Key Points:

Welcome to your worst fashion nightmare. That is, it's your worst nightmare if you're one of those people that always wonders where the clothes for more mature women are hidden and why all the models you ever see in magazines and on runways appear to be aged around 12.

Because there is a new voice making its presence felt among online fashion opinions - and that is the blog of the precociously well-dressed teenager.

Basically these online diaries consist of young ladies, and we say "young" because one of the best known is only 12 years old and the eldest are only just into their twenties, who document their adventures in fashion.

This can include anything from commentary on the shows in Paris (that they just saw online) to analysing celebrity fashion to, like, oh you know, the coolest thing they just found down at the shopping mall. But the basis of almost all of these teen fashion blogs is the daily self-portrait, showing the writer posing in outfits she has carefully put together with a sentence or two as to where she got it and why she likes it. Often

this is a mixture of vintage, chain store, home-made and stuff they raided from Mum's closet; these young ladies can't afford designer labels even though they may like to look like they're wearing them.

And, as frightening as it may seem to bitter old frock watchers everywhere, these websites are becoming more and more popular, as well as being taken more seriously by the fashion world in general.

You need only look at the comments made on the pages to see how popular. Your average fashion news website is lucky to get 10 readers bothering to write a comment at the bottom of any story they publish. Whereas these pubescent closet-cavorters average anywhere between 30 and 50 comments on their choice of outfit from eager viewers around the world.

Recently the New York Times wrote about this new, trendy crop of online adolescents. "Meet the next generation of style bloggers," said author Elizabeth Spiridakis. "They might not be able to drive yet, but their fashion sense is so incredible, it's actually intimidating. They fuel their own trend cycles," she adds.

At the moment, many of the most popular teen fashion blogs seem to originate in the USA. However, New Zealanders do have several of their own, including the Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes, whose writer, Imogen, is 15 years old, and City of Petra, whose writer, Petra Benton, is 19.

It may seem inexplicable to anyone over 25 but there are a variety of relatively sensible reasons as to why teenage girls who raid their mothers' closets and who shop mainly at the mall are more than a fleeting blip on fashion's radar.

For one thing, it's a natural progression. Followers of fashion started off paying attention to various party picture sites - like the Cobra Snake and Last Night's Party - to see what the hip and happening were wearing out at night. Then there were the street style websites, cool pages like those of the Sartorialist and Face Hunter, where photographers with an eye for the interesting outfit would stop the best dressed on the street, snap their portrait and then post them online to provide fashion inspiration around the world.

Then there is the fact that teenage girls are, as various surveys put it, "feminising" the internet. An American study - the Pew internet & American Life Project - found that among internet users aged between 12 and 17, more girls than boys worked on their own websites, created their own profiles online and kept blogs.

Similar surveys also found that today's teenagers are by far the most active when it comes to user-generated content online. Unlike their elders, who hesitate and ponder privacy issues, the youth of today are perfectly happy to post intimate details about their friendships, romances and wardrobes.

"And it's all pretty voyeuristic," explains Isaac Hindin-Miller, an increasingly well-known Auckland-based blogger who runs his own independent site, Isaac Likes, specialising in local fashion news as well as whatever takes his fancy.

The 24-year-old started off his blog talking about altruistic monkeys and ended up breaking fashion news stories.

"It's like looking into somebody else's life, it's the same reason why reality television is so popular - and things like [social networking site] Facebook. Everybody likes getting a look at somebody else's life - and it's free," Hindin-Miller notes.

All of which are factors that have led to the rise of the teenage fashion blog. Fair enough. However, possibly the most important question for everyone reading this who isn't in their teens anymore, but is interested in nice clothes, is: Do these websites have any real sartorial significance to anyone over the age of 18?

"I think they do have some fashion merit," says Hindin-Miller.

"I guess it depends on how well people put their outfits together. Then again, it's like anything, it's as good as [readers] think it is. And you can see that a lot of people are reading and commenting. If there are a hundred 17-year-old girls looking at one outfit worn by another 17-year-old girl, it might be a really mainstream look but it could also have a lot of commercial power."

In fact, in the USA some fashion firms have already come to that same conclusion - they want to harness that peer power. So they're approaching some of the teenage bloggers and offering them free clothing or other favours (like, say, a step up in a future fashion career) in return for the teens' endorsement of certain items.

Hindin-Miller recalls something that Bryan Boy, the camp blogger, in his twenties, who visited New Zealand fashion week last year and whose main claim to fame is that Marc Jacobs named a handbag after him, told him about blogs.

"He said that there are two kinds of blogs. There's the type that come along and break news stories. Then there are the ones where people fall in love with you as a person and they come back day after day to find out what you've been up to. That's the difference between a [fashion] blog and a [fashion] magazine; with a blog you really get to have your own voice."

So it's almost like teenage girls establishing their own cult of personality, or as some cynics have called it, their "personal brand".

Additionally, if you think about what it is that followers of fashion want from their fashion media, you can see there is definitely a point to what these young 'uns are doing.

After all, while it's nice to be able to look at beautiful clothes on beautiful people on glitzy, glossy pages, most of us can only aspire to those garments. In fact, in New Zealand we often either cannot get hold of said outfits or afford that designer couture.

