Big For A Reason: Pin-pointing The X-Factor of Amazing Blogs


It can often be frustrating in our community when we have a discussion about fashion blogs, because we find ourselves coming back to and talking about the same ones over and over. The ones that set the benchmarks are widely read, influential among peers and chock-full of high-quality content. That being said, what exactly are the makings of the superstar sites?

To try and figure it out, we couldn't just list blogs off the tops of our heads that we really like. We needed quantified proof. We turned to the Signature 9 99 Most Influential Fashion and Beauty Blogs for Spring 2012. (We're ranked 56th, right behind The Glamourai (55) and Street Ettiquette (53).

Signature 9 uses Alexa and Twitter scores, Google blog links as well as page ranks and more to create a series of scores that are then tallied, and the totals determine each blog's rank. From this list, we excluded the fashion news blogs like Fashionista and Refinery29, and looked at only street and personal style blogs to see where they rank. Here's a small sampling:

The Sartorialist (1)

Garance Dore (4)

Cupcakes & Cashmere (6)

From Me To You (10)

The Blonde Salad (11)

The Cherry Blossom Girl (12)

Fashion Toast (14)

Man Repeller (20)

Advanced Style (27)

Susie Bubble (28)

Sea of Shoes (36)

After looking at the Style99 list and seeing how personal style blogs rank, you have an idea of which blogs are popular and what numbers get them there. But how do these blogs get those numbers? We wanted to see if we could pin-point just what makes big blogs so big. The X-factor varies with the style of content, but we believe there are generally 5 qualities that contribute to a blog's popularity.

Clear, Gorgeous Photos

No matter what types of photos they're taking, whether they are of the blogger or someone else, the quality, the clarity and the eye are always sharp. To reach the top of the top, it seems you either have to be a fantastic photographer, or have one at your disposal. We are a visual culture, and therefore it seems only natural that the more beautiful the photos, the better a blogger's chances for success.

A Distinct Point Of View

If you were to spend some time going over the content from each of the above blogs, you would be able to draw discernible differences between all their points of view. Sometimes it comes through in the angles and focus of their photography, sometimes it's in the way they write about and look at personal style or fashion. The angle is everything. For example, The Man Repeller has tapped into a perspective on fashion that would seemingly put off the opposite gender, and Cupcakes & Cashmere zeroed in on a very feminine, sweet take on personal style and cooking.

An Easy, Simple Layout

The top-tier blogs have mastered the art of simplicity. Each uses their header to convey a bit of personality, flair or color, but the layout, navigation and design are consistently minimal and a synch to figure out. A white background is usually the base of each blog's design, with black text and spare amounts of extras and advertisements.

An Aspirational Element

Each of the above 11 blogs has an aspect that always seems just a little bit out of our grasp. Sometimes it's in the expert styling, sometimes it's an exotic location and yes, sometimes it's very expensive clothing. We love to read these blogs because we like to dream about the life and lifestyle they portray, and imagine what it might be like to have it. Audiences like to view a blog that provides an escape, inspiration and something to strive for. (Whether that's a good or bad thing is up for debate.)

Consistency in Content and Posting

Whether these blogs are newer (From Me To You) or have been around for quite some time (Style Bubble), their authors maintain their influence and popularity because they maintain everything. Their content has the same feeling and style throughout each post, and those posts are published at a constant rate. The consistency shows in their photos (always the same size) and the writing (smart, to the point, well-edited). These bloggers treat their site as a job from the get-go, whether it becomes a full-time commitment or a supplement to their career.


Do you agree with these 5 qualities? Do you think there's something else that contributes to these blogs' popularity? Share your thoughts on ‘The X-Factor' in the comments!


[image credit: Scott Schuman via, Jamie Beck via UWS Blog]


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59 Responses

  1. madeleine gallay

    Certainly everything mentioned is valuable and true. BUT each highly followed blog has benefitted hugely from real world media from Vogue articles to collaborations. It seems that p/r is essential.

    • Sarah

      Agree on the PR/print aspect. Another thing I noticed is a lot of these blogs support and network with each Other (at least this stood out a few years ago). They’d link each other in their blog rolls, mention each other in posts. Etc There were blogs I only ended up getting into because another blogger supported them and essentially “pushed” them onto their existing readers.

      It’s like you need buy in/approval from an established blogger to succeed on top of having great photos, aspirational clothes etc.

  2. Diana

    I agree that these blogs are beautiful, and I do love following them, especially the Sartorialist. I’m hoping to see this whole “aspiration” thing disappear, though, and I try to do exactly not that. It’s just too harmful in the long run.

