope to eventually do my masters in film studies! But for the time being,I will post anything I write about films here. I tried writing them in my livejournal but I think this will be a better place for them. Additionally, I will highlight stylish films from time to time (talk about superficial!) and post film stills.
- Photodumps: from time to time I will post some of my favourite fashion related images. Etsy favourites, fashion spreads, etc. In the meantime you can follow me on tumblr:
- Articles written by me: I really need to get into the habit of writing in English again, so I hope to write at least one article a month that has something directly related to fashion from a feminist perspective. I already have a bunch of ideas (the politics of wearing fur/leather if you are vegetarian or vegan, the social signifiers of fashion, body politics, etc). I will limit myself to 600-800 words for these, simply for my readerships' sake!

What I want from you!
- I want you to comment! Tell me what you think about my ideas, contribute your own, link back to your blog so we can keep engaging.
- Tell me what you think I am doing right and wrong: is it contradictory to be so critical of the sea of privileged white girls posting their outfits when I am doing the same?
- Point me in the direction of blogs that you think have got it right. I know a bunch of fat-positive fashion blogs, some really great feminist ones, some great antiracist ones, but am sorely lacking in the department of fashion focused feminist or poc blogs.
- Share resources with me. If there is a movie you think I need to see, a blog, etc, send me a message and let me know.

So that's that! Welcome to a la garçonnière!


Anonymous said...

I wish I had something substantive to contribute, but I just wanted to tell you I thought this was a really insightful post and I agree with you on so many points.

I stopped posting in fashion communities a while ago even though I usually got positive feedback about my outfits. It made me uncomfortable that it was usually so much about pouring adulation on the girls who were skinny/conventionally pretty/able to afford designer clothes - rather than about interesting or creative fashion choices.

Andi B. Goode said...

I don't have anything particularly helpful to say but I'm definitely looking forward to reading more from you, Julia! This sounds very interesting.
I tend to keep my (for lack of a better word) 'deep' thoughts to myself, even on LJ because I'm not very good at articulating them and tend to contradict myself. I also don't like the idea of rubbing anyone up the wrong way - which is why I tend to write out a lot of comments for communities and then never post them. I have to admit - I mainly just like the ego boost I get from people complimenting me. It makes me feel better when I'm feeling crap about myself.
Anyway, I just wanted to let you know this sounds brilliant and that I'm excited. =]
-Andi x

julia aka garconniere said...

skank-all-day: thanks! i've been thinking about starting this blog up for almost a year now, so i've had time to think out in detail what i wanted it to be... writing out my ideas really helped me figure out how to post things in here.

and i really agree with you about the comments on body vs. fashion choices. i stopped posting for a good year after one of my posts garnered more comments about my body than my clothes... it could be interesting to try and unpack that idea, of the connections/disconnect between bodies/fashion. i'm glad you raised that point.

julia aka garconniere said...

and andi! i still have to send you some resources, even though i think your paper deadline has passed. sorry!

however i definitely want to make a post on vintage fashion and the interesting network of intelligent young women on the internet who share their outfits, tips and tricks on the internet. i will definitely be asking you a bunch of questions when i write that!

i think the thing i enjoy most about writing online, is that i can look back in my archives and see how my opinions have changed or evolved. don't worry about contradicting yourself too much.

Rose said...

Hi there, ive just come over from Andi's blog. You sound really interesting, and you certainly seem to think about things alot (well alot more than me anyway). I think the reason I look at 'real girls' blogs is because when I look at fashion mags and see size 6 models wearing something how are you meant to know what it would look like on a size 8+ size. And also I could/wouldn't buy designer stuff, and reading others blogs you have people wearing affordable, unique, inspirational clothes with normal girls wearing them. For example since ive been blogging ive been completely inspired by blogs such as Andi's and fallen for vintage looks, stories, outfits.
I completely agree that theres those teenagers whose blogs are filled with clothes from their parents $, and then they visit your blog and say 'looks good' and leave their link...thats it, just because they want you to visit their blog.
Anyhow, im probably carrying on a bit now, sooo welcome to blogland and im looking forward to hearing more from you. Im vegan so looking forward to seeing your article on wearing fur/leather for vegans!

Rose :)

hannah and landon said...

I'm excited to see where this blog is headed, Julia! Blogger is still a new friend to me and I have trouble writing anything of substance due to the much larger (and unlocked) crowd of eyes it fetches. I don't really know what I'm doing with a blog to be frank! But I have no doubt reading a blog as open and honest as yours has been/will continue to be an inspiration to adding words to my own bubble of nonsense. So I thank you (and your wonderful armpits, friend) in advance. xox

reilly said...

I was directed here from Andi's blog but I immediately recognized you from LJ.

Reading the whole post I began to wonder why I blog, and it didn't take me long to remember! The whole vintage-dressers community are SO friendly and inclusive. Andi, Solanah, Casey, a million others. I was inspired by them in the first place and naturally wanted to join their throngs. :) I have never followed runways or fashion magazines because their images don't appeal to me, not like a picture of Ingrid Bergman or a college girl in the 40s does.

