Last week ESPN premiered the second season of its 30 for 30 documentary series with a film entitled Broke. The buzzed about film chronicled the ways in which many athletes blow their fortunes shortly after leaving the game. Broke hit home for me, not because I’m an ex-professional athlete, but because I’ve seen the same fate curse a lesser-known, but no less lamentable demographic: style bloggers. A 2012 study estimated that 88% of former menswear bloggers go broke after they quit posting.
It was 2008 and you, menswear blogger, were about to ride high on a freshly breaking wave of cash money flying from every corner of the fashion world into the PayPal accounts of “taste makers” and “influencers” worldwide. Though you started humbly enough, writing only for your mother and the few random stragglers whose errant Googling landed them on your Blogspot, things picked up quickly. A guest post here, a retweet there, hours devoted to commenting on every single post on every single similar blog. AdSense dollars started trickling in by the tens and soon the PR agencies came emailing with eyes on your still small, but affluent and influential following. Your first freebie left you humbled. Within a few short months you’d grown greedy, turning down pieces if you suspected they’d been offered to other bloggers. With each sponsored post you assured readers you only endorsed products you truly believed in, flipping said products on eBay as soon as the post was published.
By 2009 you’d become complacent, barely posting, coasting on your steadily growing Twitter following. Many a struggling blogger tried to edge his way into your shade. “Bro, let me get a guest post,” the emails and tweets asked. “Would you like to contribute to my menswear e-book?” (You resisted the urge to reply with "-_______-" and kindly ignore that request.) You turned down opportunities these peasants would beg for. “Let me get in your blogroll, I’ll put you in mine." Blogger please, what the fuck do I want with your blogroll? You’ve began speaking in hip-hop slang because you earned your shine with blood, sweat and 1,000-word diatribes on warp and weft. What, you think I’m hurting for an extra 100 pageviews? My SEO game tight, son. But you played it cool and cordial. "@StruggleBlogger haha for sure man, let me check out your stuff and I’ll hit you back." Fucking plebian. My buttonholes work, you're off the rack. WE ARE NOT THE SAME. The goods kept coming. Boxes were piled up by your door so high you hadn’t even opened most. What is this, a skinny tie? Please, what year is this?
In a frenzy you clicked wildly at Yoox, opening any blazer with a vaguely Italian name and haphazardly typing in your credit card number. It’s okay, I’m still more on top of these trends than the prints pubs.
Months passed between posts, but you still spent mad reckless. At one point you bought nine different backpacks from nine different shops—never mind you didn’t have a commute. The free shit kept coming despite the fact that you couldn't even be bothered to muster a full “hands-on review” anymore. One selfie with said item and you were good. I didn’t ask for any of this shit. I’m doing you a favor. But slowly things started to come fewer and further in-between. Suddenly, you were taking shit you wouldn’t have even considered last year. You needed content to stay relevant. You needed to stay relevant to get laced with gear. You needed to get laced with gear to get content—it was a vicious cycle.
Meanwhile, you weren't even keeping up with the trends. You thought love for WWM and Japanese denim would last as long as the exquisitely crafted garments themselves, but it was now 2010 and you noticed a new wave of bloggers writing about Italian brands you’ve never heard of—new acronyms made no sense. In a frenzy you clicked wildly at Yoox, opening any blazer with a vaguely Italian name and haphazardly typing in your credit card number. It’s okay, I’m still more on top of these trends than the prints pubs.
It wasn't easy, but you regained your footing, started posting again. You were a quarter Italian, after all. These fucks swagger jacked me! I was on this shit years ago. Check my MySpace, bro. At the same time, you dropped dimes on the plethora of Americana that showed up for a steal on the forums as people jumpped ship for the Neapolitan movement—some EG here, RRL there. Your bank account is okay, you told yourself. These things last forever. Buy one and I’m good for life. Buy one...just...buy...one.
At the end of 2010, you couldn’t even sell you Aldens because you’d ignored the trad insistence on shoe care—your suede scuffed beyond repair.
