«BLUETHROAT MANUSCRIPT REVIEW HISTORY MANUSCRIPT (ROUND 3) Abstract The megaphone effect refers to the fact that the Web makes a mass audience ...»
143) notes that “We think of our clothes as we think of our bodies: more so than other possessions, they are an extension of our self” (Belk 1988). This suggests that one can’t really judge the tastefulness of clothing choices until these clothes are seen on (some) body. Followers’ demands for taste leadership drives these bloggers from curating to modeling. An implication of this finding is that to be a truly successful fashion blogger, one may need to have a body type and shape that fits cultural expectations (Parmentier and Fischer 2011; Scaraboto and Fischer 2012), so that one can demonstrate taste on one’s own body. In this connection Bourdieu (1984) referred to ‘bodily capital’, defined as being endowed with a physique that slots into one or another local cultural expectation for how a body should appear.
From Snapshots to Professional Images
Once the transition to modeling is made, the taste imperative drives a further progression in the imagery presented on these blogs. In the beginning, the photos posted by bloggers appear similar to snapshots that ordinary consumers have shared among themselves since long before the advent of social media. Eventually, the bloggers train themselves or their friends to take professional-looking photographs of themselves as models. Part of the growing professionalism of the blogger’s pictures comes from better training and equipment, and advances in Web technology, but much comes from reflecting on and consciously copying the poses and settings found in traditional fashion magazine ads. For example, Figure 4 shows the changing style of This document is part of a JCR Manuscript Review History. It should be used for educational purposes only.
This progression can be viewed as the logical consequence of a commitment to aesthetic discrimination. Aesthetically pleasing clothes can’t look their best unless effectively photographed. As soon as the blogger begins to be photographed modeling clothes, she must deal with the visual and aesthetic vocabularies already established by the fashion system in which both she and her followers are culturally situated (Schroeder 2002). For example, when bloggers have mastered the typical “model in setting” images found in the majority of fashion magazines, bloggers may start imitating the grotesque (i.e., strange and unusual) images that regularly appear in upscale fashion magazines such as Vogue (Phillips and McQuarrie 2010). Figure 5 contrasts the early snapshot pictures of one fashion blog where the blogger poses awkwardly in front of a building (top), with a typical “model in a setting” picture (middle), with a more grotesque image of the blogger kissing a skull (bottom). This progression does not rely on better photography or technology, but a better understanding of high-fashion imagery styles. Through this progression, the blogger demonstrates the increasing sophistication of her displays of taste, a reflection of her ongoing investment in cultural capital.
Both economic and social rewards accrued for these fashion bloggers (Table 1).
Economic rewards include gifts of branded fashion clothing and other merchandise, paid ad placements on the fashion blog, and paid sponsorship of their blog contests. Other paid assignments included modeling branded clothing, designing clothes and accessories, and writing for publication. Their social position improves as they receive invitations to exclusive parties, runway shows, designer open-houses, charity appearances, and mentions in the media. In short, by the time we studied them, these bloggers had gained a role within the larger fashion system unavailable to an ordinary consumer, no matter how involved she may be with fashion clothing.
Thus, bloggers succeed in joining the traditional fashion system—they do not establish an alternative community on its margins or attempt to escape the marketplace.
A hallmark of any Bourdeusian capital is that it can be exchanged for other forms of capital. Making public displays of taste won these bloggers an audience. This positive response to their initial displays of taste stimulated bloggers to develop their taste further. They did this by taking risks and making taste ventures, while also upgrading their presentation of taste judgments. These developments iteratively produce a positive response in terms of a larger audience and a more favorable audience reaction. This process is modeled in Figure 6.
This document is part of a JCR Manuscript Review History. It should be used for educational purposes only.
As their audience continues to grow, bloggers come to the attention of the promotional element in the fashion system, which sends economic resources their way, in terms of gifts of merchandise, money for ad placements, and so forth. These resources, which fuel further taste ventures, act to increase the blogger’s audience, which maintains the flow of resources, thus setting up a positive feedback loop. As their audience grows, bloggers also gain social connections to prominent insiders within the fashion system, which lends bloggers more prominence, which again maintains or enhances the size of their audience among ordinary consumers, while also reinforcing the audience’s perception that the blogger is a taste leader (Pham  describes this as a ‘prominence dividend’). Having and growing an audience makes bloggers valuable to marketers and to fashion insiders alike, and the interest of both acts to enhance her audience size and its approbation for her, which recharges the inner two feedback loops in Figure 6.
Countless ordinary consumers, highly involved with fashion, dream of such success, but it is unavailable to all but a few. It is poignant to read this very early post from one of the
I’ve always loved fashion, I like to dream big, so I thought why not just put it out there?
Here’s some of my wildest fashion dreams:
1. Walk a runway during fashion week. I dunno, I always wanted to be a model, hence maybe why I take tons of pictures of myself! …
2. Hang with the big kids. Joe Zee seems like a nice and cool guy, maybe we could collaborate? Anna Wintour wants to have lunch? Sure! I can be there!! (I have a couple of ideas for her anyway).
3. Style an Editorial. We’re still in dreamland, right? …
4. Launch my own fashion line with funding. And a production team to oversee it all coming together. And show at fashion week. And then be on the front page of Women’s Wear Daily (WIW 05/06/09).
Collectively, across the ten bloggers (with the exception of the magazine front cover), these dreams were realized (Table 2). Blogging allowed them to accumulate cultural capital from the small seed with which they began: their ability to make aesthetic discriminations judged suitable by, and sufficiently novel to be of interest to, a mass audience of other consumers. Taste as judgment power fueled these bloggers’ success.
