The Business of Knowing Who Wore What When ASAP

Ever wonder what your favorite celeb is wearing, how much it costs, and where you can get the same item for yourself? There's an Instagram account for that.

by Evan Ross Katz
Dec 7 2019, 11:07pm

When it comes to identifying celebrity outfits there are two mandates: speed and accuracy. If it’s a big name celebrity, you can usually expect an email from the brand’s PR company detailing the look, but that’s only if you’ve got a top-tier celeb on your hand. And that email usually won’t materialize in your inbox until the following morning, which is far too late. But a new resource has been born, one laden in mystery but curious in its accuracy and efficiency: social media fashion archives.

There’s been a bevy of notable ones over the years including Olsen’s Anonymous, Haus Of Rihanna, KimKLookBook, La Maison Gaga, and Style Beyoncè, all of which have one sole responsibility: tell us what our faves are wearing… and be specific. Often these accounts go unattributed when larger platforms report on what these celebs are wearing since their exclusivity weans by the second as others catch on.

I first became aware of these small-but-mighty accounts back in 2017 when I was editing a weekly column called “What Melania Wore” where we would detail the clothing of the First Lady’s outfits every Friday. Our reporting at the time heavily relied on a Twitter account (@WhiteHouse_Fash) run by 19-year-old Heaven LeeMiller. While we would independently corroborate the looks ourselves, LeeMiller’s excavating of sites like Net-a-Porter and Moda Operandi would without fail accurately identify not just what she was wearing, but how much it cost and where one could acquire it.

In the case of Melania Trump, there’s not much competition by way of those trying to figure out what she’s wearing. But when it comes to top-tier celebs like Zendaya and Harry Styles, speed is essential. In the case of Zendaya Style Resource, which credits itself as the “#1 Blog Source info on all Zendaya's Fashion,” the account’s success can be attributed to seeing a spark years before her lightning ascent to A-list, and following it.

It was in 2013, around the time when Zendaya’s Instagram handle was still @zendayamaree and she was on Dancing With the Stars, that Marie (a pseudonym for the account owner, who wishes to remain anonymous) first became aware of Zendaya as a fashion figure to watch. “I was seeing her on other fashion blogs because she was gaining relationships with designers like Fausto Puglisi, Vivienne Westwood, and Ruthie Davis (who named a shoe after her), which was very interesting because designers and their PR teams normally don’t look to Disney for the muses that they want to work with, and here she was working with these brands, and that’s when I knew she had something special,” Marie explains.

Three years later, in September 2016, the account was born. “At the time, I felt like no one was really documenting Zendaya’s style in the way that it should. I felt like she was going to have a very interesting style evolution — which turned out to be correct.” Marie says she thought long and hard before beginning the account, aware of the process that it entailed and that she’d need to be at the ready even in moments that weren’t necessarily convenient.

But the big question that remains is how: how do these accounts figure out every look, down to T-shirts worn in Instagram stories. It begins with preparation. “I generally tend to look at all of the runway shows,” Marie says. “I look at a lot of fashion editorials and—like the legendary Patti Wilson does to stay fresh—look for what all of the emerging brands are doing, because the emerging brands are really the driving forces for best inspiration these days.” In addition, Marie has contracts at showrooms that represent labels and either asks for their client roster or encourages them to send her client lookbooks. “I’ve even had designers themselves and PR people directly send me details because they are starting to realize the importance of closet accounts, because we are getting the information out before the bigger established publications.”

For Alex and Lu, the duo behind Harry Styles Fashion Archive and similar blogs for former One Direction members Niall Horan and Louis Tomlinson, it’s a similar process. “For Harry these days, we give ourselves a head start by keeping up with all of the Gucci runway shows and releases,” Alex says. “So, more often than not, we can ID the brand on sight.”

In addition, the duo rely on aggregation sites like Lyst, ShopStyle and ModeSens to help them search for the specific item. They also deploy the new fashion search engine site TAGWALK to help them in their efforts. The toughest stuff is anything vintage, he admits. “We end up relying on searching Google Images to find old eBay or Etsy listings a lot of the time. We know we’re desperate when we start combing through Instagram tags for vintage items, but it’s worked on occasion.”

It’s not just resourcefulness that makes this all work. It is also combined with a knowledge of how to accurately describe silhouettes, fabrics, textiles, and the general anatomy of garments, according to Marie. And thus, this isn’t a job for just anybody, but someone with an adept knowledge of not just the industry, but of clothing itself.

“I have been doing this before even starting this account, literally if any of my friends wanted to know where to find a certain clothing items, they would ask me, and I could give a designer, model name, and even whether or not it is in the current season or a part of a classic collection,” Marie says. “So I haven’t had to do a lot of trial and error when it comes to sourcing items, although I have perfected it since I started this account to the point where I could identify an item in 2.5 seconds. I feel like those skills are required to run a successful and consistent style account.”

Can one make money from a hobby like this? Yes, via affiliate programs and links. Though that can get a bit complicated as the rules on sites like Instagram can often change and deem this sort of work not “original” and therefore not monetizable. Such was the case for Harry Styles Fashion Archive. “Since both of us have careers and this is firmly a hobby, we haven't sought out monetization again,” Alex says.

But when there is revenue being generated, is it enough where one could make a full-time living? “Absolutely not,” says Marie. Does it have growth potential for that? “Maybe. I don’t believe anyone has broken that glass ceiling yet but there are a lot of closet pages figuring out unique ways to monetize their content.” In other words: Stay tuned.