Recently, an unassuming Instagram post stopped my scrolling thumb in its tracks. The image was notably unedited and unfiltered, and featured a young man standing in a sunlit shop in downtown Toronto, his hands in two peace signs. He was wearing a navy bucket hat, a white T-shirt poking out of an olive-green quarter-zip hoodie, beige tactical cargo pants and Salomon hiking sneakers.
The photo was one of the first posted on a new account called @416_fits, a page dedicated to documenting Toronto street style.
In a cyber sea of heavily-filtered, 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 rekindled the spark of discovery lost in a social media environment where everyone dresses alike and everything is for sale. I’ve been a loyal follower ever since.
Fashion media champions the idea that we’re living in the age of personal style. But the concurrent rise of social media, fast fashion, and e-commerce have killed the style subcultures once documented in fashion magazines like The Face and i-D.
Even the street style photography era of the early to mid aughts, defined by not-so-candid photos of stylish people at fashion week, focused mostly on those working in the industry.
These cultural and technological shifts have ushered in an era of algorithmic fashion and bred an esthetic sameness. It’s why everyone looks like a mountain climber, a skateboarder or a guest at Paris Hilton’s 21st birthday party.
The hyperlocal @416_fits is the antidote to the Instagram grid’s glitzy fare of curated, shoppable lifestyle content.
Here you’ll find downtown denizens of all ages, genders, bodies and backgrounds in offbeat fits — free from the grip of an algorithm and where brands are never tagged.
The account owners’ lenses are more akin to documentarians than designers. You’ll want to know where the person is going more than who made their jacket.
Drawing more than 2,000 followers in five months, 17-year-old high schooler Aissatou Leye of @416_fits has established herself as one of the city’s sharpest (and youngest) chroniclers of downtown style.
Using only her iPhone and trained eye, Leye will spot someone wearing an interesting outfit, compliment them, and snap a few quick photos of them. Simply put, she captures real people wearing real clothes.
On the street, it’s the “people being comfortable with themselves,” who catch her eye, she said. “I think that a good outfit comes with the details, the fit (or) understanding colours.”
Leye credits her eye not to magazines or street style blogs, but to her parents, Senegalese immigrants who instilled in her the importance of personal style.
“Their number one lesson for me has always just been creating longevity in your closet and buying good quality staple pieces,” she said. This lesson is up against the current fast fashion epidemic with buyers and sellers churning out designs that are both low-quality and low-priced.
But Leye tends to snap her subjects in neighbourhoods peppered with vintage shops and thrift stores. Kensington Market, Queen and Bathurst, Koreatown and her own neighbourhood near Bloor and Lansdowne are proving to be fertile ground for capturing uninhibited style that rebels against mainstream shopping habits.
In the future, Leye plans to post interviews with her subjects to the account, giving followers a deeper dive into the person behind the clothes, and an idea of how they developed their style.
“I think that it’ll be entertaining to see for people,” she said. “And maybe make them (not) focus so much on copying others, I guess, but more like drawing inspiration from them.”
Another Toronto street style account called @legumesmag also offers an alternative to homogenous, social media-driven fashion.
Like Leye, Deion Squires-Rouse captures Torontonians sporting unique looks, but scrolling through his account feels like thumbing through the pages of a fashion magazine from a predigital era.
Squires-Rouse shoots his stylish subjects on his Pentax Optio 33WR — a 2003 digital camera with about a quarter the megapixels of the average smartphone — giving a vintage, low-resolution texture to his photos.
The style feels reminiscent of @90sartschool, another Instagram account that has garnered a cult following by archiving old images of impossibly cool Gen X art students.
Squires-Rouse’s main inspiration, though, is FRUiTS, an influential Japanese fashion magazine that documented local style subcultures before it ceased publication in 2017.
The name of @legumesmag is a riff on the title, as is the purpose Squires-Rouse wants the account to serve for fashion lovers. “People (were) scanning (images from FRUiTS) and putting them in their mood boards,” said the 22-year-old photographer. “And I noticed that there wasn’t anything like that in Toronto.”
Toronto has no shortage of fashion talent, but despite the success of breakout designers like Spencer Badu, Beaufille and Kathryn Bowen, Toronto lacks a strong fashion ecosystem.
There’s little infrastructure to support a thriving local industry. Toronto Fashion Week has long shuttered, there are few events to attend, and nearly no media covering nightlife or social scenes where fashion takes centre stage.
This may explain why Squires-Rouse perceives Toronto to lack a cohesive style, leaving the fashionable people left to lean on cultural capitals like New York and London.
However, that makes spotting a truly singular look or standout piece in Toronto even more thrilling.
So, what does it take to get snapped for Squires-Rouse? “I can appreciate a good T-shirt, a good button down or a really nice washed pair of jeans,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be outrageous. I just have to notice that maybe you considered what you put on or what you bought before you bought it or before you put it on.”
There’s a voyeuristic pleasure in being able to admire someone’s outfit without staring in public. But the real appeal of both @416_fits and @legumesmag is their look at a kind of insider cool that doesn’t feel exclusive.
There’s an “if you know you know” quality that makes following the accounts feel like joining a secret club. But all you have to do to be a member is opt in. There’s no one dictating what to wear, and no one is selling you anything, because there’s nothing to buy.
The two accounts are pure inspiration for a real community of style enthusiasts — no influencers allowed.
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