People like to watch traditionally attractive people. It’s the foundation on which the majority of reality TV shows and Instagram is based upon. Love Island returns to our screens, and while I dip in, I’m usually away for men’s fashion weeks to get the full minutiae of people trying to fulfil their social media destiny, it is, currently, a huge influence. It’s also a barometer of how this demographic of people look and what they buy and do when to comes to fashion and grooming.
Left - Love Island contestant Curtis with no underarm hair looking like a holiday from the 90s
The prevailing trend for men seems to still be bald as a coot bodies. The hirsute trend we’re seeing in porn, in gay culture and even in women, doesn’t seem to having an impact on this group of people. Or on the producers casting these people. There’s even one guy, Curtis, who doesn’t seem to have any underarm hair. He probably won’t be the only one…
When Frida Kahlo is the poster girl for women, is it a wonder how this smooth ideal for men persists. It does feel like this is the last gasp of the completely smooth trend we’ve been seeing since of the 90s when grooming and men messing around with their intimate areas first started.
A report from Mintel last year stated 46% of British men remove hair from their bodies, up from 36% in 2016. They also discovered that 57% of young men aged 16-24 remove hair from their pubic region. UK sales of shaving and hair removal products to reach £558 million in 2018 with Veet the headline sponsor of reality TV, TOWIE. According to Mintel’s Shaving and Hair Removal – UK, October 2016, 14% of men say that they remove hair from their chest, rising to 20% amongst men aged 25-44.
It does feel like we’ve reached peak body grooming and the figures will start to reverse when they realise looking smooth looks dated and as fashionable as a tribal tattoo or skinny white jeans.
The trend for hairy has been growing for a few years now, some have been calling it the ‘Poldark Effect’, named after actor Aidan Turner’s hairy torso seen scything in the BBC drama.
Right - When Frida Kahlo is today's poster girl for women, is it a wonder how this smooth ideal for men persists
Often removing body hair was about appealing or pleasing a partner. According to dating site MissTravel.com – which conducted a poll on male chest hair – 2017's straight women prefer partners with bare chests (61 per cent like a man to shave or wax), while gay men prefer them hirsute (at 58 per cent).
Gay men are often the leaders of trends when it came to fashion and grooming and were the first to start removing hair, they are now doing the reverse. Men now look lean and hairy as opposed to bulked out and smooth like in previous decades.
Hairier is, now, seen as more masculine, more mature and sexier. Being smooth looks immature and feminine and it’s this polarised worlds of hairy versus smooth which makes the Love Island guys look even more confusing. On a positive, at least those Jacuzzi filters won’t be getting clogged up.
Below - The full 2019 Love Island line up of without a single body hair
Returns cost money, lots of money. Free delivery and no quibble returns are starting to become a strain on online retailers and it seems ASOS has had enough. The British fast-fashion giant recently announced it was cracking down on ‘serial returners’. An extension in its returns policy - items can be returned up to 45 days after purchase with a cash refund up to 28 days and credit thereafter - was also issued with a threat to investigate and ‘take action’ if it notices anything unusual with people returning more items than usual. If it suspects someone is wearing and returning goods, or ordering and returning ‘loads’, it may deactivate the account.
Left - ASOS' returns are costing them dearly
ASOS is one of the world’s largest online retailers, particularly amongst younger demographics, and its ease of ordering and returning is, arguably, part of the their success and growth story.
Becky, 29, says “I think it’s against the whole nature of online shopping. When you go into a shop you can take 10 items into the changing room and not like any of them, e-retailers need to expect the same thing to happen with their sites and customers should be able to return the items they don’t want.
"I buy a lot from ASOS and return a lot simply because it doesn’t fit right or because it doesn’t look how I expected it to when I bought it.” she says. “If it starts impacting how quickly refunds come through – or if I start having refund requests declined – then it definitely would discourage me. I love ASOS though – majority of my wardrobe is from ASOS, now, where they host so many brands – so I’m intrigued to see what happens!”
This issue is experienced by many retailers. Research conducted by resource planning platform Brightpearl, who surveyed 200 retailers across the UK, found more than a third of shops have seen an increase in serial returns over the last year. As a result, 45 per cent of retailers, including ASOS and Harrods, said they were planning to blacklist repeat offenders. It can cost double the amount for a product to be returned into the supply chain as it does to deliver it and in the UK, it can pass through seven pairs of hands before it is listed for resale. This all takes time and money.
Meli, 26, says “I’m glad that this prevents people returning used items as I’ve had something sent to me from ASOS before that was definitely used. However I’d hate to be blacklisted for genuinely returning items that don’t fit/I don’t like!
“I often order in bulk with multiple options and different sizes then do a try on at home to see what I like best, and return the rest. I think the real problem is sizing as ASOS stocks so many different brands, it’s hard to rely on standard sizing to be the same across all.” she says. “If I was blacklisted then it would certainly drive me to other online retailers or just shop directly with the brands that ASOS stocks. For now, it will make me think more carefully about exactly what I’d be likely to keep if it did fit.” says Meli.
