Virtual 'model' takes terror out of shopping for clothes


I just tried on a gazillion swimsuits without leaving my home or removing a stitch of clothing. There were no fluorescent lights, no tattletale three-way mirrors and no snide saleswomen saying, "You are going to try on that?"

It's every woman's clothing dream and it's available courtesy of the Internet. Now, there's finally a really good reason for owning a computer.

Virtual dressing rooms are just beginning to make their way onto the Web. With them, you can try on clothes on a virtual body that looks like yours. Then you can buy what you see without ever having to go to a mall.

It's incredibly cool.

The biggest name in the business right now is Lands' End, where you start out by creating "your personal model." You can use the quick way or the detailed questionnaire to create an online version of you.

With the quick version, you enter a few general specifications like waist (well-defined? not so well-defined?), shoulders (broad? narrow?), hair color, hairstyle and the shape of your face.

With the detailed version you have to dig out a tape measure, supplying precise measurements (to an eighth of an inch) about everything from your bust and your height to your hips and your waist.

Next you give your virtual self a name (I chose Monique), hit the Frankenstein-ish "build my model" button and within moments a replica of you is on your screen. Then you start trying on stuff.

I (I mean Monique) was trying on things I'd never think about toting into a dressing room. How did I know I wouldn't look good in a tankini if I didn't try one on, after all?

You choose the item and the color and watch what your virtual image looks like in the clothes you pick. You can spin your model around to look at yourself in profile or from the rear. There are added benefits, such as recommended outfits and style advice tailored to your appearance and measurements (or at least what you said were your measurements).

I immediately became a huge fan because "Monique" was offered such gushing advice as, "You can add variety to your wardrobe because you look good in everything." Obviously wrong but incredibly good for the ego.

While Land's End is the only major clothing retailer with a virtual "you" for trying on virtual clothes, some companies are experimenting with other cyberhelp.

Until recently at Eddie Bauer's online site, there was a virtual dressing room that allowed you to put garments together to see how they look. You visualized an outfit to make sure that top really went with those pants before you pulled out your charge card. (This virtual dressing room is currently being tinkered with but is expected to be back online -- new and improved -- by late summer.)

A New York-based company is trying to take this virtual dressing room a much bigger step forward.

At, you will create a virtual you where you'll be able to try on clothes from various online retailers. You visit an online store, then click a button to try on the items in your shopping cart. You are then whisked away to, where you enter your measurements (or refer to the measurements you already have on file) and a virtual you gets to try on before you buy.

Company founder Steve Ross spent years in the catalog industry, where he said at least a third of all returns were because clothes didn't fit right.

When you first visit the site, you enter general measurements that you'll probably know off the top of your head (height, weight, waist, etc.). You'll then be given a choice of three images that meet those measurements. You pick the one that looks most like you and you're off.

Then, once you register, you'll receive a tape measure in the mail along with detailed instructions on how to take various body measurements. You can go back to your virtual image and keep adding measurements, making the model look more and more like you. will debut in early August on various online retailer sites. The company is currently negotiating with major names such as J. Crew and LL Bean, says Ross. The immediate plans are for only a female model, since women do 60 percent of all e-commerce apparel buying, says Ross. The company hopes to release a male version early next year. (Though you can't really experience yet, you can visit the Web site for a pretty cool sample demonstration.)

A San Diego company,, is introducing similar products. The first is Fitting Wizard, available now, which allows you to enter your measurements to find out what size you should wear at various retailers. A size 6 at Old Navy might be an 8 at the Gap.

This month, the company will launch Mirror Please, which allows you to scan in a photo of yourself, then see a two-dimensional "you" trying on clothes from different online retailers. (Do those pants from J. Crew really go with that shirt from Eddie Bauer?)

Finally, later this year, E.fitting plans on releasing Bodybuilder, a 3-D body model that lets you try on clothes from all over the Web. All three products will be available as free downloadable software at the company's Web site,

But clothes aren't the only thing you can customize online.

There's even a virtual makeup counter to save trips to a cosmetics department. At, you can have beauty products custom-created just for you by entering your beauty vital statistics.

It's kind of a lengthy process with layers upon layers of questions about everything from the clothes you like to wear to the color of your eyes. Some queries were simple: ethnic background, hair color. Others were a little more thought-provoking, like the Barbara Walters-esque "If I were a house, I would be?" (I struggled between a maintenance-free condo and a ranch in the country.)

Once you've checked all the boxes, you can jump to hair care, cosmetics or skin care to find individual products. The items are mixed up especially for you -- with catchy names like BR255--- then shipped to your door. During the process you even get to choose the design on the package.

I opted for squiggles. I think they'll go best with my tankini.

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