Style Blogging and Retail Fandom

February 2, 2010
By | 15 Comments

A new-to-me blogging community is that of the fashion or style bloggers.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, these blogs are primarily written by women and rely heavily on images as well as text to tell their stories.  Bloggers often post daily photos of themselves and detail the origins of each article of clothing they are wearing.  Commenters typically compliment the bloggers on their style, and ask questions about where they can get certain items.  There are also multiple style blogging sub-genres—many of which I’m sure I have yet to discover.  One such sub-genre is the academic style blog.  Those I’ve discovered, including academichic, Fashionable Academics, and What Would a Nerd Wear, are written by graduate students, most of whom identify as feminists and explore the politics of fashion in academia.  Their style tends to combine thrifted items with those purchased new from mass-market retailers, and sometimes includes DIY efforts, as well.

Another sub-genre focuses on an individual retailer, with bloggers identifying as fans of a particular store and focusing their energies upon reviewing its latest offerings.  One such community exists around the retail chain, Anthropologie, a retailer of women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories, as well as home décor items. Anthropologie identifies itself as targeted to women with household incomes between $150,000 and $200,000, but the bloggers in this community, including such blogs as Anthroholic and Effortless Anthropologie, do not necessarily fit this income level.  Indeed, there are links between these blogs and those of the academic bloggers, which suggests that Anthro “fans” come from a variety of economic circumstances.  The Anthro bloggers are well aware of the pricey nature of their adored objects, and regularly discuss strategies for acquiring Anthro products more affordably.  Indeed, much time on these blogs is spent monitoring the sale patterns of the stores and website, tracking ebay offerings, and buying, selling, or trading items within the blog community.

The Anthro blogs are as much about appreciating the store’s unique products as they are about consuming them.  Bloggers spend significant time in Anthropologie fitting rooms, photographing themselves in the latest items, most of which they are not buying imminently.  While there is no doubt that such blogs celebrate and support mainstream consumerism, they also exhibit features typical of other kinds of fan communities, those that media scholars are more accustomed to studying.  For one, they certainly function communally, with bloggers and readers supporting each others’ style choices and complimenting each others’ taste and appearance.  They also challenge dominant conceptions of feminine beauty, as fashion fans of all sizes and appearances are celebrated and seen as role models.  The women wearing Anthro clothing on these blogs have adopted some of the poses and style choices forwarded by the company’s own advertising, but much of the photography is more utilitarian, with women taking pictures of their outfits in mirrors, their cameras or, more typically, their camera phones more visible than their faces.

There is no doubt that the ability to think this carefully about fashion, as well as to invest the time and money in maintaining a particular look, not to mention blogging about it, is a product of privilege.  But the style bloggers whose work I am so enjoying remind us that we all negotiate a place for ourselves in a culture within which we possess different degrees of privilege in different contexts.  The women of the style blogging communities I have explored consciously use fashion to shape their identities, form connections with one another, and define particular iterations of contemporary femininity.  That they do so in negotiation with a patriarchal, consumer culture makes no less significant their efforts to find small ways of making that culture their own.


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15 Responses to “ Style Blogging and Retail Fandom ”

  1. sarah jedd on February 2, 2010 at 9:37 AM

    I am wearing an outfit I copied from Academichic as I type this comment. I, too, only just discovered the world of style blogging. Until I followed a link on a friend’s Facebook wall to Academichic and spent hours reading archives and clicking through their blog roll, I had no idea that blogs like this existed. I was planning a post on this very subject for my mommy blog today because I think the two worlds– mommy blogs and style blogs– both are spaces for women to “define particular iterations of contemporary femininity.” Thanks for giving me some keywords to start thinking critically about this topic, so that I can write a post that is more than “wow I tied a ribbon around my shirt and wore gray shoes wit black tights” but still has the essence of this exclamation.

    • Elana Levine on February 2, 2010 at 1:16 PM

      Hope you will post the link to your own blog post on this, Sarah. I’m thinking a lot about the mommy blog/style blog line, too, as I am particularly obsessed with academichic’s E, who is a new mom and whose posts sometimes combine the two worlds.

  2. Annie Petersen on February 2, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    My thoughts on this topic are conflicted. When I first happened upon these blogs a few months ago, I loved the idea of ‘Academichic’ — bringing class and sophistication back to the academic world! And doing most of it through DIY…and on a graduate student budget to boot. These blogs highlight women who take genuine pleasure in creating outfits that are works of art, and rarely do they do so through the fetishization of a particular brand.

    But Anthropologie. Man, I love Anthropologie. I love the feminine silhouettes, the crazy complicated shirts with felt applique birds, the bedding that costs as much as my yearly salary. The aesthetic and the cultivation thereof; the catalog, the art design of the stores. They know exactly how to tempt the women who aspires to be in the $150,000 – $200,000 demo — and how to get her to spend her grocery money on a pencil skirt. But they aren’t always the best made clothes, and they are, without a doubt, overpriced, sometimes ridiculously so (Hello, $70 cotton t-shirt). The obsession with the brand, as opposed to the cultivation of style, somewhat troubles me — you can get similar items from myriad other sources, first and second hand. A site like, which has expanded exponentially in the last year, uses small independent designers from all over the U.S., as opposed to outsourcing their designs to be fabricated in third world countries.

