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Avatars Dress Better Than We Do: Paying For Clothes That Don't Exist

I came across the wonderful article in UK's Telegraph by Alison Taylor and have reprinted it here for your enjoyment (and info) with added visuals and links:

Virtual Vogue: Second Life Wardrobes

Who pays real money for unreal clothes? Enough people to make digital dressing-up big business. But is virtual fashion just another teenage craze or is it the end of clothes shopping as we know it? Alison Taylor investigates.

After much wardrobe searching, I plump for my DKNY ivory satin coat, skinny Raven jeans and vintage polka-dot blouse to meet Brad -that's Brad Pitt - at the log cabin. It might be snowing outside, but there's a roaring fire to keep us warm. It's been a busy few days refurbishing my pad (bling-bling meets kitsch boutique), catching up with all my fashion-loving friends and shopping. Recent purchases include a chic wool beret (again DKNY), a Heidi Klum clover pendant and - my favourite - a gorgeous vintage caramel leather mac.

Above: Amy Winehouse and some outfits from

Sadly this is not me speaking, it's my MeDoll; my web alter ego or avatar on, a virtual world of shopping and dressing-up. Stardoll receives more than six million visitors every month from across the globe, 94 per cent of whom are teen and tween girls who log on to restyle digital versions of celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Amy Winehouse and even the esteemed editor of American Vogue, Anna Wintour. The average user age might have gone up after Stardoll was mentioned in Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue, encouraging readers to 'play celebrity stylist' in lieu of this year's awards ceremonies. 'No Golden Globes? No red carpets? No problem. Get your celebrity fashion fix and help more than 100 of Hollywood's best dressed get prepped for the Big Night at' And why not? I defy any woman not to smile as she drags a pair of garish shorts and silly sunglasses on to a David Hasselhoff doll.

If they register and sign up for an account, Stardoll members can also create MeDolls, which they usually design in their own likeness, choosing from a variety of virtual faces, skin tones, hairstyles, lip shapes and eye colours. They can dress their MeDolls in a dazzling array of Stardoll brands available in the on-site Starplaza mall - real-life brands such as DKNY, Ugg, Hilary Duff's Stuff by Duff and Heidi Klum's jewellery range, as well as invented ones such as the goth-style Fallen Angel and girly Pretty in Pink. There's even a vintage shop, Star Bazaar, for second-hand fans. 'You can dress yourself up and be anyone!' says Jessica, 17, a long-time user from Norwich. 'It's just fantastic. There's a craze going on right now where everyone has to have blue hair. It's bizarre. Of course no one has blue hair in real life but it shows you can be so creative and be whoever you want to be. You're allowed to have blue hair [on Stardoll].'

Above: Faith Hill and her wardrobe on

Stardoll's popularity is staggering - there are currently slightly more than 14 million members, with about 25,000 new people joining daily. But it started off in 2001, as the website Liisa's Paperdoll Heaven, the hobby of a retired Scandinavian factory worker inspired by the paper dolls that first appeared in the mid-19th century. Such was the appetite for contemporary virtual 'dolling' that by 2005 the venture capitalists were knocking and the site was reborn as Stardoll - with added Stardollars, a virtual currency all of its own.

Registering gives the user 25 Stardollars to buy their MeDoll a better wardrobe at the Starplaza or improvements to their on-site 'suite'. But like real dollars in real plazas they don't go far. So why not - for £4.49 a month - become a Superstar, guaranteeing you 50 Stardollars to spend every week? According to Jessica, that will currently buy you just one pair of virtual limited -edition pink Ugg boots. 'They don't sell them [on the site] any more so there are massive bidding wars for them. People are paying, like, 50 Stardollars for them. It's crazy.'

On the phone from Sweden Mattias Miksche, the chief executive of Stardoll, won't say how many Stardoll users are Superstars or what their monthly spend is, but points out that 'rigid filters are in place so that users can't spend stupid amounts'. The British limit is £6 per week, making the maximum spend over four weeks, including membership, £28.49. Pretty steep for clothes that you will never put on your back and Ugg boots that you'll never put on your feet.

Above: Alicia Keyes and wardrobe on

Jessica, who's got an online wardrobe stocked with in-demand items that she will eventually sell and make Stardollar profit on, is still trying to puzzle the whole thing out. 'Although Stardoll is a lot about creativity, it's very heavily based onfashion, too,' she says. 'I think people just want to look fashionable and, if they don't have the money to buy those clothes in real life, they can buy and wear them on Stardoll.'

Stardoll may be aimed at the teen and pre-teen market but it is just one of a growing number of fashion-focused web worlds becoming popular with users of all ages, whether you want to live out your footwear fantasies in pink Uggs, socialise with fellow fashion enthusiasts on the latest 'style networking' sites or even do something as practical as virtually 'trying on' real clothes before you buy them for real.

