So, you want to start a fashion blog? Welcome to the club. It’s not easy to pull up Instagram every day and scroll through bloggers’ aesthetically meticulous feeds, only to realize that some rake in upwards of $10,000 per Instagram post. And it’s even harder to find out that at one point they were just like you, someone with above average writing skills and an affinity for clothes, shoes, and everything in between. I’m sure you’ve muttered, “I could do this,” under your breath while paging from post to post. But I’m also sure that you’ve never thought about the science of creating a successful fashion blog.
Fashion blogging was once a way to connect the every-day style maven to the impenetrable, glamorous world of fashion. What began as an avenue for any fashion-obsessed person to express him/herself became an overnight business. While you’ll often find many fashion bloggers who claim to moonlight in blogging, in reality, blogging (for the few, successful ones) has become more than a full-time job. And this isn’t because it takes hours to find the perfect lighting for a photo shoot, or because shopping is a career on its own, but instead, fashion blogging involves a great deal of planning, strategizing, and science.
Blogging is the liminal space between the real world and the imaginary fashion world that we all strive to be a part of. Fashion bloggers appeal to us average folk as other normal humans with impeccable style captured while walking down a cobblestone street. Behind all the designer duds, front row seats at fashion week, and shoe-walls are personas and brands crafted so carefully that we actually believe in their normality. I’ve taken it upon myself to determine what exactly goes into a successful fashion blog. By analyzing three wildly successful fashion blogs— We Wore What, The Blonde Salad (TBS), and Song of Style— I hope to provide all hopeful fashion bloggers with a comprehensive guide to success in the world of fashion blogging.
Blogging begins first with the “About” section. This space allows you to succinctly describe your reason for blogging in a way that emphasizes your own personal voice and uniqueness. Regardless of what you’re really blogging for (ahem, the potential fame) it’s important to keep the “About” tab lighthearted, personal, and informative. This is the place where readers will go to understand who you are and why you’re willingly throwing yourself to the wolves of fashion. The Blonde Salad, WeWoreWhat, and Song of Style all dared to include the word “inspiration” in this section. But Danielle Bernstein of WeWoreWhat, took her “About” a step in a more realistic direction by noting her transition from inspirational to aspirational in describing her blog as an “aspirational aesthetic for all things coveted.” Additionally, Aimee Song of Song of Style shared her personal philosophy in a video that followed her day, which provided a whimsical glimpse into her life. But what all of these bloggers share in common proves to be a key to success: their ambition to inspire followers in more than just fashion, but a lifestyle.
What is exactly is inspiring a lifestyle, you ask? Well, it’s relatively simple. For my chosen fashion bloggers, “lifestyle” includes travel posts, beauty posts, nutritional posts, and everything else that they can get paid to post about. Moreover, fashion bloggers no longer only want you to covet their closets; instead, they want you to covet their lives. And the inclusion of lifestyle posts is a direct reflection of the expansion of the blogging industry. In a saturated market of fashion bloggers, the successful must continually rise above the rest by developing new and innovative content through their personal brand. And cultivated personal brands are apparent from the moment you enter a blog to the moment you leave their Instagram page.
“They have to appear authentic but also remain on brand, stay creative while tracking metrics, and satisfy both their readers and the retail brands that bankroll them.”- The Atlantic
The home page is a good place to start. This is where you’ll either capture the attention of a reader or cause them to lose interest, so it is important that it emphasizes your purpose and style both visually and rhetorically. Song of Style’s home page features a dynamic carousel header, rotating what appear to be her most recent sponsored content; from “Getting Holiday Ready with Topshop” to “Song Sisters x The Coveteur.” Below, her home page focuses on her blog feed with one image per post stamped on the stark white background. The home page of WeWoreWhat is eerily similar with its white background and black logo. Instead of putting her paid content at the top, Danielle Bernstein draws the reader’s attention to a grid format linking to the five different areas of her blog. Below you will find her three most recent blog posts and her Instagram feed. Although laid out almost identically, the two blogs feel different, and it’s all because of color. Color is a huge part of developing your personal brand and blog. Song of Style feels warm because of its use of muted pastels. In contrast, WeWoreWhat’s exterior has some major downtown cool vibes with its mix of faded blacks and greens. Is it surprising that The Blonde Salad feels completely different?But before you start worrying about how your “lifestyle” will play out, you need to know the basics.