Then the floor dropped out. Seemingly, out of nowhere, Tumblr passed 10 million users and you’re not one of them. It’s okay, I can adapt. I’m young and tech savvy. Let me see what this shit is about. Oh, word? Boobs. I’m into it. But you were already behind the curve. You tried your hand at it, but got discouraged as soon as your meticulously plotted breakdown of shantung silk ties were buried beneath ten tank-topped teen girls complaining about not being able to find a date. Distraught, you still really dug their cleavage-laden posts because you were not on a first name basis with any females in real life.
At the same time a few of your “investments” go awry. Gilt steals you knew you could definitely flip on eBay for twice the price don't work out in a digital age wherein trends change not season to season, but refresh to refresh. The cache of URLs you bought for possible future projects expire without ever materializing.
Things only got worse. Tumblr drafted its first group of bloggers for fashion week and somehow you were left unsigned. I’ve only been on this shit for a month. Just give me some time to build my empire once again and see how I smash the game.
A year prior, you’d bought not one, but two $500 sweaters. At the end of 2010, you couldn’t even sell you Aldens because you’d ignored the trad insistence on shoe care—your suede scuffed beyond repair.
Shit got dire. On the low you emailed your blogger pals asking if they’d buy your last $20 of Gilt credit half price so you could get some Taco Bell and some Bud heavy. You messaged one of your closest brethren, “Homie, let me borrow your Drake’s scarf real quick for a selfie. I just need to stay relevant and I sold most of my gear to pay rent.” Bewildered, but reassuring he told you not to worry, just post a selfie in whatever you’ve got and he’d reblog you to his 10 thousand followers. Did this fuck seriously just casually drop his follower count? So now I'm getting big dicked by my own kind?
You tumbled drunkenly into the street and ripped your quilted Hickey blazer (years ahead of its time) and cursed the gods because even though you loved the jacket so, you’d already listed it on eBay for a quarter of its value.
Your troubles apexed at a release party for a collabo loafer at your favorite niche menswear shop. You’re tight with the buyer, so miraculously you still got an invite. Nobody there knew who you were and you spent the night sulking in the corner with the free craft whiskey and local microbrew. You mean mugged some young blogger as he examined the shoe and explained the last to his girlfriend. What the fuck do you know? I took a factory tour when you were still in middle school. Check the archives, son. The whole room was staring at you by the time you realized your dialogue hasn’t been internal.
“No need to get testy brother, we’re all here to appreciate well-made things,” said the young dickhead, who you now recognized as one of the upstart Tumblr all-stars. You glared back at his perfect bone structure, his hair’s perfect part and your beer flew in his face as you yelled, “Curate my nuts! I’m a real fucking writer! Can you even craft a proper metaphor, pretty boy?!”
As the crowd pushed you toward the door you pull a selvedge chore coat off the rack. “Charge it to the game bitches!” you yell, but the shopkeeper, your last friend in the industry, ripped the jacket from you and kicked you out the door with a foot sheathed in an impeccable Carmina jodhpur boot. You tumbled drunkenly into the street and ripped your quilted Hickey blazer (years ahead of its time) and cursed the gods because even though you loved the jacket so, you’d already listed it on eBay for a quarter of its value. Passed out in a ditch, your iPhone is stolen and you awake relieved. You didn't want to be on the Internet anymore. You went into seclusion, afraid to show your digital face, wondering if the bloggers in your circle are gossiping about your absence. They were not.
Things are blurry after that, but you slowly began eating solid food again and even mustered the energy to post a few cat GIFs here and there. You’re still young, you told yourself. Maybe you could go to culinary school and blog about food.
These days, your blood pressure still rises when you see the newest wave of menswear heads getting free shit simply for Instagramming. In my day you actually had to write a fucking sentence to earn free kicks! Calm down, you tell yourself. Do your yoga breaths. Serenity now, serenity now...
Angelo Spagnolo is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter here.