Has The Rise Of Archive Accounts Diminished Personal Style?

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A few years ago, when interviewing Nygel Simons, the brilliant face behind an archival Instagram account @nygelsartorial, for a story, I realized archival accounts were on the rise. The conversation centered on Simons and his reverence for highlighting moments that evoke nostalgia. If you’re unfamiliar with it, he has gained a following due to the images he scans from his magazine collection. For instance, Joy Bryant in a Versace 2002 look from a Vibe 2003 issue was a recent image he felt was worth highlighting. He paralleled this moment with a recent Jacquemus and Nike release. The bespoke fashion archivist attributed the Versace runway dress as a possible inspiration behind the collaboration.

Key figures, including legendary artist Lil’ Kim and model and actress Devon Aoki, are faces that are a part of Simons’ digital archive by way of Instagram. Now, nearly two years following our conversation, I can’t help but notice how personal style has declined while archive-inspired pages have risen in popularity. With a few other keen observances, I’ve wondered if archival accounts have created a lack of individuality regarding getting dressed—the rampant reliance on social media to seek out trends and swiftly define them. Then the cycle continues, which is also partially a sign of the times we’re living in. (Vintage image accounts such as Rap Style Archaeology, 2000s Hype, 90s Era, Fly And Famous Black Girls have now become the norm, too).

But what happens to personal style when we live through a phase when archival Instagram accounts reign supreme? One’s individuality is constantly being tested especially since it seems like every time we log onto Instagram, there’s another new archival page to follow. What I believe this creates is a disconnect between reality and the past. By hyper-focusing on moments from years ago, vintage imagery and highlighted products appear to supersede modern fashion moments. This is why navigating and defining self-expression through clothing is left in a sullied position.

Aside from vintage pages taking over our feeds, it also appears that everyone is wearing the same signifiers of style. If you scroll on Instagram or Twitter, I predict you’ll see someone wearing a trend of the moment. That could mean a variation of ballerina flats, a nearly all-monochromatic outfit, and aviator sunglasses. Laidback items are rampant right now, including oversized blazers, knit tank tops, and capri pants (yes, capris are back). Office siren-inspired accessories might also be on your feeds: leather Mary Jane flats, slingback kitten heels, chunky loafers, and grey pleated mini-skirts. 

If you’re tired of the previously mentioned pieces and are seeking inspiration, you’re left to your own devices. This means getting offline to learn what you’re drawn to outside of algorithms through trial and error. Perhaps this path leads you to consignment and thrift shops near your home. And when you’re there, you’re not searching for designers you’ll recognize; you’re looking for textures and prints that are exciting to you. You’re feeling clothes, trying pieces on, and engaging with items that you find yourself drawn to. Rather than leaning on the internet to tell you what is trending, you may venture outside your bubble to explore what speaks to you. Perhaps you won’t.

If you’re willing to try it out, you’re part of the Americans who regularly buy vintage. According to thredUP’s latest resale report released earlier this year, three out of four consumers shop secondhand. The secondhand clothing market is appealing to many, especially since it makes it feel sustainable to shop for pieces that can be resold. Some top reasons for purchasing used items are a wider variety of price points, and it’s more likely the brand’s products are high quality. One staggering number that is compelling: by 2028, the United States secondhand apparel market will reach $83 billion. 

Once I saw the previously mentioned statistics from the thredUP report, it finally clicked why archival pages have garnered followings. Aside from retro clothing being accepted, many Americans are yearning for “reliving their past,” according to research from an omnichannel customer engagement platform, Emarsys. Childlike nostalgia pushes forward consumer behavior that can be traced back to individuals feeling like times were more straightforward in the previous eras. “Shoppers are looking for retro experiences everywhere—even online, and that means they’re searching for shopping experiences that tap their emotions and are crafted with them in mind, to wherever they prefer to shop,” said Sara Richter, the chief marketing officer at Emarsys. 

The urgent necessity for experiences of the past bleeds into clothes trends of the past repeating themselves. Laidback essentials of today are merely what models wore in the ‘90s. The office siren pulls directly from the ‘90s, too. 

So, can personal style be saved? It can if fashion lovers and connoisseurs alike look outside of online rather than relying on looks and moments from the past. Finding your affinity for brands or certain styles takes work. You shouldn’t rely on Instagram pages to spark inspiration. Looking at what influencers wear and creating a wishlist of items based on current trends isn’t wise–especially since trends come and go. Instead, get outside and hit the pavement near where you live, whether it’s New York City or beyond. I promise you’ll find something compelling enough beyond the confines of social media. 

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