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«BLUETHROAT MANUSCRIPT REVIEW HISTORY MANUSCRIPT (ROUND 3) Abstract The megaphone effect refers to the fact that the Web makes a mass audience ...»

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these beautifully sculpted underwater-inspired designs, notes of McQueen and Balenciaga vaguely resonate in a collection that looks to be supremely sleek, finished superbly as well as showing a clear amount of ambition… I personally think NYFW could do with even more unique voices in addition to the city's 'new gen' that is currently being galvanised by the likes of the Mac x Milk initiative (SB 04/12/10).

Holt (1998, 15) describes the rendering of such taste judgments as connoisseurship, defined as:

“the development of finely grained vocabularies to tease out ever more detailed nuances within a category, the expression of opinionated and often eclectic evaluations of alternatives, and the ability to engage in passionate appreciation of consumption objects meeting one’s calculus of “quality” within a category.” Multiple elements of Holt’s definition are recognizable in the Style Bubble post, including finely grained vocabularies (“sculpted underwater-inspired designs”), opinionated and eclectic evaluations (“stepped it up a gear,” “more unique voices in addition to the city’s new gen”), and passionate appreciation (“supremely sleek, finished superbly”). This blog post asserts a strong point of view regarding what is, and what is not, fashionable: an assertion of taste. Thus, the blogger risks her credibility by celebrating this designer over other possible candidates. Such claims of taste can be displayed by posting about any topic germane to the fashion world, such as opinions on specific fashion products (e.g., feathered shorts, crossshaped rings), viewpoints on particular brands, designers, collections, models, and retailers, and also commentary on conventional media outlets, such as Vogue, and even other fashion blogs. A large portion of the verbal content of these fashion blogs ultimately takes this form.

The theory we propose to explain the success of certain fashion bloggers is that cultural capital can be accumulated by iterated public displays of taste that are favorably received—those which draw, hold and grow an audience. The factor that elevates the successful blogger is her taste, her greater degree of judgment power (Gronow 1997). Specifically, her aesthetic judgment in the realm of clothing is both good and adventurous. It is good judgment insofar as an indefinitely large number of other consumers, if exposed to that picture of grey socks with leather shorts, or that review of the designer Laquan Smith, will viscerally respond, ‘that is fashionable’, or ‘that is to my taste’. With the aid of the Web, such a display of taste can now win her an audience. In turn, that favorable response will increase her capacity to exercise taste, and encourage her to invest in further displays of it. The blogger acts as a connoisseur with a megaphone.

But the taste display has to be adventurous as well. As Bourdieu (1984, 91-92) recognized, there is an element of bluff in taste leadership—it demands a certain kind of flair.

Any catalog picture will show attractive people wearing nice looking clothes correctly combined.

But fashion is not a matter of right or wrong according to an explicit and ascertainable standard—fashion is not a dress code (Bayley 1991; Gronow 1997). Fashion doesn’t stand still, so that in general, repeating what has already been done cannot secure attributions of ‘fashionable’ and ‘stylish’, nor can staying within the confines of established selections and combinations of clothing. To be received as a taste leader, and accumulate capital, the blogger must take risks, such as wearing a Vintage outfit with fake plastic boots, or pairing a real fur hat with a Chanel bag. In fashion blogging, we find individuals exercising verbal and visual connoisseurship in the course of a trajectory toward an economic and social position that was lacking when they began. Here it appears that aesthetically discriminating taste judgments lead to an advantageous social position, rather than a privileged social position producing a particular kind of taste judgment.

This document is part of a JCR Manuscript Review History. It should be used for educational purposes only.

From Community to Audience The development of these blogs over time is visible in a second respect. Just as bloggers begin by sharing moments in their personal life, early in the blog they also adopt a community orientation toward those who browse the blog. Initially the blogger is thrilled to receive comments, and answers questions and suggestions with her own comments (Chittenden 2010), or

in her next post, as this typical example illustrates:

Thank you so much for all the kind words and congratulations! I'm going to answer all the questions in that post today, just want to make sure I address them well. One of you mentioned that headbands/scarves would be fun and it inspired me to dig up one of my favorite vintage silk scarves today. Kind of adds a more boho element to the leather skirt (FT 02/25/08).

Seeming eager to please, bloggers will ask their followers what they would like to see on the blog. Likewise, early in their trajectory, bloggers also will provide all sorts of personal information in response to questions, such as weight, height, and ethnicity, and tell where to find specific fashion items.

The early interaction between blogger and follower, then, is consistent with the treatment of virtual communities in Mathwick, Wiertz and de Ruyter (2007), who conceptualize computerized discussion forums as sites for the accumulation of social capital. This is defined in Putnam’s (1995) terms, as a collective possession from which all may benefit, and not in terms of Bourdieu‘s (1986) definition of social capital, as connections an individual can use to gain preferment. Mathwick et al. (2007) show how norms of reciprocity play a key role in producing collective social capital within an online community (see also Giesler [2006]).





Fashion bloggers begin in the same vein, behaving as if the blog were a collective good from which all can benefit through the accumulation of information about fashion clothing, and where all can participate in shaping the content that appears on the blog, per the account of authoritative performances in Arnould and Price (2003). Initially, the blog proceeds as if a virtual community was going to be constructed, with the blogger acting simply as one participant among others. But this complex of behaviors soon disappears as the blogger begins to build an audience.

As her audience grows larger, the blogger’s behavior changes. She stops interacting with her followers. She avoids answering specific questions, ignores suggestions for posts, and refuses to address issues raised in comments. Her practices increasingly depart from the problematization and instrumentalization found by Arsel and Bean (2012) in their study of the institutionalized Apartment Therapy blog. Interestingly, this doesn’t bring the growth in audience numbers to a halt. In fact, we observe follower comments to become more uniformly positive as the blogger ignores her followers more and more. As bloggers gain autonomy from their followers’ desires and wishes, they appear to be perceived as more worthy of an audience.