Earlier this year, Zalando started a trial in which it would attach very big clothing labels to items to make it more difficult to ‘wear and return’ or post on Instagram. That label reads: “Dear customer, feel free to fit this article and try it, but if this label is removed, it will not to be accepted as a return by Zalando.”
Retailers have somewhat encouraged some of this behaviour with their ‘try-before-you-buy’ options. Consumers can order what they like and then just pay for what they keep. This encourages over ordering and a large number of returns. Amazon currently restricts this service to between 3 and 8 items.
Research from Barclaycard found that almost 1 in 10 UK shoppers have bought clothes online with the intent to wear them for social media and then return them. Surprisingly, it was the older demographic, men and women aged 35 to 44, with 17 per cent, revealing that they are guilty of shopping only for their #OOTD. The research also found that is was men who were more inclined to shop and return as they are more ‘socially self-conscious’ than women - with 12 per cent admitting to posting a clothing or accessory item on social media and returning it to the retailer afterwards.
Right - Zalando taking on the 'Serial Returners'' with their large tags
Lois Spencer-Tracey, fashion blogger, says, “Must confess, I'm a bit annoyed by this. I probably send back 80-100% of an order I receive purely because of their sizing and my body shape. Nothing to do with my Instagram or blog.”
Last year, Next announced it would start to charge customers a £1 fee for returns they make through a courier or through a Hermes Parcel Shop. The collection charge will be applied for each collection, regardless of the number of items collected. Returning items at any of Next’s retail or clearance stores in the UK remains free.
ASOS are playing the fashion police by admitting had resorted to checking people’s social media accounts in a bid to catch out consumers who wear clothes before sending them back, and falsely claim they have not received items bought online.
“I’m a massive online shopper. I find it so much easier to just order clothes in and try them on at home because then you can try on a full outfit, matching with the shoes and accessories you want. It’s so much easier to do in your own home rather than in a squished changing room. And usually returns are easy with things like collect+ which is much better than working out when you’ll next be in town to take clothes back to a store.” says Becky.
This is a difficult line for online brands to tread. On the one hand they don’t want to discourage consumers from ordering or being frightened to return things, and, on the other hand, they need to let excessive returners or people who are wearing things and returning them, know they are being monitored. It's definitely easier to return something into a faceless plastic bag than been quizzed by a sales assistant. This is probably an empty threat from ASOS, but does illustrate how serious this issue is becoming for fashion e-tailers. Rather than look at the volume of returns, maybe look at the conversion percentages of sales from shoppers. You don’t want to alienate active and engaged consumers, but neither do you want to service those costing the company dearly.
Read more ChicGeek expert comments - here
It was while at Barcelona Fashion Week, looking over a German Influencer’s shoulder, that the digital world looked incredibly small. She was busy scrolling, liking and commenting on pictures on Instagram. All the images looked like fellow Influencers.
We’ve had all this talk of “engagement", and brouhaha about methods of promotion, see bots, but it dawned on me that this is an audience invested in their own engagement. It’s real, but then what is real in the virtual, social media world? What is the correct form of “engagement”?
Left - No Likey
It’s basically people engaging with themselves and why are we surprised that people who like their own self-image are doing it? People have created pods to allow groups of other people to know when they have posted and to mutually like and comment the posts, increasing engagement. It’s basically what you do with your friends, but more organised and business like. It’s fine if you’ve got the energy for it. I haven’t.
She needs to like and engage with other influencers, and vice versa, to keep the momentum up, but are the numbers outside these circles actually worthy of note? It’s really hard to know. It’s pretty much the same with magazine circulation figures.
It’s also like the Fyre Festival. How were the influencers to know that a festival, scheduled months in advance, was going to be a disaster? People promote things in good faith and hope people stick behind their promises and obligations. We can all look back in hindsight and wish to do things differently or not at all.
The “Instagram police” are busy telling people what they should and shouldn’t do, but people are manipulating things all of the time. Who made the rules for the game in the first place? It’s the nature of SEO, or even more old fashioned, people buying mailing lists. It’s businesses trying to promote themselves, which certainly isn’t new.
I would never condone buying followers, that’s plain wrong, on any platform, but getting software to do what you could do yourself is a clever use of time, isn’t it? I tried the follow/unfollow method a few years ago, when I was struggling to grow followers and asked a friend how they were growing their’s. I saw it like scheduling posts or using something automated. I stopped when I realised I really didn’t care enough. Others saw it as cheating. I’ve never denied it.
We’re all at the whims of giant corporations moving the digital goalposts all of the time. Whether it’s Google or Facebook or whoever, people are continually adapting and trying new things. It’s the nature of the business. It’s how they promote themselves and work things to their advantage. We’re all digital micro-plankton bobbing along on their electronic sea.
In the decade since I started TheChicGeek I’ve always valued words and opinion and that’s why Instagram never really worked for me. It did give me TheChicGeek character, though, which I’m grateful for. I pride myself on having a distinct point of view and opinion and it would be odd if I didn’t have an opinion on this subject. I feel like I owe some sort of explanation to the people and brands I’ve worked with over the years. This blog has always been my passion and focus and always will.
