If spending a year in joggers and jumpers has made you re-evaluate your wardrobe, you’re not alone. The pandemic forced us to pause and reflect on many things, including our clothes, many of which have been virtually untouched since March 2020. For many, it’s been a chance for a fresh start. In June last year it was estimated that the British public would donate 67 million items of clothing and 22 million pairs of shoes to charity after the first lockdown ended. Others have embraced tech to get their fashion fix. Digital fashion platforms are on the rise, with games that let you wear your dream luxury brands, virtual styling services to streamline your look and apps that catalogue and create outfit ideas from your existing wardrobe.
Some of these platforms have found success as a cure for lockdown boredom, fusing gaming with fashion so that loungewear-clad folk can get creative with clothing virtually during a time when our physical outfits consist of stretchy waistbands and oversized knitwear. "I noticed early on that there are many synergies between fashion and gaming: the storytelling, narrative, fantasy, strategy and competitiveness," says Lucy Yeomans, previously editor-in-chief of Net-A-Porter.
Her latest venture is DREST, a fashion styling game where users create an avatar, style the latest designer collections on supermodels and complete daily challenges. "I loved the idea of creating a platform that provides a level playing field – a place where everyone can buy into and own a piece of luxury fashion, something that may not be possible in real life." DREST answers the need for escapism and a sense of glamour that’s been hard to come by of late. Others are turning to fashion apps to dress their physical bodies, tapping into algorithms that can help them make the most of their wardrobe.
"Lockdown has provided a conscious pause and given a lot of women like me a moment where they can reflect on what they own, and fall in love with their wardrobe again," says Bianca Rangecroft, founder of Whering, an app that digitises your wardrobe, allowing you to organise and plan outfits, get styling suggestions (yep, just like Cher in Clueless) and product recommendations to fill the gaps in your wardrobe. Whering launched in June 2020, born from a desire to change the way we look at the clothes we already own. "The ‘I have nothing to wear’ dilemma feels universal, and that sensation of being trapped in indecision is so familiar," says Rangecroft. "For me, part of the problem isn’t having nothing to wear but having nothing new to wear. We’re addressing clothing utilisation, which is the part we have to be better at. We can buy less, buy smarter, but if we don’t use the stuff that we have, we’re failing the people who make our clothes."
Whering’s mission is ultimately to slow the rate of clothing consumption, a cause which is at odds with the fundamental goal of the fashion industry: to sell more, more, more. But with global clothing consumption showing no signs of slowing down (by 2030, it’s expected to rise by 63%, the equivalent of 500 billion additional T-shirts), reducing its speed is one of the industry’s most urgent challenges. "How can we give you that endorphin hit to stop you from consuming?" Rangecroft asks. "How can we provide a platform where you can harness your own creativity to create looks with what you already own?"
By analysing their community’s in-app habits and hosting weekly 'Wednesday Wine' focus groups, the Whering team has found that 75% of users who spend around 10 minutes a day on the app, do so instead of online shopping. "They can create outfits or hit the auto-generator and get the same feeling of newness," says Rangecroft. "It gives the same mental reward for someone who is bored, because that’s usually behind the fast fashion purchasing we do."
While slowing our clothing consumption is the goal, it’s unrealistic to expect that people will never buy new clothes again. When it comes to filling the gaps in their wardrobe, shoppable products and conscious brand partners offer a solution, connecting users to a curation of conscious brands. "Getting dressed is something that is considered one of life’s basic necessities, but it’s much harder than it looks," says celebrity stylist Ella-Louise Gaskell, who founded P.S. Online Styling, a virtual styling platform, last year. "Lockdown has meant that people have more time on their hands, meaning they can make more considered purchases to develop a long-lasting, sustainable and curated wardrobe, rather than making impulse purchases on their lunch breaks at work."
P.S. Online Styling aims to make personal styling accessible to a wider market through virtual consultations, product recommendations and personalised mood boards to help clients streamline their style. "My motto has always been ‘buy less, buy better’ and I wanted to reconcile the indulgence of shopping for new clothes and supporting small, independent brands with the terrifying reality of climate change," says Gaskell. "Styling doesn’t have to involve constantly buying new items – we work with rental platforms such as HURR Collective – as well as our clients' existing wardrobes to help them put together capsule wardrobes from what they already own."
The big question is: are these digital platforms changing our real-life shopping habits in the long run, beyond lockdown? "We’ve seen some incredible changes in the way that [our main demographic] acts with what she owns and in the way she thinks about her consumption," says Rangecroft, whose app has 10,000 active users. "We have seen a huge lift in women taking the time to scroll through eBay or Vinted and choosing to say, 'I won’t take the easy way out and checkout my H&M basket in 25 minutes,' but instead they’ll spend an hour on eBay and really connect with the piece they’re buying, because they had to fight for it."