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New tech lets you virtually try on clothes by clicking on buttons instead of doing them up. …Impressive? Or pointless?

I received a press-release the other day that made me groan. Then I received another one and I groaned again. It was two different clothing retailers, both reaching out to the fashion press and absolutely fizzing with excitement about their new high-tech offerings; offerings that promised to provide customers with a unique, “truly interactive” shopping experience. They told of two new applications for phones, tablets and laptops that let you try on clothes virtually, all with a simple visit to a website and click of a button instead of going to the shops. Great, I thought. Very impressive! But why, oh why, would anyone bother with all that when you could just go and try stuff on for real?

That’s the actual meaning of “truly interactive” after all. It’s proper interaction with objects in the world. This is indispensable when you’re shopping for clothes. It’s feeling the fabric of a jumper between your fingers to see how thick it is and how likely it is to keep you warm throughout the cost of living crisis; it’s putting a scarf around your neck to see if it feels scratchy on your skin or if it feels snug; it’s putting a beanie on your head to check that it doesn’t make your face look like an egg. It’s even going around smelling the high-quality leather of a luxury pair of brogues if that’s what happens to float your boat. That’s actual interaction. That’s actual shopping. That’s actual life. Not clicking buttons and staring at screens.

Don’t get me wrong. The tech is amazing. To have come up with a service that lets you take a photo, fill in a few details about your body shape and then scroll through a brand’s collection with your face and body displayed in all the clothes is no mean feat. It’s just… well, completely pointless. We’re not yet living on Mars trying to remotely engage with retailers on Earth. We’re not mere brains in vats. So what on earth is going on? What’s the big idea?

Of course, one can’t really blame the companies entirely. Brands respond to what the market likes. The market seems to lap up online shopping. Surely, then, doing something to enhance the online shopping process will be a sensible commercial move. It probably is. Indeed, many of you reading must be dedicated online shoppers, never deigning to set foot in a shop. You’re probably thrilled to hear of this technology I’m ranting about. But I just can’t understand this at all. Didn’t all that time spent cooped up during national lockdowns frustrate you? Doesn’t it wind you up ordering clothes you’ve only seen a picture of, waiting for them to arrive, opening the extensive packaging, inevitably finding that they’re not quite right and then sending them back, over and over again? Isn’t being at one remove from the garments a bit irritating? Perhaps it’s just me. Maybe I’m getting my free-return knickers in a twist over nothing. But I do wish everyone would just go to the bloody shops! Go out and try things on and find clothes that fit your unique body shape – those long arms or that short neck or the considerable junk that you may be carrying in that trunk....

Read the complete article in The Critic


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