Toronto Instagram Accounts Refresh Local Street Style
Recently, a unassuming instagram post stopped my scrolling thumb in its tracks. The image was notably unmodified and unfiltered, and showed a young man standing in a sunny downtown Toronto shop, his hands in two peace signs. He wore a navy bucket hat, a white t-shirt coming out of an olive green zip-up hoodie, tan tactical cargo pants and Salomon hiking sneakers.
The photo was one of the first posted to a new account called @416_fits, a page dedicated to documenting Toronto’s street style.
In a cyber sea of heavily filtered and meticulously composed images of designer-clad influencers, this lo-fi, decidedly unfiltered image of a stranger in a DIY outfit wasn’t just a relief — it reignited the spark of discovery lost in a social media environment where everyone dresses the same and everything is for sale. I have been a loyal follower ever since.
The fashion media promotes the idea that we live in the age of personal style. But the simultaneous rise of social media, fast fashion and e-commerce has killed off style subcultures once documented in fashion magazines like The Face and iD.
Even the early-to-mid-year era of street photography, defined by not-so-candid shots of stylish people at fashion week, focused primarily on those working in the industry.
These cultural and technological shifts ushered in an era of algorithmic fashion and spawned aesthetic sameness. That’s why everyone looks like a mountaineer, skateboarder or guest at Paris Hilton’s 21st birthday party.
The hyperlocal @416_fits is the antidote to the glitzy fare of Instagram’s grid of curated, shoppable lifestyle content.
Here, you’ll find inner-city dwellers of all ages, genders, bodies, and backgrounds in quirky cuts — free from the grip of an algorithm and where brands are never labeled.
The goals of account holders are more akin to documentarians than designers. You’ll want to know where the person is going more than who made their jacket.
Attracting over 2,000 subscribers in five months, 17-year-old high schooler Aissatou Leye of @416_fits has established herself as one of the sharpest (and youngest) columnists of street style in the city.
Using only his iPhone and his trained eye, Leye will spot someone wearing an interesting outfit, compliment them, and take a few quick photos of them. Simply put, it captures real people wearing real clothes.
On the street, it’s “people who feel good about themselves” who catch her attention, she says. “I think a good outfit comes with the details, the cut (or) the understanding of the colors.”
Leye attributes his eye not to street style magazines or blogs, but to his parents, Senegalese immigrants who instilled in him the importance of personal style.
“Their number one lesson for me has always been to create longevity in your wardrobe and buy good quality staple pieces,” she said. This lesson clashes with today’s fast fashion epidemic, with buyers and sellers offering designs that are both shoddy and cheap.
But Leye tends to photograph his subjects in neighborhoods dotted with vintage shops and thrift stores. Kensington Market, Queen and Bathurst, Koreatown and its own neighborhood near Bloor and Lansdowne prove fertile ground for capturing an uninhibited style that rebels against traditional shopping habits.
Going forward, Leye plans to post interviews with his subjects on the account, giving followers a deeper dive into the person behind the clothes and an idea of how they developed their style.
“I think it will be fun for people to see,” she said. “And maybe they (don’t) focus so much on copying others, I guess, but more on inspiring them.”
Another Toronto street style account called @vegetablesmag also offers a seamless, social media-focused fashion alternative.
Like Leye, Deion Squires-Rouse captures Torontonians sporting unique looks, but browsing her account feels like flipping through the pages of a fashion magazine from a pre-digital era.
Squires-Rouse shoots his stylish subjects on his Pentax Optio 33WR – a 2003 digital camera with around a quarter of the megapixels of an average smartphone – lending a vintage, low-res texture to his photos.
The style reminds @90sartschoolanother Instagram account that garnered a cult following by archiving old images of incredibly cool Gen X art students.
Squires-Rouse’s main inspiration, however, is Fruitsan influential Japanese fashion magazine that documented local style subcultures before ceasing publication in 2017.
The name @vegetablesmag is a riff on the title, as is the purpose Squires-Rouse wants the account to serve fashion lovers. “People were scanning (images from FRUITS) and putting them in their mood boards,” the 22-year-old photographer said. “And I noticed there was nothing like that in Toronto.”
Toronto has no shortage of fashion talent, but despite the success of top designers like Spencer Badu, Beaufille and Kathryn Bowen, Toronto lacks a strong fashion ecosystem.
There is little infrastructure to support a thriving local industry. Toronto Fashion Week has long been closed, there are few events to attend, and almost no media coverage of the nightlife or social scenes where fashion takes center stage.
This may explain why Squires-Rouse perceives Toronto to lack a cohesive style, leaving fashionable people to rely on cultural capitals like New York and London.
However, it makes it even more exciting to spot a truly unique look or standout piece in Toronto.
So what does it take to get mistaken for Squires-Rouse? “I can appreciate a good T-shirt, a good shirt, or really nice faded jeans,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be outrageous. I just have to notice that you might have thought about what you put on or what you bought before you bought it or before you put it on.
There is a voyeuristic pleasure in being able to admire someone’s outfit without looking at them in public. But the real appeal of @416_fits and @legumesmag is their take on a kind of cool insider that doesn’t feel exclusive.
There’s an “if you know you know” quality that makes following accounts feel like joining a secret club. But all you have to do to be a member is register. No one is dictating what to wear and no one is selling you anything because there is nothing to buy.
Both accounts are pure inspiration for a true community of style enthusiasts – no influencers allowed.
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