We’ll probably look back on this hysterical witch hunt in a few years and wonder why anybody really cared. Hopefully, all this negative energy will implode the whole darn thing. It’s time for something new anyway.
Read - You're Fyred! The Anti-Influencer Backlash has begun...
London Fashion Week Men’s - LFWM - was stripped back in more ways than one, this season. While the bones of the skeleton schedule were showing through, it was the lack of themes on the catwalks that really raised questions. What we were given was a genderless, season-less and sex less display of menswear: a casstratrated men’s fashion week. The rumour mill was flying that LFWM will soon be merged with the women’s London Fashion Week. It’s worth noting, there were as many female models as men, so, if gender is becoming less of a differentiation, then London Fashion Week will become just that, and the two separate halves could make a whole.
Left - Alex Mullins AW19 - Girls for Boys?
If the men do return to the women, it needs to be as equals and not just a day tagged on at the end. Menswear is outgrowing womenswear, and is always seen as the less established and important sibling from brands who see ii as an add-on and not a priority. It’ll be interesting to see which brands are brave enough to give menswear equal billing.
Men’s fashion needs stereotypes to challenge, it needs boundaries to push and lines to blur, if all the lines have been erased, aren’t you just floating into nothingness? And that’s what it felt like a bit here. Menswear collections entirely shown on females models - Alex Mullins produced an entire men's show featuring only female models - more non-binary club kids dressing up in dated womenswear or six pack revealing T-shirts for the coldest months of the year: it was the male minimised.
As for gender, the whole big reveal of a chick-with-a-dick is no longer shocking, nor interesting, nor original. Art School showed a collection that didn’t look good on either gender and, Charles Jeffrey, the Uri Geller of the London scene, continued with more theatrics, but, in his defence, when the feathers stopped flying and the smoke and mirrors were turned off, the collection looked more accomplished and could hold its own alongside any other designer in-store.
This lack of focus made for a schizoid season, and it was brands like E. Tautz, which didn’t do anything particularly new, that created a pull and yearning for collections featuring something beautiful again. Bored with sports, bored with fugly, the next men’s movement will be a return to something you want to enjoy and cherish rather than Instagram and discard.
That most British thing of all, the weather, was totally missing during LFWM. It’s all about “drops”, and “Autumn/Winter” is delivered in the middle of the summer, but, before, many brands and designers would start with this idea of “Winter” or, rain, which made Burberry. That probably had something to do with bigger budgets and fancier staging. Larger and more established brands used to like to ram home the cold weather feel, already visualising the windows, and while this idea is dated, at this LFWM, many of the clothes could have been for any month, anywhere, at anytime. So, what makes it 2019?
Sex was missing too. Even the hyper masculine muscle boys at Astrid Andersen were covered up for a luxury pyjama party. It was as though men were getting ready to go into hibernation until all this woke madness blows over. Though, Per Götesson, showed T-shirts pulled up to reveal the stomach, perfect for those social media body fascists. “It’s about equal parts vanity and fragility.” he says. “Each piece is designed three dimensionally around the body. We are applying techniques perhaps more common in womenswear and couture where lines and proportions in movement are taken into consideration. The jersey pieces are developed using this process, it is about finding a balance between strength and fragility.” And, there was me just thinking it was about likes on Instagram. Back to creating a male pecking order, As soon as one thing disappears, a new line or goal is revealed to differentiate the masses: that unattainable 8-pack separating the men from the boys.
Right - Art School AW19
Fashion is about selling change and, as a designer or brand, you need to create desire for that change into what you are presenting at that moment in time. Genderless, season-less, sexless, can equal nothingness. Just please don’t make men redundant.
Menswear is often viewed in isolation. Many designers or brands who produce both men’s and women’s clothes often keep them apart when showing them to the press. The times they are together, the menswear often looks conservative and dowdy compared to its feminine counterpart.
Left - Topman AW18
So, it was with some excitement, when I attended the newly merged Topman/Topshop AW18 preview a few months ago, that the menswear was louder than the women’s. Looking across the room I thought I'd stepped to the wrong side. And, let’s be honest, Topshop womenswear isn’t exactly for shy wallflowers.
To me this signified the new confidence in high-street menswear and menswear in general. Topman has had a rocky patch of late and could have easily played safe and opted for simple basics and proven product. But, no, this was like a wardrobe for Harry Styles’ global world tour! A new Global Design Director, overseeing both Topman and Topshop, Anthony Cuthbertson, had arrived from Just Cavalli.
It’s as though Gucci has pushed the door open for this type of exhibitionist menswear and the British high-street has, literally, kicked it open. I don’t think menswear has been this colourful and bold since Tommy Nutter was a leading figure.
Right - Versace taste, lemonade budget?! AW18 River Island
And, it’s not just Topman. It’s River Island, ASOS, boohoo and many others who are reacting to an experimental male consumer who isn’t constrained by gender or the feeling of conforming.
Victoria Hunt, Senior Designer, River Island, says, “Menswear trends have been bolder of late, so there’s been a natural progression towards more adventurous clothing; not just at River Island, but across the entire industry. Catwalks are pushing the limits and this trickles down to make standout fashion more readily available."