----------------------------------Table 2 about here
Practices of Misrecognition Having gained an audience, bloggers appear motivated to hold on to it. In this respect, the bloggers we studied had an initial advantage over Vogue and other institutionally sanctioned fashion outlets on the Web that also compete for audience attention. Since clothing is an This document is part of a JCR Manuscript Review History. It should be used for educational purposes only.
extension of the self (Entwistle 2000), believable taste in clothing requires that the blog follower, an ordinary consumer, be able to see herself in the taste displays she encounters on the Web.
This may not be possible when the clothes are worn by a supermodel in a setting impossible for that ordinary consumer to attain. By contrast, a blog follower can look at the taste display of another ordinary consumer, such as the bloggers studied, and believe ‘I could look good in that’.
Blog followers assert their similarity with the fashion blogger in their blog comments in many
You look amazing and don't even get me started on your rad monk shoes. i've got a pair, slightly darker in color and of course now, they will be so much cooler to wear since you have a pair, too. xo (CH 05/31/10).
You're so lovely in these photos, as well! And funny coincidence, I had a white lace dress with blue ribbons when I was little, and I wore it for my birthday for several years as well! That made me smile, reading about your birthday dress (CH 06/17/10).
However, once a blogger gains a mass audience and enjoys access to the fashion system, she is no longer truly an ordinary consumer. This poses a threat of loss of audience, and hence of her newly gained position. One possible solution would be for bloggers, after they achieve some degree of success, and begin to cease to be ordinary consumers, to actively misrecognize their changed status, and engage in practices that deny the existence of boundaries that would separate them from followers (Schau, Muniz and Arnould 2009; Warde 2005). We observed two discursive practices that fit this description: feigning similarity and self-deprecation.
Feigning similarity. Bloggers feign similarity with their followers by referring to mundane and ordinary aspects of their lives that downplay the glamour and rarity of being a fashion insider, with its special access and privileges.
Here, for example, the blogger complains about her small closet while posting about her attendance at London’s Fashion Week and the ‘gifting’ of clothes to her by designers:
I leave for Fashion Week on Thursday. I am so excited to be back on The Strand...probably stumbling all over the place on the impossibly unpredictable cobblestones of Somerset House. Also looking forward to seeing some of the most inspiring people I know. And best yet, I have some exciting clothes coming my way… So I hope to see you there! By the WAY: Have you noticed the size of my wardrobe in these photos?! Have you seen how painfully SMALL it is? About a quarter of my clothes fit in there, the rest are folded in piles that are forever circling my room: from my desk, to the floor... and I have even resorted to under my bed. It is a distressing situation!… One day I'll have the walk-in wardrobe that I actually have vivid dreams about at night (F 02/14/10).
Note how the blogger says she hopes to see her followers at Fashion Week, even though the event is attended by invitation only. In this way, she maintains similarity with her followers by deliberately misrecognizing their inability to join her at the event.
Self-deprecation. A related practice, which again serves to make the blogger appear less distant, is to express self-deprecation and self-ridicule, and to downplay accomplishments. For example, in the Frassy post (above), the blogger states that she will be stumbling all over the cobblestones, implying that she cannot walk in high heels. In this next example the blogger insults her own appearance during an announcement of her involvement in premier fashion
This document is part of a JCR Manuscript Review History. It should be used for educational purposes only.
Already looking a lil' haggard … I've been running around like a chicken with its head cut off the last couple of days- finishing projects for school and finalizing plans for Fashion Week … Anyway, I'll be in New York from the 12th-16th, attending shows and Chictopia's Social Influence Summit as well as the IFB's Evolving Influence Conference.
Hope you see some of you there! (CF 2/11/10).
This post exhibits self-deprecation (“looking haggard”) and feigns similarity (“see you there”).
The self-deprecating language that appears in bloggers’ posts may concern physical characteristics, bad habits, or embarrassing moments, but such deprecation never ventures into the realm of fashion. Bloggers do not ridicule their own taste in clothing. A blogger might say she has a small closet, but she would never say she doesn’t know what to pair together from her closet. A blogger might say she stumbles in high heels, but she would never say she had trouble figuring out which brand and color of heels to buy. Self-deprecation and feigning similarity emerge as strategic practices that misrecognize the blogger’s actual social position vis-a-vis her followers, consistent with the dramaturgical perspective of Goffman (1959).
The payoff from feigned similarity and self-deprecation stems from followers’ apparent desire to perceive bloggers as just like them, only luckier. Unlike the unobtainable, unapproachable supermodels, socialites, or celebrities in fashion magazines, bloggers were real people in the consumer’s own world, virtually displaying how to wear fashionable items using themselves as models. This perceived similarity creates the illusion that a consumer can trade places with a blogger at any time, fueling both heady fantasies of seamlessly becoming a fashion insider and also cementing the connection to the blogger. In the aggregate, feigned similarity and self-deprecation may help to maintain an audience for the blog, as depicted in the outer feedback loop in Figure 6, and maintaining a sizable audience is the linchpin of these bloggers’ access to the fashion system.
What is theoretically interesting about the strategic practices of feigned similarity and self-deprecation is that these are used by fashion bloggers to deny boundaries and misrecognize distinction-over. This contrasts with past discussions of cultural capital, in which taste is exercised to exclude others and to enforce distinction-between (e.g., Lamont 1992). By contrast, bloggers’ cultural capital issues from their success in drawing and holding an audience, and continued success in that endeavor requires misrecognition of the boundaries that come to separate blogger from follower. Fashion blogging thus reveals how cultural capital can operate in unsuspected ways to efface rather than enforce boundaries.