Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Most personal style blogs share the same backstory: A young professional, feeling unfulfilled by her day job and seeking a creative outlet, begins documenting her outfits. Patricia Handschiegel was no exception—except she was the very first to do it.
The Los Angeles native started StyleDiary.net in 2004, long before the Cupcakes and Cashmeres, Fashion Toasts, or even Style Bubbles quit their careers and started styling themselves full-time. After selling her site to StyleHive just three years after founding it, Handschiegel gave up personal style blogging for good. But instead of falling back into a nine to five, she’s been doing the start-up thing ever since.
We talked to the internet visionary about selfies, freebies, and what it was like to have a fashion blog before social media—or all those FTC regulations—existed.
What inspired you to start StyleDiary?
I was always really into fashion. When I styled my outfits, I would take a picture in the mirror because that way you can see if it’s balanced and proportionate. There was a weekend where I was going bananas in my closet and I took probably 100 pictures. At that time, no one was sharing pictures, because it was really hard to share pictures. Nobody blogged. Nobody even wanted their picture on the internet. Everyone was so freaked out about it.
"I remember thinking that the most interesting style is the style that real people are wearing."
I’d been thinking about how to do something with digital media, because I saw that CNET—which isn’t related to fashion—was still around. I thought, if CNET’s still around, then maybe there’s something to this digital media thing.
I was sitting at the San Francisco airport for work, and I was watching people walk by. I remember thinking that the most interesting style is the style that real people are wearing because it’s pure, true, authentic creativity. That’s kind of how StyleDiary came about. There was a free host-your-own-website platform. It was so ugly. But there was nothing out there. So I used it to make StyleDiary, and I just started putting outfits up.
Were you working in fashion at the time?
I was working in telecom. That probably had a lot to do with my obsession with style, because I was in the nerdiest, most technical office. Before starting StyleDiary, I was also freelancing as a consultant in fashion, because LA’s independent designer scene was really taking off at the time.
Did you find yourself shopping more?
At the time, I was shopping a lot anyway. That was the whole point of starting the site—just loving style. But I do remember feeling like I had to be on the cutting-edge at times. What I learned later is that the reader isn’t shopping like that. They like seeing you wear the same thing over and over.
I feel like that’s something that fashion bloggers today can get swept up in. When your blog starts to take off, you feel like you have to have the latest thing and be a leader in trends.
At what point did you realize you were on to something with StyleDiary?
I’ve always had ambition. I cornered the market on the babysitting thing when I was young. I was ambitious way before StyleDiary.
When I saw MySpace moving the way it was, I realized we were going to hit an internet boom. The internet at that time was dead. People were using mostly it for email and IM. Social networks weren’t a big deal.
Could you have guessed personal style blogging would turn into such a phenomenon?
I never would have thought in a million years. I didn’t even think people would put their faces on the internet! But I can see why. I can understand how inspiring personal style can be. I’m inspired by it today.
How do you feel about how much it’s changed in the last decade, with social media and professional photographers and "courtesy of" designer outfits?
Back then, there was no Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook. StyleDiary had a bunch of headless people.
But gifting has always been a part of it. For me, it was mostly smaller designers and a lot more indie ten years ago. Now it’s much bigger brands. The resources were so limited, and the opportunity didn’t exist that exists today. So you just had to wing it. I love where people have taken it today. I always think, I would have never succeeded as a fashion blogger today. I’m way too lazy for that! Now I can barely get outfits together. But I love where it’s gone, from a creator’s standpoint.
"At first, I needed a break from fashion... I wore the same Hard Tail yoga pants every day for three years."
What have you been up to since StyleDiary?
At first, I needed a break from fashion. I auctioned almost my entire wardrobe. I didn’t even want to look at fashion. As much as I love it, I’d had my fill. I wore the same Hard Tail yoga pants every day for three years.
Now I’m really into multichannel business. I started a company called 9, which makes things in media and entertainment and internet and retail, and then I created Condiment. I wanted to create a media company that tried to take print visual concepts and bring them online. I wanted to show people that you can make a print magazine on the internet. It took us almost a year to figure out how to make the content look [the way it looks] and how to do it in a cost-efficient way. Finally, we found the right formula from a technical standpoint. We customized the tools to fit at least some of the vision that I had.
Before, it was expensive to buy things for the home. You basically had Ikea and Target. Now you have a range of online stores to buy from, and that’s brought the home category into the next wave. Now you’re seeing an uptick of younger professionals that aren’t just into fashion—they’re interested in home and beauty and food and entertaining. The lifestyle category has arrived, in the sense that it’s more accessible. Style is no longer just about the outfit, it’s about the whole lifestyle experience—and that’s what Condiment is about.