Saturday, May 14, 2011

On the web something worth reading...

The Designer: You. The Maker: Who?

IN an age of style blogs and “Project Runway,” everyone’s an armchair Alexander Wang. And would-be couturiers who long to design their own wardrobes but can’t sketch or sew are in luck. Do-it-yourself Web sites are making it easy for fashion buffs to design and order custom outfits: all you need is an Internet connection and a credit card.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Jeans from came from India and cost $77.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The writer created this pair at They took five weeks to arrive from Hong Kong and cost $277.

But are the sites any good? Can design-your-own jeans rival designer jeans? Is the shoe of your dreams mere mouse clicks away?

I decided to find out. And where better to begin than with the foundation of any eye-catching ensemble: lingerie.

Visitors to, licensed by Fruit of the Loom, are encouraged to design a bra with contrasting patterns on each cup. I’ve never had a yen to clad one breast in a more festive print than the other. But try anything once, I say.

I clicked through the Web site, mixing and matching its quartet of cup motifs: black, white, rainbow dots on a black background, rainbow dots on a white background. It was like designing a bra for Pippi Longstocking. I contemplated dots for one cup and solid black for the other, but that called to mind an eye patch. Eventually, I created what I refer to as the Black Swan brassiere: rainbow dots (on black) for the right cup; rainbow dots (on white) for the left cup. I was hoping to play with embellishments like lace, ribbon, strap color. But Pick Your Perfect Pair doesn’t offer much customization. (In a word: imperfect.)

Even so, the site provides an important service. It sells different cup sizes for the same bra, a welcome option for women whose breasts are not symmetrical (the cups snap together in the front of the bra). Customers can select from sizes 34B to 40D as well as “just about” sizes. And at $7.70 a bra (regularly $10) — less than the price of a small cheese pizza at my neighborhood Domino’s — the site may be perfect for those who want their money in their pocket, not their bra.

But then my custom bra arrived. It was a riot of hot pink and polka dots. I pictured a clown. A colleague said he pictured Baskin-Robbins. Either way, I prefer that my underwear not evoke an afternoon at Coney Island. I decided to slip into the bra, though, to check the fit — only to discover, in the most inelegant of ways, that it was too small. Turns out the site’s fine print says the bras are designed for a “junior frame.”

From now on, I’m sticking with my local lingerie shop, where variety and experienced salespeople are plentiful. So adieu, Black Swan. While you are seemingly a bargain, I don’t consider you an inexpensive bra but, rather, a costly sling shot.

Next up: skinny jeans.

After perusing Web sites like and, I decided to design a cropped skinny jean on because the site offered that jean style and appeared to have more features, like patches and zippers. (Note: In all these instances, I used a personal e-mail address and credit card when ordering so the companies mentioned in this article wouldn’t know that I’m a reporter.)

Hurdle No. 1: the site’s design. It’s cluttered and lacks 360-degree images and models, which are key to the success of sites like Zappos and Net-a-Porter. was at times more exasperating than trying on jeans. This is a problem with many design-your-own clothing sites, but it’s glaring when customers are evaluating denim style, weight and wash. Discerning the difference between “posh” and “body hugger” denims was like trying to tell the Olsen twins apart.

Then there was the matter of Lycra. How might my derrière benefit (or not) from 3 percent Lycra? What about 2 percent? There was no way of knowing. That sort of thing should be explained on the Web site.

Hurdle No. 2: taking measurements. This, of course, is critical. But the site needs clearer instructions. A colleague and I had to go over them several times, and as veteran online shoppers, we’re not unfamiliar with measuring tape. We spent hours scrutinizing the site and measuring my waist, thighs, hips, knees, inner and outer leg, and more. I’ve had less invasive doctor’s appointments.

Yet it’s crucial to be precise. There are no returns unless the measurements of the jeans you receive differ from those you submitted.

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