How do we know what we want when Instagram decides for us?
This is a question I’ve been asking myself more and more lately. And it sounds like some of you have, too, based on the responses I got on a recent Instagram post, especially among people who are in outfit sharing communities and the ethical fashion community (if you’re a casual instagram browser this might not resonate as much). This all started when I had been pining over this $168 Tradlands button up for months when I finally came to my senses by thinking through a couple questions: 1) why do I want this? and 2) can I get that another way?
The answer to 1) was complicated–I wanted this white button-up because it was simple and aligned with my ideal style goals, but these style goals are really one part mine, ten parts reinforced by aesthetically pleasing Instagram images with the very appropriate #minimaliststyle tags. It’s funny how something like a white shirt can get wrapped up with your identity, too–if only I had this white shirt, I would appear like the competent young professional women I aspire to be, I would look effortless in the classroom, at art museums, while buying fresh flowers at the grocery store… So often, what I want is really a feeling, which I can get in other ways by actually living out my idealistic life (by, you know, actually working toward my goals).
Fortunately, there were multiple answers to 2) that were “Yes! Yes you can get what you want for less than $100!” First, I recognized that there was some merit to why I wanted this shirt: it claims to have enough buttons not to have a boob gap, which, for anyone who regularly struggles with button up shirts, is a bfd. But another practical problem is that I tend to need a tall size in button ups (this was honestly the only thing that saved me from spending my money). So, after pining for several months, I finally just bought myself a tall-sized white button up, and, for $10, had an extra snap put on it by the tailor so that the buttons wouldn’t gape.
This exercise in poor restraint got me thinking about my Instagram use: what I’ve been influenced to want, what I’ve managed to talk myself out of. So, in the spirit of that, here is a list of ways that Instagram has been a good influence on my style, plus forces I have tried to resist.
- The good:
- Slow fashion: I now ask myself “am I ready to have this in my closet for a long, long time?” before buying (most) things.
- Case in point: I just found myself thinking about taking a pair of boots to the cobbler for maintenance because I’ve “only” owned them for five years. Whoa. The Rebecca of 2 years ago would not have had this thought, and would have just replaced them.
- Ethical fashion: It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally found some more affordable brands that are attempting to ethically produce new products, and now I’ve shopped those first, before going to fast fashion companies like Madewell (recent favorites: Brass for sweaters, NotPerfectLinen for all the linen things).
- Clothing maintenance: I now have cashmere spray, waterproof boot spray, leather cleaner, a steamer, I’m into mending things now….The can-do spirit of the internet has really helped me to think “hey, I should take care of my clothes more.”
- The bad:
- Uncomfortable shoes: I have very picky feet yet I feel drawn in by the aesthetically pleasing shoes of Instagram all the time. I had to uninfluence myself from these brands, usually the hard way (ordering and dealing with returns hassle). A prime example: I tried on the Day Glove at the Everlane store in NYC, which has its praises sung everywhere on social media, and it was not. comfortable. at. all. Like ouch.
- See also: mules. I just can’t walk in them.
- Silhouettes that aren’t “me”: I now have a “do not buy” list in my phone now, which has been quite effective, mostly at talking me out of buying boxy cropped tops, which are everywhere, and look wonderful on bloggers, but they are not for me (being 6′ tall has something to do with this).
- Persuasion through repetition: I often find myself not really thinking the look of something is for me the first time I see it on social media, but by the 10th time I’ve seen someone wearing it, I’m totally sold. I try to honor my instincts–because, conversely, I tend to know right away if I love something and should save up for it.
It feels silly to acknowledge how much “influencers” get to me–but I’m not alone (and I talk to my organizational communication students about branding and getting people to identify all the time!). It helps to remember that companies trying to sell me things, no matter how ethical, are out to make money–they don’t care about my savings goals, that I’m moving in a few months, or that not every trend is for everyone. The only person who can look out for me, when it comes to overconsumption, is me.