Here’s a new one on me – fashionistas uniting, creating, and communing online at a web site called Polyvore. On this site you can create fashion “sets” – sort of collage assemblages – made of pictures of merchandize, clipped from all over the Web. Polyvore-istas get their images from online boutiques, department stores, jewelry wholesalers, online shoe stores, and catalogues. The Polyvore site provides you with the collage-making tools – an electronic clipper, basic text tools, background options, along with tools to shrink, flip, or enlarge – and then save them in your “closet”. The Polyvore-ist (they sometimes refer to themselves as “Polywhores”) assembles their pieces in an artful arrangement – often including cosmetics, accessories, background images, flowers, and even a picture of a fashion models (or themselves!) to complete the ensemble. Polyvore limits you to a maximum of 50 items per set, which seems sufficient for most of its registered users – which, btw, number 1.4 million.
“It’s sort of like playing paper dolls with pictures of real clothes”, explains Alexandra Jacobs in a recent New Yorker article about the site. As background for her article, Jacobs did a ride-along of a user test, at Polyvore’s Mountain View, California offices. They invited a frequent Polyvore-ista, from Calgary, who goes by the handle “MyChanel”, to come to Mountain View and put together a set while the engineers (and Jacobs) observed her in action. I found the description of the way MyChanel worked absolutely fascinating (the article is worth a careful read), but what intrigued me the most was the social element of the thing. Before MyChanel could start assembling her set, she wanted to clear the messages on her Polyvore home page. There were direct messages from some of her 9,356 international contacts, along with comments on a set that she’d posted the previous day. When she completed the test set for the Polyvore engineers, she accumulated 60 comments in the first 12 minutes. That’s a lot of socializing! MyChanel described how much she enjoys the comaraderie of the Polyvore site – plus she loves having an anonymous identity. Her friends (her “Polypals”) on the site know her by her sets – and by her comments on other people’s sets.
Of course, there is a Polyvore blog site, a Polyvore Facebook group, YouTube tutorials, and you can follow Polyvore on Twitter (@polyvore). Polyvore organizes events and contests – timed or themed set building or sponsored competitions (for instance, Nike invited Polyvores to create “a look that best showcases how you like to look good and feel great” – winners would receive NikeWomen.com gift cards).
In addition to comments on various sets on the Polyvore site, there is an “ask” section of the site. Browsing through that, I read entries to help decide what “looks good on me” or “what should I wear with this skirt?” It’s clear that these women (and they do seem to be mostly women) are not just assembling collages, they are also buying (based on what they see) and talking with each other about what they’re sporting in their real lives. Each item in a collage has embedded information about where you can purchase it. So, as a model of a free online service driving commerce, Polyvore seems to be working pretty darned well.
What an intriguing idea this is. I mean, I’m not much of a fashionista myself, but imagine a site like this set up around a field of study – students assembling their own online scrapbooks of American History or a self-assembled study guide of images by topic. Perhaps portfolios of art work, gardening, architecture, or cooking. Or how about interdisciplinary projects, where students assemble collages of visuals to represent significant documents, inventions, religious practices, political movements, literature, and significant events of a particular time period? A whole world of options comes to mind.
And once again (how many times do we need to hear this?) – it’s really all about building community around something that lights your fire. Rage on Polyvore!