    Ultimately, I’m reminded of the Gossip Girl website, which leads young users to one of two options. You may press the “I want that” button on on Blair or Serena’s outfits, funneling the user to a site where she may buy the exact same item of (brand) clothing. Alternately, you can watch short videos featuring the show’s stylist, who shows you how to create a style similar to Blair, Serena, Jenny, etc. by piecing together what you already own (or, for instance, stealing a tie from your dad’s closet) as opposed to COPYING the fashion of a particular character. Both are forms of fandom, but, at least to me, one seems far more likely to cultivate the individual at the same time that it cultivates fashion sense.

  3. Liz Ellcessor on February 2, 2010 at 11:18 AM

    I’ve also recently stumbled on these academic style blogs, and enjoy them a lot – though I haven’t started belting my entire wardrobe, I am down for a splurge in the Anthro sale section.

    The most interesting part of these blogs for me, though, is how they explore and address a really common concern among young, female academics I know – what do I wear? What is appropriate for teaching, for a conference, for grad seminars, what conveys seriousness and also looks cute, etc? There’s a really fascinating and underacknowledged tension to the topic of female academic appearance, and these blogs offer a release from that tension. The women play with fashion in various contexts, explain their choices, acknowledge their constraints, and produce really varied and attractive results. They give readers “permission” to explore different forms of femininity – often touching on work/life balance – while remaining “serious.”

    • Elana Levine on February 2, 2010 at 1:28 PM

      “though I haven’t started belting my entire wardrobe” Ha! I, too, am wary of the academichic bloggers’ belting obsession. As I spent most of the last year pregnant, I have been thinking lately that I must have missed the “belting turn.” Glad my wariness is not just mine!

      • Erin Copple Smith on February 2, 2010 at 4:02 PM

        I think that folks who wear belted tops (*ahem* raises hand a little bit) are just trying to get some more use out of the last trend of wearing tops that are a little oversized. But then, I’m only an occasional belter, so maybe I’m not the best advocate…

        • Liz Ellcessor on February 2, 2010 at 6:46 PM

          I don’t judge your belts! I think I’m just not destined for this look. 🙂

    • Hannah H on February 2, 2010 at 11:06 PM

      I think you’re absolutely right. It is both a fascinating and underacknowledged phenomenon. I, a fashion ignoramus, used to barely even think about what I was wearing to teach, give conference papers etc. until the day I walked into the staff common room for the first time at the college where I had my first teaching job (age 26 or 27). A gentleman eating his lunch peered over his glasses at me and said “Excuse me, you do know this is the STAFF room.” I looked behind me before realising he was talking to me and indignantly replied, “Yes, I DO know” and carried on regardless. But I never wore my red hoodie or converse trainers to work again… 🙁

  4. Megan Biddinger on February 2, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    Thanks for the great post and responses! I’m not as familiar with these blogs as I probably should be, but I do know the cult of Anthropologie and feel quite familiar with the politics of fashion and femininity in the academy. Elana, you note that most of these bloggers identify as feminists and I absolutely see the disruption of size-ist norms, the determination to get goods on the cheap (demographic jamming?), and the conscious re(configuration) of femininities as important parts of feminist enterprises. That said, I am curious about whether these blogs give attention to the politics of how clothes like those sold by Anthropologie and J.Crew are produced and by whom? My brief cruise of the links provided suggests that this isn’t really part of the conversation, which troubles me. It could just be that I haven’t spent enough time on these blogs, though (I’ve got LeechBlock running full-tilt over here to keep my wandering eye in check).

    I’m also wondering about discussions about what it means to cultivate such a stylized and yet traditionally feminine femininity within the academy. As a female academic making the transition from graduate student to faculty member, I’m also ambivalent about my desire (and it is a strong one) to cultivate a quirky, yet feminine, nerdy-chic style. I know that I feel good when I like my appearance and it feels good when students or colleagues tell me they like my style, but I am also concerned about how they feel about my substance as a scholar or teacher. Moreover, every time I get an evaluation or comment from a student or colleague complimenting me on my headbands or outfits, I’m reminded of the negative feedback I often received when my style was very mildly punk or I had a buzz cut (I do realize that’s a different move than rocking dark tights with light shoes, which I enjoy doing).

    I don’t mean to reproduce a feminine/feminist binary, but there is that tension there that you mention, Liz. I think you’re right that these blogs offer a kind of release from it, but I wish that they examined it a bit more. Certainly, it is good that we can move beyond the “ill-fitting polyester suit of yore” as puts it, but how much are we opening up new possibilities of femininity within the academy and beyond?

