I have been reading a lot about fashion criticism and the role that it plays in the industry nowadays. Are critics important? Do they still have a voice? Do they even fit into the ever-changing world of fashion? Honestly, I have no idea. In my opinion, as long as there are people who care about more than clothes, but about the sociological and historical context of fashion, then critics are needed. If there’s nobody like that left, then they’re redundant. Thankfully, there’s still some people who care (even if it’s a shrinking group).
In the clickbait heavy world of fashion journalism critics are being overshadowed by shopping listicles and selfies. Most online publications would prefer to post 5 short articles filled with fluff that doesn’t really make a point or leave a memorable impact instead of 1 high quality review or in-depth story. Discussing fashion in an intellectual way is increasingly rare nowadays, but fortunately there are still some outlets which quench my thirst for this format. Quartz and Racked are two online publications that I’d recommend, along with all of the big newspapers for their critics (The Washington Post and Robin Givhan, The New York Times and Vanessa Friedman etc.).
The general consensus on why fashion criticism doesn’t matter as much anymore is that it has no impact on a business’ sales. Fashion designers don’t need critics on their side, they need the masses. Social media has let everybody become a critic by sharing their opinion online. You don’t need to be educated or informed to say your thoughts on a collection, but your voice does matter. Olivier Rousteing’s high at Balmain directly coincided with when the brand was at the height of fame on social media and was being posted by people across the globe. It didn’t matter that the critical reviews of the collection touched on the repetitive nature, as long as the public still liked it. Social media buzz doesn’t always translate into sales, but it certainly helps.
I think the more accurate reason why fashion criticism has fallen by the wayside is because people simply don’t want to read anymore. I know this for a fact. Even just by looking at “fashion” bloggers who have huge followings and infinite views, you can see that the content they post is more image-heavy instead of words. When online, people don’t want to be confronted with huge blocks of text, especially on a topic thought to be as trivial as fashion. I can even tell this with my own blog. I know it would be bigger in terms of numbers if I tried to just post outfit pictures and click-baity articles, but that wouldn’t be fun for me so I choose not to. The digital presence of major fashion publications gives weight to this theory. On Vogue.com, the average article is short (maybe three or four paragraphs) and has at least two images or tweets included. Most of them focus on gossip or shopping guides. The reason why is that people want to read this kind of thing. Writing is all about garnering the most traffic nowadays. If a publication can gain thousands of views on an article that took 30 minutes to write, why would they waste their time getting potentially less views on something that took multiple hours to fine tune and perfect? If a writer is freelance, the more stories they write, the more they get paid. Say the base rate for an article is $500. Would you rather write 2 articles in a day and make $1000 or 1 article in the same day and make half?
If fashion criticism were to become relevant once again, it would take a major change from readers in terms of their behavior. For one, we would all collectively have to reject all clickbait. This includes commenting on articles via social channels, which still contributes to their statistics. The more comments something has, the higher it gets pushed in people’s feeds, the more likely they are to click on it. If outlets started to see a major drop in engagement in their current preferred format then perhaps they would invest in long-form journalism and criticism. However, until then I am happy to support the few remaining critics who still have a platform.
For further reading on this topic:
“The Importance of Being Earnest” – Style Zeitgeist
“Kelly Cultrone: What Happened to All the Fashion Critics?” – The Fashion Spot (from 2014)