“The trend for loud prints and statement pieces seems to be a natural fit for our men’s consumer, so we’ve really embraced it. We are also consciously driving the brand to be more cohesive across all of our departments, although our menswear, womenswear and kidswear customers are all different our collections should be instantly recognisable as River Island.” says Hunt.
Shane Chin, Menswear Design Manager, boohooMAN, says,“At boohooMAN we listen and learn from our customer and grow our collections to suit our guy. It’s a really exciting time for boohooMAN and we’re lucky to have a broad customer base that isn’t afraid to go after new trends and styles.”
“Ideas have been taken mainly from street style and considering how our guy will ultimately wear and style the garments we design. I think the resurgence of Gucci has put a real focus on bringing the fun side back to fashion and by mixing this with the current focus on streetwear, we’ve been able to push the boundaries further in the collections.” says Chin
Street style, influencers and social media seems to be playing a massive part of this growth in experimentation. One is feeding the other and so the cycle continues. These are items made for Instagram and the frenzy to standout on the platform. These are the type of clothes that make better pictures.
Left - Sequin trackies? Topman AW18 Like sequins? See TheChicGeek's picks here
“We gather ideas from all areas as inspiration for our designs: street style, editorials, art and travel to name a few. There are a lot of the big fashion houses pushing bold florals and baroques, but we’re seeing this a lot on the street too. We are always on the look out for new and exciting fashion.” says Hunt.
“Social media has given rise to this in a big way, trends are able to gain momentum so much faster now. Look at the bumbag/cross body bag – who could have predicted that was going to be so huge?” she says.
Designer fashion has become so expensive and, with the younger generation having less money or earning less, these retailers and brands are allowing guys to look as baroque as a Versace model for pocket money prices. I think the affordable prices are encouraging men to be more experimental knowing they haven’t committed as much when it doesn’t cost a month’s rent.
“Menswear is adapting to the growth of social media and the way that style inspo. is so readily available. There’s a real buzz around menswear and it’s exciting to see menswear have more of a focus at fashion weeks around the world, each season. I think the range of brands showing menswear and womenswear in the same shows has also had an effect on people being more inspired by menswear and menswear styling.” says Chin.
It’s interesting that something that was seen as a step back for menswear - the merging of designer catwalk collections - has actually made menswear step up to mirror the womenswear in its distinctive and look-at-me aesthetic and raise its awareness.
Hunt says, “The growth of menswear in general has made high end fashion so much more accessible and relevant to the customer. All over the world, menswear fashion weeks gets so much coverage on social media that men are seeing celebrities and influencers in more experimental trends and dressings and that’s something that they aspire to.
“Just yesterday I was at graduate fashion week and the amount of students choosing to study menswear has grown hugely over the past few years, so there is definitely more to come. It’s also a rebellion in part to the button-down sartorial looks of a few years back. Now, guys want to break and bend the rules, throwing prints, sportswear, tailoring and streetwear together effortlessly.” she says.
It would be silly to suggest that this guy was the majority of men, but it's growing and it’s a younger male consumer who will influence his social circle both on and off-line.
“It’s a really wide demographic – from the well-groomed Ibiza guy that likes to wear a matching twin set by the pool, to the fashionista that clashes three different prints in to one look!” says Hunt.
“The market continues to grow at more than double the rate of womenswear, so it’s not going to slow down any time soon. Men will continue to experiment and it will be exciting to see what’s next – gender is no longer a static thing, so guys don’t feel that they have to conform in the same way. We can be whoever we’d like to be and clothing is a great way of expressing that.” she says.
Right - The sequins keep coming - River Island AW18
Chin says, “I think people’s attitudes towards menswear are changing. Even in the last decade, and in my career to date, menswear trends and styles are becoming more adventurous each year. The lines are blurring and fashion is no longer a womenswear focused arena.”
Affordable menswear has never been produced in such volume and with such experimentation. Sequins, fringing, patches, badges, louder and louder patterns and prints, make this like a sweet shop for modern day Marc Bolans. This feels like a really exciting time for high-street menswear and the British are leading the charge. Where we lead, others will follow, and it’ll be interesting to see where this type of outlandish menswear can go.
Let’s take a moment to step back and see how fashionable men are looking at this moment in time. You’ve probably noticed a proliferation of thick moustaches - well away from the month of Movember - alongside lean and toned bodies all clothed in fitted, retro sportswear. It’s hard not to see his counterpart mirrored from the late 70s or early 80s. An era of disco, gay liberation and pre-AIDS.
Left - How men are looking today - lean, toned and a hair top lip - Gone is the bearded and tattooed hipster
This isn’t just gay men either. Young straight men and homosexual men are almost indecipherable in how they look, today, bouncing the trends off one another and have the confidence to do as they please, rather than worry about being labelled either way.
I was recently in a gay pub in East London. In walked three young guys all proudly sporting cropped hair and thick moustaches. I thought it was interesting how they looked like the same young men from nearly 40 years ago. I wondered why all these things: the clothes, the body shape and facial hair styles, had all collided back to this one point in time. And, then I thought, maybe it’s because we’re entering a Post-AIDS era?
