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 racing into a digital future. In this brave new world, a cherished paycheck may no longer be spent on a meticulously researched pair of Christian Louboutins or a long-envied Dior saddlebag—but on a collection of pixels that represent those accessories. The brands that are embracing digital fashion believe that virtual clothing will become more important as we spend more of our lives online. And not just in familiar realms like dating apps, video games, and Zoom — but in the metaverse and beyond.

Just like in the real world, dressing up virtually can make an impression. For example, a 3D fashion filter dressing you in Dior’s latest digital jacket could give you the confidence to face your next remote interview.

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

For those looking to dig into this fast-growing (and often confusing) space, here are some ways you can expand your virtual wardrobe.

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

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

Where do I shop?

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

DressX also has a store in the browser-based Metaverse Decentraland. In 2021, Decentraland introduced Metajuku – a 16,000 square foot virtual shopping destination inspired by Tokyo’s famously stylish Harajuku district. You can browse well-designed stores in this immersive, albeit low-res, digital space. Players cannot yet try on any pieces in this metaverse, but they can see 360-degree hanging versions of the clothing. 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 for Nintendo Switch, players can get special collections from Marc Jacobs, Valentino and Maison Margiela via free download codes posted on the Animal Crossing Fashion Archive (@animalcrossingfashionarchive) Instagram account. In Roblox and Fortnite, players must purchase their clothing items 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 Expansion Pack – an add-on that costs around $40 in addition to the $20 base game of The Sims for PC, Xbox or Playstation.

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

DressX has a virtual store in Metajuku, an immersive shopping district in Metaverse Decentraland. Recognition: decentralized

What am I actually buying?

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

For example, “IT-Bag of the Metaverse,” an NFT of a glittery circle bag available 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 on your IRL photos and videos, desktop live streams with a unique AR filter or carried by your avatar in Decentraland.

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

That "Metaverse IT bag" The wearable NFT designed by Diverge is seen here as a 3D rendering photoshopped onto a client's image.

The wearable NFT “IT-Bag of the Metaverse” designed by Diverge is seen here as a 3D rendering Photoshopped onto a client’s image. Recognition: diverge

How can I pay? Do I need cryptocurrency?

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

Purchasing digital clothing items in the metaverse often requires digital currency. Decentraland accepts Ethereum and MANA (the official crypto created by the Metaverse providers). You can buy both on crypto trading platforms like eToro and Coinbase.

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

DressX offers more than 2,500 virtual clothing items for sale on its website.

DressX offers more than 2,500 virtual clothing items for sale on its website. Recognition: DressX

But if trading apps intimidate you, you can now buy crypto directly from PayPal. The app sells Bitcoin and Ethereum directly to account holders through its website and smartphone app.

Some digital fashion marketplaces also allow payments in traditional currency. “It’s a real pain point, it’s like setting up a bank account,” Elliott-Young said. “But I think we’re starting to see a smoother path with an equilibrium as technology improves, and we’ll also use pounds or currencies beyond crypto.” Garments on DressX, Replicant, and Auroboros can be purchased in US dollars.

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

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

One pillar of the digital fashion movement is the concept of “decentralization”: Instead of the usual hierarchy of old brands, creative people with programming skills can technically set up their own digital fashion label relatively cheaply.

But the downside to 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, shop and digitally can wear pieces from different designers. “It’s quite a scattergun in terms of where to wear your pieces and where to shop, but we’re seeing more and more now that you can use (the items) in multiple metaverses and (in) augmented reality.” Likewise, DressX already supported in Decentraland and will soon be available in Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse.

Designers painstakingly spend a lot of time developing digital couture, from crafting each bead to ensuring the jewels reflect light realistically.

Designers painstakingly spend a lot of time developing digital couture, from crafting each bead to ensuring the jewels reflect light realistically. Recognition: Institute for Digital Fashion

Outside of the metaverse and video games, digital fashion can be carried in photos through a bespoke 3D rendering, in smartphone videos or even live streams. Digital fashion checkout pages include an uploads tab where you can upload multiple photos or videos of yourself and the brand Photoshop the garment onto your body. Post these where you would normally post a selfie. For live video chat, digital fashion filters are available through Snapchat’s downloadable SnapLens desktop application, which is compatible with Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype.

Those photos or videos then become your property, and you can save them as you would save any other photo—in your camera roll or on a hard drive. Gaming skins remain in the video game you bought them in, although screenshots allow for outfits to be shared on social media, and NFTs should be kept in a cold-storage wallet (similar to a thumb drive or external device, not connected to the internet).

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