London Fashion Week has come to an end, bringing with it the usual reflections on whether or not the notoriously exclusive fashion industry has moved into a new era of inclusion.
Rosanne Stuart, an increasingly prolific 21-year-old model with down syndrome, walked in London Fashion Week once again after making her historic debut last year; designer Steven Tai and fashion photographer Rankin collaborated with a variety of models in order to make a comment on rigid beauty standards; Victoria Beckham hired the talents of 47-year-old model Stella Tennant, and Edward Enninful is at the helm of British Vogue – the first black editor-in-chief in the magazine’s history.
On the face of things, the industry seems to have taken steps towards transforming one-off grand gestures of inclusion into permanent, lasting change. But where street style is concerned...not so much.
Traditionally, street style fashion provides a snapshot of the wardrobes of the enviably well-dressed fashion elite on their way to and from shows. Photographers, some legends in the industry; candid shots of these impeccably dressed individuals, all of whom have the “aloof, but make it fashion” expression down. This fashionable cohort model items from the latest collections up and down the street, while others, perhaps an up-and-coming blogger or two, don marginally affordable, but no less glamorous, ensembles.
The overarching point of it all – of the street style galleries that end up in high fashion magazines and newspapers, of the photographers painstakingly stalking inner-city streets in order to get the perfect shot of slick-ponytailed fashionistas in tailored trousers or obnoxiously large furs – is to show us what we, the ordinary person, should aspire to be.
Year after year of soliciting those very street style galleries, it seems the diversity bug has yet to catch on in the same way it has on the runway. And it makes very little sense. Some publications are doing better by way of racial diversity, however. The Independent’s own street style blog features a range of people from various backgrounds, for example. But where the wider industry is concerned, it’s important that change starts from the ground up, and not just by way of race.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a disabled person featured in a gallery in London, Paris, New York or Milan. Nor can I remember the last time I finished gazing at a street style gallery without finding myself wondering whether all the fat bloggers had the flu that day – because they were nowhere to be seen.
Years ago, naivety and internalised shame about my own fat body, brown skin and afro hair would convince me that the absence of anyone remotely “unconventional” in appearance was due to their own efforts. They weren’t attending the shows, they weren’t interested in fashion, they weren’t at the level of the modelesque nobodies-but-somebodies who left and entered shows dripping in priceless garments. But really, that had nothing to do with it.
These people exist, and, as recent efforts towards better representation have allowed for, are increasingly included in this world. But it’s the industry itself that plays into their constant erasure.
Earlier this month, when New York Fashion Week rolled around, singer and fat-acceptance advocate Lizzo tweeted about being largely excluded from New York photography agency BFA’s coverage of fashion week. Despite, in her words, having had thousands of photos taken of her that night, the “only one on BFA”, was a slightly blurry, and arguably unflattering picture of the singer mid-speech. “I guess high-fashion brands don’t approve pictures of black girls”, she concluded.
It’s not a stretch. In a feature for The Cut, street style photographer Melodie Jeng admitted that “historically, fashion has always been racist and size-ist” and that “there’s an inherent bias in the air that says the thinner and whiter, the better and safer person to shoot”. Others admitted that the issue stretched from photographers themselves, to editorial, who end up selecting the photos.
For all those who maintain that fashion is an exact art, the bottom line is, whether or not someone is considered fashionable or remotely desirable, is subjective. Beauty is far from being set in stone. And if you’re a street style photographer with no pressure to celebrate anyone other than thin, white people, the likelihood of breaking the mould is even slimmer.
But that needs to change – and fast. There are more atypical British bloggers than ever now, and an even bigger following of people who draw inspiration from them every single day. There’s no real reason why street style should exclude them. Until the industry does make a change however, I’ll be safe in the knowledge that although they may not be recognised at large, there are and will continue to be bloggers and influencers in the industry who make it their daily duty to represent people like me.