just a thought – the power of personality

A major parallel trend I have noticed both in fashion and blogging is the trend towards the power of personality.

Any close examination of fashion history will reveal that its focus is constantly shifting and so is its center of power.  As I described after reading Model, the various arms of the industry are constantly trying to seize the reigns of the entire industry, to attempt to steer it in their favour.  At various points in the last century, we’ve seen models, magazine editors, designers and others wrest the spotlight away from each other in turn, or kowtow to whoever seems to control the current zeitgeist.  Much as a fashion object like clogs wins and loses favour, so do the groups that form the greater entity that we call the fashion industry.  Most recently we have seen the fashion industry become supplicant to the idea of celebrity – whether its celebrities on the covers of magazines, celebrity fashion lines and endorsements, or celebrity judges (of questionable authority) for fashion competitions, the past decade in fashion belonged to celebrity, much as past decades belonged to brands, or supermodels, or designers, or editors.

Blogging is a relatively new subsection to fashion, and yet its short history has already gone through some massive shifts in focus – from the early, romantic preoccupation with ideas (’05 to ’06) to the pragmatic obsession with speed (’07 to ’08), and now resolutely embracing (along with the rest of modern culture) the power of personality.

It was in 2008 when I started to really notice the growing influence a new breed of bloggers which I would describe as “personality bloggers”.  These bloggers focus less on a particular niche or topic than they did on themselves – creating an artfully crafted online persona was their main mandate.  How do you tell a personality blogger?  Their URL is often their own name; their face is in the header – and in most if not all of their posts. Most of all, when a personality blogger is successful, they are very successful – even if the content isn’t particularly powerful.  Its a genre that rewards photogenic faces and popularity begets more popularity.  Scientifically, human brains are primarily responsive to human faces – I just heard that on Radiolab. Also, we are evolutionarily hardwired to devote attention towards those we perceive as being powerful. Its a survival mechanism if you’re living in a pack of apes when the leaders of the pack directly determine the quality of your own life. Whether its still a useful instinct is debatable.  In any case, personality blogging has been an inexorable force to contend with as a fashion blogger, and the lines between fashion bloggers and personality bloggers have been becoming tremendously blurred.

As we are watching fashion begin the backlash against the celebrity trend (designers trying to distance themselves, denying celebrity attendance at fashion shows, etc), timing is perfect for the rise of the personality.  The difference between celebrity and personality is a fuzzy one – but the essence of it is that personality is something which is more accessible, less godlike, and usually the individual addresses their audience in a very direct way.  The trend towards “reality” within celebrity culture to me represents the process of downgrading stars into personalities, just as “cewebrity” mirrors the process by upgrading bloggers to the level of personalities.  It just happens that the development of platforms like blogs and twitter is tremendously supportive of the development of personalities – because they are types of media which are easily controlled by a single individual.

I have noticed the effects of the power of personality even here on my own blog, and my own feelings towards these changes are ambivalent at best.  I am a fashion illustrator who spends a lot of time and effort crafting drawings, paintings, and paper dolls, and as a blogger I like to explore history and ideas.  Even so, current reactions to my art and my writing in no way compare to the response I get for my infrequent “outfit” posts.  It is a somewhat unsatisfying form of validation to receive more acclaim for a snapshot of myself in a jacket I got at the thrift store than for a painting I spent days creating.

And yet, this is the reality of the situation.  Bloggers who make a point of keeping their face and name off their blog are playing with a major handicap. Anonymity is anathema in the current atmosphere. Accolades go to those who can artfully package themselves using their own image and more often than not, their own URL. First person posts and opinions gather more momentum than carefully researched, more balanced writing. Unfortunately, the positive effect of being able to define oneself independently without depending on affiliations is counteracted by the overwhelming pressures of appearance over substance, and the inevitable economic necessity of cultivating hits rather than creating original work.

Who can name the people who write for GQ, or Glamour, and how many magazine websites are worth subscribing to? And yet we know all the top style bloggers on a first name basis. How many of you follow Lisa Tant on twitter but don’t buy Flare? Being able to parse a personal voice seems to be more important to consumers of modern media than the masthead, the delivery method, or even the content and subject.

