just a thought – social it

Once I was ignorant and proud of my outsider status.  Then I started to get invitations, and I was no longer an outsider.

Fashion Bloggers Inside

When fashion bloggers first started showing up on lists, we were excited by the novelty of it all.  Parties, showrooms, gift bags, the fashion world inside opened up and swallowed us whole. The immediacy of Facebook and Twitter seems to heighten it – you know who is going where, when, and are just as aware of what you aren’t invited to as what you are.

I used to make fun of the people in Toronto Life. Then, my friends became the people in Toronto Life. Just as there is a popularity game in fashion blogland, there is a popularity game in every city, every fashion scene. It used to be that my ignorance made everything seem simple – once I was a player, OK, a pawn – the social question became a lot more complicated. It is very clear that the social machine and the fashion machine are very closely linked.  The social question concerns all of us with fashion ambitions – when is it necessary to be social, and when is it a pointless distraction?  Is being featured in the social pages, dressed up with a drink in hand, an indulgence or an advantage?

Being a blogger – or any sort of career where expression is the trade – you are constantly in the business of defining yourself as a personality, or sometimes having your personality defined for you. What you do becomes who you are. I occasionally do posts about events in Toronto, and sometimes get lucky enough to be invited to a posh party. If I wanted to, I seems like I could easily become a socialite blogger, hobnob with the gossip columnists, borrow clothes from designers, get my hair and makeup done for me, glow for the camera lenses. At the beginning of this year, I found myself resisting this temptation. The social anxieties of caring whether I was invited to this or that bugged me, I felt awkward posing for photographs, I didn’t seem to share the pleasure of preening with my pretty party friends. Maybe the truth was that I was uncomfortable, still feeling like an outsider in insider’s clothes.

The other thing that worried me was the effects socializing was having on Final Fashion. To me, part of this blog’s charm was disappearing. The problem with party and event posts, especially in an atmosphere where most of the people attending have their own blogs, is that they aren’t very original. The only coverage that stands out is by people with a natural penchant and passion for the scene, something I couldn’t muster up without misgivings. The other thing is that pursuing social status wasn’t very true to the genesis of Final Fashion. This site began as a place where I, as a bookish, isolated fashion student, could share the aspects of fashion that fascinated me most – history, making things, observing the business of it, and navigating a burgeoning career. For 2010, it felt like it was time to get back to what made Final Fashion unique – more projects, more digging into history, more thinky posts like this one… and less parties.

The Social Hazard of  It

The funny thing about socialite-ing is that it seems to encourage ennui even in the star players. I follow Sarah Nicole Prickett on twitter, a fashion writer who has been included in Shinan Govani’s “Worthy 30” among other social milestones, I was curious when she expressed discomfort with being called an “it girl” and asked her about it.

I think “it girl” is a reductive and lazy term, and I really don’t think anyone would say it about me if they only saw my work, not pictures or me in person. But I quote-unquote put myself out there. So when I get slapped with the most obvious possible label, I have to smirk and bear it. Right? Do I? I don’t know! I sound annoying.

Sarah is beautiful and photogenic, a confident dresser, and all she has to do to “put herself out there” is show up.  One trade off is that her appearances sometimes outshine her talent.  The other is that “it girl” is a label with an implied expiry date.  Even Shinan Govani’s New York counterpart, Derek Blasberg, bristles at being called an “it boy”.

And yet Mr. Blasberg, who describes himself as a fashion and arts writer, is reluctant to carry the other mantle usually assigned to him: “It boy.” (Early in our correspondence, he said he was hoping for an article that would not include those words because he thought they devalued his hard work as a writer.)

The way that fashion’s minions somehow manage to both raise up and diminish our social stars with labels like “it” is just as reflective as the way that we deify and discard any other trend.  The fear of being “it” is what happens when we judge living, breathing, people with the same criteria of aesthetics and novelty as “it bags”.

For someone like Sarah, the insensitivities of being inside the scene is a moral hazard she’s willing to deal with, at least for now. I asked her if social status is an advantage when building a career in fashion.

