It’s hard to believe just 10 years ago we lived in a world without Instagram. Since the rise of the photo sharing app and those like SnapChat, Facebook, and TikTok, the world is more immersed in social media than ever. The effects of the digital age allows for channels we surround ourselves with (subconsciously or not) to influence us and our daily lives. Whether it’s that perfect golden hour-lit photo or a Kira Kira-filtered lipgloss, fashion is one of the many areas that takes a forefront in online influence, where it’s easier to find new trends scrolling through an explore page than walking on the street. But before fashion influencers lived on our phone screens, they were women who led countries and started movements–their swagger was copied by many not just for their exceptional style, but also to embody the power they exuded through dress.
The role of the influencer begins in a time of new world order that brought several advancements in art and technology–the Renaissance, or rebirth. Throughout much of the Renaissance (1300-1600), the Medici family held power over Florence with members also marrying into other royal bloodlines across Europe. Catherine de’Medici was one of the most notable of these individuals, known as a Machiavellian queen of France who plotted and murdered. What’s less known about the queen is the fashion innovations she introduced to the French court and how she used clothes as a tool for enforcing power. We can thank de’Medici for styles such as perfumed gloves invented to disguise the putrid smells of leather tanning and the corset as we know it today, which she established after banning thick waists from the court.
When de’Medici was betrothed to Henry II, Dauphin of France, she strongly desired to become leader of a country and knew she needed to captivate her future husband as well as the French court. Knowing the King had a long affair with Diane de Poitiers, a tall and beautiful courtier, de’Medici, who stood at under five foot, needed to compete. She commissioned a Florentine shoemaker to create a new style of the high heel that increased stature while leaving the front of the shoe flat for stability. These shoes were like no other heel because women could comfortably walk in them. Not long after, other royals and even men began wearing the shoes to achieve a high societal posture. Many of de’Medici’s inventions we still use, so next time you’re throwing on your comfiest low heels, thank de’Medici.
Over in England, Queen Elizabeth I set the tone for the fashions of the 1500s with her distinct style throughout her rule. As she got older, the Queen’s taste for opulent gowns lead to a mass trend of elaborate dress for both men and women. Above all else, the Queen particularly set standards in beauty, highlighting the importance of makeup. Pre-Elizabethan times, cosmetics weren’t favored, but the ideal of beauty soon focused around the Queen and her love of exaggerated features via makeup. She brought a particular emphasis on alabaster skin, a plucked hairline, narrow eyebrows, false veins (for maximal skin transparency), and vermillion lips. Elizabeth’s curly red hair presented new recipes for commoners dying and bleaching their locks to achieve the same look. In her old age, the Queen’s teeth began to decay and women went so far as to paint their teeth black to look like her–not one of her best trends–but the Queen’s great influence was undeniable and continues to hold spectacle.
While the early roots of fashion influencers grew in royalty, many looked to the monarch’s trusted designers who helped curate the new looks. In the 200-or-so years since Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine, the Queen of France continues to be a subject of inspiration particularly when it comes to her iconic style choices. Antoinette indulged in her passion for fashion as a method of enhancing her public appearance, but she didn’t do this alone. Appointed the Queen’s Minister of Fashion, Marie Jeanne Bertin, known as Rose Bertin, was dressmaker and style advisor to the young ruler. Bertin had significant impact on fashion during this time, aligning closely with the monarchy’s obsession with excess. The sky-high pouf hairstyle and wedding cake gowns popularized by Antoinette were most likely the work of Bertin. With the backing of the Queen, Bertin’s work became famous and soon laid the foundation for a future of haute couturiers. Charles Frederick Worth, also known as “the father of haute couture,” would follow in Bertin’s footsteps in later years creating designs for royal trend-setters like Queen Victoria and Empress Eugénie of Spain.
On the verge of the 20th century, popular fixation shifted towards a whole new industry– film. The invention of cinema was a game changer for fashion influencing. Suddenly, royals were no longer at the forefront and the creation of the celebrity soon mesmerized the world. Silver screen starlets created an image of themselves that was soon adapted into trends that were (and continue to be) popular fashions. Who could forget Clara Bow‘s eponymous bow-shaped lipstick and droopy eyebrows, Marlene Dietrich‘s androgynous looks of the ’30s, Marilyn Monroe‘s peroxide blonde hair, and of course, Audrey Hepburn‘s little black dress. Hollywood and its celebrities became synonymous with a sense of enigmatic glamour that is greatly influential even today as our fixation with stars and what they’re wearing just doesn’t seem to quit.
