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Four pairs of mules? In this economy?
It’s here. The year’s biggest event for fashion influencers, what I have dubbed the Super Bowl of swipe-ups: the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.
Nordstrom’s biggest sale, delayed this year because of the pandemic, has become a monolith on Instagram, taking over the platform with a tornado of Barefoot Dreams blankets and “staple booties” for an entire summer month. This year, rather shockingly, has so far been no different.
The way the sale works is people shop on different dates based on their “status” at Nordstrom, which depends on how much they spend annually. Many influencers have “icon” status, which means, according to Forbes, you have spent $15,000 in a year at Nordstrom. According to guidance from Nordstrom’s affiliate marketing team, which was sent to me by a source, there are no shortcuts or special treatment for influencers. The sale opens to more people over the next two weeks, and then to the general public on Aug. 19.
Those with “icon” status got to shop starting Tuesday, and Instagram exploded with swipe-ups and guides. My entire feed and explore page was filled with influencers decked out in full outfits and makeup, smiling as they posed in front of display tables of shoes (and many sans masks). One excited prominent influencer proclaimed on her stories that it felt like Christmas morning. Another influencer wrote a blog post in which she tells us we have to buy these Steve Madden mules — she got them in multiple colors and is considering buying more.
*record scratch* Um, WTF?
I bought a pair of heeled mules in early March that I still have never worn. The shoes I have worn the most over the past six months are running shoes, flip flops, and slippers. I spent probably five minutes a few months ago staring at my closet. “I miss you,” I muttered.
The Nordstrom sale is an Instagram behemoth that has always felt a little excessive and out of touch, but this year it is becoming absurd to the point of being awkward. I usually wouldn’t buy the same pair of shoes in four colors, but this year? Are you kidding?
That’s not to say I, or anyone else, won’t buy anything from the sale. When I asked my followers on my Instagram account this week if they were changing their shopping habits for the sale this year, it was a 50/50 split between yes and no. The consensus from most people is they either are not going to shop this year or they are going to be on the lookout for different things. The reasons, of course, are obvious. Millions of Americans are out of work and the economy is tanking. Even for those of us who are lucky enough to stay employed, the majority are working from home and are rarely attending social events. Many women wrote to me and said they would consider buying some athleisure, sure, or maybe some home or baby items. But their priorities are changing.
Some influencers have also been posting their normal “fitting room hauls” and “try-on hauls” from the store, usually sans masks. This has rubbed many people the wrong way, especially because, due to enhanced cleaning protocols, Nordstrom is sanitizing the rooms after each client and the clothing must be held for a period before returning to the floor. (I must note here that Nordstrom’s New York flagship has embarked on a campaign, according to the New York Times, of paying influencers to come and shop in person to highlight in-store safety.) A Nordstrom spokesperson told me that “all employees and customers need to wear face coverings in our store. That includes when they are in the fitting room. We’re reiterating that expectation with all our customers, including our influencer partners.”
Cathy Peshek, who blogs at Poor Little It Girl, told me she was “beyond pissed” this week when she saw many fellow fashion influencers posting their in-store try-on hauls. Peshek said she couldn’t believe how many women were “shopping carefree” without changing any of their habits, “for the sake of a freaking affiliate commission.” She decided to post about it and got a ton of responses.
“Promoting the #NSALE is great, I get it. I do too,” she wrote. “But the complete disregard for the safety of others as you casually try on a giant fitting room of clothes and accessories just for IG stories and posts is so tone deaf during a pandemic.”
Cathy’s post really hits the nail on the head for me. No one is knocking influencers for promoting a sale that is a huge source of income. Followers love to read their roundups, see what different items look like on real people, and support influencers by shopping their links. However, it is becoming increasingly clear which influencers are adjusting and thoughtfully producing content that makes sense in 2020, and which are continuing on absurdly suggesting anyone needs to shop as if nothing has changed.
We can’t pretend this year that everything is the same, and influencers need to adjust for the current moment. They should be focusing on things their readers are probably actually looking to buy (athleisure! pajamas!) instead of booties, fancy dresses, and hats. They should try to do most of their try-ons at home, and demonstrate how to shop responsibly. And they should be sensitive to the fact that many of their followers likely have less, or nothing, to spend this year and figure out how to best serve them as well.
Otherwise, the only influence they are being is a bad one.
How do influencers stay relevant if they shouldn’t be out and socializing?
Over the past few weeks, YouTubers and TikTokers have either become more careless or more brazen about not giving a fuck when it comes to adhering to public health orders. We’re seeing more and more reports and videos — that they share themselves — of huge parties amid the coronavirus pandemic, and many of these parties are happening in Los Angeles, where cases are surging again.
I spoke to YouTuber MacDoesIt (who says he has been properly quarantining for several months) recently, and he believes this kind of entitled behavior is a result of a few things: One, inflated egos that cause online creators to believe they are superhuman, and two, the pressure to be seen and to be in a scene because of how they make a living.
"A socialite’s life probably wouldn’t feel full without being social. The elevated life, perks, and admiration at times can make all of us feel impenetrable and probably gets into some people’s heads more than others and make us focus more on a social image and title to keep than realizing the world around us is literally changing," he told me.
I’d been thinking about this a lot. Then the other day while I was listening to an episode of Popcast, the New York Times’ pop music podcast where guests were discussing the latest Taylor Swift album, the host posed a question that got me thinking more pragmatically. I’m going to paraphrase this badly, but host Jon Caramanica said something offhanded, like, How do celebrities stay relevant during the pandemic when they’re forced to keep to themselves?
Of course, Jon was talking about huge celebrities like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. But this question is arguably even more relevant to influencers. Celebrities like TS and Bey can retreat for a few months, and it can actually make their fame more sexy and exclusive. TikTok and YouTube stars are still in the phases of their celebrity where they’re pining for attention and trying to break out of their platforms.
This quagmire is probably really difficult to deal with. Influencers feel like they need constant attention to make their living, but that need is now becoming a direct threat to public health.
So I thought I’d try to help and offer some creative solutions so that their itch can be scratched, their fans can feel relatively satisfied, and they can avoid super-spreading the virus! Here is a short list of ideas for how to keep the attention on you, safely:
Start a rumor about yourself. People will go nuts, and you can control that narrative.
Start a rumor about a crush on another influencer. Fans loooooove this stuff; they love shipping people together.
Bring back livestreams and randomly engaging with other famous people. What things can Hype House TikToker Bryce Hall connect with Reese Witherspoon on? Let’s find out!
If you have a pet, post them incessantly. I want this content. I will always engage with this content.
Record and share yourself struggling with quarantining. I’m serious about this one. The visibility can be really helpful to your young fans, and it can be entertaining if it’s not endangering you.
Reconsider starting that OnlyFans account. Never underestimate the power of a direct-to-consumer platform. You don’t even have to do anything scandalous. Maybe you just want to share secrets or bake Swedish Fish into a meat lasagna in the privacy of your immediate community.
This is just a start. If you are not an influencer and have more ideas, email me! I’ll keep compiling. If you are an influencer and try your hand at one of these ideas, email me your feedback! This is a collaborative effort.
Until next time — may we manifest less COVID spreading, and may we raise more awareness about the pervasiveness of digital blackface on social platforms,
A previous version of this story misstated the requirements for shopping the sale early.