The costume world is a passionate crowd and for that very reason you can probably name a good few people you’ve never met who manage to fill your social media feeds.
Whether you call them bloggers, vloggers or influencers, we spoke to a few of the many internet-savvy costumers to have gone viral on the internet and sadly even a world as cosy as historical costume still faces many of the same pitfalls of the internet as any other category.
Karolina Zebrowska has now had three million views on her video on what real women wore in various decades – not dressed like pin-up celebrity icons but factory girls and servants. We asked her how such a fast rise to fame affected her.
This Could Go Viral
“It obviously affected my channel hugely. I didn’t really think of posting videos regularly at that time but after a while I realised there were people waiting for me to post something,” she told The Costume Rag. “I couldn’t really decide whether to make videos in English or Polish and what should the videos be about – so that took me a while! But about a year later I started producing videos quite regularly. When I was making the video I remember thinking to myself: “Hm, this has a fair chance to become viral.” But obviously I didn’t expect it to happen. You never know with social media, especially with YouTube – it’s pretty much completely random.”
Zebrowska always features a link to “nudes” in her Youtube descriptions that take viewers to cute cat photos. We asked what inspired the ritual. “That was just a totally random joke that I kept adding ever since,” she said. “I did receive some very odd messages though and had one guy email me for over a year, even though I never replied. Surprisingly those situations are rare. A much bigger problem would be the negative comments – and I’ve noticed the more subscribers and views I have the more nasty people get. What’s funny is I’ve noticed usually my vintage-themed videos get a lot more hate than my historical ones (pre-1920s) – I think that’s because people don’t know that much about fashion history so they can’t really argue with what I say.”
“When I talk about vintage style, I often share my personal views on things that are more relatable to everyone and people tend to disagree with me more. And when they disagree they can be quite nasty and pick on stuff I do or the way I behave just to prove their point. Also whenever I make videos on fashion history there are tons of people trying to prove me wrong. They always recommend sources I’ve already known and books I’ve already read, which is quite frustrating!”
Lauren Stowell started her 18th Century costume blog American Duchess in 2009. Since then it has grown into a major player in the global costume scene, partly thanks to a move into producing historical footwear. However, she still remains at the mercy of social media to keep her innovative idea alive.
“It’s a double edged sword,” she told The Costume Rag. “My business was founded through my blog, which created a figurehead (myself), which is very powerful in marketing but it also creates a target.” “My intent has always been to help people, whether it’s through footwear, books, patterns and blogging tutorials. But even with that intention, people will not like what I do and sometimes the stuff that gets said in groups about me or what I’ve tried to put out into the world is really, really rough. But because I built my business on social media I feel I can’t leave social media, even though it’s often overwhelming and I want to. It’s a bit of a trap so the only thing I can do is try to grow a thicker skin and get my head right.”
You Can’t Live Off It
An obvious reaction to the complaints of Milennial bloggers is that fame always comes at a cost and now gaining it is easier than ever. Unfortunately for all the time put into producing content, the emotional drain of being disseminated across the internet for all to see and the heartache of criticism about a precious hobby, is that very few people actually manage to make much money from their hard work.
“The trouble with YouTube is that the income is not steady,” said Zebrowska, who has nearly 100,000 subscribers on Youtube alone. “There are months when some random algorithms bring new viewers to my channel and I make more than usual and then there are months when I don’t even get the payout because I didn’t reach the minimum. If you want to treat YouTube as a job then you need to reach the level where it gets more predictable. You don’t want to be in a place where you can’t pay the rent because your latest video did poorly.”
Stowell was able to monetise her web traffic on American Duchess by launching her footwear brand but she says even this traditional manufacturing and retail model still requires a public face on social media that tarnishes the shine of owning a company. “My business is my only income. We do okay earnings-wise, enough to live comfortably, but balancing the earnings and livelihood with the psychological stuff can be difficult,” she said. “Generally speaking the good stuff is in greater volume than the bad as humans we tend to weight the bad more than the good, even when there’s less of it. I’m a people pleaser so it bothers me greatly when I don’t please everyone, which is impossible. But it helps a lot to see people happy with the products or patterns we make so I try to focus on that.”
Brands: Collaboration or Calamity
Of course for many would-be “influencers” the aim is to score freebies from brands in return for promoting them. This is also not a simple process, a key non-costume example being the case of a 22-year-old influencer who politely approached a hotel in Dublin about a collaboration.
She received the response posted publicly on Facebook “Thank you for your email looking for free accommodation in return for exposure. It takes a lot of balls to send an email like that, if not much self-respect and dignity. If I let you stay here in return for a feature in a video, who is going to pay the staff who look after you? Who is going to pay the housekeepers who clean your room?” This case has naturally divided opinion (we in particular know the pain of being asked for free sewing!) but the fact remains that social media stardom takes persistence to deliver free content which is rarely repaid in any form.
Instagrammer @RougeYourKnees is a vintage fashion enthusiast with 12,100 Instagram followers purely from social posts about what she collects. She told The Costume Rag she views her feed “completely as a social account. The number of followers I have is a complete surprise to me. I like the idea of different accounts for different aspects of our lives. For example, if I follow an account because I like the vintage clothes they are posting, I find it annoying if they stay discussing their emotional life or find they eat too much, as it dilutes the content I followed them for. I’m not really into promoting things for money but happy to post about things I really like and use in real life. I would feel awful promoting something I did not actually genuinely use or like.”
Do special-interest costume bloggers deserve better or should they stop posting if they don’t like criticism? Is it right that such intense media production goes unrewarded? Let us know in the comments.