It’s too soon to tell, but I may have found my newest online obsession. Like all online obsessions:
- it is frighteningly addictive,
- it wastes a lot of time,
- it may or may not serve any practical purpose, and
- it may even have sinister ramifications. But boy, is it fun!
It’s called Boutiques.com, and in case you’ve missed the recent media blitz, it’s Google’s latest venture. Part search-engine, part website clearinghouse, the site is designed to find clothes, shoes, and accessories that you will love. All of them are available for purchase, naturally. From a variety of online retailers who — I can only imagine — are paying a hefty fee to Google for inclusion. But this does not concern me. Let’s get to the fun!
Now, one caveat: I’ve just started playing with this. And there are a bunch of features I haven’t even tried to figure out yet, like “following” other shoppers, sharing boutiques, etc. I focused simply on the “create your own boutique” component, which I believe is the central function of the website. In a nutshell, here’s how it works:
- First, take a quiz to determine your personal style type
- Second, choose your favorite silhouettes, patterns and colors
- Third, choose your favorite designers
- Fourth, view the items that are recommended for you
- Finally, choose favorites from among these, or even tell the website which things you didn’t like. Apparently, it learns!
But now for more detail about all of these:
Step 1: Determine style type. You start with an online “quiz” to determine your style category. The quiz is visual: the website gives you several pairs of photos, and you choose which outfit you like better. Then you are assigned to a type (“Classic,” “Romantic,” etc.)
Now, the skeptics among us may be rebelling right here. I did, too. I’ve read countless fashion books that start with a “What is your type?” quiz. These quizzes tend to be overly simplistic, trying to wedge us into molds that may not fit us. Personally, I always get herded toward “Classic” or “Sporty,” even though I detest at least half of the clothes shown in those categories. Plus, I stubbornly insist on choosing accessories from other categories. (What can I say? I’m a genre bender).
But wait, don’t walk away yet.
First of all, if you don’t like the main category that Boutiques.com gives you, you can add additional ones. For example, while I was placed in “Classic” yet again, I loved the picture shown for “Casual Chic.” So I selected it, too. No warning bells went off. I was not sent to my room for failing to be appropriately categorized. Nope. The website just took it all in! Plus, the categories here were a little more inclusive and modern than the ones I’ve seen elsewhere (for example, “Street” and “Boho” are choices!)
Step 2: Choose your preferences. For those who are still skeptical, this is where things get really interesting. The next step is to choose your preferences, so that the website can select picks for you. In the categories of dresses, tops, and bottoms, you choose the silhouettes, patterns, and colors that you like…..as well as those that you hate! For shoes, you choose silhouettes (which includes style and heel height) and color.
This was possibly the most therapeutic fashion-related activity I’ve ever engaged in. It was such a delight to click on the silhouettes I love: Pencil skirts! V-necks! Boot-cuts! Even more fun, clicking to X-out what I hate. Bubble skirts? Gone! Skinny jeans and cropped pants? Gone!
Each of the silhouettes is represented by a black and white drawing, so you can really see what you’re hating. If you’re like me, you remember how hideous some of those shapes looked on you. Take that, evil, unflattering tapered pants!
I also had a bit of an epiphany from this activity. What I’ve hated about the “Classic” category, in the past, is really not the classic style so much as the silhouettes (button-downs, polo shirts) and patterns (vertical stripes, teeny-tiny paisley) that I find to be too stuffy and conservative. The Boutiques.com process actually weeds them all out, so I only get the classic items that I actually might like. Interesting.
The patterns were equally fun to choose (I banned stripes and polka dots from my boutique; animal prints and abstract patterns are in!). The color selection part is a little more tricky, I discovered. You have to choose families of colors, and these are fairly vague. For example, I chose “reds” and “oranges” as acceptable for dresses, because I was picturing a dark brick red, rust, or wine type of shade. As we shall see, however, this is not foolproof.
Step 3: Choose your favorite (and least favorite) designers
This was a little tougher for me since…. um…… I haven’t heard of a lot of the designers. It also took me a minute to figure out that I had to click on each style category if I wanted to see all of the designers, and not just the ones in my recommended Classic type. So I went through them all, clicking on any designer who a) I’d heard of, and b) Had ever designed something that I remember liking. I chose Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Ann Taylor Loft (because regular Ann Taylor didn’t seem to be an option), Jones New York, Banana Republic, Steve Madden and Anne Klein. The only designer I could think of to dislike was Eileen Fischer, because I’ve always thought her boxy shapes would be unflattering on me.
Step 4: Browse your recommended items
This, of course, is the really fun part. All these outfits pop up! You can filter them by category (dresses or tops, etc.), or just go through them all. As mentioned above, they were not all hits. For example, while I like a brick red dress, I do not like a fire-engine red dress. And I got a bunch of them! But here’s the best part: there is a spot below each picture where you can click to add it to your “saved” favorites or — I kid you not! — click to “hate” the ones that you don’t like! You can even give reasons why you hate them — color, silhouette, price, or all of the above.
Apparently, the system will “learn” from what I like and don’t like. So I clicked away. While a few hated items were still there later, others seemed to go away. In theory, liking things that are outside my Classic/Casual Chic category might also, in time, expand the choices I’m given, rather than limiting them.
But right from the start, I found a bunch of things that I really like, without trying very hard. Here are some of them:
Addictive, no? Looking at millions of bright, shiny new things? As if that weren’t enough — if you “hover” over an item with your mouse, it will a) tell you the details about it, and b) show three other similar items. You can, of course, click to see all of the similar items, if you so choose. Wheeeeee! You can keep going forever! And of course, you can also click to go directly to the online retailer (and its tempting checkout area). But this did not actually interest me when there was more fun browsing to be done.
So, to sum up:
The good news about Boutiques.com:
1) It’s incredibly fun to play with;
2) It restores my faith that there might actually be clothes I like out there. All too often, I don’t find them in the stores, and I thought it was just me. But no — they exist. I just have to figure out who made them (easy) and if they are sold anywhere on the ground (not so easy). A lot of my picks came from Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, or Nordstrom online. At least now I have some idea what to look for if I visit these stores. .
The bad news about Boutiques.com
1) It’s a big ole’ time waster. Like I need another procrastination tactic?
2) It may serve no practical purpose, because I don’t shop online. I know I’m hopelessly out of step. I know all you young whippersnappers out there are online shopping and ebay-ing like there’s no tomorrow. But I hate paying shipping charges. I like to touch fabrics before I buy them. And I cling to the quaint notion that, to make flattering clothing choices, you need to actually try the darn things on.
I know, I know — you can return them, sometimes the company even pays for the return shipping, blah blah blah. But I am too damn busy to be messing around with returns and multiple purchases. More importantly, it’s so depressing. You’re telling me that, after days and days of looking forward to the arrival of my packages, I have to send them back? It’s too much. I can’t do it. But, again — if this process steers me toward new options when shopping on the ground, well, that’s a plus.
3) Unfortunately, many of these prices are out of my comfort range! (You knew we would wind up here eventually, didn’t you?) Maybe I was better off not knowing that I really, really, really like lots of stuff from Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein! So maybe it’s best as a tool for general inspiration and ideas, rather than concrete picks.
4) As with other online addictions, there may be sinister ramifications to reckon with. I already know people who are worried about how much Google knows about us, based on our whole sordid history of embarrassing searches (“rectal itch,” “Johnny Depp naked”). Do we really want this faceless entity to know that we hate bubble-shaped dresses, love animal prints, but hate the price of a $685 pair of boots?
Where does it end?