Right - Two Supermen, 40 years apart - Henry Cavill & Christopher Reeve
Thanks to medication, HIV can be prevented and people who do have it can no longer pass it on. Medication such as PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) can stop HIV from taking hold. It is highly effective for preventing HIV if used as prescribed and it recently became available on the NHS.
Consciously or unconsciously, it feels like we can finally celebrate this time because we’re no longer scared of it. Previously, looking at the images from that era had a heavy melancholy knowing what was to come and how many men didn’t make it out of that decade. But, it feels like that has lifted. It’s a mental freedom that the fashion industry is clearly relishing and focusing on this hedonistic era and image of hyper-masculinity.
Popular Instagram accounts such as ‘TheAidsMemorial’ celebrates the lives of men who lost their lives and it’s interesting how contemporary these images look. Publications such as ‘Gayletter’ play with retro homoerotic imagery and books such as ‘Fire Island Pines’ , is a collection of Polaroids from 1975-1983 of men holidaying in Fire Island in Long Island, New York, and they look like a contemporary men's swimwear shoot. Recent films like ‘Tom of Finland’ focuses on the illustrator who drew the fetish/leather side of gay men and can be seen throughout the recent AW18 collection from Moschino.
Left - Photography book - Fire Island Pines by Tom Bianchi
This is obviously centred on the gay community, but gay men influence straight men, so quickly now, and vice versa.
“In the inimitable words of power PR Samantha Jones of TV show ‘Sex and the City’ (fictional, of course) "First comes the Gays, then the girls and then the industry"!says David M Watts, Editor & Publisher, Wattswhat Magazine.
"Gay men have historically been regarded as trend setters when it comes to fashion and style. However, the resurgence of male erotica imagery making its way into mainstream fashion has more to do with lazy millennial designers looking back and copying 80s and 90s imagery rather than using it as inspiration to create something new,” says Watts.
Right - Moschino AW18
Contemporary films, documentaries and TV shows such as Ready Player One, Stranger Things, The Assassination of Gianni Versace and Antonio Lopez: Sex, Fashion & Disco - Read TheChicGeek review here, keep us continually coming back to the 70s and 80s.
“I think nostalgia is a feeling which anchors us in a constantly-changing world, and that period between the late-Seventies and mid-Eighties, pre-AIDS crisis, pre-Section 28, and the birth of the Gay Liberation movement, is sometimes seen by gay men as a golden age of hedonism and queer sexual politics. Hence the continued popularity of the music and style from that period,” says Lee Clatworthy, Writer and Press and Media Officer for Sparkle - The National Transgender Charity.
"I think this style has filtered down to the mainstream because of the availability of cheap flights to cities like Berlin, which has a large queer art community, but is also a focal point for innovative electronic music and club culture at present.” says Clatworthy.
Gone is that built, steroid-fed and hairless muscular body of the 90s and in its place is a more natural yet Instagramable toned shape. It’s more youthful and suits the current fitted style of men's clothes.
Trying not to fixate on the moustache too much, but it’s definitely one of the defining factors linking the two eras, one thing to know is, it’s not the twiddly gin-drinking Victorian type, but the solid Magnum PI style. The many years of Movember would have played a part in its return, but it’s most probably a reaction to the hipster beard.
Left - GQ Style SS18
“I would say guys wearing the moustache are normally stylish and looking to stand out a bit more in a world of beards. It normally means they are confident in themselves too.” says Tom Chapman, Founder of the Lions Barber Collective.
“I think the obsession with facial hair as a whole has been with us for a few years now, but people are starting to feel confident with a furry face and beginning to experiment with different shapes. There are so many choices when it comes to the moustache which can be easily changeable and stylable.” says Chapman.
Right - Selfie from Pinterest
“The thicker, denser looks with less styling have definitely come from those 70/80 icons such as Freddy Mercury and Hulk Hogan and I would say that young men are most definitely influenced by iconic TV and films. They have a powerful way of making something feel cool or stylish.” Chapman says.
While this ‘PrEPpy’ look has already been strong, particularly amongst East London gay men, it is definitely being pushed out into the wider male aesthetic. As we move further away from the bearded hipster, this seems to be its cool replacement. It is starting to influence straight males who won’t even know where it’s come from.
Or, it could simply be just a lot of young men with moustaches. It’s only a theory!
Left - Clearly influence by Tom of Finland, GQ Style SS18 showing the lean, toned and tached male look
Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here
It feels like we’re one data breach, revelation or exposé away from deleting Facebook. Not to mention all the other platforms. Some of us have been on these social media channels for nearly a decade and we’re tired. Social media is starting to feel a bit of a chore and people are reassessing their relationship with it. The novelty factor is waning and it seems like we’re bored of seeing the same images repeated and, even those who’ve made it their business to ‘influence’, via social media - ‘Influencers’ - seem bored themselves of making and posting the same images.
