After a week in a chichi resort in Corsica, I had to admit that my beach staples of an understated bikini, Ray-Bans and oversized navy cotton shirt dress (I had thought it charmingly low-key in a Margaret Howell kind of way) fell short of the resortwear worn by most guests (many with bodies 15 years younger than their faces).
The reason it was lacking was that – compared with the hand-embroidered, pristine white cotton beach ponchos and Elton John-on-a-minimal day sunglasses being selfied at beach bars and on yachts around the world – it looked lacklustre in photos. There was no image good enough to post because my clothes were the equivalent of black cats, which have apparently fallen out of favour because they don’t photograph well for social media.
In the olden days – say 2011, as fashion years are like cat years – there was a tried and tested, opt-out way of packing for an August holiday if you fancied a break from fashion itself. It went: open wardrobe, then transfer anything small, striped, linen or straw to a bag. Now, though, it’s about presenting the right image to the world and its WiFi. Forget thrashing about on that lounger trying to find a comfortable position from which to catch up on a Paris Match, folded inside a copy of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and start rearranging your limbs for a photo shoot that makes Baywatch look art house.
From Tony Blair to the Duchess of Cambridge, politicians and celebrities have long suffered the indignity of the public holiday photo. Now it’s universal. If there isn’t a visual record of those 6am sun salutations clad in Lululemon yoga pants, then they never happened. No one needs to know that later you were whizzing around the harbour on a banana boat sporting an ironic Urban Outfitters T-shirt with the slogan “I Love Spreadsheets” (although Rihanna could certainly make that work). Fortunately, it’s possible for everyone to manage their personal brand through matching the right garments to those must-take 2014 pictures. It just takes a bit of effort, so I urge you to join me in firing up your iPhone and following these guidelines.
The refreshing drink in foreground, sunset in background Instagram shot
This is an easy one, no fashion here. It’s all about showing you are drinking the latest cocktail or local tipple in front of a spectacular view, right? Wrong. Your Campari-clutching hand will be in shot, and appropriate wristwear is essential. The multi-layered wrist is still king. Try a classic watch – say a Cartier Tank – with a couple of Cartier Love bangles, and some lurid, circulation- restricting loom bands manufactured by your adorable progeny or youthful relative to show a loveable, family-oriented side (this works even better on high-achieving men even if their BlackBerry is flashing just out of sight). Finish with a traditional, possibly beaded, bracelet to ensure your public know you are all about supporting local industry and haven’t just come to Zanzibar to plough your cash into the minibar and spa of an international hotel chain.
The blissed-out in a field wearing politically incorrect or just plain silly headgear selfie
If you thought that vaguely Navajo-inspired feather headdress was a harmless way of invoking a kerrrazy Pocahontas look when you head to Burning Man and want to let the office know that behind that façade of executive steel lies a free (market) spirit, then think again. The Bass Coast festival, which took place in British Columbia last weekend, banned the native American war bonnets and there’s a growing backlash against their use as fashion statements. Cultural insensitivity not being a great currency on Twitter, it’s probably best to consider another form of head adornment, which brings us to the plastic flower garland. Think the cast of The Only Way is Essex putting on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“the course of fake tan never did run smooth”). About as chic as a garden gnome, it’s to be avoided at all costs. For hat-spiration, look to Gwyneth Paltrow, and stick to the artisanal straw Stetson or a baseball cap with the Stars and Stripes on it.
The Facebook foot shoot
Look I brought my feet with me on holiday! Well done, but, when you dabble with this avant-garde photographic genre, you need to be appropriately shod. Men and women can’t go wrong with a pair of Birkenstock Arizonas – the ones with just two straps – in black. Another good option for women is a pair of Ancient Greek Sandals, which look a lot like they were picked up in a Mediterranean market but, reassuringly, are three times the price. Note to politicians – do not attempt this in the kind of office shoes David Cameron wore in Italy in 2012 unless you want to resemble a Marbella estate agent on his lunch break.
Gosh, it’s all a bit of an effort isn’t it? How about stepping off the plane and tweeting a photo of yourself in an old shirt and shorts with the line #Gatwicklostmyluggage #gutted #stuckwearingthisoldthingallweek. Then switch off your phone.
Carola Long is the FT’s deputy fashion editor