Feature Article:Let’s Play (Virtual) Dress up

13 May

Valerie isn’t even 21 yet but her wardrobe would make Kim Kardashian green with envy. You wouldn’t believe that this wardrobe belongs to a student. She has 25 pairs of Christian Louboutins. In total she has about 188 pairs of shoes and over 500 outfits I kid you not. On top of this she amassed these things in less than one month. YSL, Chanel, Cartier, Burberry you name it, she has it. So how does a 20 year old student manage to accumulate a wardrobe of Mariah Carey proportions? Welcome to the world of virtual possessions, virtual wardrobes and Polyvore.

A blog about virtual possessions quotes a Professor John Zimmerman who said, “Over the past several years’ people have increasingly acquired virtual possessions. These include both possessions that are losing their material integrity (books, photos, music, movies) as well as things that have never had material form (e.g. email archives, social networking profiles, personal behaviour logs).”Everyone has virtual possessions, music and pictures on iPods; movies and series on computers. All these are examples of virtual possessions and let’s face it; we treasure these like the tangible things we own like our bags and shoes. Facebook and MySpace ushered in the age of virtual friendships and thanks to Google images and other photo sharing websites like Istock photo and Flickr virtual possessions have become another facet of social media.

Human beings love things, they love buying them, collecting them and possessing them so the internet and social media just created another place for people to own things. Going on the internet and downloading pictures of what Blake Lively wore to the 2011 Met Gala feels as natural as going to Woolworths to buy a sweater. On top of that some websites allow people to also modify and play around with these virtual possessions. Polyvore, a fashion website which was popularised on Facebook, is one such website. Signing up for it, opens one up to a vast wealth of designer clothing and images that you can use to create a “set” or in other words a virtual outfit. Many young women use this website to perfect their styling skills or to just have fun creating interesting outfits.  Valerie swears by Polyvore. In fact she calls herself an addict. She logs in almost every day and spends hours on it creating sets and posting them to her blog. Polyvore is a very large community with members from all around the world and its link to facebook has made it more popular. It can actually be called a subculture. Using Polyvore means on some level that one has two wardrobes; a real, tangible one and a virtual one. They play “virtual dress up.” Men play fantasy football, obsessing over which players to put into their teams how these “teams” perform. So Polyvore is the female equivalent of fantasy football. For girls playing dress up is something we’ve done since we were young. I used to try on my mother’s shoes and put on her make-up, so with Polyvore you’re still playing dress up but now on a social media, virtual level.

Polyvore found favour because it focused so greatly on fashion. Polyvore also took social media to the next level because you had t create a set or an outfit on the website and publish it. Polyvore allows the user to be a stylist, so as a member you are more than just a user; you become an integral part of the website. Valerie shamelessly admits that she is addicted to this website. “I can spend up to three hours on Polyvore just looking at pictures, creating sets and posting them to my blog. I can’t get enough of it.” My interest and obsession with fashion meant I was always going on the internet to get ideas, see latest trends or get inspired,” Valerie explains while she shows me her 44 folders. “I used to use Google images but I did not really like the quality of images I got there. A friend told me about Polyvore and I joined promptly. Polyvore takes my love for fashion to the next level coz it allows me to create what I think is cool to wear,” she says. “I actually feel like a proper stylist working in Hollywood or something.  To me it’s a way to escape the stress of school and just look at beautiful stuff and creating something that reflects my style.”

Helen’s friend Pamela echoes this enthusiasm. She recently started using Polyvore but she already says she’s addicted. “It’s all Valerie’s fault, she introduced it to me a few days ago and now I log in like 3 or so times a day, I can’t get enough. I actually feel this massive excitement when I open the site” Pamela has a fashion blog so she says Polyvore helps her because she finds so many pictures she can post to her blog. “Most of the pictures on Polyvore you cannot find anywhere else so I think that is why me and my friends use it so much.” This picture collecting subculture seems to be growing. Phumu another Polyvore user says she actually got into it because her friends used to collect pictures online.”It looked so fun so I also started downloading pictures. I used to use a website called Celebritystyleguide.com but they hardly updated it.” “You can find pictures of anything and everything on that site. I had to pull an all nighter studying on campus and when I got bored I would just go to it and download the pictures of clothes, and create sets.” She also says that these photos also say a lot about someone’s personality because one can see what they like and what “they’re into.” So can we call collecting these pictures creating a “virtual wardrobe?”Phumu says to some extent because one cannot really wear the clothes although the pictures can inspire an idea for an outfit. “When you see an outfit you like, you of course think ‘hey I want to try that’.”

The culture of Polyvore does not come without its own disadvantages. An obvious limitation is that you don’t actually own the clothes and you cannot wear the outfits that you so lovingly created for yourself. All you can do is save them to a computer or phone, which brings me to problem number two. Because the pictures are so reliant on computer and cell phone if a phone is stolen or a computer crashes you have lost all the pictures you had. Loretta knows this all too well, because her computer crashed and she lost all the pictures she had collected. “I had a lot of fashion pictures and my computer just crashed so now I’m basically starting from scratch now.” As much as it hurts to lose these possessions they are a lot easier to get back than more tangible things like real photographs. “You can always back up the music or pictures, or if worst comes to worst you can go back to the website and download the pictures again.” Loretta says she is now planning to buy herself a flash stick specifically for her pictures, “just in case my computer crashes again.”

 It is very interesting to note the lengths people are willing to go to not to lose these pictures and other virtual possessions. This proves just how important virtual possessions are to us as people. Something doesn’t have to be physically tangible to be special to someone. The issue of virtual possessions points to a larger global trend of how integrity is not measured by how physically tangible something is. Anything can have special meaning to different people. Websites like Polyvore show how social media and fashion can work hand in hand. They also show that women who play dress up in real life can also do it on the internet in a very enjoyable and gratifying way. Fashion is no longer just a physical thing it has now become virtual as well. So whenever you get jealous of those Hollywood stylists click on over to Polyvore.com and become a virtual stylist. And the great thing is you won’t have to deal with the inflated egos of celebrities!

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