In the bustling streets of Paris in the late 19th century, stylish Parisians flipped through the pages of "La Gazette du Bon Ton," captivated by lavish illustrations of the latest fashion trends. The critiques penned by writers of the time offered a glimpse into the style zeitgeist, setting the stage for a lineage of fashion commentary that has evolved dramatically in its form and function.

Fashion criticism, like fashion itself, has metamorphosed over the decades. From the confines of newspapers and glossy magazines to the vast, uncharted landscape of social media, the voice and impact of fashion critics have expanded and evolved in ways once unimaginable. In this retrospective, we will trace the journey of fashion criticism from its early days in print to its current digital iteration.

The Golden Age of Newspapers and Magazines

In the 20th century, newspapers and magazines were the lifeblood of fashion critique. The New York Times, Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar, among others, employed writers whose prose was as sharp as the tailoring they described. The critics held an almost authoritative sway over the fashion industry. Their word was revered, and designers often awaited their verdict with bated breath.

Legendary figures like Diana Vreeland, who served as both an editor at Harper's Bazaar and editor-in-chief at Vogue, wielded considerable influence. Their commentaries didn’t just report on fashion; they shaped it. They had the power to make or break a designer's career. They were gatekeepers, deciding who was in and who was out.

The Rise of Television and Fashion Shows

By the 1980s and '90s, television began to play a pivotal role in bringing fashion to the masses. Shows like "Fashion Television" presented runway collections from around the world, offering viewers a front-row seat to the glitz and glamour of the fashion industry.

Critics too found a platform on television. Their analyses became more accessible, reaching households that might never have picked up a fashion magazine. This period also saw the emergence of industry stalwarts like Tim Gunn and André Leon Talley, who became household names not just for their sartorial prowess but also for their charismatic on-screen presence.

The Digital Revolution and the Democratization of Critique

As the 21st century dawned, the internet, with its boundless possibilities, forever altered the landscape of fashion criticism. Websites and blogs, like The Sartorialist and Fashionista, proliferated, offering fresh and diverse perspectives. Suddenly, anyone with an opinion and an internet connection could become a fashion critic.

This democratization had both its pros and cons. On one hand, it broke the monopoly of the established publications. Young, diverse voices who had previously been sidelined found a platform. On the other hand, the sheer volume of content made it challenging to distinguish the informed from the uninformed.

Enter Social Media: Everyone's a Critic

The evolution reached its zenith with the advent of social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Here, even the distinction between a blogger and a casual user blurred. Everyone became a critic, and every post or tweet had the potential to go viral.

Fashion weeks, once exclusive events reserved for the industry elite, were now being live-streamed and dissected in real-time by millions across the globe. The immediacy and interactivity of social media meant that feedback was instantaneous. Designers could gauge reactions even before the last model had left the runway.

However, with great power comes great responsibility. The transient nature of social media posts meant that critiques were often surface-level, lacking the depth and nuance that a well-researched article in a magazine might offer. The line between constructive criticism and trolling became increasingly thin.

Yet, it’s undeniable that social media has had its merits. It's amplified voices from diverse backgrounds and brought global attention to regional fashion scenes. Designers from Seoul to Nairobi, who might have previously been overlooked, now find themselves in the global spotlight, thanks to the virality of social media.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Fashion Criticism

As we stand at the crossroads of tradition and innovation, the future of fashion criticism remains excitingly uncertain. With augmented reality and virtual reality gaining traction, we might soon find critics dissecting collections in entirely immersive digital spaces.

What's undeniable is the indelible mark each era, from newspapers to social media, has left on fashion criticism. The medium might change, but the essence remains: a deep-rooted love for fashion and an insatiable curiosity to understand, interpret, and celebrate it.

In the words of the late, great Bill Cunningham, long-time fashion photographer for The New York Times, "Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life." As long as that holds true, there will always be a space—whether on paper, screen, or virtual realm—for those who critique and cherish it.
October 05, 2023 — Trendstack