Indulging the style whims of self-created 'webselves', or avatars, and spending real money on virtual clothes, is a particularly strange concept for the uninitiated. 'I think it's extraordinary spending real dollars in virtual worlds,' says Ann Mack, the director of trend- spotting at JWT, the advertising powerhouse in New York. 'But it's a "psycho-graphic" rather than a demographic, a certain mindset - people who feel very comfortable playing with their identities both online and offline and people looking for an escape from their daily lives.'

Above: the virtual world for alter egos, Second Life., created in 2003, is probably the best-known virtual world, with more than ten million members whose avatars inhabit a place with its own stock exchange, estate agents, holiday destinations and relationships. Again, fashion has a huge presence, with virtual malls stocked with'home-grown' fashion brands and retailers as well as real-world brands. Lacoste recently sponsored an avatar modelling contest. New Look ran a clothing design competition. Giorgio Armani's silver-haired avatar made an appearance at the opening of his own shop. 'Finally I can be two places at once,' he said. Calvin Klein launched a virtual version of its fragrance ckIN2U (consumers who want a sniff of the real thing are able to click through to the fragrance's website and request a real- world sample). There are enthusiastic Second Life fashion bloggers, too, and even a fashion magazine,

Above: the cover of Second Style, a virtual fashion mag for second lifers

For Second Life punters, it's an opportunity to experiment with a new look or identity (and to look your best at all times, unlike in the real world). For brands, it's a marketing opportunity. Nigel Morris at Isobar, the company that helped Adidas open in Second Life, thinks brands should experiment with digital environments: 'We feel virtual worlds are part of a new trend in relation to community and the notion of identity and how people see themselves on the web.'

But Mack is not sure how successful this will be long-term.'There was a lot of talk of brand getting in on it, but that was at the height,' she says. 'If you go to Second Life now, many brands are sitting there stagnant. Unless you spend a lot of time updating the clothes and the stores, it feels old very quickly.' It's like deciding to devote time to creating a Second Life persona and being bothered to live out a cyber life -you've got to have the time and inclination.

Style networking sites such as and are more firmly entrenched in the real world. These are web forums where fashion-lovers congregate, check out celebrity fashion looks and swap style tips. is Britain's first site to combine social networking (as on Facebook) and online shopping - so as well as picking up tips from other members on where to buy a good biker jacket, surfers can click through to popular fashion 'e-tailers' such as or high-street names such as M&S, Oasis and Karen Millen, and buy one. Or you can put your finds to one side for another time. launched in autumn 2007 and now has 250,000 visitors to the site. Typical members are women between 20 and 40 with a habit for online shopping.'s founder Dawn Bebe (who was the launch director of Grazia magazine) says, 'Our figures show they typically shop at work, during their lunch break, or at 4pm,when we are clearly the equivalent of a KitKat break - more expensive but fewer calories!'

Women account for just under half of all internet users, spending between two and four hours per day browsing (mostly during workhours, prompting Bebe to coin the term 'cyberskivers').And online shopping figures continue to rise (clothing sales went up by 28 per cent in 2007, according to the IMRG Capgemini sales index). Bebe's research shows that more women are turning on their laptops again when they get home, with the intention of better organising their lives. 'That's how women rationalise their usage,' she says.

Jess Markwood, 22, a hotel receptionist from Cornwall, has been logging on to for a couple of months.'I save the clothes I like, sort of a fantasy wardrobe,' she says,'and then buy when I can afford it.' Or not.'Sometimes that satiates my shopping need, because when I go back I'm more critical. I'm less impulsive than I'd be in a shop.'

Above: My Virtual Model ( allows you to brand yourself as a supermodel and even upload your own face.

Even the frustration of not being able to try before you buy when shopping online is potentially at an end. The website My Virtual Model ( is a system that enables you to create something like Stardoll's MeDoll, a lifelike virtual model of you based on an uploaded digital photograph and your real-life measurements. The idea is that you can use it to help you to shop more practically, with your virtual self'trying on' the clothes you like to see if they fit, suit or go with those blue shoes you quite fancy, too. The software is already up and running on H&M's website.

So do these advances mean the end of shopping as we know it?'[Technology] will never replace the high street or girlie shopping trips,' says Bebe. 'But it will provide a parallel experience online.'

Back on Stardoll, Jessica is already an old hand at using her virtual self to inform her real-life fashion decisions. After successfully customising a virtual skirt 'with lots of pins and badges', she's been applying the same trick to the hats and bags in her wardrobe. 'It's hard to imagine yourself in real life in all sorts of clothes, but with this you can try things on and think, "Oh, that looks really good. I'll see how it goes,"' she says. 'It really expands your creativity and how you express yourself. Because that's what clothes are all about.'
source: The Telegraph

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