Street-Style Sartorialism: A Message for Fashionistas, Stylistas, and their Bloggers


Elle Says:

We’ve had some storms in New York this past week:  a tornado touched down in Brooklyn, and the storm of patriotism once again struck with the 9/11 anniversary. Neither of these, however, compares to the biggest storm that descended on the city: Fashion Week.  The skies just rain photographers, celebrities, and models (or as I fondly like to call ‘em: “skinny ass bitches”).

Fashion is on everybody’s mind this week, and the street style blogs that I follow are overrun with visual reports of high-fashion shows.  Like anyone with even the slightest interest in fashion blogs, I follow The Sartorialist and Garance Doré. A real-life couple, these two are the fashion blogosphere’s reigning king and queen.  Aside from fashion events around the globe, The Sartorialist (Scott Schuman) focuses primarily on people he sees in the streets, and his blog is dominated by the portrait.  While fashion is important, his focus is more on personal style as it reflects personality.  I love him for this; he manages to light up every single one of his subjects, but in a way that shows the strength they each have, even though it’s manifested in unique ways.  He is a thoughtful photographer who is, at the end of the day, more interested in people than in clothing.  His girlfriend, the French beauty Garance, is more heavily fashion-focused.  She is also an incredibly gifted illustrator, and featuring her work was the impetus for her blog.  It has since morphed into a collection of photographs, vignettes, illustrations, and videos.  Garance writes with ultimate honesty, humility, and humor; I can only imagine how incredible having a cup of coffee and a conversation with her would be – with both of them, actually. The sense I get from Doré’s blog especially is that they are a positively adorable couple: just look at Garance’s recent, sweet post about her man:

He’s a visionary.
He’s able to hear through the noise of life. He sees the emotion involved, in the people, in all things. He translates that in his pictures. He saw right away the emotion they created on the internet. He understood where it could go.
He’s always thinking of the future and how he wants to be remembered.
It gives incredible strength to his work.
These are just a few reasons I love his work and his new book, which is even better than the first.
And because of all the incredible photos, of course…
-Garance Doré, “12 Things You Didn’t Know About The Sartorialist”

As much as I love and respect both of their blogs, however, there is an absence of…well, weight.  Excluding the actual models for obvious reasons, the people that appear on their blogs are typically very fit or very slim or very….model-y.  If the subjects are not models or actors, they very well could be; that is, they fit the type.  Plus-size (or even non-skinny sizes) are sorely underrepresented.

That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions.  Schuman, especially, has featured a number of older men and women who do not fit the model physique.  Key word: older. They’re aged and dignified with color and wrinkles and gravitas. It’s as if the only acceptable way to be young is to be slender. “Beauty” and “youth” have been virtually synonymous since the beginning of time; at least in the fashion world of these bloggers, it seems that “thin” is synonymous, too.

Photos by Joe Ferucci via The Sartorialist

Don’t get me wrong: I love these blogs and recommend them, even after they’ve exploded in popularity (the hipster in me wants to say, “I’ve known about them for years, before you did.”). I respond to them not only for the beautiful images and styles but for the love that Schuman and Doré put into their blogs and into their photographed subjects; the human element is remarkably apparent (and central). But I am not the first one to think that the lack of “alternatively sized” subjects is cause for concern.  I doubt that either of the bloggers intentionally excludes larger men and women, but their creative eyes are trained in the fashion world to see beauty a certain size, to see style on certain forms.

Illustration by Garance Dore

Issues with weight are not absent from their blogs.  Doré has written about the difficulties of weight maintenance and the difference between New York and Paris “skinny” (a truly interesting read).  But take one look at her, see her long, lean legs and beautiful person, and it’s clear that this woman does not know weight struggles in the same way that I do.  Schuman had a bit of buzz in March of 2011 when he photographed a beautiful woman and opened up the discussion about her “bigger” legs.  Comments flooded in, chastising him for calling an obviously fit and trim woman “curvy.”  I believe him when he said that he meant no harm, and I applaud him for continuing to ask questions about the topic, to get conversation flowing.  However, his main defense was that “bigger” men and women on the street avoided his camera, choosing not to be seen.  Alternatively, perhaps they were just hiding in baggy clothes.

