Inside D.C. entertainment

Why do style blogger photos all look like this?

January 6, 2012 - 11:25 AM
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Photo courtesy of Spicy Candy DC.

Style blogs can be a little baffling to the uninitiated. One could easily look at any of the dozen or so blogs that have popped up in D.C. in the last few years and think they were nothing more than a bunch of photos of a girl standing in the street touching her hair for no apparent reason.

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(Photo: Spicy Candy DC)

That’s because most style blogs consist primarily of photos of a girl standing in the street touching her hair for no apparent reason. Or leaning against a wall (Mimi + Meg), or posing in an alley (The President Wears Prada), or sitting on some steps (Style Within Reach), or standing on a porch (District of Chic).

Often there is hair touching, hat touching, or sunglasses touching. Occasionally there is leg crossing. Glances are frequently downward.

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(Photo: A Lacey Perspective)

Or upward.

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(Photo: A Lacey Perspective)

Smiling is frowned upon.

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(Photo: Spicy Candy DC)

It’s model-ish behavior, except most of the bloggers aren’t models but 5’3” government employees, captured in five or six shots in the same outfit. The overall effect is more Zoolander than Vogue.

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(Photo: Spicy Candy DC)

D.C.’s style bloggers (as opposed to fashion bloggers, who write about fashion in general and items for purchase rather than showcasing their personal style), who have increased in rank and visibility in recent years, are well aware that their photos can come off a little, well, silly to some. They really don’t care.

At first, says Katya Ananieva of Spicy Candy DC, posing in public for photos made her self-conscious. “It’s like, oh my god, am I really taking photos of myself in the middle of the street?” she says. “People are staring.” There was a fear of “people saying, 'What do they think, they’re models or something? Or narcissists?’”

But Ananieva and Spicy Candy DC’s co-author Carla Sanchez aren’t taking pictures for you — they’re taking pictures for future employers.

“If you want to do anything else in this industry, you have to do it,” she says of the self-documentation. Before potential clients hire the women to do any personal styling or consultation, they check their blog for proof that they can actually put together a look. “How are you going to show people they can trust you?” Ananieva says.

Alison Gary, the five-year blogging veteran behind Wardrobe Oxygen, agrees that photos are what unpaid bloggers use to win paying work. “It’s become incredibly competitive these days,” she says. “You really need to have good photographs. When you have companies contact you and you’re trying to woo companies to sponsor you, every single post is your elevator speech.”

One might think that to stand out, the bloggers would opt for zanier poses, more elaborate shoots, or traditional studio backdrops — anything that would distinguish themselves from the other style bloggers. Nope. The photos from blog to blog more or less look the same.

With a blogger’s budget, most opt to have their significant others or roommates snap their photo. (Gary’s husband photographs her outfit outside every day before driving her to the Metro.) The default setting is a common street. The poses are more or less variations on Urban Outfitters catalogue poses.

Lacey Maffettone of A Lacey Perspective says that’s perfectly typical of style bloggers, and that it makes sense. “You’ll notice a pattern across the country with how the bloggers stand,” she says. Same with the setting. Maffettone suggests that style bloggers copied the stand-in-the-street look pioneered by earlier, street-style blogs.

“Before fashion blogs, it started with street fashion,” she says. “It was just people walking down sidewalks or walking up and down streets. It kind of became this known thing. It’s not supposed to be about where you are but what you are wearing.”

None of the bloggers interviewed mention the Sartorialist by name, but they’ve clearly taken a page from his playbook. Actually none of them mention any specific inspirations by name — no magazines, no America’s Next Top Model, no films or photographers or painters.

“We get most of our inspiration from all the other bloggers, obviously,” says Ananieva. Maffettone and her boyfriend/photographer also studied the lighting and angles in other blogs’ photos to get their photo motif down, including a studied smirk/pout. No smiling.

Why the long face, style bloggers? Maffettone says the point is to keep things natural looking, as if you were snapped candidly. One time she was photographed laughing hysterically but had to discard the shots. “I couldn’t use them because I didn’t believe myself,” she says.

Ananieva keeps the smiles to a minimum to maximize Spicy Candy DC’s editorial impact. “You want to stay away from pictures that look like Facebook,” she explains. Silly pics look careless. Readers, she says, are “looking for visual inspiration for fashion… We treat our blog with a very editorial eye.”

The no-smile/half-smile is so widespread that Gary’s Wardrobe Oxygen stands out precisely because she smiles. 

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(Photo: Wardrobe Oxygen)

Gary says her smiling gets a lot of response from readers. Besides: “I’m not a supermodel. I’m not going to do a pout.” She calls her poses simple, often just standing with her hands on her hips. “I don’t really have many poses,” she admits. “I feel ridiculous trying to do any kind of crazy poses.”

Belle, the pseudonym of the woman behind venerable local blog Capitol Hill Style, says style bloggers have long favored this motif — the leaning, the distance stares, and the attempts “to perfect the ‘skinny arm’” — but the unnatural poses don’t do them any favors.

“The trouble,” she writes in an email, “is that as style blogging grew in popularity, these rather awkward looking poses became de rigeur.” One particular blogger from Cupcakes and Cashmere, she quips, “touches her hair so frequently I wonder if she has scalp itch.”

Liz Fassbender, who considers her blog So Much to Smile About more of a fashion and lifestyle blog than a personal style blog, generally avoids the pouting and posing of self-documentation altogether. “I’m not completely comfortable in front of the camera,” she explains. “I prefer to be behind it. Especially when you’re by yourself, just standing there.”

Fassbender admires the style bloggers for subjecting themselves repeatedly to the camera and a potentially harsh reading public. “I give the style bloggers a lot of credit,” she says. “I certainly don’t have the time or patience to get photographed every day.”

Belle says she doesn’t envy the style bloggers. “Because if I had to post photos of myself on my site, I bet they’d be every bit as staged and awkward as the photos you see on most personal style blogs,” she writes. “There really is no good solution, unless you can afford to have Patrick Demarchelier follow you around.”