The Lack of Honest Critiques in Fashion
Jason Dike’s op-ed today in Business of Fashion is interesting. It’s about designer fashion mostly, but the idea here applies much more broadly. I wouldn’t consider myself a fashion writer, but I’ve written for a number of style sections in newspapers and magazines, as well as a couple of dedicated fashion publications. It’s amazing how the influence of advertisers can sneakily make its way into editorial content. I’ll save those horror stories for another day, but suffice to say, I’m rather proud to write for Put This On, where I can genuinely say this sort of thing doesn’t happen. 
Anyway, an excerpt:

Cathy Horyn’s retirement has reignited the debate about the state of fashion criticism. It’s been asked whether her departure from her post at The New York Times spells the end of honest critique. But this has always been a rather simplistic argument. The issue isn’t what Cathy Horyn’s departure means for fashion, but whether the current media environment can produce another critic of Horyn’s ilk.
Several of fashion’s most independent, well-versed, fearless and knowledgeable critics got their start working at local and regional newspapers. Horyn worked at Detroit News for four years. Robin Givhan started at the Detroit Free Press, where she worked for seven years. Lynn Yaeger worked at The Village Voice for three decades.
[…]
Why is this important?
Because young writers working at these kinds of papers were able to learn their trade from experienced journalists and, critically, write in the context of a business that wasn’t totally reliant on fashion advertising for income. But with these kinds of outlets either shrinking, disappearing or slashing budgets, there is a chasm where this important stepping stone once was.
That doesn’t mean that the world is devoid of media outlets for fashion coverage. Quite the opposite. But most fashion outlets are visually driven and depend on fashion advertising for their survival. Thus, it’s bad business to publish anything negative about an advertiser or potential advertiser, leaving very little room for honest critique.
As the interconnectedness of the web brings content and commerce closer together, online stores have begun investing significant sums of money in creating well-written editorial. But a shop is essentially there to sell product, so real critique is out of the question.

You can read the whole article here. 
So much of what passes for fashion media these days is little more than a thinly masked advertorials. That includes many blogs, where affiliate links, referral links, free products, and cozy relationships between bloggers and brands have ruined the ability to produce independent, honest critiques. On many blogs, I can tell you a couple of days beforehand what’s going to be published, because I get the same press releases with the same bullet points. Many are just recycling press releases with little to no personal input. And we’re not just talking about the kind of sites that announce products (where such a thing can probably be expected), but bloggers who are considered “independent voices.” #Influencers, as I think Twitter users call them. 
Menswear blogging used to hold so much promise as a form of independent media, but as the influence of blogs has grown, many have been co-opted by brands. These days, some blogs have lower ethical standards than print publications, as there are no editors to oversee the operation. If anyone has critiques about fashion magazines, know that things can be doubly worse in the blogosphere. 

The Lack of Honest Critiques in Fashion

Jason Dike’s op-ed today in Business of Fashion is interesting. It’s about designer fashion mostly, but the idea here applies much more broadly. I wouldn’t consider myself a fashion writer, but I’ve written for a number of style sections in newspapers and magazines, as well as a couple of dedicated fashion publications. It’s amazing how the influence of advertisers can sneakily make its way into editorial content. I’ll save those horror stories for another day, but suffice to say, I’m rather proud to write for Put This On, where I can genuinely say this sort of thing doesn’t happen. 

Anyway, an excerpt:

Cathy Horyn’s retirement has reignited the debate about the state of fashion criticism. It’s been asked whether her departure from her post at The New York Times spells the end of honest critique. But this has always been a rather simplistic argument. The issue isn’t what Cathy Horyn’s departure means for fashion, but whether the current media environment can produce another critic of Horyn’s ilk.

Several of fashion’s most independent, well-versed, fearless and knowledgeable critics got their start working at local and regional newspapers. Horyn worked at Detroit News for four years. Robin Givhan started at the Detroit Free Press, where she worked for seven years. Lynn Yaeger worked at The Village Voice for three decades.

[…]

Why is this important?

Because young writers working at these kinds of papers were able to learn their trade from experienced journalists and, critically, write in the context of a business that wasn’t totally reliant on fashion advertising for income. But with these kinds of outlets either shrinking, disappearing or slashing budgets, there is a chasm where this important stepping stone once was.

That doesn’t mean that the world is devoid of media outlets for fashion coverage. Quite the opposite. But most fashion outlets are visually driven and depend on fashion advertising for their survival. Thus, it’s bad business to publish anything negative about an advertiser or potential advertiser, leaving very little room for honest critique.

As the interconnectedness of the web brings content and commerce closer together, online stores have begun investing significant sums of money in creating well-written editorial. But a shop is essentially there to sell product, so real critique is out of the question.

You can read the whole article here

So much of what passes for fashion media these days is little more than a thinly masked advertorials. That includes many blogs, where affiliate links, referral links, free products, and cozy relationships between bloggers and brands have ruined the ability to produce independent, honest critiques. On many blogs, I can tell you a couple of days beforehand what’s going to be published, because I get the same press releases with the same bullet points. Many are just recycling press releases with little to no personal input. And we’re not just talking about the kind of sites that announce products (where such a thing can probably be expected), but bloggers who are considered “independent voices.” #Influencers, as I think Twitter users call them. 

