Cyber shopping has come a long way in a few short years


Wednesday, July 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


Cash and carry? How about surf and click? Once-wary Web-sters are now eager to put virtual clothes into virtual shopping carts and submit credit card numbers to virtual cash registers.

But what if your tastes go beyond the typical e-tail site or catalog page? You like your fashion edgy; or you prefer custom-made pants. We asked five shoppers to test the Net and see what they could score for less than $200.

OK, Internet, show us your stuff.

- Linda Crosson / The Dallas Morning News


Just Browsing,

Object of Desire: An undefined, unusual piece of clothing - maybe even one-of-a-kind.

The Search: Not knowing exactly what I was looking for, I logged on to my sugar-pink iMac with a short list of fashion shopping sites culled from magazine articles and word of mouth.

For me, getting onto the information superhighway is akin to the scene in the movie Clueless where one character takes her driver's test and freaks out when she accidentally winds up on the expressway. Having said that, shopping in any form is one of my favorite pastimes, and there are certain advantages to doing it in the privacy of your home. (Not putting on makeup, for example.)

I first logged on to www.net-a-porter.com, a new British site devoted to hip English designers such as Fake London and Jade Jagger. There was a small but good selection and just one or two of each size. The problem is, the exchange rate from pounds to dollars makes an already expensive piece of clothing that much more pricey, not to mention the delivery time.

Style365.com promised to be cool, and it did look cool, but there's no shopping to be had, just a lot of pretty pictures and links to designers. Style365 will be adding shopping soon.

Purpleskirt.com is a site co-created by actress Tracey Ullman, who has a funky personal style. Lines such as Chaiken, Trina Turk and Katayone Adeli are represented, but only a few items from each designer are offered, and rather plain ones at that.

ShoppingtheWorld.com promises to take the viewer to "streets" in London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles, so it's odd that the designers represented in these stylistically far-flung locales are all the same!

The more junior-oriented Girlshop.com had boutiques listed by designer (including Easel, Living Doll and Shoshanna), but nothing caught my eye.

It seems that surfing the Web at this time of year is the same as shopping the malls: You see the same trends you've been looking at all season.

In desperation, I perused the site of Built by Wendy, which is represented in Girlshop.com. Designer Wendy Mullin is known for her candy-colored guitar straps, worn by Courtney Love and a slew of indie bands. At her site, there was a link to something I'd never heard of called Sowear.com.

The Score: I found a virtual treasure trove of avant garde style at Sowear.com, which had a group of designers I'd never heard of, either, and their wacky, unusual fashion. This seems to be the place to find the next Alice Roi or Miguel Adrover, and you can just imagine the sewing machines set up in the East Village apartments of all this young, aspiring talent. In the segment for the designer Trash-a-porter, I found my must-have: A funky patchwork sweater made of cashmere remnants had the same look as Fake London but with a $179 price tag - considerably (believe it or not) cheaper.

Rating: Navigating Sowear.com was incredibly easy. The pictures downloaded quickly, and the categories are divided according to designers as well as type of clothing.

It was easy to place an order, and confirmation came that day, the item within a week. Because most of the designs on Sowear.com are made to order, receiving time can extend from two weeks to a month.

Recommended sites: Purpleskirt.com, Language-nyc.com, Net-a-porter.com, Girlshop.com, Flipfloptrunkshow.com, and Sowear.com.

- Kendall Morgan / The Dallas Morning News


Designer vintage

Object of desire: I love designer vintage clothing. With the advent of online shopping, primo vintage threads can be found at your leisure (and without the off-putting odors often associated with secondhand stores and thrift shops).

The search: I began my shopping spree by using Yahoo to search for the keywords "vintage clothing." This gave me a frustrating 31,000 hits! I narrowed my search by adding the word "designer" and eliminated many sites offering only Goodwill-style clothing.