The ’60s brought a whole new youth-driven cultural energy to the world pervading fashion, art, and music, turning the gaze on pop culture. Arguably the first supermodel, Twiggy established herself as an It girl of the era with her iconic drawn-on lashes and trendsetting mod style that transcended her from model to full-blown influencer. She represents a turning point in fashion, where models were no longer mannequins, but had a voice impacting the taste of the times.
With a TV in almost every home, people were more connected to political issues and the world around them than ever before. Jackie Kennedy became First Lady of the United States in 1961 influencing millions worldwide with her signature style that was broadcasted on television sets and newspapers. While many First Ladies preceding her were known for their contribution to the White House, Kennedy was known for the style she bestowed on the White House dubbed “First Lady of Fashion.” Famed for her tiny pillbox hat designed by Halston, women everywhere copied her wasp-y look of scarfs, boxy suits, and oversized shades. Her style remains exceptionally timeless and copied time and time again.
As technologies advanced with the Walkman and music videos, the ’80s particularly highlighted music giving name to some of the greatest musicians of all time. One of the many great influences during this time was the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna. Fashion always remained an important factor for the style chameleon who was known for recreating her look and having trends follow after her. She particularly influenced the use of lingerie in everyday wear alongside iconic collaborations with fashion desginers like her conal corset designed by John Paul Gaultier. Young women rapidly duplicated her taste for the bustier, cross necklaces, and lace gloves, showing just how powerful her stardom was.
Across the pond, a new addition was added to the royal family: Lady Diana Spencer of Wales. Also known as the People’s Princess, Princess Diana was widely loved for her humanitarian work in AIDS research and removal of landmines in Angola. The Princess was unlike royals before her in that her presence merged royalty and celebrity. At that point, she was the most photographed woman in the world and as a result, became a leader in fashion of her day. A lover of experimenting with dress, the Princess’ legacy in the fashion world is even remembered by the Lady Dior bag by Christian Dior, named in her honor.
Towards the middle of the ’90s, a group of young models came together and generated a sensation around the industry that hadn’t previously existed. Known as the Big Six, the group consisted of Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, and Linda Evangelista. The six girls gave name to the term “supermodel” and even began influencing trends with their own personal style outside of their work, particularly emphasizing the heroin chic look popular at the time. The quintessential ’90s It girl look is oft referenced by the style of these legendary supermodels both on and off the runway.
The paparazzi’s obsession with Princess Diana also bred a new machine of press. The turn of the century brought a golden age of tabloid culture where paparazzo sought out celebrities at their best, but mostly their worst moments. The flash soaked photos of celebrities falling out of SUVs and dashing out of Hollywood nightclubs became a hallmark of the time. This new paparazzi-fueled culture gave rise to a new iteration of the influencer–the party girl. Celebrities like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears all guided fashion trends of the era with their self-styled paparazzi shots. From Juicy Couture tracksuits to hip-baring mini skirts to bedazzled Razor phones, all of these brazen yet iconic trends bore from a culture that closely documented the lives of the 2000s celebrity through the tabloids.
While social media had existed for some time with platforms like Xanga, Facebook, and MySpace, in 2009 Instagram was created and everything changed. Paparazzi was no longer needed to get a glimpse of what a celebrity was wearing. The stars could now show their favorite items of the season from the comfort of their own closets. Instagram allowed users to have complete control of their own content right down to placement of a beauty mark or feed aesthetic. Other apps aimed to increase this social control, from photo editing apps like FaceTune to companies that permit the purchase of likes and followers. Spectators were no longer inadvertently influenced, but could now tap on a photo and buy exactly what was displayed in the post. The fashion influencer became less about giving the world a taste of their style and more about making themselves into a brand.
Fashion influencers of this era are quite different from what were once considered tastemakers. Today, fashion influencers are online socialites that have a hand at influencing trends by posting their tastes. With tons of social media channels readily at our fingertips, becoming a fashion influencer has become quite approachable in that anyone can have a try at it. However, there is some kind of coolness about the influence of royals, silver screen starlets, supermodels, and early ‘2000s heiresses; their impact on fashion was organic, almost on accident, people seemingly just followed.END
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