Street style photography gets snapped up

During the late 1970s, legendary photographer Bill Cunningham began recording the everyday style of Manhattan's local inhabitants, capturing fashion in situ rather than in staged settings.

Yet it wasn't until 2005 that street-style photography went mainstream, with the success of former men's fashion director Scott Schuman's blog The Sartorialist – which, like Cunningham, was dedicated to capturing fashion as seen on the streets of New York. 

It's inspiring, informative and unleashes our inner critic, too.

Mitchell Oakley Smith

Buoyed by the internet and the rise of social media, street-style photography moved from the fringes to become a cultural zeitgeist influencing both designers and consumers of fashion.

One surprising outcome of the genre's rise in popularity was the huge boost in interest in menswear: every day there is yet another blog or Instagram profile dedicated to documenting every aspect of men's wardrobes, from suiting to booting.

A slice of real life

The heart of street-style's success lies in its realism - particularly when it comes to men's fashion.

Despite the growth of menswear as an industry, the theatricality of runway shows and overly produced editorials can be offputting to men. In contrast, street-style photography provides a more democratic and relatable approach.

Mitchell Oakley Smith is the editor of men's magazine, Manuscript, and a renowned man of style who is himself often photographed. He affirms that street photography allows men to see fashion as it happens in real life, on real people.

"Runway shows are flights of fantasy; there to inspire and engage rather than sell the looks as they're styled," Oakley Smith explains.

"Seeing a really classically cool, older gentleman standing on an Italian street corner smoking a cigar is a far greater lesson in how to put a suit together than a how-to guide in a men's fashion magazine."


All shapes and sizes

Nowhere is this more apparent than the popularity of photos taken at menswear and accessories fair, Pitti Uomo.

Held twice a year in Florence, photographers such as Scott Schuman and fellow blogger Tommy Ton flock to the Fortezza da Basso where – rather than photograph the range of products on display at what is the biggest trade fair in men's fashion and accessories – they battle for exclusive shots of some of the world's most stylish men out on the street. 

Another element to street photography's success is that it celebrates a diversity of body shapes not seen on fashion runways dominated by tall, almost skeletally lean models.

"Street-style photography is voyeurism at its most voyeuristic and unabashed best," Oakley Smith says.

"There's a growing trend across all media to promote real stories and real people – you can see it in our obsession with reality television – and street-style photography lets us look past the gloss of, say, a fashion magazine to how people might really wear clothes in the everyday.

"It's inspiring, informative and unleashes our inner critic, too, as we think to ourselves 'I could do that', or 'that's terrible'."

More style than we can handle

But with so many blogs flooding the market, there are some within the industry who are returning to more traditional mediums.

Giuseppe Santamaria is a Sydney-based photographer responsible for Men In This Town, a blog dedicated to showcasing the best-dressed gents across Australia and now internationally.

According to Giuseppe, a lot of street-style bloggers, including The Sartorialist's Schuman, are branching out from online platforms as a way of staying ahead of the curve. Giuseppe himself has already had one book published and has just released the first edition of a quarterly print version of Men In This Town.

"I think the blog element of [street-style] has peaked, because there are just so many now," says Giuseppe.

"It's hard to keep track of, or even see, the difference between most of them. I think we're entering a new era of photographers and bloggers doing new things to stand out. Some are doing it with videos, others including myself are doing with print in either book forms or magazines."

Giuseppe concedes, however, the continual growth of the industry can only be a good thing.

"It's amazing that so many people are documenting in some form or another how people are dressing in this decade we're living in," he says.

"We get this amazing snapshot of fashion from around the world. I think we'll look back on it in 20 years or so and be surprised at how crazy people's fashion choices were in 2010 or 2015."

An influential force

Whether or not street-style photography has reached its zenith, the impact that it has had on fashion as an industry is undeniable.

Once a source of documentation of how people wear clothes in the everyday, it has evolved into an influential force – designer Marc Jacobs now uses Instagram to find potential models.

Not only that, it has opened fashion to the broader playing field.

By highlighting the way fashion works in real life, street-style photography shows how even the most style-challenged man can realistically integrate trends into his own wardrobe.