confessions of a former fashion blogger
look at me, look at me silently
This Week in Reading:
Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet by Minh-Hà T. Phạm
Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet is an academic look at the fashion blogs of the late 00’s and early 10’s, particularly the Asian fashion bloggers who rose to the top: Susie Bubble, Fashion Toast, and BryanBoy. Pham’s thesis is that fashion blogging is an extension of fashion work— the text drawing a dotted line between the Asian garment worker sewing Old Navy sundresses in a factory in Southeast Asia, and the Asian Superblogger as a informational worker in the fashion industry. Though separated by geography and class, both of these people use their body to perform fashion work, and both jobs are designed to be done for little to no compensation. Fashion bloggers, especially the Superbloggers the book centers on, can and often do find monetary success from their internet pursuits, but this payment is peripheral. They are offered lucrative brand partnerships and collaborations based on the size and loyalty of their audience—but the labor of the blog itself: taking the photos, editing posts, hyperlinking each item, remains unsalaried. In fact, Superbloggers legitimacy hinges on uncompensated labor. We demand the objective neutrality of a legacy news outlet while we scroll through photos of Celine handbags and J. Crew pants, irritated when the ratio of sponsored to original content tips in the favor of compensation.
Pham argues that the Asian Superblogger fills a valuable and rare niche. Their Asian features paints them as captivatingly exotic to a western audience while simultaneously appealing to the massive market on the Asian continent. Unlike the Chinese language bloggers writing directly from Asia, the Superblogger’s English proficiency makes them palatable to the valuable western consumers fashion brands are most interested in.
I had a fashion blog in high school. The year was 2009: I edited the color hex codes for my blogspot by hand, and patterned tights felt like a timeless trend. I wouldn't have called it a fashion blog, and it wasn't, really. My friend Hui and I wrote it together, our posts color-coded to differentiate our two voices. I wrote about movies I watched, embedded Youtube lyric videos, and shared pictures of high school art projects. As it was, again, 2009, internet privacy felt like a major concern— we used pseudonyms and were careful not to give any location more specific than “Washington State.” And yes, there were outfit photos, carefully taken with a self-timer in the woods behind my house, faces for the most part cropped out of frame. I was no Susie Bubble, but for the time the blog amassed a fairly sizable number of readers and commenters.
Fashion was fun then. It was the era of Zooey Deschanel, chunky plastic jewelry, cardigans and twee little collars. I shopped at Forever 21 and St. Vincent DePaul and cut up T-shirts following instructions I found in library books. Tutus, patent leather shoes, and colored tights featured prominently.
I didn’t grow up in a family that valued fashion, or really physical appearance at all. My parents bought, and still buy, the majority of their clothing from Costco, punctuated with a few novelty tees that have something embarrassing like “Go With The Flow” or “Believe in Science” on them. My mom’s makeup collection was two decades old by the time I started stealing compacts of expired blush out of it as a teen. Caring about one’s physical appearance was not only silly, it was vaguely shameful. A kind of vanity reserved for trivial, insecure people. External appearances were inextricably linked to external validation—something completely irrelevant to my stubborn, overly self-assured parents.
People that love fashion would counter that fashion is a form of self-expression, a creative outlet untethered from the gaze of others. I probably would have trotted out similar arguments at that age. But in reality, I think I was only able to post pictures of my outfits online because it didn’t matter that much to me. If I had truly seen my ensembles as an extension of my identity, I doubt I would have had the courage to share them. Getting dressed was fun, and it felt good to put in the effort, to remix my dad’s oversized button down and Nordstrom Rack belt into a whole new outfit, and so I did. If anything, the photos were an excuse to type out two or three paragraphs of text at the head of each blog post. Looking back, much of my life has been a series of invented excuses to write. Taking pictures of what I wore to school on a tripod in my backyard somehow felt less self-absorbed than earnestly declaring that I wanted to say something in general. The blog was of course, secret. I have always wanted to be seen, but hate to be seen wanting to be seen. When I posed for my self timer I directed my eyes towards the ground. I could have a fashion blog because being physically seen, adorned in my clashing patterns and Urban Outfitter flats, felt like a flashy diversion from being seen more head on. The blog didn’t survive the crush of senior projects and college applications, and was archived sometime during our freshman year of college—an internet relic I have lost all access to at this point. Despite its long dormancy, I still found it too humiliating to discuss for years, such tangible evidence of my efforts to be visible.
