Extended Reality can replace a lot of things, like most in-person work meetings, or product design. But, it will never replace the runway or the changing room. Right?

Buying clothing can be a hands-on process that can feel very intimate. And, for some situations, that’s not likely to change. But, consumer fashion is increasingly being helped by augmented reality, from virtual clothing try-ons to virtual fashion shows.


The Role of AR in Retail

Augmented reality has a growing role in the fashion industry, from clothing design to completely virtual clothing. But, for the average shopper buying a physical garment, what good is AR?

AR (displaying virtual elements in a user’s physical environment through the use of smart devices like phones) allows the shopper to get a fair understanding of a garment without having direct access to that garment. Throughout the rest of this article, we’ll talk about things like fashion shows viewable from anywhere, or trying on a clothing item before it’s even in the store.

AR technology means viewers don’t have to travel to a fashion show to see the latest looks – they can do it from home. 

They can see what a clothing item would look like on them without going to the store, seeing if it’s in stock, and trying it on. These factors, and many others, reduce cost for manufacturers and even result in more satisfied customers less likely to return items they buy.

It’s true, augmented reality might not let you see exactly how different light would dance off of a reflective bauble, or let you feel the material on your skin. At least, not yet. Still, it’s never been easier to get to know a garment without having it in your hands.


Virtual Fashion Shows

Fashion shows are one of the industry’s standard methods of introducing the world to their new products. These are the first opportunities for people outside of the designer’s studio to see what a garment looks like on a person, how it flows and moves.

However, conventional fashion shows are typically restricted to people in the fashion industry. Even if the average person could find the time and money to travel to one, they probably wouldn’t be allowed in the door. AR helps to bring fashion shows to the people.

By replacing the catwalk with a capture studio, experienced designers can make high-quality virtual versions of fashion models. Apply a little techno-wizardry, and these models do their walks wherever a viewer points their mobile device. If the viewer is only interested in a few looks in the collection, they can view those fashions without sitting through the whole show.

See it in Action

Bloomingdale’s  created an AR fashion show for its 150th anniversary. ROSE created it using designs exclusively available for the celebration. The fashion show was visible in Bloomingdale’s stores, or in the homes of over 400,000 shoppers who received an AR-activated catalog. You can still view the experience by scanning a QR code on Bloomingdale’s website.

Bloomingdale’s reported a 38 percent increase in shopper engagement and a 22 percent increase in conversions. A lot of those conversions were thanks to a click-to-buy feature that allows shoppers to purchase looks from within the experience just by tapping their favorite fashions. 

A similar activation by ROSE and KHAITE led to a 400 percent increase in sales. Further, users browsed an average of 16 looks spending over four minutes in the experience. An experience for Selfridges that was only available in-store caught an average 51 seconds dwell time. Compare that to the amount of time that shoppers spend looking at mannequins.

Becoming the Model

Watching a fashion show can be fun. But, what about being the model? ROSE worked with Steve Madden for an initiative in “the Maddenverse.” This time, it was an Instagram effect that turned users into a stylized Steve Madden virtual avatar. In this case, the idea wasn’t to realistically represent clothing that the viewer could actually buy but rather to give them a fun opportunity to engage with the brand itself. But that’s a topic for another day.


Virtual Try-Ons and Samples

Seeing an outfit on a model is nice, but when people buy an item, they’re going to care more about how that item looks on them. This can be trickier with augmented reality, but it’s possible.

Creating a virtual version of a garment can allow a prospective buyer to see how it works with them. They can see how it matches other items in their collection, their skin color and makeup choices, their hairstyles, and even places where they anticipate wearing the garment like their home or their favorite restaurant.

AR tryon in eCommerce may present another “hurdle” – it’s an extra screen tap – but many shoppers find it fun. Further, they’re statistically less likely to return items that they purchase after engaging with them in AR. In fact, ROSE worked with Adidas to create a virtual model of one of their shoes that buyers could “unbox” on social media before the physical shoe shipped.

Creating a virtual clothing item can be a lot of work. But, increasingly, that work is already done. Designers and manufacturers frequently start with a digital model because it’s easier to see potential changes than with physical prototypes. In some cases, these design models can be adapted for virtual try-on cases.


The Future of Virtual Try-On

We’ve discussed some things AR clothing doesn’t do too well. For example, faithfully replicating reflective surfaces, or the way that a fabric moves – or even how a garment will actually fit. Fortunately, all of these are aspects of the technology that are improving year-over-year.

While you’ll (probably) never be able to feel an AR garment before you have the physical version, effects like how a piece of clothing reflects light in your environment are improving. In terms of fashion try-on, it was largely pioneered for jewelry in particular but we’ll likely see the approach extended to other materials as well.

If you’ve tried virtual tryon before, you have probably had one or two unsatisfactory experiences. Either the jacket that you’re trying on doesn’t move at all, or those earrings that you’re trying on make it look like there’s an earthquake. These technologies are improving too, but there are two big hangups.

These effects are powered by physics engines. Different platforms can use different physics engines, so it can be hard to get a quality experience without optimizing for each app and website that you want to publish on.

Further, the more advanced the models and effects are, the heavier the experience is. To reach customers where they are, you’ve got to publish on the apps and devices they use. Sometimes that can mean making compromises. Fortunately, this is also being solved by the move toward cloud and edge computing that takes some of that burden off of a user’s device.

After all, movie-quality virtual clothing couldn’t be real-time rendered too well within Snapchat. And even that tech is tricky to pull off realistically. That’s one of the reasons Hollywood loves costumed and masked characters so much. That kind of work is closer to VR than AR.


The Final Frontier of “Virtual Clothing”?

Right now, we’re talking about virtual clothing as a way to drive purchases of physical clothing. However, in recent years, there has been growth in the idea of virtual clothing that stays virtual. That can mean clothing for avatars or virtual clothing that appears in photographs and videos on social media.

Whether or not you might ever be interested in buying and selling digital clothing, breakthroughs in this field will likely help to improve the technology as it appears in other use cases as well.