Instead of playing music or adjusting the lights, Amazon’s Echo Look is designed to help customers “look their best.” It takes pictures of its owner in various outfits and decides which look best. Over time, the Echo Look can remember the outfits you own, learn your preferences, and recommend clothing in your style available for purchase on Amazon. Technology of this kind, however, prompts troubling questions: How much data personal are we willing to hand Amazon? How much stock should we even put in the opinion of a gadget? Is this just a ruse to increase sales? And if fashion is an expression of art, what does it mean if a computer is able to generate it?
Before pondering what this means for fashion in general, it’s important to think about the consequences of such a device. Of course, Amazon already has a decent understanding of its consumers: It knows your address, what you buy, and what you click on, but don’t buy. But now, the Echo Look will take full-length pictures of its customers and analyze their bodies’ dimensions, commonly worn colors, facial features, and a host of other data that can’t be gleaned from the type of headphones you buy or your most-listened-to musician.
This data-driven approach to fashion has troubling implications for clothing as well as art in a more general sense. To admit that the Echo Look is able to analyze body types, skin color, hair style, and other characteristics and match them to the best colors, cuts, and designs seems to indicate that fashion is formulaic in nature. It is fundamentally true that certain body types are better accentuated in particular types of clothes, and that some colors can look drastically different depending on the wearer’s skin tone. However, the clothes in your closet probably all look relatively okay on you — clothes that don’t suit you likely won’t be bought in the first place — so how does it decide between two decent choices? It seems highly unlikely that a computer will be able to factor in all the things that go into choosing an outfit: the weather, your mood, your destination, the company you’ll keep, the statement you’re trying to make, and so on.
The Echo Look just seems like a thinly veiled excuse for Amazon to accumulate more data about its consumers. With the wardrobes of its customers catalogued, the company can recommend clothing items using the same algorithms it uses for all its other products. Essentially, Amazon is tricking us into paying $100 to tailor clothings ads more specifically to you, making you spend even more money on Amazon.
—Staff writer Caroline E. Tew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @caroline.tew