I love a post like this. It creates a real and important conversation.
A number of the commenters are upset by the word “curvy.” They feel I should have used the word “normal.” However, normal is relative. There is a young lady on my team who is 5’0″, and another who is 5’9″. Which would be “normal”?
Look at the man walking across the street in the first image, and the height of the umbrella in the second – and Angelika relative to each. This girl is taller than most, and has the bearing to match. Regarding the curves…just because you don’t see them does not mean they are not there. Is there a minimum degree of curviness to be considered “curvy”?
Remember, curvy is a body shape, not a weight. To be honest, you can’t really see in these photographs most of the curves – chest, stomach, hip – this woman has.
I get emails all the time from self-professed curvy girls who want to see representations of their size on the site. What sucks is that when I try to put a photograph up to talk about these issues, the post is hijacked over the political correctness of the words.
So help me understand; what is the modern way to speak about size? I’m not married to the word curvy. I’m just trying to describe her in the best way I know how. Let’s not hide from this issue; I don’t want to be afraid to talk about it on my blog. Help me describe this young lady without using the word “normal,” but in a way that addresses her body size and still references my point about the size of her legs relative to her shoes.
Last week I did a post of older women every day, and I was proud of that. I am proud to be a blog that is showing women of different sizes. I don’t want to lose the potential power of the post by being caught up in wordplay.
Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist

Well, I live in New York, too.  I know that for the millions of people who live here, the skinny model does not represent their body type.  I see women (and men) every day who have no fashion sense or concern for style: it’s true.  But I also see women (and men) every day who are a size 2, 6, 10, 14, 16 (and the male equivalents) who have incredible personal style, who show their unique characteristics – both in physicality and personality – in ways that deserve notice by the blogger’s camera.

In fact, perhaps they deserve more notice.  When attempting a daring ensemble in order to be fashion-forward and to continuously find new ways to express yourself, you always run the risk of looking garish or silly or just plain stupid.  But when you’re skinny, you’re a much more versatile form.  You can wear big and baggy or tight and clingy.  You can mix patterns without having to worry about the horizontal stripe, and you can wear zany socks with ankle boots because you don’t have to worry about where the top hits your calf.  When you have a shape to work with that people already judge, attempting any kind of style invites even more scrupulous judgment – and usually at higher emotional stakes to you. My personal style isn’t too bold, but I have received a good number of compliments about my fashion choices (although they typically involve the phrase “You look cute,” which I despise for its reminiscence of puppies and Care Bears).  I dress fairly conservatively – no deep cleavage or mini-skirts – but this is because I am aware of my body.  I know to wear A-line, I know at what height my skirt should hit my torso and my thighs, I know how to balance volume from top to bottom, I know that skinny jeans are a no-no but straight leg cropped pants are ok because they aren’t overwhelmed by my thighs and accentuate my small(er) ankle. My style is feminine in a slightly vintage style, with plenty of dresses and skirts and a few bows and ruffles – but it’s not girly and pink and glittery.  Yes, I’ve certainly had plenty of missteps (probably last week even), but I’m fairly proud of the way I dress. Even if I’m not making any bold statements on the street, I think I deserve some recognition for being put together and “cute” because it takes so much more to know how to dress my body in a way that is flattering and still contemporary.

The “curvy” photographer
Source: The Sartorialist

The rise of the personal style blogger (the likes of Sea of Shoes) has been exciting (for the most part), and I’m glad to know that a good number of plus-size personal bloggers are making waves (like Naomi’s favorite Gabi Fresh).  But it’s not enough to have people confident enough in their own style to put themselves online in the fashion world; we need more people to recognize the beauty and style of a wider range of styles.  We need the street style photographers and bloggers to see more variety and to capture it, then to post it so that they can help turn the tide towards greater size acceptance.

So maybe one day Scott and Garance will see me walking down the street on my lunch break or on the way to meet friends, and maybe they’ll snap my picture. Probably not – there are many much more confident, trendy, beautiful, fashion-forward yet “larger” men and women who deserve more “fashion attention” – and would love to get it from either of them (or someone else).  But maybe they wouldn’t mind getting that cup of coffee and conversation.


Garane’s post “skinny” post and a response:

The Sartorialist’s photo and comments about the “curvy” woman, with selected responses:

This response seems somewhat wide of the mark; Schuman is defending his choice of language (“curvier,” “bigger,” “sturdy but beautiful”) rather than his choice to comment on Ardasheva’s body at all. The problem isn’t the words he or anyone else might use to describe a woman’s body, the problem is that women’s bodies are (thanks in large part to the fashion world and its incredibly restrictive norms) widely considered appropriate subjects for public critique and commentary at all. Schuman, ostensibly a style blogger, mentions Ardasheva’s size well before even turning his attention to her outfit — and even then, he considers her outfit only in relation to her body.

2 responses to “Street-Style Sartorialism: A Message for Fashionistas, Stylistas, and their Bloggers

  1. Really cool and intelligent read, I’m looking forward to reading New York vs. Paris skinny. Keep up the great writing!

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