How Social Media Revolutionized the Fashion Industry
By Kaylin Tran
Flashback to about 30 years ago—the latest styles, trends and celebrity gossip are embossed on colorful magazine pages. Fashion model icons like Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Kate Moss grace the covers of Vogue. Fast forward to the modern era—those vivid, colorful pages are now in high-resolution on the internet. Instagram accounts serve as public digital portfolios for both emerging and established artists.
Social media has completely revolutionized the way that businesses and industries operate, one of the most notable being the fashion and modeling industry. With trending models like Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid dominating both the runway and social media, the game has completely changed compared to its former years.
Previously, high profile models and figures were discovered in shopping malls, airports and grocery stores. Now, celebrities and influencers also step into the beauty and fashion industry with the help of the digital age.
The 2016 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show caused controversy when Jenner and Hadid walked down the runway with wings despite neither one being a Victoria’s Secret (VS) Angel—in fact, both of Jenner’s looks for the show were fitted with wings.
VS Angels have special contracts that require additional obligations, such as making appearances on talk shows and representing the brand in campaigns. Though there is no specific criteria for who becomes a part of this group, its members have typically been shooting for VS prior to even auditioning for the show.
Critics were quick to point out how unfair it was that Jenner and Hadid were given the privilege to wear them, their argument being that the models did not earn the right to do so.
None of this is to say that Jenner and Hadid did not work for the opportunities that they were given. However, it is true that their reputations and online following have greatly influenced the number of jobs they have been able to book, and understandably so.
The business aspect of the fashion industry has to do with marketability, as in how brands and stylists are able to convince the general public to invest in their designs. What better way to do so than to have well-known celebrities model those pieces?
This is also why the concept and success of influencers has surged within the past several years. The term “influencer” is explained in a Forbes article written by Gerardo A. Dada, the vice president of product marketing and strategy at SolarWinds, a company that helps businesses manage their networks and IT infrastructure.
Though influencers are usually associated with social media users who have large followings, the general term encompasses anyone who “has the power to influence the perception of others or gets them to do something different.”
Influencer marketing differs from traditional advertising, as it employs a sense of trust and familiarity that is not normally seen with other advertisements. This is why actress Charlize Theron is in several commercials for Dior and why singer and businesswoman Rihanna signed with Puma for a sneakers campaign. Consumers are more likely to buy into products if they trust the spokesperson’s credibility.
According to Dada, three factors ensure the success of an influencer: reach, contextual credibility and salesmanship.
Again, take for example Jenner and Hadid.
Their Instagram accounts alone have millions of followers each, which ensures that they are able to deliver a message to a wide audience. Whether that message is some sort of political advocacy statement or a picture that sparks a fashion trend, their large following attracts more than enough attention.
The Jenner and Hadid family names hold much prestige in the world of fashion, lifestyle and beauty. Their contextual credibility contributes to the level of trust that fans have on their knowledge and expertise in that area.
As A-list celebrities, their presence and communications styles are naturally geared towards catering to the public eye. Their time in the limelight helped them deliver their message clearly and confidently, which improved their salesmanship skills.
Additionally, social media has effectively taken over the fashion industry because it has proven to be a much more appealing alternative to printed content.
One of its biggest selling points is that users are able to interact with each other on different platforms. Other forms of media, such as newspapers, magazines and T.V. shows, are all one-sided forms of mass communication.
Anyone can create an account and post original content. For the first time, consumers are able to become the designers they look up to.
That being said, widespread access to social media has also sparked conversations about being more inclusive in the beauty and fashion world. Accounts and businesses with mass followings are beginning to promote content that applies to a truly realistic audience, not an idealized one.
Aerie, a loungewear and lingerie line, announced that it would forgo any retouching of its photos in 2014 and has since featured models of different body types, sizes and disabilities. Activists such as Ashley Graham and Jameela Jamil have spoken out against the lack of diversity and representation seen in traditional beauty standards.
At the beginning of this year, Jamil criticized Khloe Kardashian after the latter posted an Instagram ad promoting a brand of weight loss shakes. However, this was not the first time. Just a year before, Jamil spoke out against Kardashian for the exact same thing.
“It’s incredibly awful that this industry bullied you until you became this fixated on your appearance,” Jamil said in a comment on Kardashian’s Instagram post. “That’s the media’s fault. But now please don’t put that back into the world, and hurt other girls, the way you have been hurt.”
The fashion industry is notorious for employing young and thin models. It is no secret that the obsession for some to fit into these expectations, especially in adolescents, has resulted in serious medical concerns such as eating and mental disorders.
This is why France passed a law several years ago to ban unhealthily thin models.
Models must be approved by doctors in order to work. Their measurements are compared to the World Health Organization’s definition of underweight to ensure that they are in a healthy range.
“Exposing young people to normative and unrealistic images of bodies leads to a sense of self-deprecation and poor self-esteem that can impact health-related behavior,” said France’s minister of social affairs and health, Marisol Touraine, in an article published by the Independent.
With the help of social media, the fashion industry has changed a great deal within the past 30 years. Nothing compares to the era of the Big Six—90’s supermodel stars Campbell, Moss, Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Sciffer and Cindy Crawford mark one of the biggest periods in fashion history, but the strides that brands and businesses have taken to improve and adjust to this ever-changing world emphasizes the beneficial impact of the digital age.
Kaylin Tran is an editorial writer who focuses on social justice issues and communication strategies, especially within the entertainment industry. You can find her on Instagram.