History of Modeling and the Age of Instagram

Fashion Month (fashion week in New York, London, Paris, then Milan) just ended and that means heavy use of one app in particular — Instagram. It’s no secret that Instagram has taken the fashion world by storm: it is now the go-to app for documenting and advertising fashion with flattering filters, exclusive campaigns through “Insta-shoots”, and specially curated content for big fashion events. The incredible interaction rate on Instagram has led fashion brands to think carefully about the ambassadors they employ and photos they publish. Modeling and fashion campaigns have changed dramatically due to technological developments throughout history. There have been three major strategies: anonymous models, celebrities, and now Instagram stars. With the millennial generation striving for authentic brand stories and with the world’s information at our fingertips, we are effectively handpicking the latest fashion talent through Instagram.

Before the 1950’s, model talent was essentially anonymous. They were beautiful men and women who were lucky and talented enough to be discovered by the important people in the industry. Someone like Diana Vreeland might find a particularly interesting-looking woman and turn her into fashion’s biggest star (à la Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face). This was back when celebrities weren’t invited to the front row of fashion shows and the industry was more about cultivating beauty and taste rather than trying to expand as rapidly as possible. Modeling wasn’t a particularly glamorous job at the time: it generally consisted of designers and clients poking and prodding at you without long term career possibilities or general recognition (something that still happens today). Designers would employ models full-time as opposed to one-off shows. A model would be employed not only for the shows and fittings but also as an ambassador, wearing the designer’s garments at all times.

The iconic Twiggy

In the 1950’s, photography in advertising took off and along with it, the modeling industry exploded. Soon models were needed for every company’s ads — fashion or otherwise. It made new talent easily discoverable — rather than having to know the right people to get an “in” in the industry, your photo on a billboard might catch the eye of an editor. It also made models more recognizable to the average person since they didn’t have to keep up with with the current fashion shows to see a new model. This is when the cult of the personality (aka “It” girls) really shined and we had models like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton in the 1960’s; Cheryl Tiegs and Lauren Hutton in the 1970’s; and Cindy Crawford and Brooke Shields in the 1980’s.

With the rise of the cult of personality, advertisers soon realized how lucrative recognizable faces were to their brands. With increased globalization, advertisers also needed to market to a wide range of demographics and turned to celebrities to market their products. Their personalities were already known internationally via great films or music. These celebrities resonated with people for a different reason: they represented a more attainable form of beauty than a random model in a fashion editorial because they had more well-rounded personalities rather than being just a beautiful face. And it was a win-win since actresses could supplement their income with a single day of shoots as opposed to many months for their next big screen appearance. This continues to an extent today as actresses still heavily dominate magazine covers and fragrance, hair, and makeup commercials.

An Instagram post by Karlie Kloss to her 3.3M followers

Today, the ground has shifted once again. Using Instagram, we are able to peer into the lives of people all over the world and get a seemingly authentic look into their life. It feels natural for a model known for her amazing skin to want to promote skin care products that she values. Because of the additional attachment we have to these Instagram stars, bloggers and models that choose the brands they promote wisely are able to advertise the product in a real way with their own voice. Brands are aware of this attachment and will pay thousands of dollars for a single photo because it will resonate with so many more people than a billboard. This multi-dimensional look into a model’s life is important to consumers today. Oddly enough, it’s reminiscent of the days before photography in advertising as much of the modeling was done through ambassadorship.

In a recent article on Into The Gloss, Jennifer Starr, a casting director, noted that along with a model’s waist size and weight, her total Instagram following is listed in her profile as well! Supporting this tactic, a recent study by Indiana University researchers reported that they’ve been able to predict which new models will break out from the pack with an 80% accuracy rate. They looked at all sorts of factors including stats like the models’ hair and eye color; height; hip, waist, dress and shoes size; modeling agency; the number of runways they’d walked; and the models’ Instagram accounts (likes, comments, followers, etc). With all of that data they concluded that the most contributing factors were representation by one of 20 top modeling agencies, frequent posting on Instagram with a high number of likes and comments, and being especially tall. Recent breakout stars include Cara Delevingne (19M followers), Gigi Hadid (6M followers), and Kendall Jenner (27M followers).

The tech world has taken notice of this lucrative change in the fashion industry and other apps have popped up to join in. Apps like Feels (for discovering model talent) or Alexa Chung’s new venture, Villoid, (getting style ideas, complete with a buy button) have entered the space but Instagram still remains dominant. The democratic nature in all of these apps, however, have allowed everyone, from editors in New York to a farmhand in Iowa, to have a say in the models we want to see. For a long time, designers and editors have given us a homogenous view of beauty but the floodgates have opened for these app users to endorse well-rounded, healthy, and racially diverse models to represent what fashion means today in our globalized mindset.

For the sake of clarity, all references to models use the feminine pronoun due to their prominence in the field. These changes in the industry apply to male models as well.

Originally published at www.thistailoredlife.com on October 26, 2015.