Sure, the average Web surfer’s favorite outfit is more likely to be Champion sweats than a Chanel suit — and if the names of some chat rooms are to be believed, there are even people out there typing naked. Fortunately for them, and probably us, cyberspace is hardly a see-and-be-seen realm. (After all, who cares what the fashion-forward are wearing when everyone’s sitting at home in front of monitors?) But in the interest of a better-dressed public, we ask: Could the Web manage to attract the average surfer to some non-newsgroup threads? How well suited is the medium to help you make the leap from geek to chic?
Certainly the Web can keep pace with fashion’s frenetic updating — and does, particularly on CNN STYLE (www.cnn.com/STYLE/index.html). Even so, the sartorially indifferent won’t find much to entice them. More like a dispatch from the front row than a fashion mag, the newsy, photo-packed site features reports from the runways and almost two dozen stories on spring lines, accessories, and interior designs. Apart from coolly amusing bits on, say, the first perpetrator of the beehive hairdo, the page is very matter-of-fact; fashion greenhorns won’t find a single friendly celebrity face to draw them in — not even Elsa Klensch.
Also woefully lacking in billboard names and faces is the muted, elegant FASHION PLANET (www.fashion-planet.com), which nevertheless retains a dash of sass. One description of last season’s runway innovations cites Bad-Hair-Day Hair: ”Models look like they’d just rolled out of bed and twisted their hair up out of their way on top of their head. (Average time for hairstylist to achieve look: 42 minutes. Average time for normal woman to achieve same look: 3 seconds.)” But before trying that new ‘do out in public, bear in mind that that was last season. In other words, FP is not terribly current: On the first day of spring, the site was still offering advice that began, ”Holiday party season is upon us. What to wear? You could always reach for something red and green, or … ”
Or you could click to another site, say, the technophilic HYPERMODE (hypermode.com). Featuring only four or five topics and often slow to load, Hypermode nevertheless manipulates the medium masterfully with such functions as Remix-N-Match, which asks women users what kind of ensemble they’re looking for (”fun and a little sexy,” for example) and then comes up with a photo of a fab outfit and shoes to fill the bill.
By contrast, FASHION INTERNET (www.finy.com) tries to attract style-challenged teens and young women by downplaying the tech aspects. Instead, it offers celeb tidbits — up-and-coming Paris designer Fred Sathal is identified as the couturier of Björk and Billy Corgan — and attempts to boost fashion awareness via interviews with TV and film costume designers. Still, even though FI maintains a bounty of vividly written essays, style updates, and kicky illustrations, it’s months out of date (Valentine’s Day attractions languished on the site till late March) and painfully short on photos of clothes.
In the end, Net-heads may be surprised to learn that fashion’s best-dressed techno-site is on good old AOL. Its STYLE CHANNEL (Keyword: Style) mixes and matches the best cyberfeatures with a broad, current, photo-studded, and user-friendly collection of content. From video clips of aspiring models and a database of Hollywood’s favorite designers to pictures of celebs in Oscar wear (admire Susan Sarandon! scoff at Kim Basinger!) and interactive polling about stylish stars, AOL enthusiastically deploys all the resources of its medium — including chat rooms and forums with guest models. Although it skews young, offering a ”trendzine” about ”prom mania” and links to Web pages for would-be models, this Channel makes couture safe for the style-shy cybersurfer. Finally, fashion for the great unwashed. CNN Style: B- Fashion Planet: B Hypermode: B- Fashion Internet: B Style Channel: A-