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Photographer Bill Cunningham left the fashion world some brilliant advice on how to dress millennials

Reuters/Carlo Allegri
What he saw through that lens.
  • Indrani Sen
By Indrani Sen

Culture Editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

The term “fashion photographer” does not do justice to the work that Bill Cunningham did over four decades photographing New York City street style for the New York Times, before he died at the age of 87 last week (paywall). Inside the fashion industry, luminaries ranging from designer Isabel Toledo to interior designer and fashion icon Iris Apfel relied upon his lens. “We all dress for Bill,” said Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

So a tidbit that New York community center 92Y recently unearthed, from a 2014 interview with Cunningham, might be worth a listen for fashion companies trying to understand and sell clothes to millennials. In it, he advises the fashion world to stop panicking about fast fashion—”H&M or M&H, whichever the heck it is, and all the rest of those places”—and instead to engage on a higher level with millennials:

“I think what they should really think about, and be fearful [of], is the high-tech, and the high-tech kids,” he tells the interviewer, fashion consultant Fern Mallis. “They’re no longer dressing the outsides of their heads. This generation are dressing the inside of their heads.”

Asked by Mallis to clarify what he meant, he continued: ”The whole country is electronically connected. They’re educating the insides of their heads, as they should do! Not the outside, with a fancy hat or a dress. Simple clothes… That’s the key. I think that’s what the fashion world should really think about.”

It’s smart advice. “Simple clothes” and “uniform dressing” are concepts that are gaining traction, and not just in the tech world.

In Silicon Valley, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously reduced the “decision fatigue” of choosing an outfit every morning by maintaining a closet of identical t-shirts, jeans, and hoodies. Professionals in various fields are following suit, creating a rotation of basic, elegant, interchangeable pieces to simplify the process of getting dressed in the morning. Some advocate this approach as a reaction to the overconsumption of clothing that is causing environmental havoc, stuffing our closets, and filling landfills. And it doesn’t need to be a joyless, frivolity-free way to dress oneselffar from it.

Fashion designers and companies (including H&M) are starting to cotton on to this trend. Unsurprisingly, Bill Cunningham spotted it first.

You can watch Mallis’s whole interview with Cunningham here (including her hilarious anecdote about how she guilt-tripped the notoriously shy photographer into agreeing to the interview after he spilled a vodka-soda on her dress):

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