Trends have always been started by those in the spotlight. Think of high school: If the cool girls are wearing T-shirts with two holes cut out of the chest (Mean Girls, anyone?), it’s only a matter of time before their admirers make a date with a Gap basic tee and a pair of scissors. Back in the day when television set the trends, we credited (er, cursed?) The Simple Life stars Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie for making velour track suits a thing. The screen size may have changed, but the trickle- down effect is the same.

The big difference is advertising dollars. Your school’s Queen B wasn’t getting paid to sport a Von Dutch trucker hat—she truly liked it (or at least she thought she did). And in the early days of social media, we liked and followed based on an authentic appreciation of someone’s personal sense of style.

Now, sponsored posts are an influencer’s bread and butter, often commanding price tags from $1,000 for more modest influencers to six figures if your last name is Kardashian or Jenner. Shop-my-feed apps like Snapppt and Like to Know It offer more revenue potential for style stars who earn a commission on items sold.

Do hefty paycheques impact the genuine endorsement of a product? “I want to believe that no matter what the brand is or how much money it has, if it’s not a fit, it’s not going to earn that place in your feed,” says Toronto-based blogger and Instagram influencer Krystin Lee, who also works as a social-media strategist for a marketing company. “[But] for a lot of people, this is their income now, and I do think that changes things.”

New guidelines introduced this year by Advertising Standards Canada mean that Canadian social-media stars must clearly state if a post is a sponsored advertisement through a hashtag like #sp or #ad. But in a string of 10 hashtags, it’s an easy one for followers to miss. And since the guidelines differ from country to country, not all influencers are subject to the same declaration rules. If how we dress and what we buy is affected by what we see in our feed, understanding the motivation behind a post— whether someone is being paid to wear it or whether they sincerely love their new Balenciaga-inspired sock boots — is crucial, especially when many women’s identities are so closely intertwined with what’s in our #closet. 

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