Why Tumblr Is Killing Personal Style

Is the social media platform championing menswear mediocrity?

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Complex Original

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Written by Jian DeLeon (@jiandeleon)

With Italian menswear mecca Pitti Uomo in full effect, and London Fashion Week kicking off another month of events and tradeshows, well-dressed men will be milling about the world’s style capitals. Street style snaps will inevitably follow from independent photographers and big publications, then the same images will be rehashed to no end on Tumblr—and men will dress themselves poorly because of it.

Style used to mean more than just reblogs. If a guy wants to learn how to dress himself today, he only needs to consult one of many men's style sites or Internet style fora to learn the basics: fit is paramount, buy better but less, and have some sort of grooming regimen. That type of easily adaptable formula didn't exist that way before. Before the proliferation of menswear blogging and "Internet style," clothing was just one way of emulating a person or lifestyle you aspired to.

More often, the impetus to dress better comes from someone who possesses that undeniable rampancy in their demeanor that we’ve come to define as coolness. These figures can vary from The Beatles’ mod rock, mop-topped appeal to Slick Rick’s self-made luxurious uptown charm, or even that kid in high school who just made a black motorcycle jacket look suddenly covetable.

The cursory way social platforms like Tumblr present style is within a vacuum. Clothing simply can't be compelling unless it stands for something else.

Style was not the goal; it was merely a signifier of other cool shit you were into. The Supreme box logo represented downtown New York delinquency when worn by skate rats like Harold Hunter and Jason Dill. The Ramones’ ripped jeans and Schott jackets were America’s answer to an aesthetic Malcolm McLaren helped define in England. Tumblr’s image-heavy format and quick consumption model ultimately strips the clothes of context—and style without context, is simply fashion. And fashion is boring, because it's shallow.

Street style has developed a more dynamic following than runway shows because it shows clothing in a semi-organic setting. Seeing a crisp pair of shoes and expertly tailored jacket on a cobblestone street is much more exciting than seeing the same outfit on the runway. But it doesn’t hold a candle to moments like Kanye West wearing a Céline tunic at Coachella, or watching Indiana Jones fight Nazis in an A-2 bomber jacket and brown Alden boots. The cursory way social platforms like Tumblr—and the Internet at large—present style is within a vacuum. Clothing simply can't be compelling unless it stands for something else. A leather jacket isn't badass because of the fabric, but rather its associations with outlaw culture. Without that, it's just a dead cow.

Tumblr, and the Internet version of style it champions, is detrimental because it presents dressing well as a talent in and of itself. Men's style is something to be appreciated, not rewarded. Looking good and having nice clothes should make you feel better, and sure, it might net you some compliments, but the only person you should be dressing to impress is the one in the mirror. Gunning for reblogs has become the new fishing for compliments. 

Years from now, the editors, buyers, bloggers, and “influencers” who have become micro-celebrities in this niche world of Internet style are more likely to become ephemeral memes than leave a profound cultural impact. There is a reason men like Paul Newman, Yasiin Bey, and even Glenn O’Brien continually come up in the conversation of lasting style icons. These are men who lived their lives first, then dressed themselves second. They did more than just wear clothes really, really well. They wrote books, hosted underground public access television shows, and made award-winning albums and films.

Men’s clothing is meant to be worn in—not just worn. It should be part of a lifestyle, not the focal point. That’s always what’s separated men's clothing from the trend-dependent world of women’s wear. But the Tumblr platform—combined with the circle-jerk heavy world of #menswear birthed within it—has changed the culture of men's clothing for the worse.

What used to be a nerdy, intimate appreciation of garments on forums like StyleForum and SuperFuture has devolved into a competition of "keeping up with the Jawnses"—an electronic race to be on the next wave of cool. Italian tailored gear was declared the new streetwear, until it was declared that streetwear "came back" when sneakers and sweatpants returned to prominence. The plain truth is, what you wear matters only in the sense that it should represent your taste and interests—beyond what blogs you read and which Tumblrs you follow. Your style should make a statement. Don’t let it be, “I was dressed by the Internet.”

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