December 5, 2022

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Style Guide: How to dress virtually

Written by Leah Dolan, CNN

This story is part of CNN Style’s ongoing project, The September Issues: A thought-provoking hub for conversations about fashion’s impact on people and the planet.
Fashion is barreling towards a digital future. In this brave new world, a cherished paycheck might no longer be spent on a scrupulously researched pair of Christian Louboutins or a long-envied Dior saddle bag — but a collection of pixels depicting these accessories. The brands breaking into digital fashion believe virtual clothes will become increasingly important as we spend more of our lives online. And that’s not just in familiar spaces such as dating apps, video games and Zoom — but in the metaverse and beyond.

Just as in the real world, virtual dressing can make an impression. A 3D fashion filter dressing you in the latest Dior digital jacket might — for example — give you the confidence to nail your next remote interview.

“Fashion isn’t here just to keep us warm,” said Elliott-Young, co-founder of the Institute of Digital Fashion, a think-tank and digital fashion consultancy that advises luxury clients on how to engage in virtual fashion. “It’s about expression, creative community, being within your tribe.”

For those looking to get involved in this rapidly emerging (and often confusing) space, here are a few ways you can expand your virtual wardrobe.

The Institute of Digital Fashion collaborated with LA-based couture house August Getty Atelier to create a piece of digital couture.

The Institute of Digital Fashion collaborated with LA-based couture house August Getty Atelier to create a piece of digital couture. Credit: Institue of Digital Fashion

Where do I shop?

You can shop for virtual clothes on e-commerce platforms like DressX — the world’s largest digital fashion retailer — Replicant, The Dematerialised and DigitalLAX, where you can scroll through products just as you might when shopping for physical pieces online. DressX has more than 2,500 items, from digital crop tops and sneakers to larger-than-life sculptural dresses, futuristic gowns fit for royalty or coats caught on fire. You can “try on” a selection of DressX’s repertoire on the app, which uses augmented reality to create a digital overlay that adds to or “augments” live camera footage. Some luxury brands such as Karl Lagerfeld, Rebecca Minkoff and Rotate are housed on The Dematerialised, while others like Gucci are now available on the video game Roblox.

DressX also has a store in the browser-based metaverse Decentraland. In 2021, Decentraland unveiled Metajuku — a 16,000 square foot virtual shopping destination inspired by Tokyo’s famously stylish neighborhood Harajuku. You can peruse well-design stores in this immersive, albeit low resolution, digital realm. Players aren’t able to try-on pieces in this metaverse yet, but they can see suspended 360 degree versions of the clothes. Clicking on an item will take you to a browser-only purchase page outside of the platform.

As for video games, where users have long embraced digital fashion, buying avatar “skins” differs depending on your gaming preferences. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Nintendo Switch, players can get hold of special collections by Marc Jacobs, Valentino and Maison Margiela via free download codes posted on the Animal Crossing Fashion Archive Instagram account (@animalcrossingfashionarchive). In Roblox and Fortnite, players will need to purchase their garments through official in-game catalogs called Avatar Shop or Item Shop. In June, The Sims collaborated with resale platform and Gen Z favorite Depop to create a range of Y2K-inspired digital outfits, from corset tops to flared jeans and graffiti jackets. These special outfits are only available in the High School Years extension pack — an add-on that costs around $40, on top of The Sims’ $20 base game for either PC, Xbox or Playstation.

DressX has a virtual store in Metajuku, an immersive shopping district in the metaverse Decentraland.

DressX has a virtual store in Metajuku, an immersive shopping district in the metaverse Decentraland. Credit: Decentraland

What am I actually buying?

Digital fashion exists in several forms, the first being a “wearable” version of an NFT (or non-fungible token). Unlike the digital art market, where NFTs exist only as collectible images, many digital fashion designers now include a “wearable” version in the sale of an NFT, meaning buyers can show off their purchase in photographs, in the metaverse or through AR filters which enable digital garments to move with your body in real-time.

