As Stylist’s fashion writer, Billie Bhatia experiences first-hand how street style has lost its authenticity.
Last year I wrote a piece about the baffling lack of diversity in street style photography during the international fashion weeks. As one of the very few plus-size Indian women in the industry, I struggled with the idea of street style and was constantly being pushed aside for a thin, white version of myself that was deemed more worthy. This season I had hoped that the attitude towards street style would be different, but sadly it remains the same, if not worse.
This season was my ninth London Fashion Week and the very first time I had been asked by a photographer (who wasn’t paid to take my photo by the magazine I worked for) if he could take my picture. I had been so used to being overlooked, I pointed at myself and said, “Me, really?” (Inwardly, I thought I was being Punk’d; no-one ever wants to take my picture.) In fact, photographers actively seek out ways to not take my picture. When walking with friends to shows I am shouted at by photographers to get out of the way because they are the ones to be sought out and photographed, not me.
And then the penny dropped. I had been filmed by the Stylist video crew for a few minutes and the photographer had noticed this. Suddenly, I had been validated as a someone, I was now deemed desirable to other photographers, but not before someone else had tested the water first.
As soon as I had one camera crew on me and one street style photographer, more arrived. The exact same photographers I had been stood in front of five minutes prior, the same ones I had made eye contact with as they scanned me up and down and decided in seconds that I was not worth their time, because different is not what people want to see.
Street style used to be about finding something interesting, something you wouldn’t see in mainstream editorial, whether that be a bag worn in an unexpected way, a colour combination that was jarring yet appealing, a convention-breaking hairstyle. It was about inspiring people to be creative. Now it’s not even about homogenising the industry, it’s about validation. It is about shooting the same named women with large social followings.
To me, street style has stopped being a place where I would look at an image and think, ‘Yeah I could make that work for me’, and instead has become a place where the message is, ‘You don’t belong here unless you have a following of fans’. When you are seeing full designer looks either sent to or gifted to said street styler, the images don’t feel organic any more. It definitely doesn’t feel inspired yet the photographers are tripping over themselves to get the same shot time and time again.
At a time when we are putting the weight of the industry on casting directors to make sure designer’s shows are representing women of all backgrounds and races – and pulling up designers when these are not abided by – why are we not demanding more from street style? Currently, it’s sending the message that women of colour and women of non-sample-sized bodies are not stylish. It’s not right and it’s not true. Just take a look at Nicolette Mason, Gabrielle Gregg and Naomi Shimada, who are redefining the standards.
At the moment, street style stands for a calculated checklist to photograph someone with a following, regardless of their outfit, instead of an inspired moment that encapsulates creativity.
It was an odd sensation being photographed by someone I didn’t know and it left me with mixed emotions – I was excited to finally be acknowledged as a member of the fashion community but not long after I walked away, I felt embarrassed that it wasn’t my style that had captured them but the sight of someone else’s lens, and a thought that they were missing out on ‘something’.
Worrying about your appearance is something that everyone in the industry has to deal with, sample size and white or not. It’s part and parcel of the world we live in, but it does not mean you are devoid of style if you do not fit into the constraints of that box. Maybe the conversation needs to be shifted even further as to why there aren’t more women of colour, more plus women, more minorities attending the fashion shows and populating the industry.
With Paris Fashion Week – the biggest and most demanding on the street style circuit – on the horizon, I hope this conversation sparks a moment when we stop and think about the roots and reasons of street style (OG street style if you will) and go back to celebrating the different, the creative and the other.
Images: Rex Features / Victoria Adamson