BoF Logo

The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.

Op-Ed | What Happened to Street Style?

Today, the fashion that appears in “street style” imagery too closely resembles the constructs found on the catwalk and in magazine editorials, and no longer reflects true personal style, argues Max Berlinger.
Street style | Source:
  • Max Berlinger

NEW YORK, United States — Whatever happened to the "street" in street style? As interest in street style grows, there's certainly no dearth of images featuring tony editors, buyers and other fashion insiders captured at the world's major fashion weeks. But there's a pointed lack of inspiration in these pictures. Too often, they reflect a highly merchandised construct that merely reiterates the seasonal themes dictated, top-down, from the industry to consumers, at the expense of true personal style. Sometimes, they are even part of a premeditated marketing plan.

When legendary street style photographer Bill Cunningham hunkers down on New York's 57th Street and Fifth Avenue to document the passing parade, he aims to capture real people in their real clothing living their real lives, something closer to reportage than public relations. But during fashion week, where an increasing number of street style images are now captured, so-called street style stars are often seeded with (if not gifted) pieces from designers in the hopes that they will be shot in them, earning brands exposure. Indeed, many of these "street style" images are now so constructed that it feels like the only thing missing are the credits in the lower left-hand corner.

What's more, for those aiming to land themselves on influential street style blogs, websites like The Cut are now able to pinpoint "street style bait" — items like Valentino's rockstud footwear, Givenchy's printed t-shirts, Fendi buggies, and almost anything from Céline — and provide a formula for how to attract street style photographers.

We once looked to the street for personal style and, indeed, new ways to interpret the onslaught of clothing and accessories presented on the catwalks. But is anything new being said when a street style star like Anna Dello Russo, editor-at-large and creative consultant for Vogue Japan, wears a head-to-toe look from Prada or Balmain? Can this really be construed as street style any longer? It certainly has nothing to do with the street and feels anything but personal.

To be frank, what we now call street style has stifled true style. While savvy readers have long known that the editorial content that appears in their favourite monthlies was influenced by advertisers, street style was once a space free from these kinds of transactional compromises. No longer.

What’s more, when street style stars actively court the camera — dressing to be photographed instead of dressing according to one's own wishes — with carefully planned and executed ensembles, what we get is polish and poise with none of the instinctive and idiosyncratic gestures of true personal style. Ultimately, what we are left with is an awful lot on display, but not much to see.

Perhaps it's a romantic idea, but I'd argue that true style, at its best, says something deep and intrinsic about the wearer. In contrast, the new wave of meticulously fabricated stars are all surface. There’s no denying that the surface is pretty. It may also reflect a strong visual persona. But is it genuine?

For me, the majority of street style images have become as glossy — and, ultimately, two-dimensional — as the fashion stories found in most fashion magazines.

Paradoxically, as the Internet provides instant access to everything, street style has lost its immediacy and vitality. We're hypnotised by the material goods, but the indefinable characteristics of true style remain underrepresented. When was the last time you saw a street style image featuring someone who looked as though they just tossed on something they had hanging in their closet and it came together in an unexpected or surprising way that's genuine and perhaps changed your eye a bit?

There was a time when the runways and magazines reflected a world of fantasy, and real life was, well, real life. Which didn’t mean that you had to dress like a bore, but you certainly didn’t borrow clothes from a showroom either.

Not long ago it was enough to be stylish and have a shrewd eye and a closet of well-chosen items. While street style used to represent the frontier of self-expression and do-it-yourself spirit. Now it looks as constructed as the runway.

But when the runways and the streets become one and the same, isn't the industry just reflecting its own perfectly manufactured image back to itself? This is a dangerous place for fashion to be, as it's in this mutual admiration that stagnation occurs.

Max Berlinger is a writer based in New York.

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

How to submit an Op-Ed: The Business of Fashion accepts opinion articles on a wide range of topics. The suggested length is 800 words, but submissions of any length will be considered. Submissions may be sent to Please include 'Op-Ed' in the subject line. Given the volume of submissions we receive, we regret that we are unable to respond in the event that an article is not selected for publication.

In This Article

© 2022 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions

More from Other
Fashion News, Analysis and Business Intelligence from the leading digital authority on the global fashion industry.

Join us for our next #BoFLIVE on Thursday, February 16 at 15:00 GMT / 10:00 EST, based on our latest case Study How to Build a Profitable DTC Brand. BoF’s deputy editor Brian Baskin along with DTC correspondent Malique Morris and chief marketing officer of UK-based beauty brand Trinny London, Shira Feuer explore blueprints for growing a profitable brand.

The 10 themes in The State of Fashion 2023, the authoritative annual report from The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company, highlight how businesses can deploy realistic yet bold strategies to drive growth, even amid challenging times.

view more

The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
BoF Professional Summit - An Inflection Point in Fashion Tech
© 2023 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy and Accessibility Statement.
BoF Professional Summit - An Inflection Point in Fashion Tech