    Again, perhaps my concerns would be allayed by a more careful reading of these blogs. Even if they were to remain, I know that not every blog can or should attempt to tackle every angle. I want to engage these bloggers on their own terms, but I also want to push on how and why they invoke feminism and/or their identification as feminists.

    Lastly, I’d like to throw Mimi Thi Nguyen and Minh-Ha T. Pham’s blog, threadbared into the mix as a site that engages with these issues perhaps (but not always) a bit more directly.

  5. Annie Petersen on February 2, 2010 at 12:37 PM

    I’m glad that both Liz and Megan bring up the particularly fraught “dress etiquette” that comes with being a female academic. When you’re a TA, there seems to be an expectation that you must simultaneously be ‘hip’ and authoritative — a difficult line to tread sartorially. And now that I’m teaching at a school without TAs, where the youngest professors are in their 30s, I find I’m constantly trying to make myself look old…but not too old. Is a ponytail young? A French twist too old? Are boots too young? What’s at stake with trying to look “hip” OR “old”? And how does my wardrobe speak to — or contradict — what comes out of my mouth when I talk about feminism?

    And can someone tell me whether or not men worry about this? I don’t want to assume that this is a problem exclusive to women in academia, but I also don’t have any male (academic) friends who have complained/discussed it.

    • Myles McNutt on February 2, 2010 at 4:40 PM

      I occasionally find myself obsessing over it in the sense that I’ve watched too much Project Runway and feel as if I shouldn’t just throw on a sweater instead of a hoodie and call it a day, but I don’t know if I’ve ever “worried” about it to the same degree that you discuss.

    • Jonathan Gray on February 2, 2010 at 5:40 PM

      It’s all kinds of easy being a guy academic, I find. Trousers plus a button-up shirt of almost any variety, as long as chest-hairs aren’t being touted. Maybe jeans instead of trousers if one is enjoying a post-tenure life, and/or, like Elana notes below, if one wants to seem a bit younger. Blazer on top if one’s looking to be a little more professional. Or some kind of boringish sweater.

      It’s a uniform. The only thing that worries me is remembering whether I wore that shirt or sweater too recently to wear again.

  6. Elana Levine on February 2, 2010 at 1:26 PM

    Annie, Megan, and others:
    As far as I have seen, the style blogs I reference do not discuss the politics of production for the retail chain stores. The academic style blogs that emphasize remixing, thrifting, dressing on a budget seem to be more in line with such concerns than the Anthro blogs, which are not explicitly politicized at all.

    That said, I think that only a style blog that wholly rejected the products of the mainstream market could justifiably stand in protest against the conditions of production for such retailers. I’m sure such blogs exist and would be great reads. Ultimately, I am most interested in exploring the ways that the women of these blogs, whether avowedly feminist or not, actively negotiate their relationship to this dominant culture, as so few of us are able or willing to reject it in total.

  7. Elana Levine on February 2, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    I’m sure the academic bloggers would love for us all to engage in these discussions about what to wear/what not to wear as female academics at their blogs! The anxiety is not just about the classrooms we inhabit as teachers or students, but also about conferences, job interviews, you name it. As Annie brings up, this is a question not just of gender, but also of age, and surely race and sexuality play in as well. For many years I sought to appear older in the classroom setting, concerned about my authority with students. A few years ago, however, I realized that I was now old enough that they would no longer find me too young to be authoritative! So I embraced a more youthful look, which basically meant sometimes wearing jeans to teach. It’s a telling moment when you discover you have to worry about not seeming too old instead of not seeming too young.

    Of course, all of these anxieties are heightened in a culture that seems increasingly obsessed with feminine appearance (Who Wore it Best? in Us Weekly, What Not to Wear on TLC, the Go Fug Yourself ladies, etc.) Being a scholar of media and popular culture amplifies it further, as we can’t pretend we don’t know about that culture because our heads are too buried in books.

    Finally, I understand Megan’s ambivalence about embodying an overt femininity. I try to work on the assumption that what I say and write gives me both authority and feminist cred and that any more conventionally feminine style I might embrace (clearly, I am Anthro obsessed) allows me to refuse a feminine/feminist binary. I think the key is the decoupling of how one looks and who one is, what one thinks, how one stands politically. I think insisting on that decoupling, insisting that neither is determining of the other, is vital. For me, refusing to reject the feminine simply for being feminine is central to that project.

  8. e. of academichic on February 11, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    Thanks for this thoughtful post and follow-up discussion. I particularly appreciated your final comment, refuting a “feminine/feminist” binary. Although we started Academichic as a hobby, we quickly realized and came to appreciate how much style blogging forces us be more self-conscious about the politics of style both in and outside of the academy. Keep an eye out for an upcoming roundtable-style guest post at where the three of us work through questions of identity, perception, and the clothes we wear. Thanks again!