Each spring and summer, the fashion elite and glitterati descend on Bryant Park to be the first to experience the season’s newest fashion. Deep within the drawn curtains of the Fashion Week tents, Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, and all of their ilk parade perfectly coiffed and couture-swathed models down the catwalks, whetting the public’s appetite for the outfit inspiration to come.
But outside the exclusive tents, another fashion show takes place, as those in the know make their way to and from shows. Street style (that is, looks that sashay down the sidewalk rather than the catwalk) has gained a certain degree of prominence in the fashion world. On the street, you don’t need to be 5’10” or work for Vogue: you just need to catch the eye of a style photographer.
The Birth of Street Style
Street-based style can likely be traced back to Alexander Wang’s 2006 collection.
The urban designer dubbed his black jeans and slouchy tees as “model off duty,” meaning the type of outfit a leggy, successful model might wear when she’s not headed to a shoot. This cool-girl style was an instant hit, and soon, photographers were taking as many pictures of models, actresses, and the fashion elite on the street as they were snapping shots of runway looks.
Wang’s influence on street style still reigns supreme, as does his selection of comfortably chic shirts, like the Jersey Pocket T.
Photographers like Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist and the famed Tommy Ton have successfully made names for themselves by focusing their efforts on street looks and trends. Starting small, these photographers filled a need that audiences were hungry for. Rather than snap another shot of a typical model sporting a prescribed trend, a street photographer captures a real person and their eye for style.
Perhaps the driving force behind the popularity of street-based style is the accessibility of it all. Rather than donning head-to-toe designer threads, street style subjects often mix high-end pieces with items from their lower-end stash. The men and women featured on these style blogs aren’t airbrushed model perfection, but real people offering real style solutions. A mom from the Midwest can find outfit inspiration from an athleisure look in Paris, while an urban teen may experiment with color inspired by a look she saw on Instagram. Style mavens offer their own take on the fashion, and the photos normalize the fashion industry in a whole new way.
Brands have begun reaching out to those who make waves on social media with their curated couture looks. Street style participants are now being tapped by fashion houses as “brand ambassadors,” and paid to wear this season’s looks where they’re most likely to see and be seen.
EditLook at the athleisure trend: what started as a laid-back street look that photographers loved has become a fashion movement, with designers like Rebecca Minkoff surging in popularity—and others like Stella McCartney hooking their names to athletic companies like adidas to capitalize on the trend, collaborating to release items like the Yoga Sleeveless Cropped Hoodie.
After all, when more people pay attention to what attendees are wearing to fashion shows than the clothes presented in the shows themselves, it’s clear that something needs to change. By taking cues from street fashion and style, designers have learned to incorporate urban styles and real-life solutions into the fanciful and high-end collections they send down the runway at Bryant Park.