“There’s definitely a sense of content and Facebook fatigue and more importantly, a loss of trust. As a first-gen blogger, it was trust that built our communities ten years ago and that was in no small part because at that time blogging was purely a passion project, not for commercial gain,” says Navaz Batliwalla, editorial consultant and blogger at Disneyrollergirl.net
“The reason social media content has become formulaic is down to the cynical commercialisation of it all. To reach mass eyeballs, your content has to be fairly mainstream which is why so many blogs and legacy media have adapted similar aesthetics and tones of voice. It’s diluted the uniqueness and personality. Inevitably, it becomes a slog to create that sort of formulaic content too, so the creators themselves get bored - and it shows.” says Batliwalla.
Instagram has clearly peaked and it being the centre of brands’ and people’s focus is changing. There are only so many flat-whites or magnolia trees people are going to be interested in. It’s all got very annoying and basic.
Instagram recently made changes so people can no longer manipulate engagement and artificially increase following. Those who think they’ve got more engagement than Elizabeth Taylor will now have to rely solely on the whims of their ‘followers’ and it’s almost certain they won’t be able to sustain their likes and followers in a market that is mature and growing bored.
“For me, the big content killer has been the algorithmic changes. Bloggers who relied on Instagram for their main income have panicked as their engagement plunged since the introduction of Instagram’s changes last year. I noticed certain tactics like comment pods and lengthy over-shary posts, a kind of desperate click-bait attempt to keep followers interested. It’s also the reason for so many more ‘look at me’-type posts because selfies and outfit posts tend to get better engagement on Instagram. But again, with certain influencers, it just doesn’t come naturally and it’s a turnoff to their followers. I'’ve been there myself! Finally, the sheer volume of sponsored posts is exhausting to read. It’s too much.” says Batliwalla.
For me, it was when they allowed you to save your best Instagram Stories - ‘Story Highlights’ - that I felt like this had become a job and required too much thought, rather than something fun and interactive. The more things they introduce, the heavier it all becomes. You see people tapping away on their Facebook accounts on their phones on the train: liking pictures, commenting and keeping up. It’s like a full-time job. People will reduce the amount of their free time they spend on these sites.
Even the biggest ‘Influencers’ can’t rely on their numbers. Just look at people like Ella Mills - Deliciously Ella - 1.3m Instagram followers, closing her delis, Millie Mackintosh, reality star and influencer - 1.3m Instagram followers, folding her clothing line, and the ultimate influencer of all Victoria Beckham - 19.6m Instagram followers, made around 60 workers redundant recently after new investors ordered a review of the business.
We do have to acknowledge the green-eyed monster in the reporting of Influencers, especially by traditional press. These attractive people living their best life and getting paid to do it. Beats working in McDonald’s. But, it’s got crowded, they’re not cute forever and we’ve all seen that ‘wow’ picture before. Ultimately, unless they’re traditionally famous, have a respected talent or you fancy them, why the fuck do you care about what they are doing? It seems strange that so many people are supposed to care about people they don’t know. They don’t.
Christophe Brumby, Creative Strategist at Amplify (brand experience agency for clients like Facebook, Google and Spotify) says, “As publishers see their influence wane and as Influencers fight for control, everyone is taking matters in their own hands… What we are seeing as a result is a new age of convergence where publishers such as Refinery 29 are turning their staff into influencers and where influencers are starting their own publishing ventures with the likes of Street Dreams, a collective of creators rooted in photography, bringing their community offline through a print magazine, photo walks and shows. It may not be long before we see publishers and influencers teaming up together to maintain relevance with their audiences while reducing their dependence on social platforms.”
“Social media did not invent influence but in bringing the ‘social’ into traditional media, they dramatically changed the rules of the game. Social media have atomised and democratised influence, effectively transferring power from the traditional media to every individual user; turning everyone into a potential influencer capable of measuring their personal media value,” says Brumby.
“Despite a rise in marketing spend, many influencers argue that the current model is not sustainable as platforms and brands are taking advantage of a highly fragmented landscape where they do not hold much leverage as individuals. On the one hand, they are increasingly reliant on the platforms that ultimately own their audiences and dictate the rules of engagement, often feeling at the mercy of sudden algorithm changes," says Brumby.
In a recent article in the Financial Times about the death of Influencers, it quoted a fashion PR director saying, “Whatever you do — don't market yourself as an Influencer. Stick to journalism. That's a proper craft.” There's definitely a feeling of distancing themselves from the label 'Influencer'.
Robin James, digital content producer, Youtube creator and blogger says “I don’t use social media in my personal life. It’s not real life and I find it exhausting, It takes a lot from you without giving back and a feeling of you’re missing life. That said, there’s a flip side, Instagram Stories is the real side of what ‘Influencers’ are up to.”
“Audiences are going through Instagram double tapping without reading and being social media zombies. In terms of business, I produce stuff with more thought and heart and not just a pretty picture. That sort of production and quality of content will survive. I tried to take the production down slightly to be more connected to an audience and become a bit more raw,” he says.
James recently qualified as a barber to give himself more expertise in the grooming arena, “I decided to do that to have a lot more authority, and become an expert in an area. One was editorial and secondly, was commercially: I can do this, I can cut and style it. I trained for six months.”
