And she’s gotten the stamp of approval from Swift herself.
In 2016, there are countless ways to find out what your favorite celebrity wore last night, this morning, to the grocery store, on a plane, truly anywhere.
Social media-savvy stars document their daily outfits on Instagram, tagging specific brands; Hollywood stylists frequently flaunt their work — complete with full outfit credits — on the photo-sharing platform, too; and brands rush to deploy press releases and tweets every time a celeb steps out in their wares. But the fastest way to ID a celebrity’s cute coat or beautiful bag is to turn to one of the passionate fans who have turned cataloguing the head-to-toe looks of their favorite stars into part-time jobs.
Twenty-four-year-old Vancouver native Sarah Laine*, the founder of Taylor Swift Style, was early to jump on the celebrity style-blogging bandwagon. “I’ve been following Taylor since 2006 — since the beginning — but I fell in love with her music first,” she says. “I was one of those girls who taught herself guitar because of [Taylor]. She’s been the longest relationship of my life!”
It wasn’t until half a decade later that Laine decided to launch a site dedicated to tracking the pop star’s style, inspired by the strong community she discovered on Swift’s myriad fan sites. “I’d always liked her style, even though I myself wasn’t really what you’d call a fashionable teenager,” she jokes. “Today, there are lots of sites and social accounts that exist solely to ID what certain celebrities are wearing, but nobody was really doing it back in 2011. I figured there must be other people out there who were as interested in her clothes as I was, so maybe I could fill that gap.”
Laine still remembers the very first outfit she ever featured on the site: a Tracy Reese dress Swift had paired with Miu Miu pumps and House of Lavande earrings for a fragrance launch. “I was so incredibly proud of myself when I found those shoes,” she remembers. “It was such a high.” Slowly but surely, her site amassed a loyal audience; today, Taylor Swift Style has nearly a quarter of a million followers across all social platforms.
But Laine insists that it’s the engagement and community that really set TSS apart. “I’ve had readers refer to me as their big sister, had them reach out from all over the world to thank me for giving them a place to share their opinions and express themselves,” she says. Unlike the vast majority of digital influencers, Lane prefers not to reveal much about her own personal life, and rarely posts photos of herself or her own outfits online, despite frequent requests from her TSS-ers to do so. She has no interest in advertising on her site, either — not now, not ever. “Being fast, being accurate, and growing the community. Those have always been my goals,” she says firmly.
Laine estimates she spends anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours per day working on Taylor Swift Style, time she splits between researching everything the singer wears, writing her posts, and answering reader questions. As for how she’s able to ID items so, well, swiftly? “It’s a lot of online research and a lot of practice,” she admits.
Laine has text notifications set up for a handful of fan sites, which alert her whenever Swift is photographed in public. “I’ll be out to drinks with friends, will get a text update, and they’ll be like, ‘Taylor Swift did something, didn’t she? You have to go, don’t you?’” she says, laughing. “And then of course there are nights when I’m at home, just hanging out — and nothing! We’ve got to get better about coordinating our calendars.”
The hunt for outfit credits starts immediately after. “I can usually spot her repeat accessories and shoes instantly,” she says. “And I know which brands she likes to wear, so I’ll reach out to them with photos and say, “Hey, I have a feeling this might be yours.”’ More often than not, Laine has her confirmations long before the brands have had the chance to send out a press release.
Shoes are always the easiest to ID, Laine says, while jeans are the most difficult (and often require “many minutes spent staring at Taylor Swift’s butt,” she laughs). But more than any particular piece of clothing, she notes, readers always want to know what lipstick Swift is wearing — and while she lists a handful of the singer’s go-to reds on her site’s FAQ page, Laine can never be certain which brand and shade she’s wearing at any particular time. “I wish I could be more helpful there,” she says, “but unfortunately I am not a human eyedropper tool.”
Laine hasn’t yet made TSS her full-time job, but she’s managed to monetize her sartorial sleuthing through affiliate links, which she began integrating into the site a few years after launch. She prefers not to share exact numbers related to her commissions, but says that she sees plenty of click-throughs and conversions. “I’ve definitely had people say that Taylor’s clothes sell out because of my links,” she adds, “which is flattering, but probably not true.”
The appeal of Swift’s style, she insists, is in its accessibility. “I mean, she’s a multi-millionaire who wears Brandy Melville!” she exclaims. “She wears Aritzia. She wears Urban Outfitters — brands you can find at your local mall. Granted, she pairs them with a $2,000 Prada bag, but still!” Laine also appreciates that Swift and her styling team support smaller, independent labels, like Hayden Lasher and Soia & Kyo.
Interestingly, however, Laine very rarely shops Swift’s closet for herself. “I do own a few pieces she’s worn that I just couldn’t resist — her Henri Bendel Jetsetter Backpack, a Free People skirt,” she says. “I have so much fun seeing everything she wears, but my style is different from hers. I kind of do my own thing.”
Swift is famous for trolling her fans on Tumblr and Instagram, and has been following TSS for several years now. Laine tells me the pop star likely discovered the site through her longtime stylist Joseph Cassell, who often leaves comments — specifically, on the fashion predictions she posts before awards shows. “So remember when she wore that black sequined Saint Laurent jumpsuit to the iHeart Radio Awards? I’d actually predicted that she would wear Saint Laurent, and I even thought about that jumpsuit for her, but I wound up running a photo of a different dress from that same collection. Afterwards, Joseph left a comment saying, ‘You were so close! I was dying to tell you!’”
“I mean, I do those predictions just for kicks, but my white whale is to get it 100% right just one time,” she adds. “I can hang my hat after that.”
One day in 2014, Laine awoke to a direct message on Twitter from Taylor Nation, the account run by Swift’s management team. She’d been invited to attend one of the musician’s “Secret Sessions” in advance of the release of her then-upcoming album 1989. “I didn’t even read it — I just fell on the floor and started to cry,” she remembers. Laine immediately booked a roundtrip flight to New York City and, 48 hours later, found herself standing in Swift’s Tribeca apartment along with 88 other superfans.
After being among the first to hear 1989 in its entirety and enjoying cookies baked by the pop star herself, guests were invited to spend some time with Swift one on one. “There she was, standing in front of me in her Christian Louboutins, and she said, ‘I’ve been creeping on your blog for months. I had you picked for this nine months ago,”’ Laine says. “She asked me, ‘Do you know what I’m wearing tonight?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you’ve worn that outfit before — do you know what you’re wearing tonight?’ And she was like, ‘No, I actually don’t!’”
Laine says, “The whole thing was just very surreal.”
*Full name: Sarah Elaine Kucharski