Do you agree or disagree?  How have you noticed the power of personality affecting your own role as a creator or consumer of media and fashion media in particular?

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24 thoughts on “just a thought – the power of personality”

  1. Its about building trust. Its hard to sell a product, your services or just your story without putting yourself into your posts. When people identify with you they are more likely to trust you.

  2. This is a fascinating post – I’ve seen these ideas before, but not discussed within a fashion context. It reminds me of the Third Tribe concept – even if you aren’t the best at what you do, if people know and like you, they will turn to you first and send others to you without thinking. Therefore, you should DEFINITELY be showing personality online!

  3. love this train of thought… personally, i appreciate a nice balance between “personality” and neutral content when it comes to fashion blogs/Twitter accounts. I like to hear from people who know who they are and aren’t afraid to show it, but who also know when to step back and let the information speak for itself. it’s a fine line and i think the best influencers know how to balance it just so.

  4. I suspect the reason why many self-centered blogs are successful is because readers enjoy being able to judge someone and to compare themselves with them to feel better or worse. The key to having a successful blog isn’t about showing your face or revealing your identity, it’s about allowing readers to directly communicate with the person behind something, be it a life, an outfit, etc. There are many widely read anonymous bloggers who made their identity part of the intrigue: Luxirare who blurs out her face, call girls who describe their day-to-day life, etc. You can’t compare blogs and traditional media though to prove having a personal voice attracts more readers because they serve different purposes. Traditional media, like a magazine, is meant to provide information on what it covers where as a blog is meant to reflect its writer’s interests.

  5. now you made me feel bad about not commenting on your posts about fashion history because I definitely prefer those over outfit posts.

    When you put up those photos of Charles James gowns from “A Family of Fashion”, I immediately took out all my Charles James books trying to cross reference them (none of books mentioned a dress with snow white print). And then it’s like you read my mind, when you followed up with a post on my favourite CJ book “The Genius of Charles James”. So you see I’m a total fashion history geek.

    I’m in the process of preparing a fashion history blog with the explicit intention of keeping my name and face off it and I pretty much expect that it won’t be read by too many people. I’m just not comfortable with the kind of ego stroking that goes on in a lot of other fashion blogs (I don’t consider yours to be one of them, your blog come across as very sincere and you didn’t try to score a free assistant/intern like what some other bloggers are doing.)

  6. As someone who could be said to exemplify this movement, I’m inclined to generally agree

    I became a personality blogger by default, although crafting an image or personal brand has been a little less than calculated process. The majority of my outfit pictures have always lacked photographic finesse, though the general idea was more about providing an aesthetic behind the opinions. My space was never meant to be a pure style column, despite its “reputation”, and that has held true a year on

    I agree that it’s something of a poisoned chalice to garner more recognition for outfits than other output, but is it not all an expression of creativity, nonetheless? You’ve more than one talent, at the end of the day, and that counts for much

    Michelle’s Third Tribe reference is a cogent point – amongst the e-mails I receive are references to an audience I’m not even aware I have, but who apparently look to me to promote things. This is indeed a benefit to cultivating a persona – if one wants the following, that is

    All best, Danielle,


  7. Thank you all so much for your thoughtful comments. I want to respond in greater detail but I have guests from out of town visiting me all day today – please pop back in tomorrow for my responses to your responses!

  8. As someone relatively new to the blog thing, this is something I’m still struggling to come to terms with. I find it hard to understand how to market your own personality in order to best get your message out there and even harder for me to understand why it’s necessary (I’m a bit of an idealist at heart). I don’t think any less of people who pimp out their awesomeness, whether real or concocted, but there certainly is the whiff of disingenuous-ness about the cult of personality. I love the approach of the on-your-level writers, and yet I still feel distanced from them. A strange circle.