Vintage clothing that looks modern is the mantra of Decades, the famous boutique in Los Angeles. DecadesInc.com, voted No. 1 vintage clothing store by Harper's Bazaar, should be the first stop for anyone looking for specific designer pieces from the 1960s and '70s. Although it's not an e-commerce site and you can't order merchandise online, DecadesInc.com will do a search for you if you post a request. Those seeking avant garde clothing from the '80s should visit the sister site Decadestwo.com. This e-commerce site is the place to find rarities from designers such as Stephen Sprouse, Zandra Rhodes and Azzedine Alaia.

After an hour of bell-bottom bulletproof-polyester boredom, I decided to narrow my search further by adding a specific designer name. In the mood for something mod, I entered Andre Courreges, father of the miniskirt. Search results: 1 hit. Hooray!

FashionDig.com, a stylish mixture of commerce and community, allows shoppers to browse by "shops" in a historical context. The "Mod shop" had two Courreges dresses that caught my interest. The photo details were a little difficult to see, though, and I am very picky.

Barry, the cyber shopkeeper at

FashionDig.com, e-mailed better photos - and quickly. But nothing caught my fancy.

Next, I tried using Google.com, a search engine recommended by a friend. The first site I browsed was Trashy-Diva.net. It has plenty of vintage pieces from 1860-1960, but it's the new merchandise at Trashy-Diva that makes this site worthwhile. Made-to-measure satin corsets, seamed stockings for $15 a pair, and garter belts - all great reproductions not to be missed. Very retro-raunch.

The score: Then I stumbled across the wonderful Enokiworld.com. A Claire McCardell dress, coats by Bonnie Cashin and Jean- Charles de Castelbajac, a very cool Pierre Cardin logo clutch for $60 - just a few of the highlights here, not to mention great graphics, links and amusing commentary. I spent more than an hour looking at photos of all clothing items, and with much delight, found the perfect vintage addition to my wardrobe: A 1960s mod double-breasted leather and faux fur coat of the right size, the right price ($145), and the right look. If this coat had its own soundtrack, it would be Curtis Mayfield's Superfly.

With credit card in hand, I eagerly typed in all information needed for purchase and shipment. When my package arrived nine days later, I ripped open the box to find my coat lying beneath elaborate packaging, with bright pink and orange tissue wads and a free Enokiworld mirror. The coat fit perfectly and looked even better than I had imagined.

Rating: My online shopping experience proved to be very easy, rewarding and overall, a learning experience. Many e-commerce shops present merchandise in a fun and informative atmosphere, making the whole process enjoyable. I couldn't say the same for conventional shopping, schlepping from store to store - especially with gasoline prices at $1.85 a gallon.

Recommended sites: Enokiworld.com, DecadesInc.com, Decadestwo.com, FashionDig.com, Trashy-Diva.net.

- Michelle Melton / The Dallas Morning News


Fashion photography

Object of Desire: An out-of-print limited edition photo or book by an established fashion photographer.

The Search: I started with a general search for the keywords "fashion photography" on AOL. That yielded some pretty scary results: Somebody in Cleveland was selling landscape shots from his Grand Canyon vacation and an amateur photographer was touting his "fashion portfolio." Clearly, I'd have to be more specific.

I had seen an interesting advertisement for Eyestorm.com, a contemporary art and photography gallery that sold limited edition prints and books.

What a find! The site had cool graphics, including an interactive sequence with soothing electronic music.

Offered for sale were limited-edition prints by famous photographers: Helmut Newton, whose Cyberwomen series was a reasonable $500 per print; Bettina Rheims, whose female nudes influenced Ellen von Unwerth; Bill Owens, whose Suburbia book provided inspiration for Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides; and Andy Warhol, whose celebrity portraits (Jerry Hall, Debbie Harry, etc.) from his famous Polaroid series were $9,000 each.

Next I went to Staleywise.com, the site for Staley Wise Gallery, a New York gallery that represents fashion names such as Steven Klein, David LaChapelle, Herb Ritts, Kurt Markus and Ms. von Unwerth. I tried the links to similar galleries, but none were retail sites.