Menswear blogging used to hold so much promise as a form of independent media, but as the influence of blogs has grown, many have been co-opted by brands. These days, some blogs have lower ethical standards than print publications, as there are no editors to oversee the operation. If anyone has critiques about fashion magazines, know that things can be doubly worse in the blogosphere. 

Menswear and Media

The whole system has become completely democratic. Literally anyone who has a £250 Argos computer can start their own blog, and can publish to the world anything and everything from their views on the merits of the double-breasted suit to the size to what they had for breakfast that morning.

The result of this, of course, is that when you open the sluice gates, you let everything in, good and bad. The upside is that we, the readers, get access to almost everything that is happening in the world of menswear. The downside is that we, the readers, get access to almost everything that is happening in the world of menswear.

ThisFits just posted a link to this really interesting article about how things have changed with the arrival of menswear bloggers. 

Outside of menswear, I spend a lot of my time reading about economics and politics, and this issue has been treaded over many times. As one argument goes, before the internet, we had identifiable public intellectuals who had to climb their way up through the ranks - usually academic or journalism ranks - before they could be taken seriously. They had to have rigorous training of some kind, and were held to high professional standards. Nowadays, anyone with a laptop can prattle on about the Middle East conflict or state of the global economy. There is no need to prove yourself to other intellectuals or have newspaper editors check your facts. All you need is an account at Blogspot. 

One of the important things to recognize here is that traditional media failed the public long before blogs were even around. The death of the public intellectual happened arguably in the 1980s or 1990s, and that’s just in social commentary; it happened much earlier in the arts. Where we used to have Bertrand Russell and George Orwell, we now have David Brooks and Paul Krugman. Even Maureen Dowd has a column (how I have no idea). I like Brooks and Krugman, but they’re no Russell or Orwell. 

Contrast that with blogs, where the conversation is a thousand times richer than what you’d find in most mainstream magazines and newspapers. To be sure, there are still great publications such as The Financial TimesThe Economist, and Harpers, but most mainstream publications are pretty devoid of any serious insight. In my opinion, blogs have saved the public discourse on politics and economics. 

Bringing this back to menswear, I think it’s the same situation. Outside of some niche Japanese magazines, I find the conversation on the blogosphere to be generally richer than anywhere else. Sure, we bloggers don’t have editors to vet us or people to check our facts. Most of us don’t even get access to trade shows or receive any press releases. But we’re kicking ass. 

Long before I started blogging, I was a huge fan of A Continuous Lean, Put This On, Sartorially Inclined, etc. Michael Williams at ACL created a really compelling view of men’s style, Jesse wrote great posts on the basics of how to dress well, and Lawrence at Sartorially Inclined introduced me to more interesting brands each week than I probably got from any magazine in a year. These people were not only posting great content, but given how much stuff was written in a month, it was actually more information about menswear than I would receive in my magazines. 

I also think people are pretty good at identifying who’s worth reading. Check out this old post that Jesse made at the beginning of this year. I would bet money that if you looked at the Google Reader stats for any crappy blog, they wouldn’t match up to any of the blogs on Jesse’s list. Though some of my favorite blogs are actually at the bottom of that list, it remains that the people who deserve attention are getting it. My own blog, Die, Workwear!, has had the amazing fortune of growing really well since I’ve started. I’d like to think it’s because I try to write as substantively as I can, and people respond to that. 

There’s a theory out there called Condorcet’s theorem. Roughly speaking, it says that if you take a group of people who each have over a 50% chance of being correct, they will as a collective make a better decision than any single person. I’d like to think that this is happening with menswear blogs. Allowing the public to decide which voices are worthy of listening to, instead of just giving that power to one editor, seems to have allowed better content to emerge. This is one instance with rapid democratization has been incredibly successful. 

A Guide to Bad Taste

I’m going to be frank - most menswear blogs make for terrible reading. Bloggers mostly rely on meaningless superlatives, platitudes, and hackneyed phrases. I’ll often read through entire posts and walk away with nothing. It’s like people are just rehashing press releases. 

I’m not saying I’m any different. Just last month, Jesse (rightly) gave me a friendly knock for using the phrase “pop of color” in a draft I was working on. I admit that I often hurry through my writing. I try to publish something at least once a day and still have enough time to work on my dissertation. As a result, my writing can be a bit sloppy sometimes. 

There are exceptions of course. For example, I draw a lot of inspiration from Christian Chensvold over at Ivy-Style. I’m also a big fan of Simon Crompton at Permanent Style. Both are excellent writers. 

My favorite, however, is John Lugg, the writer behind A Guide to Bad Taste. He doesn’t dispense with advice as much as other blogs do. Instead, his blog is more like a collection of short stories based on our menswear subculture. His posts are always really enjoyable to read and often funny. Take some time today to read a few of his posts. I think you’ll like them.