Which is where these web-savvy maidens become handy style advisers to all and sundry. The credits for their dress-ups tend to read like a roster of the shops down the road - everything from vintage or fleamarket footwear finds to Warehouse own-brand blazers to things they've made themselves. And it all adds up to a little bit of inspiration, even for older trendspotters.

As Petra Benton, the 19-year-old who runs her own blog, City of Petra, says, "I think that [for everyday readers] we are easier to relate to and draw inspiration from because we are coming from their own level. We don't have trust funds or stylists who dress us; we are for the most part pretty everyday people. Readers identify with this. Seeing others wear something you wouldn't dare to is quite eye-opening, and it makes you ask yourself 'why not?"'

Example: one blogger layers various skirts to recreate the latest Miu Miu styles, which anyone could do. And another of the teen blogettes - Tavi Gevinson of Chicago, also known as Style Rookie, who is one of the youngest, and since the New York Times article, best known - advises her loyal readers on how to get a Commes des Garcons look by cutting up, then sewing ribbon "lips", into a pink, vintage shirt. Then she puts on three different plaids and checks at once and, hey, it works - at least, in her digital pictures.

OK, so it might look a little different in real life or on a grown-up (by the looks of her, Tavi is about the size of a pixie and twice as cute) but it's still a nice idea that makes high fashion more accessible, fun and democratic - and even the most jaded of frock watchers has got to like that.

There's only been one resounding criticism of the small army of teenage fashion bloggers that seems pertinent. It relates directly back to the voyeuristic aspects because some web watchers believe that seeing adolescents dressing up like this every day could provide fodder for perverse fantasies. Newspaper USA Today even published a story on it, directly after the much more upbeat New York Times trendspotting piece.

Even some of the bloggers are concerned about this. "I do worry a bit when I see younger girls with blogs who are unaware of the way in which they are presenting themselves," Benton agrees. However, she personally monitors her online presence with care. "I understand how serious the negative consequences of online action such as blogging are. I am very careful as to the information I distribute on my blog. I think that being a bit older helps as well."

Then there is also the danger of receiving less than positive feedback - something which could emotionally scar a more sensitive wee soul.

"When I get 50 comments [on something posted on the blog] it's definitely a positive affirmation. But when you get nasty comments it can suck," Hindin-Miller agrees.

"You can't say you don't feel anything. But I think you have to develop thicker skin."

And he also believes that if you're going to put yourself out there, in the public domain, then you cannot expect everyone to be kind.

"To do this, you need to be a little - or a lot - of an exhibitionist. It's like being a successful Hollywood actor and telling everyone you don't want any publicity," Hindin-Miller suggests. "And to be honest, the feedback is part of the reason why blogs are so successful. People can look, they can comment and it becomes addictive."

Indeed, as Hindin-Miller puts it, "the monster's been unleashed - I think this will just keep on coming".

And as to whether you personally will read 'em and weep or whether you will be inspired? Well, as with so many things in the fashion world, it's subjective. Some of us may become upset at all that clear skin and what those skinny-legged minxes do with leggings (a lot!). But give the kids a chance. Because there's no doubt that even some of those who no longer live with their parents may end up surprisingly jealous of these junior stylistas, wishing they had some hot mama's closets to raid.

From the clothes horse's mouth

Petra Benton is 19, a university student and works on her own blog, City of Petra.

Why did you choose to start your own fashion blog?

I had been reading other fashion blogs and on a whim one day just decided to join in on the fun.

Why do you enjoy it?

I love fashion and I love photography, so it is primarily an outlet for both. I do a lot of sewing and I love sharing and discussing fashion with others and the wonderful feedback I get is so rewarding. I am also very interested in the fashion industry and having my blog is a way to express this passion; perhaps it may lead to a future in that area. I'm quite interested in modelling also, which the blog has made me more determined to pursue.

Can you explain the process?

I take all the photographs myself, using a camera balanced on a chair in my bedroom. In terms of outfits, I just photograph what I am wearing that day. I do try to continuously mix up my outfits and not repeat pieces so that I do not become repetitive, which would be uninspiring for readers.

Do you worry about what you're wearing more now?

I did when I first began my blog but I have come to realise that my blog is first and foremost an expression of who I am and my individual style. Readers tend to gravitate towards blogs which show a true expression of personality.

Is it a labour of love or something more glamorous?

It is very time-consuming, particularly alongside study and work. However, it is so enjoyable and I love to do it which is why I make sure to find the time to update regularly and reply to comments. In terms of being glamorous ... not particularly! Just me posing in front of a self-timer in my bedroom.

How long do you think you will keep doing it?

I truly have no idea of a time frame. I expect I will continue to blog as long as I love it and I am still getting enjoyment from it.

Read all about it

Following are some of the most popular teen fashion blogs:

http://childhoodflames.blogspot.com
http://cityofpetra.blogspot.com
http://fashionpirates.blogspot.com
http://www.fashiontoast.com
http://hipstermusings.blogspot.com
http://seaofshoes.com
http://tavi-thenewgirlintown.blogspot.com
http://www.thegirlwiththekaleidoscopeeyes.com
http://www.thatsjustmyvibe.com