    For myself, I’m working out a balance. You know how much I fought and struggled with “personal branding” and appearance when I started Jaka’s Tea Party. It’s incredible the amount of weight I feel has lifted since changing to A&P, losing the facade, and doing what I want. There’s still an idea I desperately want to communicate, and to that end, I’ve lost the personal URL/header and replaced it with a more “me” voice. I also have found over the last year that I’m attracted to and appreciate similar blogs/writers more. Perhaps that’s the answer?

    And thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. We’ve briefly touched on them a few times between us and it’s good to see a well-composed essay out where everyone can read it. <3

  9. Another fascinating post Danielle, thank you.

    It reminds me of the first “cult of personality” in media – the development of the opinion column in 19th century newspapers. The columnists were heavily branded and their image and name emphasized over the content. Interestingly, the birth of “personality” journalists corresponded to advances in democracy. There was an increasing interest in the power and voice of the individual, as opposed to the group.

    I’m wondering how this relates to blogging now, especially style blogging, because some of the rhetoric is similar. We are hearing about the “democratization” of fashion at the hands of bloggers, and I think, with these shifts in power, we demand a degree of transparency. As the individual voice gains more power, we become interested in, well, its “individuality”. Does that make sense?

  10. Tat – I hear ya, and somehow saying those words together makes me feel awfully pretentious.

    Jane – this is a great point. I find myself wary of bloggers with vague “about” pages or who use a “handle” to sign their posts.

    Michelle – thanks for introducing me to the Third Tribe concept, I’ve never heard of that.

    Lia – as someone who is preoccupied with balancing, I totally agree with you. Its important to be personal, but its boring and narcissistic if its too personal. Figuring out where to draw the line is an absolute art.

    Sapphire – I’m aware of Luxirare and a few other anon-bloggers who have managed to develop very strong sites, however I feel that they are exceptions and when you’re trying to talk about a trend, exceptions by their very nature won’t fit into trends. Also, I’m not trying to “compare” blogs vs. MM, I’m trying to show how magazines themselves become supplicant to a trend – editors aren’t stupid – when supermodels are hot, they use supermodels, and when bloggers are hot they use bloggers – and when they find its important to have a name and face to define the magazine as a brand and interact with an audience in a very direct, unmediated way, mag people like Lisa Tant will step up and do it.

    elle – thank you! I always try to remind myself that comments are often apropos of nothing, but when a post is seemingly ignored I can’t help but wonder if its worth posting things like that. With that in mind, if I really dig something on a blog, I try to let the blogger know, and I appreciate that you did this here too.

    Barima – thank you, I think for some talents we have more of our ego invested in them than others. When it comes to receiving acclaim its best to somehow defuse the ego, because it seems like it is impossible to choose what the public will seize on to, and that any nugget of fame no matter how small has very little to do with our ambitions and everything to do with ideal time and places, and dumb luck. This is also something to keep in mind when viewing the fortunes of others. As we are all, by design or by accident, dependent on a “persona” for our living and our life, to me the concerns of cultivating one are a source of endless interest.

    Ellie Di – As someone several years into the blog thing, I can tell you that the struggling never really ends. Somehow managing candour and “distance” as you describe it (where we all draw the line between our public lives and our inner lives) which does create discomfort by its very nature. I don’t think there is an “answer”, just a constant journey towards figuring it out for ourselves, and our place online is just another dimension of that. Modern problems.

    Alexandra – the development of the opinion column, something I didn’t think of but something I’m very curious about thanks for bringing it up. “Personality journalists” is a whole other angle of this subject which, since it has a bit more history, offers some terrific food for thought. I’m going to look into it.

  11. I think it’s absolutely difficult to balance personality and content. There’s an element of people wanting to see the face behind the brand (even if the brand is just a blog), because it adds a personal connection. They’re reading a blogger’s thoughts or interpretations of news/events/history, and it’s nice to see that the author is in fact a real live human being. (Like your outfit posts.) And I think adding these bits of real life actually increases the credibility of all the other things the blogger posts about. With that said, sometimes a relatively contentless “personality blog” is popular because it’s flashy and not too difficult to dip into, but I don’t think those blogs have staying power. I don’t know. Just some disjointed pre-coffee thoughts.