For example “IT-Bag of the Metaverse,” an NFT of a glittering circle bag that comes in purple, silver, gold and blue by digital designer Diverge, is a fully wearable virtual accessory. Your IT-bag NFT can be superimposed as a 3D render onto your IRL photos and videos, desktop livestreams using a unique AR filter or worn by your avatar in Decentraland.

“Skins” are another configuration of digital fashion used to personalize your avatar in video games. In 2021, Fortnite collaborated with Balenciaga to release a range of gaming skins specially designed for Fortnite avatars.

The "IT-Bag of the metaverse" wearable NFT designed by Diverge can be seen here as a 3D render photoshopped onto a customer's image.

The “IT-Bag of the metaverse” wearable NFT designed by Diverge can be seen here as a 3D render photoshopped onto a customer’s image. Credit: Diverge

How do I pay? Do I need cryptocurrency?

A piece of digital fashion can range in price anywhere from $1 per outfit to thousands. Typically, items will cost around $50-$120 per garment depending on the brand and level of detail, much like items in the real world.

Purchasing digital garments in the metaverse often requires a digital currency. Decentraland accepts Ethereum and MANA (the official crypto created by the metaverse providers). You can buy both on crypto trading platforms such as eToro and Coinbase.

To get full access to the Decentraland metaverse, you will need to set up a digital crypto wallet. There are several different wallet providers: MetaMask, Fortmatic, WalletConnect and Coinbase. A digital crypto wallet is a way of managing your funds while keeping everything secure through a series of private passwords.

DressX has more than 2,500 virtual garments for sale on its website.

DressX has more than 2,500 virtual garments for sale on its website. Credit: DressX

But if you’re intimidated by trading apps, you can now buy crypto directly on PayPal. The app is selling Bitcoin and Ethereum directly to account holders via its website and smartphone app.

Some digital fashion marketplaces allow payment in traditional currency, too. “It’s a real pain point, it’s like setting up a bank account,” said Elliott-Young. “But I think we’re starting to see a smoother route with a balance as technology improves, and we’ll be using pounds or currency beyond crypto as well.” For garments on DressX, Replicant, and Auroboros you can purchase in US dollars.

In Roblox, the native currency “Robux” can be purchased with a debit or credit card by navigating to the “Buy Robux” page in-game. Similarly, users can buy Fortnite “V-Bucks” when playing and selecting the “Buy V-Bucks” menu.

Where do I wear my new digital wardrobe and how are my garments stored?

A pillar of the digital fashion movement is the concept of “decentralization”: Instead of the usual hierarchy of legacy brands, creatives with programming skills can technically build their own digital fashion label at a relatively low cost.

But the downside of this creative freedom is the messy, disjointed process of buying and storing your digital outfits. Digital fashion players, including the Institute of Digital Fashion, are already working to simplify this experience: For the upcoming London Fashion Week, Elliott-Young hopes to launch a one-stop, members-only metaverse where you can browse, buy and wear digital pieces from a range of designers. “It is quite scattergun in terms of where you can wear your pieces and where you can shop, but we’re seeing more and more now that you can use (the items) in multiple metaverses and (in) augmented reality.” Similarly, DressX is already supported in Decentraland and will soon be available in Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse.

Designers spend a painstaking amount of time building digital couture, from building each bead to making sure the jewels reflect the light realistically.

Designers spend a painstaking amount of time building digital couture, from building each bead to making sure the jewels reflect the light realistically. Credit: Institute of Digital Fashion

Outside of the metaverse and video games, digital fashion can be worn in photos through a custom-made 3D render, in smartphone videos or even livestreams. Checkout pages for digital fashion will include an upload tab where you can submit several photos or videos of yourself and the brand will photoshop the garment onto your body. Post these where you’d normally post a selfie. For live video chats, digital fashion filters are available through Snapchat’s SnapLens downloadable desktop application which is compatible with Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype.

These photos or videos then become your item, and you can store them the way you would store any photo — in your camera roll or on a hard drive. Gaming skins remain in the video game you purchased them, though screenshots enable outfits to be shared on social media, and NFTs should be kept in a cold-storage wallet (similar to a USB stick or some external device not connected to the internet).