Overrun with product placements, advertising, and miscellaneous posts, The Blonde Salad appears more like an online magazine. This makes sense, considering the “About” section not only focuses on Chiara, but the whole The Blonde Salad team. Even so, the front page has lost the individualistic touch that readers expect when landing on a blog. Aside from the mash up of endorsed, celebrity-praising, and listicle posts, TBS feels energetic and dynamic. The aesthetic sways away from the minimalistic vibes of WeWoreWhat and Song of Style. Instead, the punchy colors and cluttered space gives the reader a preview of Chiara Ferragni’s personal style without saying it outright. The key to success (think DJ Khaled) of constructing your home page is to make your presence known at first-glance; but don’t leave out your blog name. When in doubt, a white background and simple, uncluttered aesthetic provide the perfect backdrop for your favorite color palette.
Content & Writing Style
Exactly how important is your level of writing skill in the success of your blog, you ask? Seek and you may find, fashionista. I’m not going to assume that you’ve decided to start a blog because you have the writing skill level of Ernest Hemingway, and in the case that you do I encourage you to consider other avenues of writing. But if you’ve managed to fumble your way through college-level writing courses, you’re already on your way to becoming the next IT blogger. I digress. Beginners often rely on writing skill when their go-to photographer is their mom/best friend/boyfriend and they lack an editorial team. The most successful fashion blogs, though, prove that writing is only a small portion of the formula for success.
Like many, WeWoreWhat and Song of Style join the ranks of bloggers who focus more on the content of their blogs than the writing itself. What’s more important when it comes to writing is writing style. WeWoreWhat is a true testament to this fact. Although there is not much writing to see on Danielle Bernstein’s posts— many favor photos and links to shop-able items— what she does write is extremely casual. Her own voice is apparent throughout: from her infatuation with calling her readers “guys” to her tendency to throw out cliché tag lines. Regardless, Danielle’s writing sounds eerily similar to a gaggle of 20-somethings chatting over brunch.
On the other hand, Song of Style and The Blonde Salad favor writing that follows their experiences, attempting to capture the feel of a place through fashion. Aimee Song of Song of Style uses very simple sentence structure to make for an easy read. Although her posts are photo-heavy much like that of WeWoreWhat, many are captioned with short explanations and adjectives galore. Most surprisingly, when Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad writes her own posts, she actually writes. Unlike the simple sentences that Aimee Song prefers, Chiara’s writing is both poetic and descriptive. Her photos follow her writing, which often gives readers a detailed glimpse into her magical world. Errors are abundant, but questionably dismissible considering English is her second language (after Italian). Her writing is notably more academic than her peers, proving that writing can influence a post’s power. Rule of thumb: take your readers on a journey rather than simply captioning photos, but whether your writing sways toward conversational or academic, keep it cohesive.
The general content of the blog is another place to expose your reader to your personality. Unfortunately, laziness is not an option. Building up a large readership requires keeping your followers engaged meaning you can’t just post whenever and whatever you feel like. This all circles back to creating your personal brand, and only the most nurtured and cultivated personal brands will survive. Let your instincts guide you, but always fall back on the tried and true methods of the most successful blogs.
WeWoreWhat centers her posts around four different themes: outfits, interior, mens, and lifestyle. Posting every 4-7 days, most focus on one specific outfit with many others centered around one specific home/fashion/beauty item she’s currently coveting. Danielle and Aimee both give their posts simple and informative titles. This makes it easy for readers to find what they’re looking for and know what they’re getting themselves into. Additionally, Song of Style often conglomerates her posts into a sort of diary from her trips to different places. Her posting frequency ranges from 1-5 days, but she doesn’t let quantity precede quality. For Chiara Ferragni’s blog, The Blonde Salad, it’s quantity over quality. The Blonde Salad categorizes posts under three distinct areas: Chiara’s, Inspirations, and Travel, and amongst these the posts are scattered. Chiara’s contains the most blog-like posts written by (presumably) herself. The majority of posts fall under the latter two categories and read more like an online magazine in an attempt to attract a wider readership looking for a daily digest on all things fashion. Is this a good tactic for your baby blog? Short answer— no. Chiara has outsourced many of her posts to her editorial team to keep her hungry fashion following satisfied, but you’re not exactly there yet. Instead, take a cue from WeWoreWhat and Song of Style; post once or twice a week and organize, organize, organize.