  12. I find it a total malarkey when the the style press itself cojoin themselves and it is ironic to find they become the media. They hassle, wrangle and want every piece of current belle de jour bloggers or mainly fashion related ones. Maybe they are the true personalities and the public representations of the style press. Around the beginning of 2008, there was this incredible major shift of blog usage. At that time, I was not aware of fashion content on blogs to the scale it is today. Mostly, websites of fashion were Refinery29 which referred to Independent Style. People became aware of how much they could engage and the power to communicate brands and so forth.

    I think it works on two adjacent levels. The discussion about anonymity behind a blog’s identity is more for personal and safety reasons. Generally, I find that the spectrum of blog writing is female orientated and large number of followers are also female. Male writers tend not to show their personal information and keep their content related to itself.

    I don’t feel anonymity is necessarily a bad aspect about blogging especially when some bloggers grow their simple blog into a proper website with rich content. Personally, I like to write what is important and through this, being passionate and researching what makes that story so so is the crux of my motivation. When a blog becomes very personalised like many style blogs and archetypes we know too well, their aesthetic becomes too narrow-minded, almost childish even.

  13. Beth – I agree with you. When we think of the top fashion bloggers, they’re almost always “stars” of their own blog (Tavi, Jane, Rumi), or, they are photographers who use famous faces (Scott, Tommy, Garance). There is something about faces which is absolutely magnetic.

    Mike – fashion blogs had a lively atmosphere long before 2008 – its just that it was (relatively) unnoticed by the established fashion press. Once it became “news”, it seemed like everyone jumped on the bandwagon. Fashion blogging pre-2007 is a distant cherished memory for those of us who were “there”.

    I don’t think anonymity (in the sense of not featuring yourself on your own blog, whether you use your name or not) is necessarily a bad thing either, but I do feel that it can be a limitation, hindering the ability for visitors to grok onto the blog. There are other ways to develop a strong blog, (whether the strength is on speed, news, research, artwork, etc) however those strengths lack the stickiness that is needed to create reputations for individuals, if that makes sense. If building a certain notoriety for oneself is not desired, its no worse – however as I mentioned in my response to Barima, the creation of a persona can be stunningly effective for creating a living out of a blog.

  14. While driving between appoints I listened to a CBC interview with 13 year old Tevi Gevinson who has been a fashion blogger since she was 11…young genius or altruistic parents…anyway you probably are aware of her…this interview only goes to provide her more credibility but not based upon any skill or experience she has attained…no simply the persona of her blog that has had 4 million hits! Your article resonates with me and makes me ponder the various concepts surrounding the influence of personality in fashion, art, politics, economy, etc.

  15. I definitely agree that ‘personality’ blogs are more popular, when I was first blogging I was reluctant to do outfit posts because I thought they were boring and a bit of a cop-out, but they definitely got the most attention and so became the bread and butter of the blog. however, my friends didn’t know about that blog and so I felt completely comfortable putting photos of myself on it every day without the fear of my friends seeing it and thinking ‘who does she think she is?’
    The blog I am currently writing is my first experience where I am blogging for both an unknown online audience as well as people I know in ‘real life’. I feel like to please the online audience, I have to show as much of myself as possible, but to keep credibility with my ‘real life’ friends I should keep myself out of it. I’ve only just started so I’m still not really sure how to approach it.
    btw, I think you’ve achieved a pretty good balance here, letting your personality come through without the blog being directly about you.

  16. Uncle Al – thanks for checking up on the blog! Tavi is a brilliant personality, I admire her very much, and yes, she’s a great example of how persona trumps everything else.

    Ali – thanks so much – balance is what I’m going for. It really is a challenge to figure out what is right for you.

    And the more I reflect on this, I find myself wishing that I really *could* somehow unleash a popular persona, that whether I admit it or not I deeply crave validation and even fame, or at least the opportunities that fame provides, but at the same time admitting it makes me feel profoundly uncomfortable, and the prospect of trying it and failing fills me with dread. This whole subject is something which I find tremendously bothersome.

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