Is the Algorithm Shaping Your Personal Style Without You Even Knowing?

by Karly Rayner

Anyone who ever indulges in a sneaky scroll on the ‘gram knows the power of the algorithm. Watch one cute video of a tiny hamster in a hat munching on a miniature birthday cake and you’ll be served up rodent dinner parties for all eternity. Although the algorithm's antics are often pretty transparent, artificial intelligence might just be covertly shaping your style in a much more undercover operation. 

Although ‘The Algorithm’ is often referred to as a singular all-seeing entity watching over the internet, the fact that it matchmakes you with content it thinks you personally might vibe with is key to its power as a marketing tool. 



While, unfortunately, it hasn’t yet machine learned to figure out that you’re hate-watching something and never want it near your eyeballs again, this too is part of its topsy-turvy trendsetting power. 

If you watched the viral documentary sensation ‘The Social Dilemma,’ you’ll know that content which deliberately stirs up strong feelings is a powerful tool which means articles, images and videos which are deliberately tweaked to stir up controversy have more spreading power. 

While often misleading and sometimes downright dangerous in the social sphere, this ‘rage baiting’ has also had a notable influence on what we want in our wardrobes. The rags-to-riches story of the humble Croc is a great example of this. Content deriding and memeifying the rubber clog as the most hideous footwear known to humanity had enormous reach, which has been subverted in true fashion style and alchemised into an incredible marketing force. 

This internet culture subversion has almost certainly also helped to turn the once considered cringeworthy early ‘00s fashion into the inescapable monolith which is Y2K. Any long term follower of fashion will know the wheel of style revolves and brings trends from previous decades out for a second hurrah with a level of reassuring predictability, but the machine learning of algorithms has helped trends become more all consuming. 

In an article for Vogue Business, writer and fashion commentator Alexandra Hildreth jokes  “You can tell someone’s screen time from their outfit” and, if you’re lucky enough to work with or spend a lot of time with teenagers, this homogenised take on ‘personal style’ is particularly evident. When everyone is being inspired by the same sort of algorithm driven content, it’s hard to be individual, even if you think that’s exactly what you’re doing. Handpicking your key pieces through social media content that specifically caters to your browsing habits and tastes feels more personal than browsing magazines or reading articles about what you’re ‘meant’ to like - but it’s an illusion. 

@whatverowears Comment for a Y2K lookbook #PhotoStory #y2k #styletips #styleguide #personalstyle ♬ Y2k style guide - Veronika

Ever wonder how fashionistas seem to effortlessly predict the next big trend? Hint: it's not just a keen eye for style. Algorithms are the secret sauce behind trendspotting, analysing mountains of data from social media, fashion blogs, and runway shows to identify emerging styles and patterns. Whether it's neon hues making a comeback or vintage florals stealing the spotlight, algorithms have their finger on the pulse of fashion's ever-evolving landscape.

As the above paragraph, written by the AI content creator ChatGPT demonstrates, the influence of AI, while not seamless, is becoming more and more invisible. While my own brain was used to type in the prompt “write me a fun lighthearted article about how algorithms influence fashion trends”, the rest is a machine-learned algorithm plucking its knowledge from an endless library of online texts. 

This more covert proliferation of artificial intelligence online takes the opinions of the masses and learns which is the most popular to create ‘convincing’ text about a topic. 

If you have sharp fashion-conscious eyes and a knowledge of how algorithms work, you can spot this feedback loop making its way from algorithm proliferated online trends to the collections of big fashion houses. 

All artists take influence from the day-to-day and fashion designers are no different, but as the everyday becomes more screen based and the internet is our go-to for collecting images, the lines get a little blurred. Designers have always taken influence from streetwear, but when streetwear is being so algorithm driven… this can leave us in a very meta place indeed. 

A very contemporary fashion example which feels very influenced by the omnipresent eye of the algorithm, is the identikit shoes in the front row of recent Chloé’s fall/winter Paris fashion week show. Even looking up “why was everyone wearing the same shoe in the front row of Chloe’s show” feels very… algorithmic. 

According to Elle magazine “When we think about front-row fashion, it's usually of looks that speak of individuality” they go on to say “rare is it that VIP guests will wear the same piece of clothing… but, now and again, an item or styling trick will emerge that celebrities are willing to co-sign on.” 

How this ‘co-signing’ happened, is not clear, but a part of us appears to be being asked to believe that the influential celebs, including the ‘queen of boho,’ Sienna Miller, all unanimously decided that the ‘Maxime' shoe was the one. 

Of course, dressing high power celebrities for publicity is the bread and butter of the fashion industry, but the fact that conformity is being celebrated and shown as aspirational is food for thought. 

One thing’s for sure - the attention-grabbing image will be great fodder for the algorithm to work with! 


Cover image credit: Micheal Summers via Flickr 


Popular posts

Make British Winter More Bearable by Embracing Seasonal Living
Make British Winter More Bearable by Embracing Seasonal Living
The ever-rotating wheel of the seasons profoundly connects us to nature and weaves our lived experience into the infinite tapestry of time, but also, winter sucks. ...
Move Over Resolutions, 2024 is All About Setting Intentions and Here's Why
Move Over Resolutions, 2024 is All About Setting Intentions and Here's Why
There is something staunch about the word resolution which I have never really taken to (read; compulsively rebelled against), but there is another way to set...
Nobody Likes a Fashion Braggart, Especially the British
Nobody Likes a Fashion Braggart, Especially the British
The shimmering mirage of contrasts and contradictions which make up UK style are a slippery fish to grasp, but suspicion and ridicule of anything excessively boastful...
What is Transeasonal Fashion and Why Does it Matter?
What is Transeasonal Fashion and Why Does it Matter?
When the last throes of summery sunshine beam through the reddening leaves of Autumn, we have entered the in-between realm of transeasonal fashion. Despite what fashion...