Million Dollar Bloggers Give Fashion a Bad Name

For completely biased opinions based entirely on freebies, look no further.

A couple of weeks ago, Women’s Wear Daily ran a piece about the growing proliferation of million dollar bloggers. Yes, you read that right. Top tier fashion bloggers now earn upwards of $1 million annually. That’s about $950,000 more than a New York City school teacher or firefighter. My first reaction was disbelief and outrage, followed by a creeping sense of depression.

[ITAL] A million dollars?! For posting selfies clad in gifted clothes or touting exotic trips and events that they were paid to attend? A million dollars, in other words, for essentially doing nothing but showing up and smiling for the camera.

The majority of bloggers in the Million Dollar Club are street style mavens, PYTs who have a camera-ready fashion sense that they’re only too happy to exploit for a buck—or 40,000 bucks, as in the case of Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad, who was paid that much to attend a Stuart Weitzman store opening in Milan last year, according to WWD. Interestingly, several of the highest paid bloggers are barely known within the fashion industry (where designer-endorsed darlings like Leandra Medine of Man Repeller, Bryan Grey Yambao of Bryanboy and model-muse Hanneli Mustaparta rule the roost).

Take, for instance, Rachel Parcell of the three-year-old Salt Lake City-based blog Pink Peonies  http://pinkpeonies.com. The name may draw blank stares during New York or Paris Fashion Weeks (Rachel who?). But her focus on mid-level designers such as Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Topshop and Milly resonates with readers in the fly-over states and is set to earn her upwards of $960,000 this year from affiliate programs alone, according to digital management agency RewardStyle. (An affiliate program involves writing sponsored posts or linking to an advertiser’s product, for which the blogger gets a cut whenever someone clicks through or buys.) And that figure doesn’t take into account Parcell’s partnerships with J. Crew and TRESemmé, which will certainly send her earnings upwards of the $1 million mark.

Now, I’m all for people working hard and getting paid for what they do. But in the case of these bloggers, I think they’re being obscenely overpaid for doing a whole lot of nothing. I mean, seriously. Forty thousand dollars to show up at a store opening or sit front row at a fashion show (to which they’ve already been flown in, all-expenses paid, and put up in a five-star hotel by some deep-pocketed designer)? All so they can take a few photos, which will be accompanied by a hastily written caption—or, in some cases, just a detailed list of product credits so viewers can replicate the look themselves with the push of a button (ka-ching!).

And therein lies my main issue with the majority of these big money bloggers: There’s no “there” there. Although they are routinely referred to as “content providers” or “influencers,” the only content they provide are endless, poorly-edited photos of themselves in outfits they didn’t even pay for—or that they’re being paid to wear and write about. And the only influence they wield is getting others to open their wallets and buy more stuff they don’t need with money they can ill-afford to spend. Street style used to be a form of personal expression—and bloggers used to write about things they really, truly loved—but these days it’s more about the bottom line. Just witness all those OTT fashion peeps strolling back and forth across the Lincoln Center Plaza during NYFW, pretending to check their phone while desperately hoping someone—anyone—will ask to take their photo (because the more you’re photographed the better known you become and the better known you become the more money you can make from your blog). It’s enough to make you want to take an Orange is the New Black-style dump in your Birkin bag, light it on fire and leave it on the doorstep of Scott Schuman and Garance Doré, the photographer couple who pioneered the whole street style movement way back when.

I’ve been working in fashion publishing for a long time, having started my career at the now-defunct Mademoiselle magazine. I launched a fashion blog of my own, The Fashion Informer, back in 2007, around the same time The Sartorialist was getting started, though I have always been allergic to the concept of the selfie—preferring to report on the news rather than pretend I am the news—and I’ve always turned down advertising as TFI was designed to be a labor of love, and I never wanted to be beholden to outside influences.

Now, I’m not suggesting that fashion bloggers shouldn’t make a living from their blogs if they so choose. But a little more (make that a lot more) transparency re: all the free clothes and trips and events they profess to love, love, love would go a long way toward enhancing their credibility. In fact, the very notion of editorial integrity seems to have gone the way of the Dodo Bird—or Diana Vreeland—especially where style bloggers are concerned.

Yes, fashion magazines (print or web-based) are obviously dependent upon advertising revenue to survive, but they also provide content—real, thoughtful content—that has been professionally researched, written, photographed, fact-checked and produced. And while I applaud the Internet’s ability to level the playing field and democratize the super-snooty fashion world, it does bum me out that most bloggers seem to care only about promoting themselves and earning as much money as they can as fast as they can, making them more marketing shills than true arbiters of taste and style.

Surprisingly, when I ranted about this on Facebook, I heard from a half dozen well-known designers who were equally put off by the nonstop marketing of fashion bloggers. “I remember asking co-workers and friends the first time several years ago about bloggers: “who are these people, what are their credentials and why does anyone give a shit about what they have to say?” said Libertine designer Johnson Hartig. “No one has given me a satisfactory answer yet.”

Lauren David Peden is the former Copy Director of Vogue and a writer/editor whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Glamour, Elle, Dossier and Vogue.com UK.