    • Whitney

      I completely agree with you, Diana! I would love to see a larger presence of more realistic blogs — less aspiration and more realistic women with “average” budgets and lifestyles. I have to admit that I subscribe to several “aspiration” blogs, but it only frustrates me to see which store the clothes are from (and the price tag!) and blogs that sport clothes that no working woman could constantly wear.

      They’re great reads, but I get more inspiration from the smaller blogs.

    • the sparkle (@erincg)

      yes, i also think that portray ones life as perfect is very damaging to readers self-esteem and gives a feeling of ‘i just can’t measure up’ which perpetuates consumerism and unhappiness. that’s why i started my blog, which has the tag line ‘the everygirl’s guide to the good life’ – it’s not just about being perfect, but being YOU on any budget and appreciating that it’s not all about ones possessions but a personal quality of life!

      i think that a lot of bloggers constantly posting unrealistic items/inspiration they wouldn’t even wear because they are short on content and also want to sell via affiliates like rewardstyle. the authenticity is a little lost sometimes is all πŸ™‚

    • LaurenF

      I agree with you on this too, though I doubt it will disappear. I get tired of seeing blogs featuring super-expensive clothes that the average person could never afford. And, like Whitney mentioned, I’m also tired of blogs featuring clothes that just don’t work for real life. I’m always left wondering, “Where would you even wear that?!” That’s something that I like about What I Wore–her clothes are cute, but they’re also within the realm of possibility for lots of women.

  3. the zero winter

    I agree with the points you’ve outlined in the article. I like bloggers who write in a distinctive voice. It’s memorable and quirky and I think people really respond to that.

  4. the sparkle (@erincg)

    i completely agree. i think the major component is the ‘aspirational’ point you brought up which can often be confused with ‘inspirational’. it’s a buy in to the lifestyle.

    unfortunately, with all the noise of not so great blogs, the great get lost in the shuffle. x

  5. snowblackblog

    I agree with Madeleine. PR or some sort of print/online publicity makes a difference. Of course, one of the initial ways people gain numbers is by having giveaways, but I have noticed that some blogs that don’t have excititing content won’t even garner that much increase in loyal readers by just giving away free stuff.

    Photography is essential in my point, especially having studied it at school. I don’t have a regular person to take my photos, and make them look like Fashion Toast’s images, but I do the best I can with what I have got.

    In terms of layout, I could argue that someone like The Blonde Salad has a rather crowded page of ads and sponsors compared to Rumi’s minimalist approach, but at the end of the day it’s not the most important factor. PR big time plays into it. I have seen bloggers here in London go from being unkown to being papped every week because of that one chance meeting or becoming BFFs with the right PR.

    All I can say is good luck to all of you out there !

  6. MJ

    I definitely agree with all of these points, though I wish, like the other ladies here, that the aspiration part was such a big component. Especially in these economic times, we need more affordable options and how to make what we have already look great. I think those top blogs have their place because we do need an escape from time to time but I feel that the size of a bloggers wallet shouldn’t determine how big their blog is.

    • MizzJ

      I totally agree! I read a few aspirational fashion blog, but I also read just as many by regular people who actually buy at stores I buy to and who lead regular lives. If it’s so pricey and outlandish that I’d never wear it, then what exactly am I being inspired to do except feel bad about my boring, poor life? :p

  7. Jeannine

    I just started a fashion blog over the weekend (nothing published yet) and I find all of this information so helpful. It is very easy to get intimidated by all the other fashion blogs out there. So I have to keep telling myself that I have something unique to bring to the table. So thank you again for all of your helpful hints.

  8. Bun Bun Makeup Tips

    I agree with all the points mention and do practise them on my own makeup blog. People like to read the opinions of the blogger and remember them most when it’s distinctive. Also helps a lot to have a clear background. I’ve come across some with black background and neon words all the way and it’s just a nightmare to read.

  9. Milly Y

    To be honest…(with a few exceptions), most of these blogs don’t actually do it for me. The photography is indeed gorgeous, but my favourite blogs actually step away from the ‘polished, professional’ look of these. I like fashion and personal style blogs with personality. The voice is just as important as any pictures – for me, more so. Also, as mentioned above, I prefer to see more ‘realistic’ women on style blogs. I’ll never look like that or be able to afford designer clothes, so the blogs I follow reflect that.

  10. Jess at Style Expert

    Thanks so much for this post. Blogging is a lot of work and I definitely respect their ability to post daily or at least a few times a week. I would love to know how they were able to build their audience at the beginning of their careers. Obviously their great original content kept people coming back but how did they get their initial set of readers? Did the advertise, get press, optimize keywords, network with other bloggers, or something else?

