Fading authenticity and walking billboards: The sad future of street style

Words by Bianca O'Neill

Illustration by Twylamae

VAMFF has come and gone – but not without another discussion about what the future holds for street style in Australia and beyond.

Posting on her Instagram account on Day 1, Dan Castano (aka @stylesnooperdan) said: “VAMFF day 1 done. If I’m being honest, not the best night for street style… I’m uninspired so going to bed now.” It follows a similar sentiment from Street Smith last year, who said there was a lack of creativity among the street style choices at the event.

So, is street style dying? Is it dead already? I’ve had many thoughts on this topic before (see here and here), so instead of trotting out my own opinions on the matter, I thought it was time to talk to the people on the front line.

So, here are the thoughts of three local street style photographers – and what they think the future of street style holds.

Dan Castano, @stylesnooperdan

What is the biggest challenge facing street style today?

Authenticity and saturation. Back when street style first started to peak, it was more limited and seemingly organic. These days, anyone with a phone and IG account can take street style-style pics (usually of themselves) and this, to me, is what’s brought it to saturation point. Add to this brands strategically dressing people and influencers wearing what they’re paid to wear, and there’s no authenticity left.

What does the future if street style look like? Is it all paid advertisements and WAGs dressed by stylists?

Sadly I think it will end up being ads, product placements and stylist-dressed celebs. But in saying that, it all comes down to what platform you’re looking for street style on. The big publications will always want the trend-driven items on the ‘it’ people, the indie sites will want the quirky, bold people, and the trash mags will always want reality TV stars. There are plenty of street photographers who still shoot ‘real’ street style and just use the imagery on their blogs/sites, so I think it will depend on where your source is for street style.

Myles Kalus, @StyleMyles 

What is the biggest challenge facing street style today?

For me, the most significant challenge facing street style is that its meaning and authenticity is fading. Street style used to be about showing viewers a wide range of people and the various ways they style themselves – be it in everyday life or attending a party, etc. (à la Bill Cunningham’s NYT spreads). Now, it seems to predominantly represent looks people wear to just a few specific events – e.g. fashion weeks and product launches. It’s exploiting the journalistic nature of street style photography by getting the people who are expected to be photographed to wear a brand’s products and create the illusion that whatever they’re wearing is the ‘in’ thing.

Photographers, editors, and publications that have biases further escalate the problem by only showing a limited number of images that push forward their agendas. This is despite their perceived responsibility to show audiences an expansive view of how people style themselves. It frustrates me most when I hear street style photographers say they won’t bother photographing attendees from certain shows during a fashion week because they know what they wear isn’t mainstream enough. Or that their clients don’t want/need photos taken at those shows anyway because it doesn’t benefit their commercial interests.

What does the future if street style look like? Is it all paid advertisements and WAGs dressed by stylists?

I feel it’ll be one of two things. There will be a turning point where people will get sick of seeing the artificialness of street style and the demand for real street style will re-emerge.  Or people will accept that everything’s curated and be even more sceptical of everything they see. Street style galleries will be reduced to just another form of advertising that has no photojournalistic value. It could go either way, to be honest.

Vincent Calderon, @yourensemble

What is the biggest challenge facing street style today?

From a photographer’s point of view, the biggest challenge for me as a business is covering the cost of my trip to New York, Milan and Paris to document street style during fashion month. I initially got into street style photography for the love of it (and I still do), but the cost of going around the world is a limiting factor. Another challenge or issue for me is brands using images for free to promote the sale of their products. In this situation, a tag or credit is not enough compensation for our efforts… that’s if they even tag us in the first place!

What does the future if street style look like? Is it all paid advertisements and WAGs dressed by stylists?

In the last few years, in Australia and overseas, we’ve seen influencers being dressed by brands to attend their shows during fashion week. It’s common practice now, and something us photographers have come to expect. It does make me question the authenticity of street style, but I’ll give the influencer the benefit of the doubt. I’d like to think they would still pick out an outfit they genuinely like and would buy for themselves. If the ensemble is aesthetically pleasing to me, I will always shoot it regardless if it was borrowed or put together by a stylist. My job is to provide beautiful images to my client.

So what does the future of street style hold? I think we will see more paid advertisements, sponsorships and influencers dressed by stylists – it’s inevitable. As long as there’s something that grabs my eye about a look, I will continue to shoot it.

Follow Bianca at @_thesecondrow, or listen to her latest podcast episode about the future of street style over at @thefashionpodcast.

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