Street Style. Behind the surface of the ordinary, the insider and the city

Bachelor Thesis, 2015

34 Pages




1 Street: The City and the Real Street

2 Style: Fashion Identity and the Ordinary

3 Image: Staged Style and the Fashion Insider


List of Illustrations



”The authenticity which street style is deemed to represent is a precious commodity. Everyone wants a piece of it.”- Ted Polhemus

The rise of the digital age in the last decade has pushed the practice of street style photography to become an important part of the fashion industry. The democratic environment of the internet allows street imagery to be shared and viewed on a large scale, which has resulted in this becoming a global phenomenon. The idea of capturing and viewing the styles of real people living day-to-day life on the streets of metropolitan cities is at the core of this phenomenon. Like anthropologist Ted Polhemus notes in the starting quote above, the styles of the street are seen to represent a sense of authenticity that is coveted by everyone (Polhemus, 1994:7). This was written in 1994 as a reflection of the meaning of street style during the days of subcultural styles, but it is debatable whether this reflection any longer fits with the contemporary meaning of street style. In the last few years, voices doubting that contemporary street images any longer represent the real and authentic have started to rise within the industry.

These doubts and criticisms towards the popularity that this phenomenon has gained caught my attention upon reading an article in ’The Business of Fashion’ written by Max Berlinger around fashion week in January 2014. This lead me to develop an interest in studying the contemporary meaning of street style as well as its position in the industry and society today. In his article ’What Happened to Street Style’, Berlinger reflects on photographs being captured outside of fashion shows and suggests that putting these images under the title of street style is wrong as they feel constructed and have”nothing to do with the street”(Berlinger, 2014). It is also pointed out that because of the current direction of this phenomenon, the catwalks and the streets are becoming one and the same (Berlinger, 2014). And this article is not the first or the only to voice an opinions on issues surrounding this phenomenon. It has been suggested multiple times in the media that the word ’street style’ is losing its authority as a representation of the ’ordinary’ or ’real’ individual. Therefore the main focus of this dissertation is the contemporary idea of street style and its current depiction in fashion media.

With this focus in mind, this paper will examine the city and the street’s relationship to identity and style, the representation of the ’ordinary’ in contemporary street columns as well as the ideas surrounding images of ’street style icons’ or fashion insiders that tend to be captured at events and placed under the title of ’street style’. The main questions attempted to answer are: What is the meaning of the street? Why is this phenomenon so prominent? What is the relation to reality, city culture and society today? The aim is to firstly discover street style’s current meaning and position in the fashion industry, and secondly find how the practice of it relates to today’s society and culture.

Although there is a large number of academic texts available about street style in relation to subcultures and modernity, the number of texts regarding ideas about its position and meaning in contemporary culture and society is limited. There are three key texts which, all relating to the current practice of street style, played an essential part of the research for this paper and will be referenced throughout. Focused on the role of the city within street imagery as well as the role of the journalist, ’Fashioning the Street’ by Agnes Rocamora and Alistair O’Neil (2008) is one of the key articles. Another is Sophie Woodward’s ’The Myth of Street Style’ (2009), which studies the relationship between the physical street, individual style and the real or ’ordinary’ person represented in traditional street style photography. The third of these is ’Styling The Street’ (2013) by Monica Titton. Titton’s text focuses on the ’fashion insider’ and revolves around the idea of street style icons rising from within the fashion industry through the commercialisation, digitalisation and globalisation of this photography style. Because each of these make valid arguments and are focused on different aspects of the contemporary phenomenon, they help provide a range of new questions and ideas when examined, cross-referenced and compared with each other. To provide new ideas and a well-rounded argument, sociological and cultural theories related to the areas of self display, hyperreality and authenticity are also considered and used to build upon the starting points that the above mentioned texts offer.

The research behind this paper can be broken down into three key areas, ’Street’, ’Style’ and ’Image’, and these make up the chapters for this dissertation. In the first chapter, with the theme of the actual street, the city’s importance in street imagery as well as the meaning of the term ’street’ will be unpicked. In addition to discussing ideas from Rocamora and O’Neil about the city and the street in today’s street imagery, Joanne Entwistle’s theories of the body as a cultural object will be referenced (2000) as well as ideas of the city as a brand from David Gilbert’s text ’World Cities of Fashion’ (2000). As seen in the contrast between Titton’s text revolving around the fashion insider and Woodward’s focus on the ordinary, it can be suggested that there are two different groups represented within the current street style phenomenon: ’the ordinary’ and ’the insider’. While the first chapter will focus on introducing ideas and theories about the relationships in street style (the woman, the street, the city) in general, the next chapters will apply these ideas and look separately at both the ordinary and the insider.