    • taylordavies

      Hi Jess, I think you bring up a really interesting point. Perhaps we’ll have to look into that for an upcoming story! Thanks, Taylor

    • Donna

      I have wondered about this as well. I notice that many bloggers have Google Friend Connect, which is no longer available. I’ve signed up on Google + but they don’t have a very big graphic to draw attention to signing up with it.
      So I do wonder how the popular blogs got their initial readers. Maybe I’ll go back into the archives and read some of their first posts. And of course I’ll keep reading IFB for all of the great tips that you provide!

  11. foodfashionandflow

    I agree with most of the elements mentioned above, but the aspirational element, I only agree with to a certain point. Yes, we all want to aspire to something greater, but I like when a blog is authentic and I can relate on a real level. I can only look at so many posts about shoes that cost $10,000. Their are plenty of blogs I like, but the ones I LOVE are so genuine, that the author of the blog comes across as the kind of person I want to be friends with in real life. We are in the worst economic downturn since the great depression and some of us want to see what kind of magic you can do with limited resources.

  12. Kat

    I do agree with these 5 things. However, I do feel that there are some really talented bloggers out there that may not always have access to nice fancy cameras or a photographer on hand. I think some of our smaller bloggers that don’t have that access, need credit too. It’s a tough world out there!

  13. Heather

    I agree with your review on what makes these blogs great, but I would also say that there’s something interesting about most of them. (I’ve only read a few so I can only comment on thosel us I’m also really happy that advanced style is on the list!

  14. Heather

    I’d also love to see a list of blog you think hit the 5 “x factor” points that aren’t on the top fashion blog lists. I feel like its not easy to find the really good and upcoming personal style blogs and I don’t really want to follow too many of the mega blogs because it gets boring.

  15. Palace of the wild

    I agree with what a lot of people are saying here. I think we need more blogs that are aspirational yet realistic. I too have just started a new blog and am attempting to make it relatable. I will be taking on board your advice though…very helpful!

  16. Eat.Style.Play

    I’m with Milly on this one, there are a few blogs on here that do nothing for me in terms of me being able to relate, While they may have a shoe closet I lust for. I can’t relate to the typical blonde hair, blue eyed beauty who was invited to Chanel, who can afford Chanel. I love to see the bloggers who actually started blogging and still love it, and still can relate to those who support them.

  17. kayla

    rumi neely is so self absorbed. all she has is pictures of her self, claiming she has a perfect life. it would be nice if she included pictures of others and even inspiration. like we get it, you have nice clothes and you’re a model, but seriously, nobody cares THAT much.

    • Jennine Jacob

      I beg to differ from you, I’ve actually met her several times over the years, and on the scale of blogger self-absorption she’s actually one of the more engaged, and aware people I’ve met.

      • Samantha of Style of Sam

        I also agree with Jennine. Rumi is one the few “big” bloggers who has actually returned an email to me, and seems genuinely nice! And same with Emily of Cupcakes and Cashmere. πŸ™‚

  18. Joanne M

    I totally agree with the 5 qualities stated however I also I agree with the comments above – sometimes aspirations blogs are just not realistic. I love blogs with women that have a set budget and have a real life, something that I can relate to. Don’t get me wrong, the ‘high-end’ bloggers are fierce and I follow them religiously but it’s discouraging as a blogger myself to see those girls stay on top when it’s not realistic for myself.

  19. Kathleen Lisson

    This article makes me ask myself a few different questions. As a niche blogger (I focus on hats for horse racing and polo) I have a niche audience. My goal isn’t to get the most eyeballs on every post, because the majority of America does not share my style.
    1. Am I friendly enough? Are my twitter followers interacting with me or am I lost in the shuffle of their 1,000+ person feeds? 2. Am I getting comments on my blog that are more than, “love it please follow me!” 3. How can I connect with PR people? This seems to be the REAL secret of the great bloggers, if my fellow commenters are on the right track.

    • Donna

      Kathleen you may write for a very specific niche, which I’m not a part of, but I still enjoy reading your posts because I love hats. I like your questions that you ask yourself. I think a lot of us want to know how to connect with PR people, especially after reading this!

      • Kathleen Lisson

        Thanks! You are so sweet. I think that pictures can only tell a person so much. The real magic in fashion is how the outfit makes you FEEL.

  20. Alexandra

    I agree with everything and really gravitated towards these types of blogs when I first started reading them a few years back, but now for whatever reason, I tend to gravitate towards blogs that feel more realistic or blogs that try to connect in a more personable way like showing snapshots on their instagrams/conversing with readers and also blogs that are a bit more creative with their style and postings rather than the same high end outfits over and over…it gets to be rather redundant and ultimately kind of dull after awhile.