So, what’s next? What would we do with all that spare time if we reduced our ‘socialising’?! I think there’s a place for something like Facebook, but more a Wikipedia model of philanthropy. Run just to wipe its face, it would be more like what a lot of people think Facebook is rather than a huge marketing site.
I think we’ll see a return to searched for, permanent, or as permanent as the internet allows, content. People looking for something and finding a trusted voice.
Everybody is striving for authority and longevity. I think those ‘Influencers’ who have nothing to say or say nothing with disappear. The rest will have to evolve to beyond just the visual and sound bites as the audience matures and also, no doubt, the next wave of young consumers will be into something else.
Will we see the end of thirsty attention seekers seeking validation on Instagram? Probably not, but I think it’s definitely had its moment. Marketeers, who always take a while to catch up, will continue to chuck money at this for a little while yet, but it’ll fall off soon.
But where do we go next? Good print isn’t dead, but, ultimately, it’s digital.
“I’ve noticed a renewed interest in long form content, more like essays. People are yearning to read blogs again. Informed opinions, observations, not just news and product reviews. I write a monthly insights email (called The Beauty Conversation) with two beauty industry colleagues and we’re nurturing our community to build trust and engagement. It’s not about numbers at all, but the relevance and quality of our audience and our niche content.” says Batliwalla.
Everything has become so disposable and ultimately forgettable. This is the modern life we live, but it will bounce back, not fully, but partially.
Can you remember when you met somebody new and you’d say “What’s your Instagram?” That's stopped. I can’t be bothered anymore. It’s full and I don’t want to waste more of my time deleting accounts. As the Instagram hysteria subsides it will take the pressure off ‘reach’ and ;followers; and plateau into a record of pictures for genuine friendship groups.
All those ‘Influencer Marketing’ companies that have popped up with have to move into digital marketing and have a broader scope. I used to joke that there were more platforms than Clapham Junction. It just doesn’t feel funny anymore.
Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here
Read - You're Fyred! The Anti-Influencer Backlash has begun...
If Instagram was to make a TV channel - which no doubt is probably on the expansion cards sometime in the future - it would look like Love Island: an endless stream of scantily clad hot people looking toned and buff in a semi-exotic holiday location.
It’s ticking all those visual social media boxes and the people don't really need to do or say anything. Which probably suits.
Love Island doesn't pretend to have an ‘real people’ like other reality shows, and therefore sticks to a young and more ‘filtered’ age group. It’s all the Vs: vain, vacuous and very addictive.
Left - One for the villa?! ASOS TALL Muscle Raglan T-Shirt - £14
You can chuck in shows such as Ex On The Beach and Ibiza Weekender too and you, basically, have a moving Instagram feed. These people are ‘mega stars’ on social media promoting protein powders and long-line, muscle-fit tees in the gaps between the yo-yoing opportunity of featuring in various forms of reality TV shows.
We’ve grown so used to swiping these types of pics that we can now deal with nightly, hourly viewings of people pretending to find L.O.V.E. when, in fact, the only thing the majority of people love is themselves and this attention we give only encourages it. #Brandme
What these shows show is the growing niche of Instagram and the things the audience on there wants to see. The power and endless fascination of looking at tanned, toned bodies in hotter climes pleases the braindead. It’s the visual equivalent of having a sun-bed.
And they’re influence cannot be underestimated within its targeted group. Move over Liz Hurley, as there have been reports of an explosion of sales of skinny white jeans thanks to the boys in the Love Island house. H&M, Topman and ASOS are all ‘reporting healthy sales’, well, according to The Daily Mail anyway.
And if you own a swim short brand, it's usually the only thing they're wearing, you want it on these guys.
It’s #BasicBitch TV and these are active consumers open to be influenced. This is the ‘skinny’ generation where too tight is not fitted enough. This is TV as fast and throwaway as the fashion.
It all looks so perfect and effortless, when in fact they’ve probably been working hard and eating ‘clean’ for months before the show. You can't 'cane it' like they do on Geordie Shore and maintain a six-pack. It increases the pressure, especially on the targeted young audience, to look like this and the stressful, bullying and competitive environment that crosses over to dating apps and their own social media.
I think Love Island is the peak of guys looking like this, in fashion terms anyway. The body beautiful isn't going anywhere, but the tide has turned on tight and I think we’ll look back in a few years and wonder what on earth were they wearing. Read more Goodbye Fitted/Skinny here
Is the love affair over? Has Instagram peaked? I’m not basing this on any stats, as there aren’t any recent figures, but, like all things, instinctively, it feels like the audience are growing bored, the novelty is over, it all feels like hard work and many people are thinking what’s next or they want a break.
Left - Instagram - Are you feeling bored? Is the love affair over?
Instagram’s had a good run for its money, but I think people have a sense of deja vu looking at the perfect and saccharine images that are repeated daily. The same faces in the same places. I think the British, especially, are suspicious of too much perfection and the filtered view on life feels distant from the reality.
Over the last 3 years, Instagram became an obsession for many with the birth of ‘Influencers’ and brands piling in to be seen in the hands of these people who always look both ways, but never into the camera, when they cross the road. It’s hard to do anything different and people are becoming immune to any great images and simply overwhelmed with the swiping. They even look bored.
