Need a Stylist? New Web Site Offers Free Wardrobe Advice

Marissa Evans

 (Marissa Evans)

Ever wish you had a high quality personal stylist, but you can't pay the hefty price? Your problems will be over Monday, when a new Web site launches with the purpose of styling men and women for events -- with no cost and plenty of ease.

The site, called GO TRY IT ON, is a social-retailing site that will let guests share photos of themselves and receive honest feedback from friends and strangers on their look before they go out -- think meets Facebook.

GO TRY IT ON's founder and CEO Marissa Evans conceptualized the idea as a student at Harvard Business School.

"When I had been getting ready to go out to an event -- whether an interview, trip or a night out in Boston -- my friends and I would always ask one another what outfit looks best," Evans said. "Now I live alone in New York and there's no one around to ask!"

Evans said her solution was to e-mail her sister a photograph of herself in an outfit and ask for her opinion, but often times her sister was too busy to help. That's when the thought occurred: "There should be a place where you can go and get that feedback in real time," Evans said.

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In December 2009 she put her idea to work. Collaborating with a Web developer, graphic artist and a "curation team," Evans made her idea a reality.

Users can take a photograph of themselves with a Web cam or cell phone, or upload a photo already on their computer, in an outfit that they are considering. There is a place for the users to include some details about what they're wearing and what type of event they're attending. Other users can then comment on the outfit and provide style suggestions.

What if the feedback is too harsh -- or worse, inappropriate? That's where the curation team comes in, ready to deal with the security issues that surface whenever people post comments or photographs of themselves online, especially women.

"This is my biggest concern and an issue I've thought a lot about," Evans said. She has developed a tool that lets users blur out their faces, as well as an option to keep their profile private so only approved friends and family can see it.

She also has a team in place that will monitor the site to "make sure the site does what it promises -- everything from making sure people get reviews on their outfits to monitoring the site for photographs or comments that may be inappropriate."

Jayne Hitchcock, a cybercrime expert and president of the organization Working to Halt Online Abuse, said she applauds Evans for having this type of team in place.

"It's unfortunate but you can't keep the 'trolls,' as I call them, from posting nasty things online," Hitchcock said. "But if they have a team monitoring things, that's good -- I wish more sites had the foresight. They seem to have a handle on it, to which I say thank you."

Hitchcock does have a problem with the age limit on the site: 13. Anyone older than 13 doesn't need parental consent to participate on the site. Hitchcock said she'd prefer to see anyone under 18 needing parental consent.

"These kids are already going through so much in their own lives and they're really sensitive, especially the girls, and they can take some of those comments to heart," Hitchcock said. She said a good example of this is 15-year-old Phoebe Prince from Boston, who killed herself after allegedly being cyber-bullied by her peers.

"I am sure the [site's] moderators might not get to the comments right away. I think they might want to rethink the age thing -- but that's my personal opinion."

Hitchcock said cyber-stalking laws exist in nearly all 50 states.

Evans said she hopes her Web site will be "more about helping a person with thoughtful reviews or product suggestions," than a forum for harsh judgment. But she is realistic. She said a user can flag any inappropriate comment or photograph, which will immediately bring it to the attention of site curators.

Evans intends to branch out and engage clothing companies and celebrity stylists on her site. "I would love to have Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen" provide feedback to users who have style questions, she pointed out.

She also hopes to partner with clothing and jewelry companies who would have representatives provide wardrobe feedback to users as well as recommend certain pieces from their own store that might look good or work well for a particular occasion.

"For example, if I am going away for a weekend to Nantucket and I want help picking out outfits, someone from, say, J. Crew could comment on my outfit and suggest certain clothes from the store that might work well for that weekend," Evans said.

"I think it's a good idea," said Laura Solin, a wardrobe stylist whose clients include Deborah Norville, John Mayer and Naomi Judd.

"I have friends call me everyday -- they use me like I'm 411! It would be a good way to run something by somebody. I even do it with my friends using my phone and e-mail."

She said the site would be more beneficial for women, who "dress more for women than they do for men. Women value other women's opinions -- and even stranger's -- more than they do men's," Solin said.

Evans plans to bring in revenue through sponsorships and an affiliate model -- working with various brands so that if a consumer purchases an outfit on a participating company's Web site through GO TRY IT ON, her site will acquire a certain percentage of the profit.

Evans admits she will develop and expand the site more after its launch. Next week she heads to the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas, where her company is one of eight finalists in the Personal Social Media category of the SXSW Microsoft BizSparks Accelerator competition.

With mere days until the official launch, Evans is eager to see her vision be made public.
"We're excited to get the product out there and see how people want to use it," Evans said.

"It's exciting. I'm definitely a little nervous. I joked with my colleagues that it feels like the first day at a new school and I am just hoping people like me."

She'll soon find out -- at least whether people like the outfit she selected for that day.