  21. Sarah @ StyleMelbourne

    I do believe you mean “a cinch” rather than “a synch”. Apologies for releasing my inner grammar nut. πŸ™‚

    Very helpful article though. I feel like I kind of knew all of these but I just need to keep focusing on getting better at them all.

  22. Shermika

    This is a great article. A lot of these blogs do have simple layouts. I like reading bloggers that I can relate too–high end is all well and good, but I like it much more when one can get it at a discount. I read a few of these bloggers and like their individual styles. My sis and I try to show ours as much as possible with our blog.

  23. Wendy Ding

    I sometimes stay away or only skim blogs for that very reason: the aspirational turned intimidating in setting the bar too high in perfect living. Perhaps it’s because I’m a fashion illustrator, but I find progress work and in-depth articles (esp on the business side) on how to turn blogging and illustrating into a living the most fascinating.

  24. J's Everyday Fashion

    I agree with the comments that affordability does not seem to be a factor in most/all of the blogs on the 99 list. I did some research and the Alexa ranking for my own blog (which is extremely budget friendly, and is in fact, a response to all the “fantasy fashion” we see everyday – I’m trying to change that about our world) is way higher than many of the blogs in the top 99, as well as my Facebook fan count (29,000+). I know those are only two numbers they consider, but I am wondering how mathematical this list really is? Or did they just pick their favorites and then rank them?

    Overall, I think this is just further proof/motivation for us budget bloggers to keep blogging!! The beauty of blogging is that the media is now in our hands – even if the 99 list , big magazines and yes even IFB ignores us – I think we should keep going and keep sharing our budget-friendly take on fashion! πŸ™‚

  25. Tovah

    I do agree with many of the replies.

    For the aspirational element, I can go to the store and buy Vogue or Harpers or Town and County.

    When I go to an individual’s blog, I like to see what works on the “normal” woman. I really love seeing the blogs where the women wear the clothes they’ve bought and taken a picture of themselves in it.

    In other words, I’m looking for reality over illusion.

  26. Toni Styles

    I agree with these points – it’s true, as much as we would like the aspirational element to go away, it is here to stay. Bloggers are becoming mini celebrities and we all know why celebrities are so adored. Albeit, I believe the greatest draw to a fashion blog is the unique personality of the blogger. That’s the winner in my opinion. In fact, I would dare say if a person can perfect their individuality, setting themselves apart from the ordinary – they could easily get away with a bad photo or busy layout.

  27. Kathleen Lisson

    This post has been on my mind for the past day or so.
    I also follow Seth Godin’s blog, and he put out a post asking marketers to share their best approach to marketing to a fictional audience of 100.
    I think fashion bloggers are faced with the choice of A. wait for the big break when we find ourselves on center stage or B. engage with 12 people and make them excited enough to tell their friends.
    I follow a bunch of blogs but I only tweet about and share a few of them.
    I am inspired to start thinking about how to make my posts more valuable to my readers, valuable enough that they will want to share my blog with their friends.

    Seth’s blog post is here:

    • Maria @Savvynista

      Kathleen, I too read Seth’s blog love how you reminded me of focusing on creating valuable content that my readers love and in turn they’ll share it with their friends… and so on and so on.

  28. Nathalie

    I also agree with most of the replies. I do love looking at the aspirational blogs but only for inspiration. If I see something I like, and which most likely will be unaffordable, I just try to find a budget friendly version of it! This way I can also look like a million dollars, without actually having to pay that much for it.
    One of my favorite “big” blogs is Karla’s Closet! Yes, she wears designer stuff but mostly vintage! I love the idea of re-using clothes and turning them into something new. I think that is true style!

  29. STYLEFIG London

    This is so true !! I have just started a blog but have been styling women for 15 years. Already I have received more amazing comments that I could have hoped for. I want to be MORE than a fashion blogger I hope to INSPIRE women to enjoy their own beauty πŸ™‚ So Ladies would love to hear what you think of this
    Happy day to you all πŸ™‚

    Kristina from STYLEFIG

  30. goodbadandfab

    These are great comments! I would love to find out the pivotal trigger moments for these bloggers-what defining event catapulted them into the limelight of mainstream media?

  31. Glam Slam!

    I definitely agree here and think you guys are spot on here! Gorgeous photos, a distinct point of view, providing an “escape of sorts” to readers and consistency are the name of the game in my opinion.

    Blogs like these we can definitely learn from and get inspired by; inspired to find our own voice, passion and motivation. I know all of the above mentioned blogs inspire me!

