Fashion Bloggers and Free Clothes

fashion bloggers and free clothes FAQ

Now that blogging has become mainstream, friends ask far more questions about the business of blogging. I figure if they have these questions I bet a lot of you do too, so I am going to have a series answering them. Blogging can be a pretty hush-hush business, lots of negotiations, networking, and competition to achieve success, be it fan-based or financial. I’ve never been one to keep secret about the business of blogging; while my experience may not be the same for all bloggers, I hope my insights can help you understand why bloggers do some of the things they do.Some of the most popular questions I get are about what me and fellow bloggers wear and outfit posts in general. A few answers to those questions about fashion bloggers and the clothes they choose to wear on their blogs.

How Do Bloggers Get Free Clothes?

Blogs are pretty powerful marketing. A blogger has an audience, know-how to have her posts show up high in Google for specific searches (known as SEO – search engine optimization), and several social media channels where she promotes her posts, and has the know-how to get those touts to the largest audience possible. Sending a blogger a $50 sweater or even a $500 bag is much cheaper than buying ad space, and it has a higher return on investment (ROI).

I’m neither comfortable nor very successful at pitching myself to brands. However any good blogging conference or advice site will encourage bloggers to reach out to brands, sell themselves and their blog, and ask to partner (free clothes, ad space, sponsored posts or social media content, etc.). This often works, the PR person or brand representative will appreciate the gumption and the ability to get their product out to a new audience in a relatively easy low-cost manner and offer to send some clothes to be styled in an outfit post or featured in a gift guide.

Brands also reach out to bloggers directly, or through ad networks who organize sponsored content. The bigger your audience, the more emails you receive offering samples, merchandise, or partnerships. Sometimes you just get an email introducing you to a brand and a general statement about contacting for more information; you can reply back and do a pitch and sometimes they bite, sometimes they do not.

It sounds like a blast to have free clothes be shipped to you, but you need to remember you are dealing with businesses who are treating you like a business person. There is an expectation that anything you receive free you will promote on your site or social media. PR folks talk, and those who accept gifts but don’t promote them will soon get a bad reputation. Also, those who do a great job at promotion and are easy to work with are more likely to get more opportunities in the future. You’re not receiving gifts, you’re receiving a form of income to perform a job.

Why Do Bloggers Wear Clothes That Don't Fit Well?

When partnering with a brand, 99% of the time you receive the free clothes in the mail. A brand will send you a piece and either expect it to be mentioned within a month, or you will have signed a contract promising the piece to be featured very soon. And very soon sometimes means within 48 hours of receiving the item.

As I think all of you have experienced, even if you purchase an item from a favorite brand you regularly wear, that doesn’t mean the piece you bought online or pulled from the rack will fit the way you hoped. Add to this brands you are unfamiliar with, your first (and second and third and fourth) choice out of stock so needing to go outside your sartorial comfort zone, no time for alterations and you can often end up with a piece that just doesn’t fit.

Being larger than many standard bloggers yet not quite plus size, I’ve learned to say no to a lot of free clothes. PR folks will claim their size Large fits a 12/14 but once in hand you find it doesn’t even fit over the shoulders or hips. I’ve learned that if in doubt, size up. It’s easier to cinch a piece with a belt or strategically placed binder clip than try to Spanx and pose my way into a too-tight garment. But even so, we’ve all been stuck with a piece that doesn’t fit and a deadline to make. Your favorite blogger’s photos may all be in profile to hide an unzipped skirt, a clutch may be hiding camel toe, a blazer hiding the fact that a dress isn’t buttoned in back, a half-tuck hiding too low of a rise.

Why Do Bloggers Advertise Brands and Clothes They Wouldn't Normally Wear?

There are a couple of reasons why your favorite blogger with a very clear personal aesthetic suddenly shows up in an outfit post wearing a piece that just does not look like something she would ever wear:

  • Money. When a brand offers you a heck of a lot of money to feature their product, you can justify most anything. It’s only one outfit post where I’m wearing a neon yellow tulle mini-tutu with pink roses glued on it, if I style it with a moto jacket and biker boots it may look ironic. No one will remember and I’ll bring home the bacon. I’ll compensate with a really good outfit the next day. Obviously this doesn’t always fly, and if you do it too often you lose your personal style as well as credibility.
  • Contractually Obliged. A brand you love and wear wants to partner with you. Yes! Now you can get that dress you’ve been drooling over for weeks for free! You sign the contract… and then are told to choose from two specific pieces, two you’d never get caught dead in. Do you go back and say no, break contract and likely future partnerships with this brand or do you make it work?
  • Pictures Lie. You’re working with a new brand, you see what looks to be a great piece on their site and request it. When it arrives it looks like the picture on the site… if you squint and are in low light. Your post is to go live that week and you’ve already been paid for your post. Again, do you break contract and refund the money or make it work?
  • Out of Stock. I recently partnered with a great brand. They let me choose anything from their New Arrivals to style. Everything I wanted to wear in my size was out of stock. My SIXTH choice was what we settled on, and luckily when it arrived I liked it and felt good styling it. But this is the reality; your favorite blogger may have wanted to wear what fit her style but her style wasn’t available at the time of posting.

