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The Virtual Wardrobe: A clueless concept or a retailer’s reality?


The movie Clueless first brought the ‘virtual wardrobe’ concept to our imagination way back in 1995. Alicia Silverstone played Cher: a rich and vain high school student who owned such an extensive wardrobe that to save time each day she used a computer program to show what each item in her wardrobe would look like on her.

Consumers and retailers were excited and seduced by the brilliance of the idea’s execution in the film. Many felt it only natural that such tools would soon be an inevitable part of fashion both at home and on the high street.

But 18 years on from Cher’s adventures, and despite the dawning of the digital age, the fashion world is still struggling to make such ideas a practical reality.

Trying different options on for size

Buying clothes online now accounts for just under a quarter of all retailers’ sales in the UK and that figure is rising. Providing customers with a simple and clear way to visualise how their clothes will appear on them is the holy grail for many online retailers.

The reason for focusing on this seems logical enough. Online shopping prevents a customer from trying on the clothes, so using technology to show people how they will look in an item helps persuade them to make a purchase.

Ecommerce sites have stepped up to this challenge in a variety of ways. One of the most well known approaches is the 3D ‘robotic’ modelling technique. This system asks the consumer to tap in various body measurements to reconstruct a 3D model of themselves on screen. When they select an outfit an image instantly appears on their 3D avatar and shows them how good (or bad) it looks.

But in their quest to recreate the ‘Cher moment’ retailers are missing, at great expense to their bank balance, the most fundamental point. Do the clothes even fit?

If the cap fits…

Shoppers, especially those who have left the awkward teen years behind, tend to know what styles they like and what suits them. The issue is knowing whether or not an item will fit and the current 3D technology does not address that.

This isn’t a minor matter either. As many of 60% of shoppers have admitted to ordering multiple sizes of the size to ensure they get at least one item that fits.

And whilst it may not always financially cost a consumer money to return an item, it costs them time and effort. It’s little wonder then that 79% of customers are reluctant to make a repeat purchase from an online retailer after an unsuccessful shop.

Complicating things further is the vast differences in size labels across brands. A size 16 in H&M reads as a bust of 96cm, a waist of 80cm and hips of 104cm. Whereas a size 16 at River Island sails in as 103cm, 83cm and 110cm. Such disparities hardly add to consumer confidence when buying blind.

It doesn’t come as a shock that a 2012 Drapers Fashion E-tail report found the number one request from online shoppers is better size and fit guidance.

Certain retailers have ignored the 3D model and gone for size recommendation engines. This technology recommends what size you should buy based on general measurements from standard size guides. For example, it can learn that if you take a medium sweater from Diesel then you’ll likely want a small from Jack and Jones.

This method can be useful but its focus is on size not fit. It is still not possible to see whether the jumper will be too wide at the waist or too long in the arms.

A more tailored solution

Some companies, like us at Virtusize, believe that the answer lies with a practical and straightforward garment-to-garment comparison.

With this method users type in the measurements of a favourite piece of clothing they already own into an online account. This creates a permanent model that is displayed and overlaid against an item consumers wish to purchase, making it easy to see the differences between the two.

By going back-to-basics and looking at the measurements of the garments, people can see whether the width and length of those new Levi’s they fancy are the same as their favourite (but now threadbare) pair of denims they’ve been living in for a decade.

This relatively simple approach has already been bought into by the likes of and, firms that recognise consumers care about the fit of the item, not just its size and style.

Cutting from the same cloth

These days people buy food, drink, medicine, books and electronics online without so much as a second thought. Clothes, however, are for many simply something they still feel clueless about.

The fashion industry is losing millions by failing to address the issue of returns. It’s also hampering its own growth and creating a needlessly large carbon footprint with all the transportation involved in returning goods.

At present the industry is its own worst enemy. Either supplying too little information to consumers or offering over complicated sizing solutions that look the part but miss the point relating to a garment’s fit.

It’s time to get clued up and go back-to-basics.

Published on Tuesday 17 December by Editorial Assistant

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