  32. Sofia Leo

    I agree with all of the 5 above points as well as the aspirational element. I really don’t understand why so many people above in the comments are complaining about the “aspirational” aspect of the top blogs and their glamourous lifestyles. This aspect is exactly why we keep coming back to the blog every single day and drive enormous traffic to them.
    If you don’t like it, don’t follow and read their blog. Or otherwise read it and don’t be jealous.
    There are Plenty of blogs with “average” lifestyles and budgets, yet for some reason they do not receive tens of thousands of followers. They are just not that fun to look at and don’t inspire us that much. And we all know it.

  33. Maria V @CrashingRed

    Also, there are no Australian bloggers in that 99 list. Why? We have a couple of amazing bloggers with Alexa rankings and Facebook/Twitter number of fans the way higher then say Hannelli or many others included.

    As for the 5 x factors, I agree. Origins of clothes is secondary. The main thing is your individuality, great photos and consistency in blogging. If you tick those, sooner or later you’ll get noticed.

    However, to have a couple of great friends in PR or print would definitely help a lot.

    Also, Cupcakes & Cashmere as well as Honestly WTF are constantly advertising their sites! Didn’t you people know that you can buy traffic for your site? BUT if you don’t have great content those visitors will come and go. Content rules. Always!

  34. Kalancea

    I completely agree with all the points stated previously. Yes, the top blogs are based mainly on cooperation with high class designers, they get free clothes, accessorizes, invitations to super cool events. But, I wander…if we see that this is happening, why do we still keep on following them? why do we still keep on checking on the daily basis to see what is new? and most importantly, do we give a chance to the upcoming bloggers? Th ones that we see that have not too much followers, the ones that do not have the perfect pictures?

    Also, how many do actually read the content? We are saying (and I totaly agree) that we need to relate to the blogs we are reading, but how much we are willing to discover a blog if it does not portray the perfecy that the top bloggers have?

  35. Misae

    I agree with the 5 points but I’d also suggest that it’s worth noting it’s not a level playing field. A blogger who just so happened to have worked in fashion PR in New York is likely to get a fair few more quick hands up the ladder than rural Mary-Jane who writes purely from her love of clothes and home baking when she’s not child minding. In that sense, I think how you define ‘successful’ is important. If you think that means the most commercial blog that’s giving Vogue a run for it’s money then yes, those with the closest industry ties are likely to be the winners. But there are lots of other ways classing success:

    – started the most trends (ie the blogger started it, rather than they covered a designer’s idea and class that as them being trend setting because they were first to blog it)

    – openly speaks their own mind

    – connects with the audience that appeals to them

    – has an authentic sense of self and style rather than an evolving sense built around keyword traffic etc

    Ultimately, it’s bit like which is best – Grandma’s home made apple pie or McDonalds? More people eat McDs than grandma’s but hers is baked with love each time.

    Neither are wrong in my opinion; both serve a purpose and demand. But being in one camp and aspiring to being the other does sound like a recipe for whole load of trouble!

  36. Stefy

    Great insight! I still consider myself new to blogging so this was definitely a helpful article for me. Thanks for sharing!!
    Stefy xx

  37. Jennifer Nini

    Thanks for the article! I agree with much of what is said.. I love reading other people’s blogs mostly for their personal take on fashion.. I am getting a little bored with the bombardment of extravagant out-of-my-price range items also and mainly because my blog is about Eco fashion and sustainability, that sort of thing doesn’t gel well with me.. Having said that, I am finding that Instagram helps in allowing me to follow fashion bloggers that have good photography and a good eye for putting an outfit together… And I can continue to read lesser known blogs for their high quality engaging content…!

  38. Stacy

    Interesting article to read and dissect. There are so many fashion bloggers out there it’s insane to keep up with them and try and see what the next “it” one is. I do enjoy blogs that offer affordable items for the average woman. For me it’s about the quality of the blog content versus the quantity of the followers and who deems it popular. We each can have a niche in the fashion blogger sector and can appeal to someone. As long as you stay true to your brand and put out what you like than you have the X factor!

  39. Khadijat

    I agree with what’s been said in this article, and the PR thing is super important. Then again, living in the city, the easiest way to gain “friends” is to show up at random fashion events (though it can get pricey). I definitely think we could use a lot less of the aspirational, but I personally enjoy blogs with a few big ticket items here and there, because it makes me feel like it’s okay for me to save up for that one pair of JC’s. Also, a lot of really good blogs seem to have a “hook” such as Tavi Gevinson and GalaDarling’s, both geared towards boosting the esteem of girls. Sadly, there are only so many hooks out there, and it’s hard finding a niche in the world of fashion and style blogging.