What Do Bloggers Do With All Those Clothes They Get?

I’ve read on message boards how readers find it inappropriate to sell gifted clothing. The thing is, clothing is income to bloggers; we receive it in exchange for performing a service. You may think that it isn’t work to take a picture of yourself in a dress and put it on Instagram, but it is something that brands will pay good money for. The blogger is agreeing to be a spokesperson and is being paid. And I believe that blogger has the right to do as she wishes with her income from a job.

Why Do Bloggers Always Wear Sunglasses?

Sunglasses hide a multitude of sins… and derpy faces. So many photos Karl takes are awesome except for my facial expression. Sunglasses make a derpy d’oh face look dreamy or more candid; underneath the shades likely one eye is closed and the other is looking way off to the right. Also, many of us are shy even with having our husband/boyfriend/tripod and hidden remote shooting us. Sunglasses let us hide and not look so “deer in the headlights” in our photos.

Not only that, if you consistently wear the same sunglasses they become your signature. A signature piece makes you stand out from the other bloggers, but also signature pieces are regularly purchased by readers. A reader may not be able to afford or fit in a blogger’s dress but sunglasses fit most everyone.

Why Do Bloggers Wear So Many Accessories?

Again, there’s a few reasons why we pile on the accessories for our outfit posts:

  • Money. We have ways to see what pieces we feature are clicked and purchased. And well, accessories are super popular. Budget-friendly, fits a variety of sizes and personal styles, and fun, accessories are an easy way for a reader to get her favorite blogger’s look. Pile on the bracelets and you’re going to make more money from your affiliate programs.
  • You Like Them. If you read the comments, you’ll see many are about accessories. You like how we chose to style a look with a certain shape of bag, certain combination of bracelets, an unexpected use of a scarf. You comment on how you love that we keep wearing that bracelet, how it’s our signature (see sunglasses). You ask what happened to that necklace we haven’t worn in a month. When you pin pictures from our outfit post, more often than not you pin the detail shots – our wrist holding a Starbucks cup, our hand holding a clutch, our waist featuring an interesting belt, our profile showing an ear cuff. We want to feature what you want to see.
  • They Hide a Multitude of Sins. Sunglasses hide derp face and dark circles, wide belts hide ill-fitting frocks, statement necklaces draw attention from a cheap skirt, a sparkly wrist and awesome clutch take center stage and let a cheap jacket recess into the background. And Pinterest is proof positive that if an outfit is sparkly enough, people will like it even if it doesn’t fit, flatter, or coordinate.
  • Kill Two Birds with One Stone. So many gifted items, so few daylight hours to stand in traffic and pretend to hail a cab. This also answers the “why is everything in that look gifted?” question. You agreed to feature that dress from Brand A, that bag from Brand B, the belt from Brand C, the watch from brand D, and the midi rings from Brand E. Eh, they look pretty good together, might as well get them all in one post and make everyone happy.
  • Stand Out in a Crowd. Especially in this day and age of Brand X sending the same sweater to 50 bloggers to style the same week, accessories are the way to add your personal touch to a look. Leandra Medine of Man Repeller was known for trademarking the term Arm Party, Danielle Bernstein of WeWoreWhat wears aviators in most every photo. Accessories can help define a blogger’s unique personal style in a land of sameness.

20 Comments

  1. Caroline
    March 30, 2015 / 12:17 pm

    If blogging sucks so much why do you do it?

    • March 30, 2015 / 12:21 pm

      I never said it sucks. I love blogging, I think it’s an awesome profession. I consider Wardrobe Oxygen a business, and interacting with brands is part of this job. Sure, there’s some things I don’t like, but does every person love 100% of their job? I love interacting with people, sharing new to me brands, answering women’s questions, and showing that fashion is for all, you don’t need to be a certain age or size. I’m humbled that brands choose to partner with me and let me feature their fashions. I love the Wardrobe Oxygen community, and think my readers deserve to understand the workings behind fashion blogs so they can be smarter consumers and know what it takes for those posts they read.

      • Keodi
        April 2, 2015 / 6:29 pm

        I appreciate the fact that you’re so honest about what goes on behind the scenes. It definitely helps me to be a smarter consumer.

  2. Ginger
    March 30, 2015 / 11:10 am

    My biggest gripe about blogger outfits is that some of them leave me thinking, “where is she going to wear that?” Skirts that are real short, heels that defy gravity, things that look just plain not comfortable. To me the best bloggers are those that look like whatever they’re highlighting is easily a part of their normal lifestyle.

    Not and then you have an outfit that I think looks contrived, but generally I think you do a good job of styling things in ways that don’t raise that question for me.

    • March 30, 2015 / 11:33 am

      LOL sometimes they ARE contrived! Now that I shoot my posts on weekends instead of before work, I usually recreate outfits I wore but sometimes it is a bit of fantasy or outfits I wear not to work but a party or blogger event. Each blog’s audience is different and I think some blog readers want those contrived/fantasy looks. Like you, I’d prefer to see clothes I could image actually wearing in real life to get inspiration.

