I love to travel and am fascinated by the Instagram travel influencers in their colorful dresses, variety of hats and delightful accessories, against the backgrounds of gorgeous cities and landscapes. But I could not possibly hike to the top of the mountain in a long white billowy dress, or explore Paris in anything less than sensible sneakers, could I? What is this about, and how are regular people supposed to balance convenience with fashion? — Olenka, Chicago
There is so much to unpack in this question: the way social media has skewed our perceptions of self, the effect of influencer marketing and what to wear when you are seeing the world. Where to start?
Maybe with the question: What are you really looking for when you travel? And what exactly are you “sharing” when you post?
If the answer is “a great picture to show all my friends in order to demonstrate the glamour and excitement of my life and make them jealous” (which, to be fair, is what a lot of Instagram is about), then you may be looking in the wrong place. That’s not so much about learning firsthand about other cultures and landscapes via travel, and more about social status and one-upsmanship.
For travel influencers, as with all online influencers, of course, it’s also about a career. The person in the picture is pushing an image of their fabulous life to make you want to be them, and to suggest that it can really happen if you buy the hotel/spa package they are theoretically enjoying. And they are often paid to do that. The more tempting influencers can make a trip look, and the more followers they convince, the more money they can potentially make.
But if you are traveling to experience a different part of the world, to see it and smell it and taste it for yourself, then the picture is just an aide-mémoire. How it is art-directed for others is the least of the matter.
Indeed, when I asked Eva Chen, Instagram’s vice president for fashion and shopping partnerships, about it, she emailed back: “I travel a fair amount, and I follow nearly 1,500 accounts on Instagram. And I am here to tell you that you should not feel like you should travel like those influencers or live up to any standard of travel fashion other than your own.”
Once you start thinking like that, the most important consideration is not how trendy or fabulous a garment is, or how good it will look in a picture, but how effectively it facilitates your experience. What you wear should make your life easier, not more complicated. Garments that need dry cleaning and ironing to be presentable are probably not a good idea. Ditto anything that risks a broken ankle.
According to Ms. Chen: “My personal hacks for travel are: find a pair of sneakers that are comfortable and utilitarian (my preferred styles are the Nike Cortez or dad-worthy New Balances). A simple cotton shift dress in black or charcoal hides a multiple of wrinkles and can be dressed up or dressed down. And big sunglasses (think Audrey) have a similar effect.”
Also, she said, you can always make a virtue out of your refusal to be a travel influencer lemming by sharing “your version of what a travel influencer’s wardrobe can be in the places you frequent.” In other words, change the rules!
After all, in the end, what makes the best picture is the joy of discovery. It reads through any lens.