Marketing & Money-Making
Fashion blogging is not just a hobby. Sure, when your friends ask you why you blog you’ll shrug it off with an “oh, it’s just something I do for fun,” but I know what you’re really thinking. In the dark recesses of your Word Press site you dream of racking up tens of thousands of page views a day, sitting front row during New York Fashion Week, and getting paid for all of it. A hobby is only made more enticing when you get to cash in on it. And that is where marketing comes in. Think of marketing your fashion blog as bridging the gap between you and the fashion-obsessed masses. The only way you can reach out to those people who will someday become your hardcore followers is to tap into your resources: Instagram, networking, and collaborations.
To ensure that these three marketing tactics serve your blog well and grow your following, remember your personal brand. Your brand should thread throughout your tone of voice, your color palette, your outfits, and your promotions. What WeWoreWhat, Song of Style, and The Blonde Salad all share in common is their presence on social media, specifically Instagram. For fashion bloggers, Instagram is pure gold. Here, your blog’s aesthetic translates into square photos and clever captions for an audience of over 400 million users. Instagram acts as a real-time view of a blogger’s life, and the goal is to capture moments that are enviable and provide a sneak peek behind the blog.
Not all of your blog followers will come directly to you on their own, so it’s your job to encourage them. Instagram provides a place for potential followers to get a good feel for your style and interests before becoming full-fledged blog devotees. That’s why developing your Instagram presence is an unspoken rule of blogging. While each post must be unique and represent your personal style, all of your posts should complement each other. This begins, of course, with your color palette; something that WeWoreWhat has refined and controlled to create a profile so aesthetically pleasing you might think it’s a work of art. Her posts favor a color scheme much like her blog- a mix of blacks, whites, and neutrals with hints of dark green, blue, and rust. This is not unlike her counterpart Song of Style, who instead of choosing one color palette, changes hers every 4-5 posts. But this doesn’t mean that her feed never looks consistent. All of her images share a fresh quality, frequently focusing on whites and pastels.
Perfecting each Instagram photo requires the help of many outside sources. Not only will you need Instagram itself, but you’ll most likely need an extra-long arm for getting the perfect selfie angle, a guidebook to every hipster hot spot, and most importantly, an editing app. To create an even more consistent look across your feed, find an editing technique that you dig and use that same technique for every photo. Aimee Song has commented on the importance of natural lighting, and both Chiara Ferragni and Danielle Bernstein recommend a healthy dose of upping the brightness and contrast of every photo. Again, consistency is king.
“It’s not an editorial photo. We’re not trying to be in a magazine. We’re trying to create a moment.” – Thomas Rankin
The formula for Instagram and blog stardom not only lies in the look of your profile, but also in your frequency and variety of posts and your captions. Although I don’t have a set formula, I’ll let WeWoreWhat’s 1.4 million followers, Song of Style’s 3.3 million followers, and Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad’s 5.4 million followers speak for themselves. As a good rule of measure, outfit and style photos should represent about half of your profile, with the other half consisting of things you find aesthetically pleasing. For Aimee Song of Song of Style, these “other” posts include architectural masterpieces, accessories shots, and shoe-grams. For Chiara and Danielle these other posts include behind the scenes looks at their lives- from food and travel, to fashion shows and photo shoots. To keep potential followers engaged in your daily activities, and more importantly, your blog, you must post often. Aimee Song is on the lower end of average daily posts with around 2-4 a day, while Danielle Bernstein posts 4-6 times a day. Of course, not all of us live Instagram-able lives 24 hours a day, but planning ahead can be your best friend. Keep a separate log of your own photos on your phone to use on Instagram when you’re feeling less-than inspired, and always post a minimum of two photos per blog post.
