In celebration of Bill Cunningham, street style pioneer

After decades spent documenting street style for the New York Times, Bill Cunningham passed away yesterday at the age of 87.

Most people think of the fashion world, with its unspoken laws and standards, as a scary and elitist place. While that’s certainly not not the case, Cunningham was one of the great equalizers: His work snapping NYC street style for the Times stood apart from who and what was hot at the time, and his eye for shooting style and confidence, rather than just the “in” crowd, made him an icon both within and outside of the fashion world.

If you didn’t learn about Cunningham from his Times work or from the 2010 documentary Bill Cunningham New York, you most certainly felt his influence through the rise of street style, which rose alongside the blogging boom of the mid-2000s. Though he wasn’t the only photographer to pay attention to street fashion, his commitment to never only photographing the rich and famous foreshadowed the eventual rise of the street style blogger and then, the street style influencer.

And in a twist, Cunningham himself became a bit of a style icon himself, recognizable by his bright blue jacket and bicycle. But he never fully embraced celebrity, even saying, “I’m not interested in celebrities with their free dresses. Look at the clothes, the cut, the silhouette, the colour. It’s the clothes. Not the celebrity and not the spectacle.”

Though Cunningham believed in featuring all kinds of people in his style snaps, he did have plenty of fans within the fashion insider and celebrity worlds, and many of them shared their memories of Cunningham on social media:

For those of us who’ve only engaged with the fashion world from afar, Cunningham was a lifeline. And even if you’d never heard of him, his influence was profound and trickled down through the fashion industry to change the way everyone thinks of and imagines street style. (Think of the cerulean sweater monologue from The Devil Wears Prada.)

To learn more about Cunningham, check out Bill Cunningham New York on Hulu and his New York Times video series On The Street.