Finally, I decided to check eBay. I typed in Bruce Weber, one of my all-time favorites, and got two pages of listings, most of them for his books, but also a few for calendars and posters. A couple of out-of-print books piqued my interest: a Weber anthology and a book on Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange. I bid on both.

(In case you haven't shopped eBay, there's something called a proxy bid, in which you type your maximum and the bidding is tracked for you, with your bid automatically increased in $5 increments until your limit is reached. It's organized and easy.)

Within a couple of days, the anthology bidding time was up and I was the highest bidder at $185. But the reserve, or seller's minimum, hadn't been met. The seller e-mailed me immediately to say the reserve was $275. We negotiated.

The Score: In the meantime, the Sam Shepard book auction was winding down, and I was looking good there. So I declined the anthology and wound up winning Sam for $122.50.

Rating: The whole process was so smooth. The sellers were quick to respond and were incredibly courteous in their e-mails. I sent a money order and requested overnight delivery.

I'm so happy with the book - it's in excellent shape and is a rare find. Just think how many visits to flea markets, antique shops and out-of-the-way bookstores it would have taken to unearth this. Now I just need to get Bruce Weber to sign it!

Recommended Sites: Eyestorm.com, eBay.com, Amazon.com, Staleywise.com.

- Tammy Theis / The Dallas Morning News


Luxe-looking menswear

Objects of Desire: I blame it on Jude Law. Ever since his star turn in last year's The Talented Mr. Ripley, I'd been longing to acquire some 1950s rich-boy flair - flat-front pants, great short-sleeved shirts, cashmere sweaters to toss nonchalantly about the shoulders, and a pair of really good sunglasses.

Oh, and a Vespa scooter. But the thought of taking to the highways wrapped only in a few swoops of Italian sheetmetal gave me the willies. Concentrate on the clothes, I thought.

For the flat-fronts, I turned to Banana Republic. The shirts? I hopped around to resale shops, and even took a trip to Tucson, Ariz., a sort of we-hear-angels-singing mecca of '50s thrifting. As for the cashmere and the sunglasses, I wanted something really fine - something timeless and very high-quality. Something Jude Law might wear in St. Tropez. So I did what those '50s rich boys couldn't do: I turned to the Internet.

The Search: The chairs had me hooked. If you've ever seen the magazine ads for Bluefly.com, a discount fashion site, you've seen the chairs. Bluefly's zoomy, illustrated campaign has modern lasses seated in mid-century Eames classics - lasses who are oblivious to the enticing scenes going on behind them because they're thoroughly distracted by Bluefly's bargains on their computer screens. I love these girls: Nothing strays them from their fashion mission. And being an avid architect-chair collector, I applaud their taste in fine furniture. So I logged on to Bluefly.com.

What wonders awaited! I'm a fairly experienced cyber surfer, but even novices won't have trouble getting to Bluefly's men's page: A shirt-and-tie icon is clearly labeled at the top of the page. No need to sift through the other options.

In two shakes of a lambswool turtleneck, I landed on a friendly page that lets users search by brand or category. I recommend the former: Clicking there displays an A-to-Z list of some of the best names in the business: Armand Basi, BCBG, Sandy Dalal, Gucci, Helmut Lang, Gene Meyer, Moschino, Matt Nye, Prada, Jil Sander, Valentino, Zegna. The top guns are there (Calvin, Donna, Ralph and Tommy), as well as more obscure lines. Even a few eyebrow-raisers. (Elizabeth Taylor? Turns out Bluefly peddles her Passion for Men fragrance. But just turn away. Hands off the keyboard. You do not have to go there.)

My face bathed in a flickering blue glow (everything Bluefly does, it does in blue), I salivated at the thought of discount clothes from my favorite designers.

