My fashion obsession: It's not about the clothes
Many women have a strange love affair with their clothing, with their sense of style.
They remember what they wore during every significant (and not so significant) event in their lives. They long for the September issue of their favourite magazines where everything that's anything in the world of fashion is on display.
But even the most desperate of fashion addicts has to admit that the images in the pages of Vogue and from the runways of Milan could use a dose of reality.
I know they are meant to be inspiration — art, I suppose — but looking at women contorting their fragile frames into awkward shapes while leaping in the air, hair everywhere, blouses wide open and wearing eight-inch heels, can be a little too much "inspiration."
That is where the style bloggers come to the rescue.
You may have noticed that with the rise of social media and the popularity of personal websites, there has been a boom in fashion and style blogs. Those amateur websites dedicated to those who love fashion.
Since discovering them, I find myself spending countless hours every week perusing my favourite amateur fashionistas, from the easily relatable outfits at Chic on the Cheap to the jet-setting glamour posts of Sea of Shoes.
And I'm not the only one — the influence of these blogs, specifically their focus on "street style" and how clothes are really being worn by ordinary people is forcing designers, magazines and the fashion industry to take notice.
Getting good stuff cheap
These days, the world's leading fashion designers invite bloggers to their most exclusive events.
A case in point: 13-year-old Tavi Gevinson of The Style Rookie was invited to several big shows during New York's big Fashion Week in February.
Magazines and their websites now have dedicated sections to street style. It is a case of art imitating life.
While there are some fantastic male bloggers, The Sartorialist being the king of them all, most of these blogs are created and maintained by women.
More importantly, the vast majority are normal, everyday women and girls, who blog about where to get good stuff cheap.
Clearly, part of their popularity springs from the devastating state of the current economy, which has forced just about everyone, even fashion-conscious shopaholics to cut back.
One woman's trash
From what I can tell, these style bloggers are mostly people with day jobs who don't work in fashion and who have made it socially acceptable, even a source of pride, to shop at low-end bargain shops and wear the same garment a few times a week.
Some of the blogs even promote NOT buying clothing. The originators actively swap clothing with their friends, fellow bloggers and stylists.
The idea being that one woman's trash is another woman's treasure.
Several bloggers have participated in the 30 for 30 challenge.
The idea here is that, for one month, the participant only has access to 30 garments of clothing (not including accessories) and has to "remix" them into 30 different, complete outfits. It's not easy.
The point is that you don't need to have a lot of clothing in order to be stylish. Less can be more.
In fact one blogger wore the same black dress every day for a year — but restyled it with accessories to make it seem original 365 times.
Don't live to shop
The overall message from these style bloggers is that fashion doesn't have to be about materialism.
Many of these bloggers are, in effect, teaching others how to look better and how to feel better. At times they share intimate details about their own insecurities and battles with self-esteem.
If you've ever watched an episode of TLC's What Not To Wear — admit it, you have — you'll know that getting people to dress better is about getting them to value themselves more appropriately.
Some of us have been taught to believe that investing in our appearance makes us shallow, that putting effort how we look means we don't care about the more important things in life.
But that's simply not true. That bit of self-confidence brought on by a properly tailored jacket or a nice pair of shoes can only help.
My obsession with these blogs motivated me to start my own style-blog last year (and I'll get back to it one of these days).
For a few months, while walking to and from work or while grocery shopping, I would approach strangers and ask if I could take their picture for my blog.
Not a single person said no. Mostly they were flattered and pleased that their effort hadn't gone unnoticed.
My blog was always about the people that I saw all around me — those with their own sense of style. Walking bits of creativity that I could draw inspiration from.
Fashion blogs may seem like exercises in vanity and maybe to some degree they are. But they achieve something much bigger.
They are taking the shame out of low-budget shopping, making fashion more accessible and teaching people to value themselves. That is the real inspiration.