Consume This! Fashion Influencers and COVID “Chic”

Jordan Foster’s new blog looks at how the pandemic has affected fashion influencers and the fashion industry more broadly. At present, influencers and the brands they work with face a number of challenges related to the pandemic  including obstacles related to travel and limitations surrounding advertising budgets. But influencers are responding to these challenges with significant success, capturing new followers and opportunities amidst a surge in fashion influencer viewership. Jordan’s blog can be found here.

 Jordan Foster is going into his third year in the Sociology PhD program at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on culture, consumption and class politics with a look toward how taken-for-granted trends and social media platforms comment on and reproduce existing inequalities in the consumer landscape. 

We’ve included an excerpt from the blog below.

In this month’s blog post Jordan Foster uses his research on fashion influencers to discuss how conditions under the COVID-19 pandemic have shaped their work lives, and reflect on what issues and questions they as well as brands and consumers in the fashion world face in our current moment and going forward.

— Richard E. Ocejo (Section Chair)

Consume This! Fashion Influencers and COVID “Chic”

By Jordan Foster, University of Toronto

Fashion influencers—bloggers, digital content creators and social media aficionados—have generated much attention in mainstream news media throughout the COVID19 pandemic. These news media suggest that influencers, owing to the precarity of their work aside shrinking advertising budgets and brands at the edge of bankruptcy, are losing their edge. For example, Cristina Criddle (2020), a journalist for the BBC News, explained that influencers’ contracts, press trips, and brand deals have all been “cancelled.” Amanda Perelli and Dan Whateley (2020) at Business Insider similarly reported that influencers’ collaborations and revenue streams have receded rapidly.

For readers less familiar with influencers and fashion influencers specifically, we might think of these content creators as cultural intermediaries and arbiters of taste (Bourdieu 1984; Childress 2017). They are located between producers and consumers and they play an important role in framing purchases and establishing value. Fashion influencers, for example, tout their latest apparel purchases online, sharing with viewers their thoughts on the seasons’ most important staples, as well as secrets around how to style them and, of course, where to buy them.

Given the role that influencers play in framing purchases, they are sometimes critiqued for promoting (over) consumption or else (Hund and McGuigan 2019), tied to the reproduction of broader, largely class-based, inequalities in the consumer landscape. What with [some] influencers marketing the purchase of a new product every day, it isn’t hard to see why.