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Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

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The Meteoric Rise and Painfully Slow Death of Street Style

Our timeline charts the tumultuous 100-year history, from preppy beginnings to tacky decline.

Photographers have been documenting people on the street since the late 1800s, but the street style scene as we now know it has been around for less than a decade. Fashion Week chaos, desperate peacocking, all those copycats and parodies—this is relatively new stuff.

Of course, the hype surrounding street style has inevitably led to backlash; critics have been calling for its death for years. With magazine editors-cum-street style stars deciding to dress down and notable players on the other side of the camera now retreating from the game, you can expect even more "the end is nigh" coverage to come.

Allow us to trace street style's tumultuous history, starting more than a hundred years ago with a man who liked to take photos of well-dressed people in his free time. If only things were still so simple.


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1905

Professional cartoonist and amateur photographer Edward Linley Sambourne begins capturing stylish women on the streets of London, often without his subjects knowing he's doing so. If the internet existed at that time, he probably could have made a career out of his after-hours hobby.

1965

Take Ivy, a Japanese book exploring Ivy League style, is published. Worshiped by GQ editors and menswear enthusiasts for decades, resold first-edition copies reached four figures until it finally went back into print in 2010.

1966

Bill Cunningham receives his first camera, which he uses to document fashion on the streets of New York City, first for the Chicago Tribune. He later becomes a bona fide street style legend thanks to his New York Times column "On The Street."

1980

Village Voice photographer Amy Arbus wanders around the Lower East Side and St. Mark's, taking pictures of anyone that catches her eye. This means tattoos, big hair, animal prints, and Madonna. She keeps it up for ten years, eventually turning her photos into a book and a documentary.

1997

Shoichi Aoki founds Fruits, a magazine documenting Harajuku style in Tokyo. It's an instant success, making its way to the United States in 2001.

2004

New York magazine introduces "Look Book," a column by Amy Larocca that celebrates street style across the boroughs, spotlighting one stylish resident each week. Though neither existed back then, the subjects are more Humans of New York than The Sartorialist (see below), though it's safe to say this beloved feature paved the way for both.

2005

Scott Schuman, a stay-at-home dad who enjoys taking pictures of his young kids—and, as he gets increasingly comfortable behind a camera, people on the street—starts a photography blog. He names it The Sartorialist, begins shooting at Fashion Week, and gains a massive following.

January 2008

Danziger Gallery in Chelsea hosts an exhibit of Schuman's work. In one of the many pieces then-New York Times reporter Eric Wilson publishes about The Sartorialist, he writes: "Since Danziger opened its show for Mr. Schuman, known for the on-the-street portraits of guests at runway shows that he posts for public commentary on a blog called The Sartorialist, skeptics have been in the minority."

The Sartorialist, 2008

September 2008

Photographer and octogenarian-enthusiast Ari Seth Cohen launches Advanced Style, which New York aptly describes as "like the Sartorialist, but with elderly people."

December 2008

Virginia Heffernan writes a New York Times op-ed about the "trippingly delightful and spontaneous" appeal of street style blogs like The Sartorialist and its peers Face Hunter and Stockholm Street Style.

"Survey them one morning over coffee, and you'll feel like a boulevardier of the whole world, breezing past one stunning creature after another, free to cruelly assess or dumbly gaze—at supreme leisure and invulnerable to reciprocal scrutiny."

August 2009

The Fake Sartorialist, a biting blog that mocks street style photographers, surfaces. Scott Schuman, who has been accused of not being able to take a joke in the past, is predictably not amused. He emails the satirist behind the site asking him to stop, then tells Eric Wilson, "Now everyone feels the internet is a free-for-all."

Tommy Ton for Style.com

September 2009

Blogger Tommy Ton of Jak & Jill begins shooting Fashion Week street style for Style.com. GQ adds him to their roster shortly after.

November 2009

Crossing over from street style paparazzo to full-on fashion photog, Scott Schuman shoots a campaign for Burberry.

January 2010

Tommy Ton accuses Jimmy Choo of ripping off his photographs for its spring campaign; the brand does not comment.

