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BusinessWeek


Editor's note: BusinessWeek Online is taking an early look at a site that has a lot of potential. We'll take another look when MyShape is in fuller bloom

When I first heard about MyShape -- a shopping Web site that promises "you will only see clothing that fits and flatters YOU," I was intrigued. Now bear in mind that "intrigued" and "enthusiastic" aren't the same things. I love to shop. I'm one of those women thrilled equally by the chase and by the capture. And MyShape asks for a long list of measurements and personal preferences. So, I wondered, would having my clothes pre-selected make shopping too easy? Or would weeding out unsuitable stuff let me maximize my shopping time?

Because the site isn't fully up and running yet -- go to MyShape.com, and it says, "A new way to shop coming Summer 2006" -- it's hard to tell. The current choices are extremely limited, and in the two weeks since I registered, there are no new suggestions or options for me. However, the idea behind MyShape has a lot of promise and I found some of the suggestions and insight it provided useful. Think of this account of my test-run as a preview of things to come.

MEASURING UP.When you register at MyShape, you're asked for a fair amount of information. The process could take a good half-hour. You'll need to provide 21 measurements in all, broken down by circumference, front, height, and miscellaneous. Some of the measurements are tricky to get on one's own: shoulder width, armhole circumference, arm length, knee height. I'm still trying to get the pencil marks off the back of my bedroom door.

Annoying as some of this may seem -- and the strict program won't let you skip any fields -- these are the kinds of measurements a professional dressmaker would take. They do make a difference, so don't guess. My advice: have a trusted friend help you, or have your measurements taken professionally. The Web site makes either option relatively easy by offering a printable diagram of the data needed. (It also suggests that if you're working with a friend, that the numbers shouldn't be called out, but discreetly written down on the diagram.)

The level of attention to detail is impressive and shows that the folks at MyShape understand people who care how they look in clothes. Supplying the other types of information requested: how you like clothes to fall on your body (snug, comfortable, or loose and flowing), what types of clothes you buy (artistic, elegant, casual, and trendy are just some of the choices) how much you spend, and what labels, stores, or catalogs you've shopped takes just a few minutes.

YOUR SHAPE.After that, you're given a shape match (there are seven shapes, M, Y, S, H, A, P, E -- get it?) and general advice geared for your body type, as well as specific suggestions. This is where the great payoff should be, and this is where MyShape disappoints. It wasn't a big surprise to be told that I'm an "S" (the only letter that is even close to a logical match with a body shape).

S shapes, such as myself (according to the site) might want to consider: "Curved and rounded cuts…soft designs, florals, soft abstracts rather than stripes or plaids…wrap, V or scoop neck tops that are fitted at the waist; jackets with soft line." Some of this advice seems to make sense, but of course I'm probably filtering these guidelines through the prism of what I already own, rejecting the pieces of advice that don't jibe with parts of my existing wardrobe. The advice then got specific about what I want to consider in terms of jackets, pants, skirts, and necklines. Eight pictures came up to help me visualize the style advice.

Some of the items shown were interesting enough that I clicked on them hoping I would be able to do some real shopping. Alas, that was easier in some cases than in others -- and downright impossible in some. A couple of links were for sites that don't appear to sell retail. When I clicked on the Ralph Lauren skirt, I was taken to a Ralph Lauren Web site where, even after a fair amount of looking, I couldn't find the item pictured on MyShape. That was probably just as well, since the prices for Ralph Lauren clothes tend to be above what I indicated I generally spend. However, in the case of the Talbots jacket shown, a click took me straight to a page where I could buy it -- and the matching skirt.

THE REAL TEST.Then I decided to see how much MyShape's suggestions are dictated by stated preferences, as opposed to measurements. So I went in to my profile and altered my personal information (which was very easy to do). I changed everything -- from the colors I feel best in to the ease with which I can find clothes that fit. I said such things as, I look best in fall colors, I buy artistic clothes, I spend above $500 an outfit. Yeah, I lied. Trouble is, I got the exact same suggestions as when I gave radically different (read: truthful) answers.

I also did a check to see whether I'd get a different selection over time, even when preferences stay the same. Again, I was disappointed.

The experience made me less optimistic about how useful MyShape might really be. The detailed sign-up process got me excited about the possibility of seeing clothes that not just fit, but fit my tastes. I can see that if MyShape does it what it promises, it can be great for women -- and men -- who hate to shop. But as I noted at the outset, these are early days. And it's not too late for MyShape to shape up.


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