I think the more your role in the fashion industry depends on your appearances, the greater your need to make them at parties and such. Models have to be the new girl on the scene. Second to models are “I am the magazine” editors like Lisa Tant, and then personal style bloggers like Anita, and then writers who get written about, and I guess I have to say “like me,” but that’s only because it’s so tiny here in Toronto.

That said, if I’m a good writer, my words should stand alone. I hope they would. You know, this works the other way around, too. Sometimes I think people would take me more seriously if I didn’t go to parties and get photographed at them. But honestly, fuck those people. I like the parties. Well, that’s not true. I like getting dressed up for them and pretending that the next one will be in any way different from the last. And there are people I’m always happy to see but never would see were it not for the occasions referred to fake-jadedly as “these things.”

To the last point, I agree with her.  It is fun to see people at things, it is fun to feel included, it is fun to dress up and go out.  I’ve still got one foot inside the scene.  And like Anita, I’m something of a personal style blogger, and it is a thrill sometimes to have that feeling like I am a character on a stage. There is the sense that “yes” is more fun than “no”, and that opportunities to participate in a scene are so ephemeral it is silly not to take them up while you can.

A Method to It

Once you’ve been to enough “things” to get the lay of the land, it does become apparent that if you are in it to build a career, not just for the free drinks, appearances should made purposefully. This year I have been forming a loose “social strategy”, and I think it is good enough to lay out here.  No secrets.

  • No matter what your business – whether you are a blogger or a writer or a designer or a stylist – your business needs other people to survive.  Face to face connections are incredibly powerful and it is worth spending the energy to make the right ones.
  • Appearances count, especially in fashion – both in the sense that how you look is important, and supporting other people’s projects is important. Quid pro quo.
  • Getting away from your computer, out into the world is just as important for gathering experiences and inspiration as it is for gathering clients. The best events to go to are the ones that are somehow different than events you have been to before.
  • Not all social events are made equal. Try to attend events where you will meet new people or people you admireBe socially adventurous. Resist the temptation to clique.
  • Whatever you spend the most time doing is what you become. Spend most of your time making things, doing things, and if possible, turn creative work into social opportunities. Seek out collaborators for projects, bring your work to the party – show off your designs, take your sketchbook or your accordion, your camera or your audio recorder, share and collect original material. Establish yourself as a creator rather than a partier.
  • Make your own events. Whether it is just coffee with someone you wouldn’t normally meet, or a little shindig to show off your own work, get gutsy and send invitations to the people you want to see, curate your own scene.

How do you approach socializing when you have fashion ambitions?  Do you have a social strategy?

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6 thoughts on “just a thought – social it”

  1. I subscribe wholeheartedly to the principle of spending most of my time “making things and doing things” and if these are collaborations (ideally) that’s all the fashion social life I want.
    Certain other occasions -fashion week shows, being the attendee with no responsibilities at a trend event and such- are my favourite, I’m in “relaxed participation” form. I get dressed, and learn and enjoy.
    My tendency is also to build relationships over time, and to depend on and to trust what builds with them. Contrary to “It” therefore?

  2. I really like this post; you definitely gave me a lot to think about in terms of socializing, balance, and what it takes to become established. Perhaps it is time for me to devise a social “strategy”, as mine has been missing up to now – I think I come across almost as a ghost! Not good in an industry that is made up of personalities and connections.

    Great insights though.. I always enjoy reading what you write about in this column.

  3. I loved this post! I used to blog for a pretty respectable city blog and got caught up in the parties and the networking for a while. It certainly wasn’t as fashionable as what you’re describing, but it was something. I found that being a personality and constantly worrying if I was getting face time in with so-and-so really stressful and, more importantly, totally boring. Your description of the anxiety and reluctance was so bang on.

    When I stopped blogging to go back to school, it was such a relief! But now that I’m heading back out into a work force that is so dependent on networking and social status, I know I’ll have to pick up my game again. I am inspired by your social strategy method. Because it is work.

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