April 2010

The Sydney Morning Herald runs a profile on street style photog (and girlfriend to Scott Schuman, who she met on the job) Garance Doré with the headline, "Move Over Anna Wintour, There's a New Fashion Queen."

Garance Doré and Scott Schuman on Doré's blog

September 2011

The Cut's Amy Odell sets out to prove that all it takes to get snapped outside of fashion shows is a little street style bait. (Golden rules like "more is more" and "be thin" don't hurt either.) Sure enough, she—and her sparkly borrowed Miu Miu booties—end up all over fashion blogs. Consider this the beginning of the end.

December 2011

Sally Singer, who is editor-in-chief of T at the time, tells The Cut that "the particular circus around the shows is, to me, a bit of a comic mess at this point." She's the first big industry insider to speak out about the absurdity of street style, but certainly not the last.

May 2012

Fashion Week street style insanity reaches fever pitch. When asked to list the photographers outside a typical New York Fashion Week show, Street Peeper's Phil Oh tells Refinery29:

So there's me, Tommy, Bill, Scott, Garance, Nam, Geraldine, Hanneli, Eddie, Vanessa, Candice, Jason, Guerre, Rei, Tamu, Yvan, Joris, his Canadian friend, Kristin, Vicky, the Irish one who gives me cigarettes, the Korean boy who got mugged in Milan, Stylesight, Adam, Koo, Wataru, the other Japanese guy, creepy modelizer, old creepy modelizer, older creepier modelizer, modelizer with the terrifying teeth, Marcy, Shini, Yu, long-hair Vogue Nippon guy, Lee, tiny Japanese lady, other tiny Japanese lady, and the other other tiny Japanese lady. These are just the ones I can name off the top of my head.
Miraslava Duma street style

Photo: Getty Images

September 2012

A New York Times piece by Ruth La Ferla outlines how much brands pay street style stars to wear their clothes during Fashion Week. It paints a depressing picture. "These girls are definitely billboards for the brands," a branding specialist named Tom Julian tells La Ferla. "People still think street style is a voice of purity, but I don't think purity exists any more."

Susie Bubble shot by Phil Oh for Street Peeper

February 2013

Suzy Menkes pens a widely circulated editorial for T titled "The Circus of Fashion." She writes:

We were once described as "black crows"—us fashion folk gathered outside an abandoned, crumbling downtown building in a uniform of Comme des Garçons or Yohji Yamamoto. "Whose funeral is it?" passers-by would whisper with a mix of hushed caring and ghoulish inquiry, as we lined up for the hip, underground presentations back in the 1990s.

Today, the people outside fashion shows are more like peacocks than crows. They pose and preen, in their multipatterned dresses, spidery legs balanced on club-sandwich platform shoes, or in thigh-high boots under sculptured coats blooming with flat flowers.

The next week, Leandra Medine of the Man Repeller writes a response, largely agreeing with Menkes. Two days after that, Susie Bubble admits that "behind the toothy smile, the peppy colours, and the cacophony of textures, there's a crippling doubt that has gradually built up over seasons of doing shows."

March 2013

Garage Magazine releases a short documentary called Take My Picture featuring interviews about street style with industry insiders like Style.com editor Tim Blanks, blogger Hanneli Mustaparta, and the Proenza Schouler boys. They don't have nice things to say.

June 2013

Though street style backlash has been bubbling among the media, brands are still clamoring to work with street style influencers. No longer satisfied with simply employing photogs to shoot campaigns, they begin tapping them for full-blown product collaborations. Most notably, Phil Oh and Susie Bubble design a clothing collection for Urban Outfitters called Oh, Bubble!

August 2013

Alluding to the precarious future of street style, Garance Doré tells Elle UK: "It's Fashion Week all the time now. What we call street style isn't actually street style at all, it's Fashion Week style. Brands want to be a part of it and the editors look more elaborate than any magazine editorial."

Photo: Getty Images

August 2014

Doré and Schuman call it quits publicly, posting announcements on their respective blogs. Schuman later explains in an interview that the snap-happy power couple felt the need to be up front about the split to avoid being seated next to each other at fashion shows.

September 2014

Tommy Ton shuts down his beloved blog, Jak & Jil. It's the end of an era, and seen as a sign of things to come.

Editor: Julia Rubin

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