Fashion icon Iris Apfel has said before that great personal style is “an extreme curiosity about yourself,” but today, that feels like a lofty idea.
While many think pieces have been written about the vanity of these times—what with all of the selfies and online self-promotion—the bulk of our free time now is not spent plumbing our own depths for inspiration but, rather, scrolling through images of our friends, or influencers who feel like friends simply because they’re always a click away.
That abyss—fostered by Instagram and its counterparts—is well-curated and perfectly lit. Every hair that’s captured is in the right place, all accessories (a Mansur Gavriel heel here, a Staud bag there) matched just so. The “imperfections”—mismatched earrings, perhaps, or glittery socks paired with beat-up cowboy boots—are perfectly imperfect: well thought-out and nowhere near spontaneous.
Ironically, those same recycled trends and their poster children online don’t elicit any feelings in me when I pass (or scroll) them by. I spend more time unfollowing influencers lately than seeking them out, because they seem to clog my feed with only what’s expected. Only a few of them (particularly Kelly Framel, of the now-defunct blog The Glamourai, and OGs like Susie Lau) really seem to follow the beat of their own drum and in doing so still entice me.
As viewers, we bear no witness to outfit experimentation (think: that Clueless closet scene or what you wore when given free rein as a toddler) because everyone today is hell-bent on the final product. And that product, of course, is increasingly the same: a rotation of the same buzzy brands on a similar canvas, one with no-makeup makeup and an enviable case of “bedhead” that really takes hours to come to life.
This clone effect is only underscored by fashion week, where, for the last few years, the street style photos from one season could be easily traded with those of the next. Nothing is really different, and nothing stands out. Sure, a newer shade of Gucci loafers or Simon Miller bag might help us pinpoint the year, but the way these items are worn—on repeat, like badges of honour—is no different.
It’s the same in our day-to-day lives. Walking down the street in New York, said to be a city that celebrates diversity and has a unique spirit, I don’t think twice about the outfits I see: They go down easy, the sartorial equivalent of chicken noodle soup. Even once-funky items, like silver booties or a PVC coat, feel commonplace now, as they’ve become so omnipresent across our feeds and in the fast-fashion stores (Zara, H&M) we rely on.
It might be the worst among my fashion-industry circle, which is so bombarded by the same imagery—the same spectres of influence—that we can’t help but mimic each other’s looks. Once a person more likely to go against the grain, I regularly find myself coveting the same jeans, the same T-shirt, the same leather jacket as everyone else. No longer keen to stand out, I opt instead to take the easy route—to follow trends—and in doing so, to stay pretty safe.
That’s the case IRL, too. It’s the friends of mine who couldn’t care less about fashion’s subliminal messaging that inspire me most today—those who have the gall to wear pieces that aren’t certified cool, that are unidentifiable, or that might look downright awful together in theory. The friends who take risks and play by their own rules. That means accepting that not everyone will “get” your look, that perhaps strangers on the street will do a double take (and not always a friendly one).
Maybe it’s those people who are keeping real, personal style alive today, or giving it a second life—one that’s less dependent on what looks cool on social media. Perhaps that definition itself is changing too, as we see influential fashion folk like the aforementioned shaking off of the trendy-to-a-T looks we’ve come to expect.
Instead, the focus has moved toward being memorable, not for some savvy adherence to the status quo, but for one’s willingness to push against it. That doesn’t mean abolishing everything that’s trending—those items get so much attention for a reason—but rather, wearing only those pieces that really move you and doing so in your own way. It’s about rediscovering—and riding out—your own sartorial thumbprint in a sea of so much #same. Consider it the Apfel way.