Chapter two focuses on the ’ordinary’ individual, style and identity. The key themes of this chapter, which will be connected to ideas from the previous chapter, are personal authenticity, postmodernity and human social behaviour. Georg Simmel’s texts (’Adornment’ originally written in 1908 and ’Fashion’ originally written in 1901) edited by David Frisby and Mike Featherstone into the book ’Simmel on Culture’ (Simmel, 1997) will be used to examine how the psychology behind fashioning oneself as well as the psychology behind social behaviour relate to the individuals participation in today’s street phenomenon. Charles Guignon's ideas on authenticity from modernity to postmodernity from his book ’On Being Authentic’ (2004) will also be referenced, and images from i-D magazine will be examined to compare the changes in street style from 1980 to today.

Chapter three’s focus is on image, the insiders of fashion and the hyperreal. Street style star Anna Dello Russo will be used as an example to unpick the fashion insider’s role in this phenomenon, and this will be connected to the ideas of image and the celebrity in Daniel Boorstin’s book ’The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America’ (1992). As the final chapter of this dissertation, chapter three will bring together ideas from the two previous chapters and attempt to explain today’s street imagery by examining the difference between it and traditional fashion photography. Jean Baudrillard’s notions of the real and copies of the real from his theory ’Simulacra and Simulations’ (1994) will be the key reference point for this.

Finally, from the results of the ideas examined throughout these chapters, this dissertation hopes to open new discussions as well as provide a new point of view to add to the limited amount of research available on the current street style phenomenon.


The relationship between the street, the city and style need to be understood before attempting to define the contemporary practice of street style. This chapter will introduce different aspects of the contemporary phenomenon and unpick the meaning of the term ’street’ as well as the importance of the city in street imagery, which are both essential as they are what lies at the core of street style. It is common for the media to make note of and emphasise the actual city seen in street imagery (Rocamora, 2008:191), but the names of street locations or specific areas are rarely specified. This could be because the general use of the word ’street’ can be seen to hold connotations of a true representation of the ’authentic’, as suggested in 1994 by Ted Polhemus, the street is seen as the”bottom line metaphor for all that is presumed to be real and happening in our world today”(Polhemus, 1994:6). This chapter will attempt to define where the ’street’ is and what its meaning is in terms of contemporary street style as well as determine how the relationship of style, the woman and the city is portrayed in the imagery today. The ideas of the city and street will begin to be applied to the representation of individuals in fashion media, and by doing this a platform will be built for the following chapters.

Fashion as Central to Life in the City

Large cities began to form in the late nineteenth century as a result of industrialisation and urbanisation. The formation of these cities”not only changed the contours of the landscape”but also”transformed social encounters with strangers”, which pushed self display to become a central aspect of life in the city (Entwistle, 2000:118). Sociology lecturer and writer Entwistle suggests that in these new alienating environments,”appearances were the only means of reading one another”(Entwistle, 2000:118). Dress therefore became a means of protection, a sort of armour essential for the disguising or revealing of identity in the hectic environment of the city filled with unfamiliar faces. A stylish appearance offered the individual confidence, or as humanities and social sciences professor and writer Finkelstein writes, it offered”a sense of singularity in an otherwise insensitive environment”, by making them feel”less submerged, more visible in the crowd”(Finkelstein, 2007:208). As different lifestyles are constantly clashing in crowded cities, self-monitoring and the display of the self through style and fashion becomes a natural, ordinary feature of daily life (Finkelstein, 2007:211). To sum this up, the starting point for metropolitan fashion developed from a natural need to armour the self, which has resulted in the performance of style developing into a key factor of life in the city.

This can be looked at as being the core reasoning behind an individual fashioning oneself in the cityscape, and by building upon this with Entwistle’s ideas of the body as a cultural object (Entwistle, 2000) the urban individual in street imagery can begin to be understood in terms of its relation to culture and society as a whole.

The Body as a Cultural Object

Referencing social anthropologist Mary Douglas, Entwistle introduces the idea of the social body, and suggests”dress in everyday life is the outcome of social pressures and the image the dressed body makes can be symbolic of the situation in which it is found”(Entwistle, 2000:15). She points out that as the physical body is continuously restyled through the social situations it is seen in, it becomes a sort of reflection of these and therefore,”sustains particular views of society”and can be viewed as a”starting point for culture”(Entwistle, 2000:14). The previously introduced ideas of fashion in the city can be used as an example when thinking about these views on the social body: the new city environment lead the physical body to take on fashion and dress as a way to adapt to the changing scenery, which resulted in this newly styled body becoming a reflection of the busy environment and the social pressures that came with it. Thus, this fashioned social body can also be seen to have been a starting point for the developing culture in the city. As street style is known to represent daily life on the streets, this idea of the body giving clues to the social situations it is in could suggest that what we see in street imagery is in fact a larger reflection of society today. The next chapter will study the individuals in street imagery to find what they convey about the situations they are in and how this information relates to contemporary culture.


Excerpt out of 34 pages


Street Style. Behind the surface of the ordinary, the insider and the city
Fashion Promotion
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street, style, behind
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Uniqua Hardy (Author), 2015, Street Style. Behind the surface of the ordinary, the insider and the city, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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