The New Front Row
Simone S. Oliver

My grandmother is 91 and knows what “The Facebook” is. My mother joined Linkedln and updates her professional profile frequently. My stepdaughter could probably spend a little less time posting selfies on Instagram. And on most nights, I “unwind” by checking the latest fashion news on Twitter. Who knows what Internet offerings will dominate my soon-to-be 1-year-old daughter’s spare time when she’s in elementary school.

Though technology, the Web and social media all seem to have invaded my planet and made it smaller, it’s the fashion world’s pants that have truly gotten tighter.

Fashion is up for grabs in every sense. What was once a veiled, exotic dancer from another land, enticing her admirers from behind a shroud, has now become something attainable, transparent and shareable. The singular, booming authoritative voice of a fashion magazine editor telling us what is in and out of style is now many voices. Social media is a sprawling, high-voltage freeway where influences flow in several directions, often at hair-raising speeds. It’s turned the fashion world inside out.

Facebook can offer up-and-coming designers a stage to tell their stories when creating a dazzling Web site doesn’t fit into their budgets. Subcultures on fashion’s fringe flock to and thrive on Instagram, and in turn, creators and browsers alike source them for inspiration. Rarely could a label directly engage with customers about a store opening or an ad campaign the way it can now on Twitter (Hello, @DKNY‘s 497,000 followers and counting).

Most remarkable is the degree to which social media has promoted and rewarded the entrepreneurial spirit of fashion bloggers, such as popular Instagrammers Claire Sulmers (@fashionbombdaily) and Tamu McPherson (@tamumcpherson). But what no one really saw coming were the lucrative fashion blogger-brand business deals. In June Women’s Wear Daily reported that luxury shoemaker Stuart Weitzman paid one influential blogger more than $40,000 to attend its Milan store opening.

I joined Twitter years ago without hesitation. I immediately saw the allure of a constant stream of information you could customize to your interests and needs. But when Instagram came along, I wasn’t an early adopter. It didn’t have the same news element as Twitter. (Where’s the value in scrolling through people’s meals?) I was also overwhelmed by the growing number of passwords I needed to perform daily tasks. I felt as if sooner rather than later, I would be logging in to my microwave just to reheat last night’s leftovers.

One day I was on Twitter reading about Public School, then a start-up fashion label that eventually went on to win the Council of Fashion Designers of America Vogue Fashion Fund Award, when a link directed me to the brand’s Instagram account. I veered off and got lost in several images on the app posted by other labels like The Brooklyn Circus and LaQuan Smith. Witnessing how, like Facebook and Twitter, Instagram leveled the playing field and gave these brands legs to run on and reach the world converted me. Today I use Instagram to see what shoots my colleagues have styled, as well as to observe how people express themselves, which is an invaluable trend-forecasting tool.

Some would argue that the fashion and social media space is oversaturated, that the myriad voices have turned into noise. But you can’t ignore that fashion has become a richer industry because of social media. You need not be a fashion aficionado to be included. The industry moves fast, but your invitation to participate in its culture is a standing one.