Arts and Entertainment

Instagram Fashion Is Killing You

Fashion communities on Instagram and TikTok alike have increasingly become hubs of consumerism and commodity fetishism.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Today, the fashion industry moves at a faster pace than ever; in the age of influencers and digital commerce, items are rapidly cycled in and out of the mainstream at breakneck speeds. Sneakerhead communities represent the epitome of this culture, going from obsessing over one shoe to the next in a matter of days. Whether it be a pair of Jordan 1s, Birkenstock Clogs, or the recent MSCHF’s Big Red Boots, the meta of online fashion is constantly changing.

 The Big Red Boots are a prime example of this frantic consumerism. Modeled after Japanese manga character Astro Boy’s shoes, the Big Red Boots are a comically huge pair of boots from MSCHF, an off-kilter art collective known for releasing controversial items like Lil Nas X’s infamous “Satan Shoes,” a blood-adorned pair of sneakers that generated a storm of online outrage in 2021. Before they were released, the Big Red Boots were already similarly polarizing, as some saw them as overrated for their $350 price tag and an uncomfortable fit (there are several videos of people getting stuck in them), while others hailed the boots as a well-executed gag and refreshing break from the relentless landscape of Nike Dunks and New Balance 550s. Ultimately, the online hype gave the Big Red Boots an incredibly successful release, with the shoes now selling for upward of $1,400 on resale markets. Though they are certainly more eclectic than most sneaker models—and have some genuinely interesting possibilities for styling—the Big Red Boots indicate the growing hype culture centered around niche products.

Over the past few years, fashion communities on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok have grown exponentially; what was once a conservative community of hardcore luxury chasers has become increasingly free-range and welcoming to casual enthusiasts. Today, the content in these circles revolves around fit checks, commentary videos, and the incredibly popular “get ready with me” format. These “get ready with me” (GRWM, for short) videos usually follow the same sequence: the creator describes the scenario (a casual coffee date, drinks with the boys) and breaks down their thought process as they build their outfit. Daniel Simmons, one of the most popular GRWM creators, often embellishes his clothing pieces with additional descriptions: he is in love with his breathable linen trousers (perfect for the beach!), he could not be more excited to wear his exquisite mohair cardigan, and, of course, he adores his classic baseball cap. While some creators use this medium for genuine self-expression (the incomparable Wisdm, for example), most GRWMs reuse the same pieces in every outfit. One will encounter countless New Balance 550s and Adidas Sambas with herds of Jaded London Parachute Pants and Arc’teryx windbreakers on the bland safari of Fashion TikTok. These videos are captioned with imperative statements such as “YOU NEED THESE PANTS,” “Essential jackets for winter,” and “Best sneakers in 2023,” which work solely to promote niche items.

Commentary videos are similarly structured, claiming certain styles are in while others are out. Skinny jeans, for example, are decidedly out of style according to TikTok, with a recent trend seeing creators throw their skinny jeans into dumpsters. Videos declaring what is and isn’t stylish, promoting certain products, and showing off incredible wardrobes create a sense of hyperreality for those who engage in this online culture.

Coined by French sociologist Jean Baudrillard, the concept of hyperreality is defined as a state in which the distinction between reality and the presentation of reality is blurred. In fashion, reality is the actual clothes people wear regularly, while its presentation is the clothes that are said to be worn. These two rarely overlap; a majority of people are far removed from high fashion, gravitating toward the cheap and practical. But social media can create an alternate image of life—when one is constantly consuming content telling them they need to buy certain items, they will eventually internalize that viewpoint, consciously or subconsciously. Watching other people dress up and show off their extensive catalog of clothes can give the impression that it is expected, or even necessary, to have a huge wardrobe. When items are phased in and out so rapidly, it can lead one to assume that they must constantly throw out and replace their clothes in order to remain fashionable. While fashion content’s popularity on social media has inspired many people to take an interest in the art, the consumerist hyperreality that has resulted goes against the meaning of the craft. At its best, fashion is the ultimate form of self-expression, and trend cycles and fixation on coveted products betray this value.

It is important to consider how the hyperreality of fashion on social media has been largely manufactured by companies. MSCHF utilizes shock value to get the internet’s attention whenever they launch a new product—the Big Red Boots are this strategy’s latest success. But Jaden London’s social media presence is perhaps a more accurate example of the subliminal online marketing strategies used by clothing companies. The brand frequently pays influencers to wear their pieces and tag them; the Parachute Pants—a pair of wide-leg cargo pants—has been one of their most popular products, showing up in countless GRWM videos and “wardrobe essentials” lists. All of this online excitement generated by the brand creates the illusion of real popularity, allowing them to mark up prices despite the fact that their clothes come from the same sweatshops as fast fashion monsters like Shein and H&M.

 Even without considering the devastating environmental impact caused by the production of these garments (or the worker exploitation, poor clothing quality, and a thousand other reasons), buying from Jaded London is not a worthwhile investment. Like the fads that came before it, the Parachute Pants will go out of style soon enough, only to be replaced with the glorious return of skinny jeans or an entirely new style. Wearing the hottest item of the moment can be momentarily validating, but with each passing day, the cycle of constant, wasteful consumption continues.

The consumerist culture dominating today’s social media fashion communities is captured in legendary conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s I Shop Therefore I Am (1987). Brands pay to curate an image of relevance, giving their poorly-produced items artificial popularity through social media content. When users consume this content—which often takes form in the shape of Daniel Simmon’s glistening abs staring back at you as he tells you that he loves his jeans—it creates the impression that they must buy more clothes in order to be stylish. In a culture where fads come and go on a daily basis, the stylish ideal is a marketing ploy that only creates waste and overconsumption.