Finally, captioning your photos should not be an after-thought. 96% of fashion brands are active on Instagram and Danielle Bernstein uses this to her advantage: crediting brands in her captions and encouraging the community to engage. By linking her photos to the brands that she is wearing and showcasing, she creates and fosters relationships with fashion brands. According to Hootsuite, simply mentioning another brand in your Instagram can increase engagement by 56%, attracting followers of the brand and other fashion-obsessed Instagram-ers around the world. Danielle also utilizes her captions as a way to ask questions to her followers. By asking questions like “which @Chanel bag should I purchase?” she makes the Instagram community feel as though they are her personal shopping companions for the day. Engaging also means replying to your followers’ comments, liking and commenting on other bloggers photos, and following hundreds of fashion-obsessed Instagram users early in your blogging game. Engagement through these techniques as well as including popular hashtags and captions that show your personality can help to grow your followership.
Once you’ve published content on your blog and got your Instagram up and running, you’ll have to do some personal promoting and networking to get it off the ground. Aside from making your mom, aunt, and cousin three times removed share and read your blog, it’s your job to reach out to grow your network. Taking to social media to reach out to other bloggers can be your in into the insiders world of blogging. Erin Flynn of The Muse describes that setting up informational interviews with more influential bloggers and even creating a supportive online relationship (I’ll “like” your photos, if you “like” mine deal) can help you to establish credibility. Befriending bloggers that already have a larger sphere of influence can get you recognized. Additionally, you might want to think about joining online blogger communities, like IFB, and commenting on other bloggers’ posts. Doing so might not directly grow your following, but being able to learn from other bloggers and collaborate on content can indirectly influence your success.
Utilizing your informational interviews with other bloggers to create a Q&A post on your own blog (with their permission) can drive traffic to your site, especially if the interviewee promotes the piece. Aimee Song recently blogged “NYFW Insider Interviews”, linking to her blogger/model/industry friends and growing her views in the process. And when you’re not creating content for your own blog, why not write for another online destination? One of my favorite sayings goes- “It doesn’t hurt to ask.” Once you’ve developed a steady following reach out to other blogs, online fashion magazines, etc. and offer up your services. Ask to write a guest post and tailor your post to what the readers of the site will be drawn to. Don’t plan on getting that much in the beginning (in terms of $$$), but just know that those benefits will come later.
Offline, attending networking events can help you get your name out in the ever-expanding fashion world. Using online blogging communities can turn into blogger meet ups— another social media goldmine. But it doesn’t stop there…
“Even a seemingly casual social event becomes an opportunity to network with potential partners—or readers” – The Atlantic
Collaborating is one of the last stops on the train to fashion blogging success (Jimmy Choo Choo!), and collaborations would not be possible without hardcore networking. Get this, the Atlantic reported that many bloggers estimated that they devoted more than 80 hours a week to their blogs and related activities, with some working up to 100 hours a week. And you thought this was all fun and games.
Luckily for you, brands and advertisers are ready and willing to work with bloggers, realizing their growing influence in the fashion world. Combining Instagram stardom and a large blog following creates numerous opportunities for fashion blogs. You might not be in the place to negotiate, but you should know the basics. Bloggers cash in through four main avenues: affiliate links, marketing campaigns, sponsored content, and brand collaborations. But with an abundance of advertisers glomming on starving bloggers, it can be easy to forget the personal nature of blogs. There is a fine line between publishing content that you followers expect and enjoy and content that brands want. Riding that fine line means putting your personal brand before the bankroll. In the beginning, you’ll be tempted to jump at every chance you can to make a little cash, but in the end, your blog (and your bank account) will thank you.
