How Media Shapes Popular Fashion

Will Boehmer
9 min readNov 21, 2018
Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City Thunder Point Guard

No matter which form of media you consume at some point you will try and be wooed by brands trying to sell you their apparel. Clothing is something we all need and wear. So selling it is relatively easy. All a clothing brand has to do is promote itself to you via whichever media source you use and prove that their product one, looks good, two is worth the price they are asking, and three is something you relate to enough that you are willing to associate yourself with it.

The marketplace for buying and selling clothing is at an all-time high, and with digital connectiveness growing more and more every day, it has never been easier to see what someone else is wearing.

Much of this is due to Instagram. Instagram has allowed people who find themselves at the top of the socially constructed pyramid to showcase not just themselves and their lives but also what they wear. This spotlight makes them a sort of sociocultural billboard. With followers in the tens and hundreds of millions, popular celebrities can hold a significant grasp on their market of consumers by simply posting as often as possible.

Instagram accounts such as Bleachers Report, Highsnobiety, Complex, Hypebeast, and Barstool are some of my personal favorites to use in keeping up with sports, music, and popular internet culture. But amongst these other things, I also use them to keep up with what my favorite cultural figures are wearing. Media shapes fashion, and at the moment social media is determining what people wear for a couple of different reasons.

Firstly, Celebrity influence on social media determines what people think the coolest clothing and styles are.

Kyle Kuzma Los Angles Lakers Guard

Kyle Kuzma a second-year professional basketball player for the Los Angles Lakers has grown his general public popularity not necessarily by his play on the court but by his fashion sense off of it. Several Instagram accounts post pictures of players walking into areas before the game just to see what they wear. For Kuzma, after a year of wearing the trendiest clothing and shoes in streetwear/high fashion, he has landed a contract with the resale app GOAT. GOAT is an app that allows consumers to buy and sell all of the latest exclusive shoes. And now that the NBA has removed restrictions on the colorways that can be worn on court, Kyle Kuzma can pick from a long catalog of sneakers available on GOAT (ESPN). Another athlete who has catapulted himself to the forefront of the fashion world is Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants. A visit to Odell’s Instagram page will have you looking at Odell arriving at a game in a light yellow Calvin Klein jacket and pants with a turtleneck. Not to mention pictures of him decked out in a matching Fendi patterned jacket, shirt, bucket hat, and mask, or his custom Nike Uptempo OBJ cleats.

Odell Beckham Jr. arriving at Monday Night Football vs San Francisco 49ers

My point here is not to point out specific outfits or shoes that professional athletes wear, but instead to try and gage an idea of what kind of influence they have over consumers. GOAT by partnering themselves with Kyle Kuzma, are trying to capitalize on the demographic of people who are going to buy the shoes that Kuzma wears. Not because they want to be like Kuz. It isn’t the same business model as Jordan. These shoes aren't supposed to make you “Like Mike.” Instead, people will buy because of how they relate to Kuzma’s fashion-conscious persona. They themselves also take pride in a fashionable pair of shoes that they identify with. So what GOAT is trying to gain by sponsoring an NBA basketball player isn’t revenue based simply on product placement, but instead, revenue based on consumer knowledge of which specific product they perceive as the most fashionable.

Same goes for Odell Beckham Jr. Because he has become a person with a great influence on what is considered current and trendy in men’s fashion, he helps sell the clothing that he wears to other people simply because of his prowess and esteem.

Both Kyle Kuzma and Odell Beckham Jr. are talented professional athletes with charismatic personalities. And what they have done on social media to market themselves has cast them as two of the most influential athletes in professional sports when discussing fashion.

The Second way media has shaped fashion over recent years is by changing the perception of comfort and casual clothing into something fashionable and exclusive.

For the last few years, streetwear’s rise has been one of the big storylines in fashion. In 2017, its symbolic high point came when Supreme sold a stake that reportedly valued the company at $1 billion to the private-equity firm Carlyle Group. It was a staggering valuation for a company known for selling hoodies, t-shirts, and irreverent ephemera, like a logo-stamped brick and branded nunchucks (Bain).

One of the designers at the forefront of this streetwear phenomenon is American designer Virgil Abolh.

Abolh interned at Fendi with Kanye West in 2009. And in 2011, Kanye asked him to serve as the artistic director for the 2011 Jay-Z/Kanye West album Watch the Throne. And from there, their fashion careers took off.

Abloh founded his first fashion house and second business overall in 2013 with the high-end streetwear brand Off-White. Based in Milan, Italy, he described the company as “the gray area between black and white as the color off-white” to investors and fashion critics (Yotka).

Abloh launched his first concept store for Off-White in Tokyo, Japan, where he started the company’s furniture arm, Grey Area. In 2017, he was asked to design a new collection in conjunction with Nike entitled “The Ten” where he re-designed a variety of the company’s best-selling shoes. Abloh’s Off-White brand employs quotation marks stylistically in order to convey ironic detachment from society and social norms (Leach).

