By Mao Shan Wang
For a lack of something better to do, I Googled ‘fashion’ on my idle Samsung Note 8. Since I am still on 3G, the result came back at the speed of what the wired schoolgirl seated next to me would call “snail”. Still, Google responded, not with the result I was expecting, but a banner ad, first. This appeared under the Google search bar—after the tabs—and comprised a row of tile ads discreetly labelled “sponsored” in the right corner. Static banner ads appear so regularly in all manner of searches that I don’t really pay attention to them. But this time, I did because this one stood out, if only for the uniformity and banality of the product offering.
The header “Shop for fashion” did not exactly correspond to my search. The offering, too, did not match anything that I had searched previously: not specific article of clothing. To be sure, I looked at my search history: I have never searched for dresses. Google’s data is perhaps not quite reliable. To understand how this came about (although I could have guessed), I clicked on the light gray circle in which a small ‘i’ was centred, and was rewarded with a pop-up that asked “why these ads?” I clicked on the text and a small drop-down window appeared. A list of the websites that featured in the banner ad was provided. I clicked on the first and was immediately told that “This ad is based on: Your current search term; Your visits to other websites”.
So, fashion equals dresses? And I have visited other websites that would place me as the right customer for frocks of the same ilk?
Wanting to see where this would take me, I clicked on the first tile. The page that appeared is part of the mobile site of Light In the Box, which touts itself as a “a global online retail company”. I came face-to-face with the featured dress, not the homepage. No time to lose when you shop online, I suppose. The green floral dress on a cheery-looking lass was described as “Women’s Going out Plus Size Casual Swing Dress” (initial caps as captioned), which seems to me one-word redundant: we have as yet reached an era of men’s dress! In addition, the model was far from plus-sized. I am, as my friends would say, under-sized.
Unimpressed, I hit the back button and tried the second tile. This time, I was hyperlinked (a word unimpressive now, but was once, to me, the digital version of teleported) to the page of the said dress in My Theresa, “THE FINEST EDIT IN LUXURY FASHION” (all caps as headlined), now owned by the Neiman Marcus Group. The Dolce & Gabbana “cotton-blend lace dress” that greeted me was sans a model. It looked like an entity was wearing it, but nothing was there.
Are these what women are buying? I have not heard of Light in the Box, yet I was shown a link to their site; I have never looked at Dolce & Gabbana online and here I was offered one of the brand’s dresses to buy. What is it about my browsing habit that allowed Google to suppose I share the same taste in dresses as other web users? I am assuming that other online viewers are attracted to these dresses because appearing in the ad side-by-side were a quartet of dresses of very similar silhouette—the first two almost identical, except for the USD2,488.40 difference in price.
I know dresses sell. I have been told by so many buyers I know working for department stores and private labels that the one-piece is never hard to move off the racks. While I suspect a certain style—round neck, body-skimming bodice, natural waist, and a flowy skirt—is popular, I did not expect it to be this popular: showing up in an ad four-in-a-row (and more!). Is this what makes a trend? Is this how women know what is trendy? Is this how women are guided to make wardrobe choices?
If this is any indication, women are buying the same things. Perhaps, the question to ask then is, why are women dressed alike?
It would appear that e-commerce have more influence on consumer fashion choices than catwalk slideshows or fashion editors’ picks or the best street styles from fashion weeks. To see what other styles Dolce & Gabbana offered in My Theresa, I continued my search by narrowing it to just one brand, and there they were: more dresses in the one silhouette that refuses to go away. For actual merchandise, it would seem that brands do not vary their offerings very much. This is a dress shape that sells, why try another? And when women are familiar and comfortable with such a dress, why would they want to experiment with something different?
Wondering what would show up if I had searched ‘dresses’, I gave it a go. My trusty Note 8 was as unresponsive as my wardrobe when it showed me the result. Again, the “Shop for fashion” banner surfaced. Of the four dresses showed at the top of my screen, one did not look like the others. It was a USD195.60 one-shoulder, slit-high-on-the-left-leg gown called the “Disco Drape Dress” from the multi-label e-shop Revolve. The other three were similar to the ones that coughed out from the search ‘fashion’. This time, the priciest was a printed Gucci linen dress tagged USD4,870. Frocks, as Google search proved, don’t discriminate: they align themselves to every price point. Rich or poor, women can look the same. And they do.