Now, I write a paid newsletter on the internet. At age 28 I can admit what I could not in the 10th grade: I love attention, but only the indirect attention of anonymous strangers interfacing with me through a screen. I think that is why I was initially drawn to visual art. You make something, put it on a wall and walk away. Someone else walks up to it and looks at it while you aren’t there. I am a Woman of the Internet, but talk to me in person about my newsletter, my Instagram, my blog, and I grow inordinately bashful. Look at me! But silently, please.
It is perhaps ironic that my first foray into this dance was a fashion blog—fashion is inherently in the real world, each outfit pushing up against the constraints of my high school existence. Fashion may exist corporeally, but a fashion blog, that had distance I was after. Look at me! But please don’t make eye contact.
Being seen by ourselves and being seen by others are inherently entangled. My parents have selected an array of practical, comfortable clothing for themselves. They may choose their shoes for the traction, but they are also conveying that they are people that chose their shoes for their traction. They understand themselves as unfussy, practical people and they are perceived as such when they walk around Seattle in their Kirkland Signature cargo pants and REI fleeces. To not care about fashion is an active a choice as to care. There is no neutrality in fashion, because there is no neutrality in perception. We dress to feel and look cute, or cool, or pragmatic, or interesting, or invisible. Steve Jobs wore the same turtleneck everyday so he wouldn’t waste his time picking out an outfit, but to define yourself by your uniform is perhaps they ultimate way of tying your identity to clothing. Look at him! So austere and important, so above the fickle whims of trend.
The pleasure of fashion is its temporality, the way our personal styles shift with trends at large, as well as with our lifestyles and locales. Sometimes when I am shopping I will pick out something that seems very me, only to realize that it is something that I would love when I was 21 or 24, but wouldn’t necessarily wear now. I feel frumpy in a below the knee skirt, formerly a staple of my college wardrobe—but other pieces have made it through a decade of wardrobe overhauls. Moving from the northwest to Pittsburgh at 18, I suddenly needed a wool winter coat, almost all of which have been culled from my closet after five years in Southern California. LA has instilled in a me a deep appreciation for the diversity of denim, and a more casual, sporty aesthetic in general. Having a defined sense of style is dependent on remaining hyper-present. Not necessarily to the current trends in pant silhouettes, but to yourself, your environment, how you want to be perceived within the world at this precise moment. Zone out and you will find your style has shifted off-center of your closet.
I feel less connected to fashion than I did in high school. My wardrobe and lifestyle are more utilitarian. I can’t wear anything to work I wouldn’t mind ruining with wood glue, which leaves me with a limited array of vintage mom jeans and t-shirts I have methodically cropped to a work appropriate length. When I started this job I decided not to put a lot of effort into my appearance, but five years later, my work wardrobe makes up five of the seven days of my week and my relationship to fashion has dwindled. I have certain articles of clothing that feel special and uniquely me, outfits that I feel cool and creative and interesting in, but my mornings are rarely motivated by sartorial decisions these days.
In some ways, my sense of style has become so specific that it is difficult to cater to. I only wear natural fibers, and am meticulous about cut and fit—I need each piece to be the perfect color, hit in the perfect place. When you add the layers of ethical quandaries to consider, the number of items I can actually convince myself to pull the trigger on shrinks to a handful per year. It has made shopping less enjoyable; having a sense of style that is more defined comes at the cost of experimentation and freedom. It is probably better for my bank account and the planet but somewhere in the muddle I have lost the joy of getting dressed. I have been hunting for a cream, 100% cotton, raglan sleeve crewneck sweatshirt that ends at the hip for over two years now. If my fashion blog style conveyed a twee sense of drama, my currently personal style communicates something more relaxed, but more also more particular. Not an inaccurate depiction of my evolution in the past decade. That being said, I am seeking more joy in my wardrobe. More color, more pattern, more skin. I’m seeking more joy in general— my style reorienting itself in microscopic increments as I continue to endlessly reorient myself.
I haven’t been as present with the newsletter this summer as I would like— my day job has been more demanding than I am used to, and the renovation and move depleted me far more deeply than I anticipated. This is my first free newsletter in several months, though I have sent out a few to my paid subscribers. I am hopeful that I will be able to get back into the habit this fall, but in order to relieve some of the pressure and guilt off of myself, and as an apology to my paid subscribers for my inactivity, I’m pausing billing for one month. There will still be some content for my paid subscribers this month, but it will be a free little treat as a thank you for sticking around. If you are on the free list, you can still sign up for a paid subscription— last month I sent out a very juicy breakdown of all of my financial information, if you are feeling nosy. My monthly curated link roundup for paid subscribers will be hitting your inbox next weekend :)
Not directly about fashion at all, but I think Just Kids by Patti Smith is the most sartorially engrossing book that I have read. If you are more interested in conversations about race than convos about fashion, I thought Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu was brilliant.