Fashion is a bruising business at the best of times and, for many, the idea of having their fashion foibles scrutinised by millions is the stuff of nightmares. But the rise of online digital styling is transforming shopping, and a growing number of consumers are willingly exposing themselves to merciless critique.
Shoppers can upload pictures of their outfits to be judged, and share their vital stats to seek sartorial suggestions. A raft of sites are leaping on to the bandwagon, prompting questions about whether they are any good.
Poppy Dinsey, the founder of the site WIWT (What I Wore Today), said: "It used to be thought that the one thing that online could not offer, that traditional shopping could, was styling. But now personal shoppers are working online to give style advice and accessory suggestions, while communities are sharing style advice."
To test this notion, I and my colleague David Ryan tested some of the newest sites.
More than 6,000 outfits have been uploaded since the site launched in September, with more than a million page views. The site has rapidly become a community, and you're more likely to remain anonymous than attract the disapproval of the fashion pack.
I'm flattered when my dress attracts three stars – strangers' objective approval counts double that of friends.
Launched last Wednesday, Dressipi calculates your "fashion fingerprint", and has already attracted 20,000 users.
I'm delighted to learn I have a "waspy waist", and appreciate the broad sartorial advice: avoid drop waists and go for belted shirt dresses and waisted, not baggy, coats. Stylists offer suggestions for birthday outfits. I love the Vivienne Westwood dress they pick, and am now searching for a high street version.
It sounds like a dream: create an avatar who will try on clothes while you avoid the changing room. But the avatar is – at this stage – only personalised by hair colour and skin tone, so doesn't show height and weight ratio, which would be a great improvement.
"Free, unique, individual" are the watchwords that stylists use to select accessories for me – for sale at £39.95 – after I've filled in a questionnaire, in the footsteps of more than 50,000 others. Stylists include Arabella Greenhill, a Marie Claire fashion editor.
Inviting friends' opinions through Facebook seems to be asking for mockery: "What is that bat on your shoulder?" a friend posts about a bow on my top, while "Big bust – which is a good thing" I'd rather stayed in the fitting room.
The MiMirror in Republic at Westfield, Stratford, east London, allows you to seek advice from friends online. It's a shame you can't choose who sees the images.
Since its launch in March last year, more than 12 million opinions have been posted. Its chief executive, Marissa Evans, says the 80 per cent female community is about "helpful advice, not being hurtful".
While Evans denies the site can be brutal, it's here that its real strength lies. It's hard for friends to tell you those clothes do make your bum look big.
Debenhams picture app
Launched last week, the app lets you try on virtual clothes in a real-life world. Style advice comes from friends who you email with pictures – or if you're feeling especially brave, can tweet or send to Facebook.
The three-day, online pop-up store closed yesterday, but more are planned.
A male view: David Ryan
I do care what I wear, honestly, but I hate clothes shopping. I am 52 years old and have never owned a suit! At the Republic store at Westfield, Stratford, I tried out some hopelessly trendy straight, fawn corduroys, a check shirt and green body warmer. "West Country chic!" came one response on Facebook. I then went a bit sharper: jeans, powder-blue shirt, leather ankle boots and a black duffel-style jacket.
"Not bad," my daughter Facebooked. "A duffel coat would really suit you," she added.
"Yes, one that fits!" fizzed a poison shaft. It was then I lost the plot. A light grey rompersuit and woolly hat with tassles is not an easy look, but I think I carried it off. I was baffled by WIWT. I posted my picture but have gained no followers and scored 0 kudos. My picture on Go Try It On, has yet, perhaps luckily, to be rated.Reuse content