Today, we are accustomed to the deluge of images of so-called “street style stars” decked out in vintage Chanel and sky-high heels. While street style may seem like a relatively recent phenomenon, photographers have been capturing the style of budding fashionistas for over a century.
The first documented case of street style photography occurred in London in the early 1900’s. Edward Linley Sambourne, a successful cartoonist, took candid photographs of stylish London socialites, many without their knowledge. A bit creepy? Definitely. However, it is the candid nature of the photographs that gives viewers today an intimate look at the essence of London style at the turn of the century.
Almost 50 years later, the New York Times debuted “On The Street,” a column filled with street style photographs taken by Bill Cunningham. Having a major newspaper take part in the street style phenomenon signaled a growing trend. Cunningham still serves as a fashion photographer for the media outlet today, providing slideshows of the stylish—both well-known and strangers—across the globe.
In 2005, The Sartorialist, arguably the most influential street style blog, was created. The photography blog (run by Scott Schuman) featured street style shots of the glamourazzi at fashion week. He continues to shoot all over the world to provide fashion inspiration to his massive following. Although Schuman keeps up the blog, he has moved onto bigger and better fashion exploits, including a gig shooting a campaign for Burberry. Schuman’s growing fame has even scored him front row seats at major fashion shows, such as Fendi and Prada.
Other former street style bloggers found similar success during the trend’s boom. Tommy Tom of Jak & Jil, another renowned street style blog, shot fashion week street style shots for major publications such as Style.com and GQ. However, it was the moment when Tom shut down his blog in 2014 that truly signaled the end of the street style era.
How did such a prolific trend fizzle out? Street style made high fashion more accessible to the general public. Any fashion-obsessed teenager could gawk at and lust after everything their favorite bloggers and fashion editors. Even Pinterest is inundated with street style wannabes. Part of the fascination with street style was that it could be anyone. However, this is not the case anymore.
What used to be random shots of stylish women wearing innovative and new styles has now become an opportunity for brands to pay fashion bloggers to wear their clothes. Many say that the spirit of the street style phenomenon has died—it’s just not quite as exciting to find a cool it-girl wearing an incredibly fashionable outfit when you know she’s probably being paid by the designer to do so.
So has street style just become a new form of paid advertisement? Does this change your perception of the outfits snapped on the streets—and whether or not you’d want to wear them?