Loren Gray is a 17-year-old singer and beauty influencer. Her YouTube channel has 3.6 million subscribers. (On TikTok and Instagram, she has even more fans.) They follow her every move — the video uploads, the ephemeral Instagram Stories — and obsess over the details. What is she wearing? How much does it cost?
To find the answers, her followers don’t wait around for next week’s gossip magazines or turn on E! network. They turn to the closet accounts.
There are thousands of accounts on Instagram devoted to the branding and pricing of celebrity wares. Many of them are run by teenagers. Now a cottage industry has emerged, spurring fierce competition between friends and fellow admirers who want to get the word out first.
Giselle Pacheco, 17, runs a closet account dedicated to the 19-year-old influencer Emma Chamberlain; her 231,000 followers treat @closetofemmachambie as a breaking news source. “If Emma posts an Instagram photo, that’s an outfit I’d try to find right away,” Giselle said. “I usually get requests for those.”
She spends about an hour every day trawling clothing sites, looking for the make of Ms. Chamberlain’s jacket or skirt. Her first post identified a highly sought-after yellow jacket that the YouTuber had worn (Forever 21) During particularly busy periods, like fashion week, the amount of time Giselle devotes to research can swell to five hours a day, she said.
Nina, a 13-year-old who runs a Kardashian/Jenner closet account called @kandjoutfitss, also spends several hours a day hunting down items worn by the first family of reality TV. To ensure she doesn’t miss a single outfit, she follows a slew of Kardashian stan update accounts (fan-run accounts that post paparazzi photos and news about a particular celebrity). Nina estimates that she has identified thousands of items since starting her latest closet account in June.
Because new accounts appear daily, and new outfits even more frequently, the closet-account world can be cutthroat. Sometimes the competition can take a personal toll.
Nina had a falling out with a close friend who started her own Kardashian-related closet account. “She’d accuse me of stealing her stuff,” Nina said. “If she found something and I posted it after, she’d say I stole it.”
Ella, 14, who runs a closet account for the YouTuber Hannah Meloche, said that beating out a competitor, especially one with a bigger following, gives her a powerful adrenaline rush.
“It’s an art, and it does take a lot of time,” said Brianna Randle, 18, whose closet account revolves around the cast of “Riverdale.” She said some items have taken her months to locate. “When you do find something, the feeling is indescribable,” she said. “It’s a sense of completion.”
After a while, closet account administrators become familiar with the brands their chosen celebrities wear and can identify brands by sight. For out-of-the-norm outfit choices, they rely on Google, Pinterest and sites like ShopStyle, a fashion search engine.
Andrew Gelwicks, a celebrity fashion stylist whose clients have included the actors Catherine O’Hara, Lisa Rinna, Dascha Polanco and KJ Apa, said he is in awe of the speed with which closet accounts identify clothing labels. Once, he dressed a client in a rare vintage Dior dress. Less than 30 minutes after photos hit the internet, a closet account had identified it. “It’s unreal,” Mr. Gelwicks said.
Together, the closet account administrators and their chosen celebrities have made for very effective marketing teams.
“In the past, it would be, ‘Oh, Kylie’s wearing black leggings, let me go to Express and get a pair of black leggings,’” Mr. Gelwicks said. “Now, if Kylie wears leggings from Katie Gallagher, and she’s tagged on a closet account, people will be like, ‘I want those exact Katie Gallagher leggings, let me buy them.’” He said he has seen items tagged on closet accounts sell out within a day of being posted.
Though Instagram has made a big push into shopping over the past year, closet accounts don’t offer native shopping functionality within the app, as some brands do. Also, most closet accounts aren’t monetized, save for a few that use affiliate codes for specific retailers.
But while they aren’t marketplaces, the accounts have still shaped the way some people shop.
“Following my account is kind of like having a personalized list of clothes that you can shop from in a style that you like,” said Juliette Laurent-Michel, a 14-year-old who runs a Loren Gray closet account. “Closet accounts make it easy to dress like your favorite influencers. It’s quicker than having to go through the decision-making process of choosing where to buy clothes. It makes it way easier to shop online.”
There are several closet accounts that track Meghan Markle’s outfits, but for the most part, the accounts are focused on celebrities no more than a generation older than their administrators. Sydney Ray, 22, who runs a closet account dedicated to the pop singer Normani with an 18-year-old friend, named one major exception: Beyoncé.
Still, Mr. Gelwicks said there are plenty of adults paying attention: stylists, designers, celebrities themselves. “They really have a lot of power,” he said.