By Brigid Delaney
Meeting Rosie Findlay in the Taste cafe at Sydney University, you can’t help but notice what she is wearing. Findlay, 27, is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney in the Performance Studies department, where she is researching personal style blogs.
The blogs are diary entries on the internet of outfits the particular blogger is wearing on that day, and they have become hugely influential on designers, fashion magazines and shoppers. Findlay describes the spectrum of style blogs as ranging from “a daily diary of outfits to entries that are elaborately styled, like something from a glossy fashion magazine.”
“I’ve had a personal interest in fashion since mid-teens. I love the imagery of it, the aesthetics, pleasure and escape. Fashion really polarises. I was interested in the anthropological aspect,” she says.
For her Honours thesis, Findlay researched fashion as a mode of performance, and used Australian Fashion Week as a case study.
For a fashion lover with an intellectual bent, Findlay says “it was great to discover a theory behind fashion. There were sociologists and philosophers working in the 19th century – talking about fashion as a social stratifying tool. Roland Barthe took a semiotic approach to it, how people would use it to subvert expectations and signify themselves as different.”
Although fashion theory is a relatively small field in Australia, emerging in the 1980s as an area of study, “there are now a lot of fashion theorists working at the moment at QUT, UTS and RMIT. We are scattered.” They keep in touch via a Facebook group. “We are mostly in different types of areas,” says Findlay. “There’s a lot of focus on non-western fashion such as Indian and Russian. It’s quite diverse but it moves away from fashion as solely as a preserve of the west. Fashion as we understand it was concentrated in western countries.”
Fashion is far from frivolous – it’s big business and high stakes, as anyone whose watched the film about Vogue magazine, The September Issue, would know. But the world of high fashion magazines, the fashion industry that creates the clothes and the academic study of fashion don’t really intersect, says Findlay. “The fashion industry doesn’t pay much attention to academia. I’ve never seen mainstream fashion media intersect with it.”
Findlay says style blogging promises to take study of fashion into a new direction. “I call it performance of self. Bloggers are performing an aspect of themselves. It’s a public performance but couched in the good life and fashion and their own style. We are performing ourselves on social media. The kind of selves is not fictive but it’s not the real self either.”
Findlay started her own style blog called Fashademic. “It features outfit posts, posts of inspirational image, posts about research,” she says.
Like many fashion blogs, it has evolved quickly. “At the start it was text-heavy, now it’s more image-heavy. Because of media attention to some fashion bloggers, style blogs are becoming more homogeneous and a lot of them go for a very glossy look. It saddens me because it’s not what it used to be.”
The style bloggers that are picked up by the mainstream get absorbed into it, says Findlay. Some make money through advertising; others get sent clothes or invitations to various Fashion Weeks. Other blogs deliberately stay away from the mainstream glossy mainstream fashion aesthetic – they will photograph themselves wearing an outfit but only from the neck down.
Does everyone have their own sense of style? “Whether or not you care about fashion – the clothes that you wear are informed not only by what’s on the rails but how you move through it – that’s an aesthetic choice. But someone who is interested in how they look might have a different way of dressing or choosing how they dress.”
Findlay has done three and half years of her PhD and supported herself along the way by working in retail. She says that when she graduates: “I’m going to apply to fashion theory departments, I’d like to be an academic.”
Not work in the fashion industry? “I’m not interested in designing. I love working with words – that’s my skill. I sometimes imagine clothes I wish existed but I would instead like to talk about what clothes mean to us.”
As for her experience as a PhD student at the University of Sydney, “I’ve always felt accepted and encouraged by my colleagues in the Performance Studies department – never intimidated or bracketed out as ‘just a student’ by the academics but always supported as a colleague, having my work challenged and encouraged in a dynamic environment. Students and academic staff in our department have researched everything from mountain biking to SUDS to being in the crowd at an AFL game to the phenomenology of being a dancer – and much else in between.”
Finally I have to ask Findlay what she is wearing, “The coat is vintage MaxMara from a flea market, the t-shirt is by bassike, the two skirts (layered) are by Ann Demeulemeester and my shoes are by Repetto,” she reels off with style-blogger ease. “I don’t know if I could describe my style. I love navy. Sometimes I wear all that.”