“Blogs are obviously massively personal but we’re so used to commercial content online, no one is even fazed by it. The only time it becomes an issue is when readers feel the blogger’s opinion is compromised.” – William Oliver
Affiliate links are an easy way to make money without jeopardizing your content and personal brand. Companies like RewardStyle and ShopStyle allow bloggers to make a commission off of products that they promote and feature. Chances are, when you’ve clicked on any post on WeWoreWhat’s site you’ve found a slew of comparable products pictured at the bottom; these are affiliate links. It works like this— if you click on a Topshop skirt recommended on WeWoreWhat’s post and you purchase anything, not just that skirt, from Topshop’s website, Danielle Bernstein gets a small portion of the profit. Song of Style and The Blonde Salad are also avid fans of this tactic, and you should be too. Chelsea Cain of RewardStyle described that she expects top style bloggers to earn upwards of $50k/month using affiliate links, AND it requires little work since most bloggers link to products anyway. Could it get any better?
It can. Between marketing campaigns, brand collaborations, and sponsored content, bloggers can make bank. To make your way into the world of collaborations, your best bet is to hook yourself up with a PR team, who will connect you with the slew of brands looking to reach sartorialists like your followers. You might recognize sponsored content from Instagram pictures and blog posts featuring disclaimers like #ad and #sponsored, or the good old go-to “in collaboration with.” But sometimes, if a blogger is excited enough about a brand they’ll drop the hashtags in favor of a wholehearted shout out to their collaborator. In any case, sponsored content is content created by bloggers, but paid for by the brand. It can be as simple as an Instagram post featuring a product, or a combination of many different mediums in the blogger’s arsenal. Take, for example, WeWoreWhat’s endorsement of Lancôme’s foundation Miracle Cushion through an Instagram of her morning makeup routine, or Song of Style’s partnership with Self Portrait in the form of blog posts devoted to their delicate garments and a few Instagram pictures to match. Sponsored content has become so prevalent in the blogging industry that it’s almost impossible to discern what’s a paid promotion and what’s not.
The same goes for marketing campaigns, which are extremely similar to sponsored content but live on the brand’s site instead of the blog. Campaigns like this are created and promoted by a company’s marketing team, but also shared by the blogger. Amazon Fashion has shelled out loads of dough to make Chiara Ferragni the European Ambassador and face of its Spring 2016 campaign. Tapping a fashion influencer like Chiara for a marketing campaign boosts brand awareness and has the potential to increase sales exponentially. This makes the campaign a win-win for both parties, and the added bonus of professionally styled and shot photo-shoot doesn’t hurt either.
Brand collaborations, like marketing campaigns, are often reserved for only the most successful bloggers, but both are worth knowing. By now, I’m sure you’ve seen, coveted, and bought into more collaborations than you realize. Brands pick and choose collaborators carefully, ensuring similar aesthetic and audiences across the brand and blogger. Song of Style’s most recent major collaboration with Formula X Nail Polish produced pretty pastel colors distinctly similar to the color palette of her blog. Danielle Bernstein, lover of a good dress shirt, collaborated with Dresshirt (clever name, I know) to create a collection of menswear inspired shirts in— you guessed it— neutrals. With collaborations and other campaigns, you should always stick to your style guns. If you promote or create a product that you don’t love, brands, bloggers, and followers will quickly turn into skeptics.
So, there you have it. You’ve reached the end. Now what? Time to begin your blogging and become the next Song of Style, WeWoreWhat, or The Blonde Salad. It’s not everyday that the next IT blogger is born, and more importantly, it takes time. If there’s one final piece of advice I could leave you with, it’s this… don’t give up. Sure, you might be overwhelmed (or underwhelmed) when you’re churning out what you think is great content and no one has caught on to your groundbreaking stylistic choices, but stick it out. OK, enough of the pep talk. I’d assume that if you’ve gotten this far, your skin is thick enough to endure the laser-beam glares of the traditional fashion crowd the next time you’re seated front row at a fashion show, and to trust your sartorial intuition amongst a sea of nay-sayers.
What have I learned from this comprehensive study? Fashion blogging is not only an art and a science, but also a business. And creating an exhaustive list of the formula for a successful business would be almost impossible. Comprehensive, on the other hand, seems a little more forgiving. So keep this guide in the back pocket of your RE/DONE jeans, cultivate your personal brand, and don’t forget to @mention me when you’re making $15,000 on a single post.