Let’s look at Instagram with fresh eyes for a minute. It’s not often you learn anything from it. It’s mostly immature, forgettable stuff - hot people, cute animals, holiday pictures, floors etc - and appeals to your younger, teenage self and that can be fun, for a time. When you think or feel like engaging, it’s only natural to really care about the people you know in really life.
I’ve been put into the ‘Influencer’ bracket, I’ll put my hands up, but my foundation has always been the written word and this blog. The idea is and always was to try to be a trend setter, opinion former and find out the latest and best things within the men’s style area and to be trusted and influential. (I don't think we've fully settled on a label or a term to describe what we do. The word 'Blogger' has also had a rough ride and wasn't embraced by many). I care and am passionate about this business and it isn’t a vehicle for my own vanity despite what my enlarged head might say!
Many men’s influencers were born from their girlfriends’ accounts and as such followed their lead on content and visual identity. Let’s be honest, how many afternoon tea reviews really appeal to anyone, let alone guys? The modern equivalent of a teenage crush or poster on the wall, the good-looking male influencer is not going to be cute for forever and doesn't really appeal beyond the superficial. These things have a shelf life and the Best Before Date has passed. They have to work out their USP or niche of expertise to have any longevity. I think men, especially, respect and are influenced by honest experience.
People are growing bored, posting less images and with engagement falling, this is the perfect storm to deflate this bubble. We are all influenced by many of things and by lots of people and the idea that these people have a magic key or insight is now over. It was all getting a bit 'Emperor's New Clothes' or was it the emperor getting paid to wear the new clothes?!
‘Influencer Marketing’ has a place in the arsenal of marketing, but celebrities lead the movement in this. There’s no reason for brands not to spend a slice of the marketing pie, but it became a central focus and I’m not sure it really warrants that importance and all the eggs going into this basket. Brands need to create good content and they can partner with people to do this: lots of different people. It doesn’t and won’t always result in stats telling you how much ROI - return on investment - you’ve had. It’s marketing afterall, everything is experimental and nothing is guaranteed.
As Instagram make it hard for people to grow their followers, it’s become a game of getting nowhere and a feeling of hopelessness and dropping out. It’s also hard to find anybody on there or break out of your friendship groups. I’m not entering the #Instafraud debate, but I think some people need to take a step back and realise that not everything revolves around Instagram.
Many of these Influencers don’t seem to have an opinion or express it on Instagram and this is why they’ve never really been into Twitter. Nobody is saying anything. Twitter requires a brain and thought process in order to say something and, this, unfortunately, makes it smaller in our figure obsessed world. Twitter is about news, opinion and conversation and doesn't appeal on a huge scale.
Also, what’s the ideal Instagram number of followers? 10,000? 25,000? 100,000? More, more, more!
As the men’s fashion business has been going through contraction - ChicGeek Comment here - the money available has deflated the Influencer bubble too. Brand people forget there is much more to the digital world than Instagram. We’re definitely seeing less sponsored posts and collaborations on there. While Instagram isn’t going anywhere, the days of thinking the sun revolves around it are over. It’ll take its place on the icons along with all the other accounts and move into the background.
I think things are going to go back to written content held on blogs and websites that can be searched for and while social media is important and helps you create great original images, it’s very disposable and becoming more and more noisy as more features are added. I also think personality is going to become much more important in the digital world and this needs to be expressed in what you say, not just how you are seen. Instagram has become stressful keeping up, increasingly serious and as such has lost most of the fun.
It’s time to get clever, again.
To quote the supermarkets, the space race is over. Much like the frenetic expansion we saw in the food sector with supermarkets opening store after store in a saturated market, which didn’t increase sales and just cannibalised those they already had, the same could be said for social media.
We’ve seen a huge appetite for volume since its inception. Followers, subscribers, likes etc., brands and companies have spent lots of time, effort and money on growing their social following to as big as possible and, for many, continues to be the main focus of their attention. This isn’t sustainable.
Twitter has stalled in its growth of users at around the 300 million mark and Instagram, which just passed its 500 million users threshold, will no doubt start to slow or stall. There are only so many people in the world, after all.
This October, Condé Nast International’s chief digital officer, Wolfgang Blau, said, “You can’t win a race for reach,” at the Digiday Publishing Summit in Nice. He said that Vogue does not have to be gigantic to be very influential. For too long, too many were “drunk on reach” and forgot to focus instead on deeply understanding their readers.
This is a change in language and tactic from the one of the world's main digital publishers and a welcome one.
What is an 'acceptable' number of followers? Many people/brands look to others for this competitive and, sometimes not honest, number. It’s never enough.
The new age of social media will be healthy niches influencing people and rippling out into the wider population. Engagement will become key and producing content that is original, clever and contemporary will be the way to stand out. They'll be new ways to monitor engagement which don't require as much effort from the recipient.
What’s that inspirational quote about Jesus only having 12 followers? Okay, one did unfollow him! But, the space race is over and big isn’t always best.