The internet has forever altered the fashion landscape. In 2021, people are more likely to look at Vogue’s Instagram account than at its physical copies. And people are shopping online more than ever before.

Shopping online has also led to dangerous overconsumption. Cheaply and unethically produced clothing allows people to hop on fad trends easily, but it also generates harmful amounts of waste and pollution. 

Because we’re all living our lives in a virtual format, specifically on social media, the motivation to participate in trends isn’t really to look the part— it’s to post the part. Rather than actually wanting to dress in trend, influencers and self-proclaimed fashionistas participate in the trend by showcasing it on social media. And by the time people catch up with one trend, there’s already a new trend to replace the previous one. 

This harmful cycle was in need of a solution, and that’s where digital fashion comes in. New fashion brands are aiming to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion and textile industries by creating entirely digital garments to be bought, sold and “worn” entirely in virtual spaces.

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When customers purchase these digital garments, they also submit a photo so digital tailors can fit the garment to the customer’s image. Companies such as DressX even have pages on their sites to coach customers on how to take a good photo for their digital garments. 

Many affordable digital fashion brands create virtual versions of trendy clothes. For example, these virtual Orange pants by Nina Doll on DressX go for $30, and they’re a dupe for the popular Saks Potts Lissi pants that cost about $262. The virtual dupe provides people the chance to engage in the trend on social media without spending too much and being left with a piece that’ll be out of style next month. It also aims to redirect consumer spending from harmful fast-fashion sites such as SHEIN, which create similar dupes like this Glitter Top & Pants set by means of allegedly unethical labor.

And just like the real fashion world, the virtual industry also has its version of couture. 

Examples of digital couture include the Fabricant’s Iridescence project, a digital-only dress, which sold for $9,500. In these cases, digital fashion takes the form of something closer to an NFT — you’re not buying a garment, you’re buying art.

Though this innovation is rooted in the well-meaning goal of reducing pollution and waste, the whole concept of digital fashion is a bit strange. We already live so much of our lives online, and we’re constantly reminded that social media isn’t a realistic representation of people’s lives. Now, the clothes aren’t real either?

XR Couture’s website even reads: “Disclaimer: You are not living a Black Mirror Episode but already a part of a new fashion cult!” If we need this disclaimer, it seems like we’re getting already dangerously close to Black Mirror territory.

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As a consumer, it’s difficult to think of it as anything more than a $30 Instagram post. The digital tailors fit the garment based on whatever photo is sent with the purchase. So, the consumer gets that image of them in the outfit to share, but the clothes don’t really exist. 

Although digital fashion seems to take the place of binge-buying cheaply made fast-fashion dupes, it will never fully replace the attachment people have to well-made, meaningful garments. Thankfully, digital fashion doesn’t seem to be trying to do that.

The digital fashion industry is in its early stages, propelled by virtual living amid an ongoing pandemic. But it will only continue to grow in the coming years, especially as the fashion industry remains a large pollutant to our ecosystems. 

For now, you can at least admire it from your screens — or maybe just sit and think about how weird it is that this is the future. Both are valid.