  3. HokieKate
    March 30, 2015 / 9:29 am

    So how much do we have to pay to see you wear a “neon yellow tulle mini-tutu with pink roses glued on it”?

    • March 30, 2015 / 9:39 am

      LOL I’ve learned from past mistakes and the only way I’d wear something like that is if the company was willing to donate a ton of money to the charity of my choice and let me write whatever I wanted in the post. Yeah, I’d look like a fool for that, but not going to do it any more for a single paycheck 🙂

      • HokieKate
        March 30, 2015 / 9:48 am

        It’s a pity I don’t have time to get you one before April Fools Day. 🙂

  4. Lee4
    March 29, 2015 / 10:31 am

    I’ve noticed that some bloggers will add a comment or two at the bottom of some sponsored posts that says something along the lines of “items from XYZ but opinions are entirely my own.” Should we assume this means the content/wording in the post was only written by the blogger? And that if no such comment is made, then it’s possible that the blogger used content written specifically by the business that sent the items?

    • March 29, 2015 / 10:44 am

      The FTC requires disclosure on blogs (http://www.blogher.com/must-read-ftc-clarifies-their-rules-bloggers) and that statement at the end is compliance. Some brands give you the wording that goes there (for me, BlogHer/SheKnows and TapInfluence both provide that wording, I cannot edit it), others tell you to be clear with your partnership, and even other brands will ask that you not write anything of that sort. When I do sponsored posts, I am usually given notes on the product – bullet points on what the brand wants to share, be it in HSN when they wanted me to share their The Fashion Edit collection, or if I write about beauty product and they want me to be sure to use a fact that X amount of women saw results in Y weeks. But even so, the brand wants you to say it in your words and mixed in with your authentic thoughts. Brands will email you offering to pay money to write a post for you but have it seem as though you wrote it; I have never accepted and don’t know how many bloggers accept such offers.

      • Lee4
        March 29, 2015 / 6:17 pm

        Thanks again for answering! This is all very interesting. I definitely feel like I am getting “your” opinion based on what you post, & I appreci that.

  5. Annie
    March 29, 2015 / 2:14 am

    I wish more bloggers were honest – “This belt from X is clinching this shirt from Y which is just a wee bit too big”. Be honest about what fits and doesn’t.

    • March 29, 2015 / 9:54 am

      I think it’s hard sometimes to be honest because you made an agreement to showcase the clothes to help the brand make sales. Recently I received a jacket that was too big to be styled in the way originally planned and I decided to just do a second outfit post with the jacket styled the way it deserves. I blame a lot of the brands for how things have gotten – they have crazy expectations, weird ideas on how things should be promoted, and then throw huge money and you end up with odd outfits being incorrectly represented just to adhere to a contract. It takes time to get to know bloggers and create relationships and time is money. It’s faster and cheaper to just send the same item to 10 bloggers and tell them what to say about it and how to style it than get to know the right bloggers who have the right audience and will add their own spin to the piece, making it more authentic (and likely therefore will fit).

  6. March 28, 2015 / 11:32 pm

    As a fairly new blogger even I had these questions and wonders about the more popular realm of bloggers and how it all worked. This was very eye opening and informative if I ever reach that level!

  7. DC Celine
    March 28, 2015 / 4:26 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s honest and interesting (even to someone who’s closer to blogging). I love that folks are asking more questions and you’re answering those, too. Brava!

  8. LoriM
    March 28, 2015 / 12:49 pm

    So interesting. Thanks. I didn’t realize you were under so much pressure to post quickly when you get free stuff. I think you’ve written about some of this before. How much of what you post is stuff you got for free? Seems to me you’re pretty much sold on everything you wear, and I like that. So you must just pitch to companies whose stuff you like?

    I’ll probably have more questions. Must think a bit. Thanks again. 🙂

    • March 28, 2015 / 1:08 pm

      Anytime I get something free I will write c/o meaning “courtesy of.” If a brand also pays for the post on top of the free clothing I will say sponsored in the title and/or at the bottom of the post. Since I am doing fewer outfit posts in an attempt to have more work/blog/family balance I accept fewer free pieces, but most posts end up with a c/o item, though many pieces in my wardrobe were gifted and are still favorites. I’ve learned with time how to better partner with brands so I end up with items that I love and are a good fit for the blog 🙂

  9. Lee4
    March 28, 2015 / 12:12 pm

    Yes, it looks very posed to me! Thanks for answering.

  10. Lee4
    March 28, 2015 / 11:57 am

    Very interesting; thanks for sharing. I’ll look forward to more of these types of posts. Here’s my question: certain bloggers tend to be photographed sideways & looking down, while kind of playing with their hair. Just curious as to why that pose? Off the top of my head, I don’t recall you doing this. Thanks!

    • March 28, 2015 / 12:04 pm

      Main reason is because people like them. Casual, candid-looking photos are most popular with readers as well as with brands as it gives the feel of street photography even though it’s extremely posed. 🙂

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