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Nathalie Atkinson: ‘Street style’ is a lie. So, what do we call it?

Stephanie Simons's recent pretty little tome Chic-tionary offers an alternative vocabulary of acronyms and coinages for common fashion phenomena. Some are silly and cloying (serendipretty), some are cutely apt (bangover: the morning-after remorse of cutting hair into bangs), others merely excuses for pop cultural portmanteaux (zoedependancy).

Disappointingly, Simons does not offer a word for so-called street style today. Not even a decade ago, street style was the domain of amateurs: self-expression through fashion, democratically capturing the diversity (of a range of budgets, body types and tastes) of individuality. Now it's worse than gazines with models in sample-size designer clothing (because at least there you know what you're getting); it's basically a lot of photos documenting how fashion-industry professionals dress when attending fashion-industry events. Which is: for the cameras.

Whatever the right portmanteau is (street fauxtography?) that might capture the essence of this calculated parade, it's the opposite of What We Wore, an ongoing collaborative public compilation project and website (and now book, compiled by Nina Manandhar) that bills itself as a people's style history of Britain from 1950 to the present. An antidote to the default historical record in aspirational fashion magazines, What We Wore began as a Flickr pool and was in part inspired by anthropologist and photographer Ted Polhemus's groundbreaking 1994 Victoria & Albert exhibition StreetStyle: From Sidewalk to Catwalk. Thanks to the technology that has since allowed people to digitize and share images, Manandhar has assembled a lively, interesting and living record – featuring only regular people (non-industry types, that is), the project is varied and arguably truly representative of popular dress, of the sociology of style.

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"This is our history," Polhemus writes in the volume's foreword. "Books on the history of high fashion will never include us in their pages."

Neither, alas, do street-style blogs. What is accurate and average is already being misremembered as the feigned serendipity of these stylish street performers – all slim and soignée – milling around outside the Big Top, lolloping between shows in the very latest, not yet ubiquitous patent Miu Miu bow heels that will be discarded as passé at the end of the season. Recently, I declined an invitation to be a street-style subject; after I explained that my winter gear tends to what Simons's lexicon might dub gradical (the deliberately shapeless parka and scuffed Blundstones combo that suggests a harried teaching assistant way behind on her dissertation), a loan of on-trend seasonal clothes was suggested. I initially thought I had misunderstood, but I hadn't. Turns out this currently-in-stores, more picturesque version of my wardrobe was in fact more important than the reality of it – a woman posing and pretending in borrowed clothes (or, what used to be called an editorial fashion shoot).

In spite of what magazine spreads and now, worse, so-called street style portfolios suggest, average is arriving at the curb breathless in a winter coat that isn't quite right for the now-rumpled outfit underneath (stormcore?) and mincing one's way through puddling brown-streaked snowbanks in clunky galoshes while carrying one's nice indoor shoes in a plastic grocery bag. A plastic grocery bag that probably still has broccoli crumbs in it, crumbs that will cling persistently to those nice dry shoes all evening long. So if Simons should ever write a sequel, I'd also like a word for the discrepancy between what street style tells us we are supposedly wearing, and what we actually wear. Particularly since the vocabulary I currently rely on is less than polite.

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