Off-White x Ikea Rug

Abloh was named artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear ready wear line, marking him the first person of African descent to lead the brand’s menswear line, as well as one of the few black designers at the helm of a major French fashion house. Abloh showed his first collection for Louis Vuitton at the 2018 Men’s Fashion Week at the Palais-Royal gardens in Paris. Virgil had many notable celebrities walk in the show including: Rihanna, Playboi Carti, Steve Lacy, A$AP Nast, Dev Hynes, and Kid Cudi. Abloh has since been in high demand for his designs, creating an original outfit designed for Serena Williams to wear throughout the 2018 US Open, collaboration with Nike,

But the term “streetwear” is not something that brands always want to be labeled with. “I’ve always associated the term with brands that mainly do T-shirts and sweatshirts,” designer Nasir Mazhar told The Guardian in 2016, explaining why he doesn’t like his collections being pegged as streetwear. “They are not full-on fashion brands. So, in that sense, it’s belittling.”

Even as streetwear grows, it isn’t seen as prestigious and doesn’t connote luxury the way fashion traditionally has. It’s become a dirty word to some, and the bigger it gets; the more brands want to keep their distance from it. But rather than something separate, or less prestigious than luxe fashion, streetwear represents many of the most dynamic crosscurrents in fashion today (Bain).

However, the label doesn’t bother Virgil. He told Quartz fashion reporter Marc Bain “It’s natural for people to categorize movements like those in art or fashion. When you look at the emergence of Yves Saint Laurent in 1966 introducing ready-to-wear fashion accessible to and influenced by, the person on the street, as opposed to couture, which was for the elite. When put into perspective like that ‘streetwear’ is just a modern adaptation to describe the evolution. Any art form is indicative of the culture, I think. The notable difference is today a more diverse group of actors is shaping that culture than in the past” (Bain).

His ideas about streetwear being “next up” so to say in the fashion industry are spot on in my mind.

Lately, clothing that is comfortable, casual, and simplistic, has really resonated with the general public and much of it has to do with the influence of subgroups and subcultures that were not at the forefront in the past. Virgil and many other famous artists and athletes have gained such a foothold on high fashion that they have catapulted casual and comfortable clothing and shoes to new heights.

ASAP Rocky wearing Rick Owens Jacket, Pyrex Religion Hoodie, and Nike Air Force 1 Sneakers

It is this evolution that is taking place on social media that drives change in the fashion world. If I saw you walking down the street wearing a Vlone hoodie, and some Yeezy’s I’d probably notice your outfit more so than a person walking around in a three-piece Tom Ford suit. Because of the way I now perceive what is fashionable. And the way I have been affected by the social media accounts that I follow closely.

The third-way media shapes fashion is by educating consumers on what is considered prestigious.

What do you think inspires someone to spend 2,600 on a secondhand Supreme jacket? Why do people build Supreme shrines in their bedrooms? What does Supreme have that other brands don’t? These are all common questions for those who don’t understand the values of a person who buys expensive streetwear.

The simple answer is so they can associate themselves with something that they revere. The fandom is essentially a subculture in itself. Europe’s largest Facebook page to buy, sell, trade, and chat Supreme is SupTalk, which, with nearly 60,000 members. The buzz around the brand is what sustains that same buzz. The fact that a sighting of Drake or Kanye in Supreme is what inspires people to bid themselves into bankruptcy when the same item appears on eBay is now miraculously deeply rooted in upper-middle-class culture. Equally, if you’re the kind of person who actively worries about what’s cool and buzzy, it follows that you’d lose interest in Supreme the more popular it becomes. Yet the brand does not seem to be losing any speed so the question remains why is it so popular? “In evolutionary terms, we all collected,” says Dr. Dimitrios Tsivrikos, consumer psychologist at University College London. “We collect articles or resources to survive, but survival doesn’t only rest upon what we need physically. We need, psychologically, to distinguish ourselves. In the past, tribes would decorate themselves with feathers or precious stones to set them apart from other tribe members and attract potential mates. In the same way, collecting Supreme really allows people to build their identities with rare objects” (Clifton).

This metaphor makes so much sense to me. By collecting and wearing Supreme’s clothing, you are essentially building your own identity and choosing what you want to identify yourself with. In a sense, wearing a box logo T-shirt implies you have the same breadth of cultural knowledge as those behind the brand, that you’re as authentic as the brand itself. Even if you’re not (Clifton).

As time goes on I cannot imagine how advertisements will evolve. Media is starting to take over and there does not seem to be anywhere to look anymore without digital screens trying to coerce you into buying a product. Media will probably continue to shape fashion due to the growing amount of sociopolitical power Insta-famous celebrities have. But as time goes on it will be interesting to see how much streetwear will grow and how educated consumers will become about the fashion brands they invest their money in.

Work Cited

Bain, Marc. “Why isn’t streetwear just called fashion?” Quartzy. Jan. 7 2018.

Clifton, Jamie “Why are so many people obsessed with Supreme” Vice. July 18 2016.

DePaula, Nick. “Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma signs deal with sneaker-reselling app GOAT” ESPN. Oct. 17, 2018

Leach, Alec. “Why does Virgil Abloh put everything it quotes?” Style. HighsNobiety. August 30, 2018.

Yotka, Steff. “A brief history of Virgil Abloh’s Meteoric Rise.” March 28, 2018

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Will Boehmer

A practical realist who speaks the language of the visionaries and idealists