To Discuss: Should Fashion Editors’ Personal Style Ever Be An Issue?

Meghan Blalock

There’s an interesting debate currently happening in the world of online fashion journalism. Jihan Forbes, a writer at XOJane, recently penned an essay about the hateful comments she received after being required by her employer to post photos of herself to the site. Forbes caught a lot of flack over her personal style choices in the photos, including such comments as: “I really want to see Jihan step it up just once at one of these things. Some makeup, a to-die-for outfit. Something!” and “Where the heck did Jihan think she was going? To the mall???”

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Ouch. As web editors who also work in fashion, we felt a particular sting while reading Jihan’s story, but more than that, we felt a sense of solidarity. Especially when we got to her closing remarks:

I didn’t get into fashion to be a street style star. I got into fashion writing because I fell in love with it as a child watching my mother make clothes, and because I love to write (and, maybe a little, because I love gift bags). And if anyone has a question about my credibility, they can check my clips.

Long before there were street style stars, there were skilled fashion writers like Lynn Yaeger (below), who made a name for herself not for her impeccable sense of “style” (which, by the way, is completely and utterly subjective to begin with!), but for her vast knowledge and keen eye when it comes to fashion and its history.

Street Style - Day 7 - New York Fashion Week Spring 2014

Photo: Getty Images

A writer for New York’s Village Voice for more than 30 years, she now contributes to Vogue and sits front row at every major designer’s show. Do you think anyone should critique her for the way she dresses? Highly unlikely, considering the widespread respect she’s earned not for her appearance but for her intelligent mind, acute eye, and skillful expression.

“We—as web editors with a focus on fashion—have real traffic goals to hit, a team of writers to manage, and clever ideas to execute every single day, which means that how we look isn’t always at the forefront of our minds when we get up every morning,” StyleCaster’s own senior editor Perrie Samotin said. “We’re just fine with leaving the stream of daily designer labels to the scores of personal style bloggers out there.”

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“Loving fashion and style and writing about it doesn’t necessarily mean that you dress in designer clothes every day,” another StyleCaste editor, Julie Gerstein, adds. “I used to work at a website where we’d have our photos taken every single day, and the pressure was ridiculous. Commenters felt like they could pick apart our outfits and appearances without a thought to how it might affect us. The reality is, style is a totally subjective thing. If the clothes you put on make you feel good, you’re going to look that much better in them, and that’s really all that matters.”

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Are fashion writers expected to give more thought to our appearance than professionals in other fields? Sure. The problem here is that Jihan’s commenters seem to think they know better than she does when it comes to how she should dress herself; undoubtedly, these same folks would look at the style choices of someone like Yaeger and turn their virtual noses up at her, too. Would they be right in doing so? We think not, because personal style is just that: entirely personal.

The era of street style stars has led many to believe that anyone who can put herself in a designer sweatshirt, a pair of leather leggings, and a strappy sandal has elevated personal style. This simply isn’t true; in fact, many of the world’s imminent fashion journalistsfolks like Yaeger, Grace Coddington, and Cathy Horynwould never fit into that crowd. Nor should they have to. It’s easy to copy; it’s a much more difficult thing to dare to be yourself and dress in a way that makes you happy.

What do you think? Should fashion writers consider themselves openly subject to style critiques? Sound off in the comments below!