Erika Brechtel's kid is only 3 years old, but she knows the perils of being raised by a fashion blogger. "Mom, put your iPad down," she'll say. Or rather, scream: "Mom! Put! Your! iPad! Down!"
Brechtel, 38, is a mom, homeowner and full-time graphic designer married to "a workaholic architect husband." She is also a blogger: She started posting about fashion on her "brand styling" company Small Shop Studio's website a year and a half ago. Her most successful posts deconstruct a particular trend. "How to wear the gray tee," for instance, or "how to wear red jeans."
"Thousands of hits a day," she says incredulously. "For those!"
In the ever-widening taxonomy of blogger species, beauty bloggers are perhaps the most diverse. There are the ones who post rambling discourses on the merits of polka dots, or explain how to achieve $7,000 runway looks for $70. There are others who analyze the sheerness of eye shadows or the consistency of lipstick (Is it creamy? Too creamy? Not creamy enough?). Then there are those who feel compelled to post daily pictures of their outfits. Stars of their own imaginary magazine editorials, they twirl in front of the camera in shots they've personally art-directed, fashion-directed, modeled for and photographed.
Like Darwin's finches, they fill every conceivable niche of the style landscape. But once a year, in late spring, they gather en masse at Lucky magazine's Fashion and Beauty Blogger Conference to trade tips and commiserate.
The foremost difficulty of beauty blogging, it seems, is finding time to do it. College student Lauren Wickman works two jobs. Her blog, to which she devotes 25 hours a week, is her unofficial, unpaid third job. "There's not enough time in the day," Wickman says, bracelets clinking as she adjusts a stray wisp of blond hair. She is standing in front of a filled-to-capacity auditorium at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, where the event is being held. "Because it's not just blogging," she continues. "It's looking at everyone else's blog, and Twittering, and Pinterest, and Instagram, and maintaining all forms of social networking."
"It's hard to find time to take pictures and to even have the energy after work," confesses Kelly Ly, 24, a dental hygienist.
Beauty blogging is Ly's form of expression, her way to connect with fashion and style. "I'm stuck in scrubs five days a week," she says. "There's no glamour in my job."
She was originally inspired by the personal-style blog Atlantic-Pacific. "It's run by Blair," she says. "Do you know her?" In the beauty blogosphere, everyone is on a first-name basis.
At the moment, Ly and 26,416 other people are on a first-name basis with San Francisco-based fashion merchandiser Blair Eadie. Every few days, Eadie uploads photos of herself in a different outfit. When she posted pictures of herself going for a weekend coffee run in a neon pink J. Crew skirt, chambray Gap shirt, cap-toe Ann Taylor flats, olive green Zara jacket and Céline purse, some 300 girls declared their undying love in the comments field. "Gorgeous!" they wrote. And "You look stunning!!" and "Only a person with legs like yours can wear that length of skirt. ... Congrats!!!!"
Upstairs in the merchandise suites, girls who have stalked each other's blogs for months but are meeting for the first time in real life are eating cake and networking, i.e., snapping pictures of each other's outfits.
Of them, 22-year-old Stephanie Liu is one of the most photographed. Her hot pink pants can be seen from clear across the room. A real estate broker by trade but a glamazon at heart, Liu's site, Honey & Silk, bubbled onto the web last year, ostensibly as a food blog. Then one night Liu posted a picture of her dinner ensemble -- heart print blouse, simple black pants -- and people went nuts. Page views spiked. She has since refocused from food to clothes, and traffic is holding steady at some 20,000 hits a month.
She doesn't depend on it for income (traffic at that rate earns her a monthly $50-$100 or, as she says, "a dinner"), but the blog is always on her mind.
"I'm not gonna lie," she says. "There is pressure."
From pink pants to Prada purse, she planned today's outfit with the precision of a NATO air strike.
"Now I have never worn bottoms, let alone slouchy pants, this bright before," she writes in her blog. "So it was quite a risk for me wearing these to the conference where everyone will be in their most fashionable." Her tone is serious.
Up next: how serious is beauty blogging?
The whole idea of seriousness -- how seriously to take beauty blogging, or whether anyone takes beauty blogging seriously -- is an undercurrent running through the conference. Asked if there is anything she'd like people to know about her blog, actress Elizabeth Banks, one of the conference guest speakers, answers, "That we don't take anything too seriously."
But Banks is a celebrity. She can afford to not take things seriously. Less famous girls are deadly serious. They are attending discussion sessions such as "Using Social Media to Build Your Life and Your Business" and "Turning Your Blog Into a Brand."
The latter is being conducted by Bri Emery, the 26-year-old uberblogger behind Designlovefest, which covers design, fashion, interiors, food, typography and pretty much whatever else strikes Emery's fancy. "I'm not that private a person," she says. She likes sharing hard times, an openness that helped catapult her blog into the major leagues. When she posted about losing 35 pounds because of a breakup with her boyfriend, one comment became 100.
Girls in the audience scribble copious notes into cute little notebooks as she speaks. At some point, Emery tells them, every ambitious beauty blogger must say to herself: "This is a business now, and I'm taking myself seriously."
Emery exhorts them to "think about colors and fonts." Use three fonts, tops (any more looks messy), and make your photos all the same width. "It's crazy, the psychology of it," she says, "how much longer you'll stay on the site if that width is the same."
There are 156 million blogs out there, she notes. "It can be overwhelming to follow them all. And I don't know about you, but I scroll, like, mad fast."
Blogging, of course, is not a sprint but a marathon. More than once Emery has thought, at the end of a day, "That was awesome! And now I need to do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. And the next day."
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Blogging in this fashion becomes a question of stamina.
Asked if she is a full-time beauty blogger, one girl nods yes. Then she says, in a sardonic way, "Isn't that the dream?"
At times, even the indefatigable Bri Emery doesn't want to blog. She doesn't want to tweet. She doesn't want to Facebook or "like it" or "pin it." But she does anyway. Partly because it's her passion. And partly because quitting her packaging design job in order to blog full-time tripled her income. She mentions that fact in a kind of embarrassed way and apologizes: "I don't mean to get all number-y."