Are the In­sta­gram al­go­rithms shap­ing your closet?

Is so­cial me­dia steal­ing our style? BY JU­LIA SEIDL

ELLE (Canada) - - #Storyboard - By Ju­lia Seidl


of “Franken­stein” jeans. Their high waist and un­even, frayed hem hor­ri­fied my hus­band, who man­aged to mut­ter “mom jeans” un­der a fake cough while slowly shak­ing his head when I emerged from the change room. De­spite his less-than-en­thu­si­as­tic re­ac­tion, I still bought them—partly be­cause I liked them and partly be­cause In­sta­gram told me to. Let me re­phrase that: I have free will and I am ca­pa­ble of mak­ing my own de­ci­sions; how­ever, af­ter months of scrolling through my feed and see­ing pic af­ter pic of my style crushes Miroslava Duma and Eva Chen wear­ing ver­sions of the po­lar­iz­ing denim, I wanted a pair too.

So­cial me­dia’s echo cham­ber is real, says Bhu­pesh Shah, pro­fes­sor and co­or­di­na­tor of the so­cial-me­dia pro­gram at Toronto’s Seneca Col­lege, not­ing that even though we have ac­cess to 2.8 bil­lion so­cial-me­dia users around the world, we tend to grav­i­tate to­ward the feeds of like-minded in­di­vid­u­als. “If you’re in an echo cham­ber, what’s re­ver­ber­at­ing is go­ing to in­flu­ence the way you think,” he says. Sounds ob­vi­ous, but by shar­ing and lik­ing sim­i­lar posts, our tastes, ideas and be­liefs are re­in­forced through rep­e­ti­tion, con­se­quently cre­at­ing a so­cial bub­ble. My feed is the text­book def­i­ni­tion of said bub­ble: I mainly fol­low folks in the fash­ion in­dus­try known for push­ing the sar­to­rial en­ve­lope. This means I’m dis­pro­por­tion­ately ex­posed to su­per-styl­ized images and not-so-main­stream trends that, af­ter see­ing them over and over again, sud­denly start to look and feel, well, nor­mal. Case in point: the Vete­ments Franken­stein jeans, which de­buted on the la­bel’s spring/ sum­mer 2015 run­way. Ini­tially, I wasn’t blown away, yet they now hang in my closet. Cov­et­ing a pair of ad­mit­tedly fash­ion­able but ques­tion­ably flat­ter­ing jeans isn’t so far-fetched when it feels like al­most ev­ery per­son in my feed has a pair.

I’m not the only one let­ting so­cial me­dia make my style de­ci­sions. A re­cent sur­vey by In­sta­gram an­a­lyt­ics plat­form Dash Hud­son re­vealed that 87 per­cent of in­flu­encers look to their so­cial-me­dia feeds to in­form their pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions. And one-third of In­sta­gram users have bought a piece of cloth­ing they first peeped while surf­ing the so­cial-net­work­ing app. By re­ly­ing on our screens and the pas­sive act of scrolling in­stead of ac­tively search­ing for new wardrobe ideas, we may be lim­it­ing our cre­ativ­ity and style in­tu­ition. If we are all just em­u­lat­ing one an­other, do we run the risk of los­ing our per­sonal sense of style or, worse, be­com­ing fash­ion clones?

The technology be­hind cer­tain so­cial-me­dia plat­forms makes it even eas­ier to stay in our bub­ble. “Al­go­rithms look at the things you’ve clicked on in the past and, based on that, rec­om­mend new things to you,” says Alex Kra­sodom­ski-Jones, a re­searcher at the Cen­tre for the Anal­y­sis of So­cial Me­dia at the U.K.-based think tank Demos. We leave be­hind a trail of data “bread crumbs” ev­ery time we “heart” a Gucci Mar­mont bag or give Kylie Jen­ner’s lat­est lip kit the thumb­sup. In­sta­gram, Twit­ter and Face­book use this data to per­son­al­ize our feeds and tai­lor the type of con­tent we see to re­flect our past pref­er­ences, which am­pli­fies it all. Dif­fer­ing ideas, styles and view­points of­ten get fil­tered out. Al­go­rithms also tend to favour the loud­est voices—that is, posts with the most likes. The more pop­u­lar a post, the more of­ten it ap­pears on a feed with likes beget­ting likes. De­pend­ing on its mar­ket­ing strat­egy, a brand can either win big or lose big on so­cial.

It’s not only who we’re see­ing on­line that is af­fected; it’s also the type of trend. h

Minimalism seems to have no place in the age of the selfie. “Pea­cock­ing,” or pos­ing in over-the-top pieces, gets max­i­mum at­ten­tion. Cal­gary-based style blog­ger and In­sta­gram star Ania Boniecka, who has 113,000 fol­low­ers and climb­ing, treats her posts like a mag­a­zine ed­i­to­rial and seeks out items that she knows will pho­to­graph the best. “If it’s just a plain out­fit, like a T-shirt and jeans, to me it’s bor­ing,” she says. Fash­ion de­sign­ers have started to rec­og­nize this vivid medium and are re­spond­ing to it. “Some­times, I have to ad­mit, as a de­signer, you get into this trap of think­ing about clothes for a pic­ture rather than what’s go­ing to go into the mar­ket or show­room,” Alexan­der Wang told The New York Times in 2014. Or, as Jeremy Scott suc­cinctly put it in The New Yorker: “You only have a screen that is this big [the av­er­age smart­phone is about 12 cen­time­tres] to make an im­pres­sion.”

Mak­ing that im­pres­sion doesn’t mean you need to re­think your style to be more Moschino than min­i­mal­ist; nor do you have to burst your so­cial bub­ble just yet. If our un­der­stand­ing and in­ter­pre­ta­tion of fash­ion is com­pro­mised when our scope is lim­ited, we sim­ply need to let a lit­tle air in. “It’s a good feel­ing to find peo­ple who agree with us,” says Kra­sodom­ski-Jones. “The prob­lem is when you aren’t con­scious of the fact that your world view is be­ing nar­rowed.” Shah sug­gests con­duct­ing your searches us­ing more gen­eral hash­tags—like #ootd and #street­style—in­stead of spe­cific trends or brands. Fol­low peo­ple you dis­agree with (this is known as “hate-fol­low­ing”) or those whose style is a far cry from your own. This will not only open your eyes to new ideas and trends but also keep those al­go­rithms guess­ing.

As for me, I ad­mit it feels quite cozy in­side both my bub­ble and my Franken­steins. But I now know who cre­ated them. The next time I go shop­ping, it won’t be my screen (or my hus­band) that of­fers me val­i­da­tion. I’m go­ing with my gut. n a mar­ket­ing com­pany. “[But] for a lot of peo­ple, this is their in­come now, and I do think that changes things.”

New guide­lines in­tro­duced this year by Ad­ver­tis­ing Stan­dards Canada mean that Cana­dian so­cial-me­dia stars must clearly state if a post is a spon­sored ad­ver­tise­ment through a hash­tag like #sp or #ad. But in a string of 10 hash­tags, it’s an easy one for fol­low­ers to miss. And since the guide­lines dif­fer from coun­try to coun­try, not all in­flu­encers are sub­ject to the same dec­la­ra­tion rules. If how we dress and what we buy is af­fected by what we see in our feed, un­der­stand­ing the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind a post— whether some­one is be­ing paid to wear it or whether they sin­cerely love their new Ba­len­ci­aga-in­spired sock boots—is cru­cial, es­pe­cially when many women’s iden­ti­ties are so closely in­ter­twined with what’s in our #closet.

Vete­ments Franken­stein jeans

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