I look forward to reading more!

I think you would really like 'Gertie's new blog for better sewing'. There have been a lot of great posts and discussions there.

Felicia_Ceballos said...

Allelujiah! I never read really long posts but in your case I made an exception. Very well put. I couldn't agree with you more.

Catherine Shu said...

I found your blog via Andi B. Goode and I'm looking forward to your other posts! I've had many of the same feelings when perusing other fashion sites... I'm glad to know that there is a growing and supportive community of people who think fashion, thoughtfulness and feminism can all go hand in hand. I've been meaning to write a few things on my thoughts re: being an Asian American woman who is interested in vintage fashion and American social history -- and the conflicting feelings it sometimes brings up -- on my own blog, but am still thinking of the right way to present these entries, since most of my content is now just outfit photos and pictures of things I find pretty.

"But where was the commentary? Where was that personal, political touch I love? Are these blogs really a new place for young women to develop their opinions and ideas about fashion?"

I wonder if one of the reasons people are reluctant to do that is because they feel they are already making themselves vulnerable by putting up photos of themselves on their blogs? My sense from reading many style blogs is that their creators got a lot of crap for their style when they were growing up, or still do -- what seems normal in the blogosphere might make them a target of abuse in the "real world." Their participation in the blogging community is therefore a way of creating a "safe haven" and they might be unwilling to say anything that might put off readers. I've noticed that some bloggers are a lot more candid in the comments they leave on other sites, where perhaps they feel less exposed.

I'm speaking from experience... I've only been updating my style blog, The Renegade Bean, regularly for two months, and I'm still trying to find a voice for it, whereupon I've always been a lot more outspoken and opinionated on ShuFlies, my blog about life as a Taiwanese-American expat in Taiwan.

julia aka garconniere said...

rose: thanks for commenting, how nice. i think it will be really interesting to see the different reasons why so many people use/start fashion blogs.

reilly: thanks for the suggestion! started following, for sure.

felicia_seballos: aw, thanks! i'm going to try to keep myself to a word count/limit in the future but i thought it was important to really get all of my ideas out in one place to start off.

catherine_sr: thanks so much for commenting! your blogs are really wonderful. i think you make a good point about the idea of a safe haven... there has been so much said about the internet as a place for fantasizing and experimenting with different facets of your identity so i can imagine that could definitely play a part in people's desires to stay fluffy rather than express opinions.

nicolette said...

YES!!!! i love this. thank you.

Hannah said...

Oh Julia, I'm so excited about yr blog! I'm bloglovin' it asap.


Hannah Mudge said...

Great post! I'm really looking forward to reading your blog posts :) I blogged about fashion blogging a few weeks back and it really got me thinking about all this.

Anja Verdugo said...

This is going to be great. JUST GREAT! I'm glad you're doing this.

Julia said...

I assume you already know about Fatshionista? Amazing place.

Anonymous said...

I'm so thrilled to see you starting a political fashion blog. I'm sick of seeing everything you have mentioned, and have thought recently of starting one of my own, but I hardly have the time, unfortunately. I can't wait to read your posts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia! I've been reading your livejournal on and off for a couple of years...we were friends on it for a while, when you were ocean_child and since then I'd stop updating mine, but was always reading. I was excited when you'd posted a while back that you wanted to do a feminist fashion blog. And hooray! I am so psyched anout this. Hell yeah. Excited to be reading :)

Anonymous said...

This was a really insightful post and I really appreciated how you didn't harp on and criticize what we all already know about fashion blogs tendency towards being unsubstantive, but rather motivate us to dig deeper and be the change we wish to see. Thank you for this post!

• Choubelle •

Mary said...

Hi- this is interesting to me to because I have a fashion blog that tries not to conform to the typical, tired blog format- i have a post about it here:

Anyway, the internets are littered with fashion blogs and most of them suck.

Anonymous said...

I just want you to know that I found your blog, specifically this entry, by googling "feminist fashion blogs," and it's exactly what I was hoping to find. Thank you!

threadbared said...

I'm so glad to have followed the link from Renegade Bean to this one! I do Threadbared and it's so nice to see more feminist fashion blogs spring up! We should be internet pals.

Anonymous said...

I think we are either the same person, or just meant to be best freinds for life.
I started my own "political- fashion-feminist blog' a couple weeks ago and have had trouble finding any other fsahion blogs that weren't so danm materialistic.
At first I was excited that maybe I was the only one out there doing something like this, but soon my excitment turned into
"aww man, really? Everyone is that stupid and no one is that cool?"
But thanks to google, I found you.
And now I'm happy.
More than happy!
My names Natalya. It's nice to meet you. :)

ReluctantFemme said...

I love your DIY gusto! It's really inspiring to see, possibly because everything you have said is part of why I started my blog.
Growing up in a tiny country town I was pissed off there were never any interesting magazines around to read, and so I started publishing my own using a borrowed photocopier. I had no idea there were great swathes of other people doing the same thing elsewhere, or that I was part of "zine" culture. I just wanted something interesting to read. It's nice to see that kind of enthusiasm translating to the digital medium :)

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