An important contribution of early research on online consumer behavior was to establish the existence and reality of virtual communities (Muniz and O’Guinn 2000; Rheingold 2000). It has even been argued that “community is the true ‘killer app’ of cyberspace” (Jarrett 2003, 339).

However, this analysis of fashion blogging suggests that community is not the only thing that consumers seek online. In the end, the bloggers studied didn’t affiliate with or construct a community—they built an audience.

To this point, consumer research has not often theorized the value, to ordinary consumers, of becoming an audience rather than joining a community. A possible answer comes from the organization theorist Karl Weick (1995, 54), who remarked: “when you are lost, any old map will do.” Postmodern consumer society can be a confusing place, offering the This document is part of a JCR Manuscript Review History. It should be used for educational purposes only.

overwhelming freedom to dress in almost any way one pleases (Davis 1992). Holt (2002) hypothesized that many consumers would buckle under such freedom and look to ‘cultural specialists’ for guidance; our depiction of bloggers as cultural capitalists and taste leaders draws on this insight (see also Durrer and Miles [2009] on cultural intermediaries). Consumers may be looking for fashion guidance they can’t get from professional and institutional sources, such as brand advertisers and other credentialed members of the fashion system (McCracken 1986).

Such consumers provide a ready audience for a peer consumer who has the taste resources to risk taking a leadership role. We found a large number of comments from fashion blog followers that

support the idea that what blogs offer them is aesthetic inspiration and exemplary taste:

Your dress is amazing, too bad it’s vintage, now I can’t buy it. But that makes it even more beautiful. With ur chain, clutch, and shoes makes ur outfit perfect! (SW 06/26/10).

I absolutely LOVE your blog. Your outfits are amazing, and it gives me so many more ideas. Thank you! (SW 06/26/10).

What bloggers offer, then, is not a supportive community, or a badge of group

membership, but an exemplar of taste. Bloggers are engaged in an enterprise of distinction-over:

in their posts they demonstrate a combination of clothing that may never have occurred to the consumer reading the blog, but which nonetheless strikes her favorably. Bloggers establish themselves as better at style than others—leaders, not fellow members of a community. This taste leadership appears to be what makes a blog sufficiently valuable to other consumers to build the blogger an audience.

Wow, love this look! It’s so different of all the others if I may say! Super cool! (SW 06/17/10).

From Curating to Modeling

We observed a third transition as blogs developed over time. From the beginning, these bloggers were oriented toward fashion clothing, much of which is expensive or hard to obtain.

This creates a problem: how can an ordinary consumer display taste by selecting and combining garments when these items cost far more than an ordinary consumer can afford, if she can obtain them at all? A solution to this dilemma, and arguably a key factor enabling fashion blogging to flourish, was provided by Polyvore.com. This website provides software that allows anyone to put together different outfits, using real fashion clothing and accessories for sale in stores, by capturing images posted anywhere on the web. Thus, in the beginning, a blogger of little means can showcase her taste and aesthetic discrimination by her selection of specific items from a vast marketplace of fashion goods. Bloggers in our sample “borrowed” fashion pictures from hundreds of brand web sites for free at the inception of their blogs to create fashion wish lists and to allow them to render taste judgments concerning the latest styles and runway shows.

As time goes on, however, this ‘curator’ role is not enough to satisfy followers, who seem to prefer to see the blogger as a tastemaker—someone who can actively execute her own style rather than passively selecting and combining others’ styles. This comment from a follower is

typical of the views of all the bloggers’ audiences:

Lately, I miss your outfit pictures a lot! I liked seeing your daily wardrobe… Anyway, I like your likes! (And still excited about seeing you with a short hairdo again) (CF 12/06/09).

This document is part of a JCR Manuscript Review History. It should be used for educational purposes only.

Thus, all of the bloggers in our study, save one, progressed from curating others’ pictures to taking pictures of themselves modeling a unique look. An example of a “daily wardrobe” post is

found in Figure 3. This type of self-modeling receives high praise from followers:

You are the queen of all things black—and you make it look so good! I love your sense of style (CF 11/14/09).

Wow coat looks AMAZING on you! But then again most things do ;) Your style is impeccable! Would love to get a full view of your outfit with the boots! (CF 11/14/09) Conversely Knight Cat, the one blogger who never reveals her own image, shows the potential cost of remaining in a curator role. Knight Cat did not achieve the number of followers of some other blogs, and the blogger has not become an industry insider to the same extent. She has third-party paid advertising on her site, but does not receive the invitations, free clothing, sponsorships, designing opportunities, or publicity of the other nine blogs (Table 1). Her refusal to move from curator to model by not showing her followers how she styles herself appears to limit her success in the fashion blogging field, in spite of her very frequent and well-regarded posts. We cannot be certain Knight Cat’s refusal to post personal modeling pictures is the reason for her differences in outcome, but the dominance of curating in her blog relative to those of the nine other bloggers was striking.

----------------------------------Figure 3 about here

----------------------------------We interpret the transition from curating to modeling (for the nine blogs that do so) as further evidence that what blog followers seek, and what bloggers provide, is exemplars of taste.

Taste in clothing can’t be fully grasped and appreciated on the rack, but only when clothing is worn—taste is of the body (Falk 1994). When worn by a person, clothing becomes a look, a style, an exhibition of taste; splayed out on a web page, it may just be clothes. Bayley (1991,



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