The Score:

The A-to-Z brand list offered plenty of choices, but then I saw three little initials: TSE. The TSE of top-quality cashmere fame. The booty was bountiful. Several sweaters, various necklines, a range of sizes.

Clicking on any one sweater brings up a larger photo, a detailed description, a comparison of retail price vs. Bluefly price and a pull-down tab showing available sizes. The pages are clean and well-designed. You can even read Esquire's recommendations on what's hot.

I finally settled on a classic crew-neck and headed back to the category button for a look at some serious sunglasses. Only two styles popped up: a big black pair from YSL that were a little too "British rocker" and a green-lensed, tortoise-shell pair from Ralph Lauren. Classic. Made in Italy (shades of Ripley). And 73 percent off. Click - they're in the virtual bag.

I proceeded to the checkout with my $340 TSE cashmere sweater for $135 and a $145 pair of Polo sunglasses for $40. That's $485 worth of '50s rich-boy style for only $175. 1 ponied up the $14.95 two-business-days express fee (this was a Friday), and sure enough, the postman rang on Monday morning with a box from Bluefly. My sweater and sunglasses were wrapped in, of course, blue paper.

The Rating: As cyber shopping goes, this was a first-rate experience. Bluefly.com is a breeze to navigate, searching is simple, and paying is painless. Plus, the goods arrived earlier than expected and were packed well - with a return shipping label included, just in case. Now, if only I looked like Jude Law in my cashmere sweater and St. Tropez sunglasses.

Recommended Sites: Fashionmall.com, Cashmereclub.com, Tias.com/stores/decades, Dimestoredaze.com, Firstview.com.

- Rob Brinkley


Custom jeans

Object of desire: I needed a perfect pair of dark denim bootleg jeans to replace my favorite jeans. (They're still perfect; my body isn't).

The search: I'm doing my part to keep the dot-com economy pumping: groceries, furniture, books, CDs, airline tickets and clothes are delivered weekly after wee-hour online shopping sprees. And as the fashion guide for About.com, I'm paid to know about fashion on the Net, so I already knew I wanted to try mass customization.

I'd been waiting for a good reason to order jeans from Interactive Custom Clothing Company, www.ic3d.com, a pioneer of online apparel mass customization.

I designed my dream jeans by choosing fabric, leg width, number of belt loops, even label and thread color from the components the company offered. It took several sessions to get the look right, because I kept skipping out to borrow inspiration from other jean sites.

After they were perfectly designed, I grabbed a tape measure and filled out the 11-step measurement system, which took 20 minutes to complete.

The score: Once it was all said and done, my total (including shipping) was $95. Not a cheap pair of jeans, but I hoped they would be so perfect that I could use my measurements stored at www.ic3d.com to get what I really wanted - a $300 pair of custom leather jeans.

Exactly 10 days later, I got an e-mail saying that my jeans had been shipped; three days later they arrived by Priority Mail.

I was blown away by the great fit in the legs. Finally a pair of jeans that was long enough, with the knee hitting in exactly the right place! Unfortunately, the seat and crotch were entirely too big and bunched noticeably.

I reread the site's return policy and found out that if the error was Ic3d.com's, the jeans would be remade at no charge. Naturally, in my case it was customer error: My inadequate measurement-taking skills were to blame, so my only recourse is to ship the jeans back and have them remade, splitting the difference with Ic3d.com. That would make the jeans' price close to $150.

Rating: If I had any measurement-taking abilities, this would have been an ideal way to have custom-made apparel without spending a fortune or wasting time going from store to store trying on jeans.

But because I'm not much of a do-it-yourselfer, shopping for custom clothing was a bit labor-intensive and pricey for something that still didn't yield perfect results, even if it was my fault.

I think I'll wait around for the next advancement in technology - scanning booths to automatically take my measurements - before I order $300 custom leather jeans.


Recommended sites: Jeangenie.com, Churchoftherobot.com, Americanfit.com and Blackfrock.com.

- Cindi Nellis / The Dallas Morning News