Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I saw an ad for a game called Covet Fashion. Described as a “fashion app,” it had thousands of likes and comments. I downloaded it. The icon for the app was an image of a woman strikingly similar to Barbie, smizing. It took a few seconds to configure and “load garments.” After clicking around, the game’s idea was clear. Style challenges, posted each day, require that a user create an outfit within the specific guidelines. After the challenge has ended, users vote on each other’s looks in order to determine a style rating from one-five. Depending on the score, prizes are given in the form of garments or diamonds that can be used to purchase more clothes or exchanged for money. Entering style challenges is the only way to make money, unless you want to pay with it real cash.
It’s silly, but I played Covet for a full hour after downloading it. My obsession wasn’t difficult to understand; buying pretend clothes, shoes, and bags with pretend money somehow satiated my desire to drain my real bank account. Choosing cartoon hairstyles made me forget about my inability to even make a decent braid. $450 for a pair of earrings? $600 Nanette Lepore bikini? Why not? It wasn’t long before my funds were in the low double-digits.
Fashion houses are optional groups that users can join, with names like “Chicago Cuties” or “Bieber Lovers.” Some are invitation-only, but most aren’t. Upon joining a fashion house, a chat room opens where outfits are posted and discussed. I joined a group called “Upmost Fashion,” mostly because I wanted the 13-year-old running it to change the name to “utmost.” The chat room was impressive. Dozens of girls, teenagers, and women scrutinized each other’s choices of heels and accessories. Heated conversations took place about what color bag looked best with what dress. Phony compliments were given about ridiculous-looking outfits. The only truly interesting part of the fashion house concept is that many of the girls (and, occasionally, guys) are from all over the world. I talked to a teenager from Malaysia, a Californian and a woman in Canada.
Despite the diversity of users, most of the style challenges were Euro-centric. Each challenge has an image of a model wearing an example outfit and nine times out of 10 the model was white. I brought this up while talking to my little sister, and she agreed that I should contact them. Soon after sending a brief email suggesting that the game add more diversity, I received one that said mine was forwarded to the game developers. A few days later, the challenge of the day was called “African Princess.” Another asked that users fashion a traditional Japanese-inspired outfit. My email surely wasn’t the sole inspiration for the sudden diversity of the game, but it was at least a contributing factor.
This week, one of the daily challenges was called “Stardust,” which described the outfit as one for a “beloved pop and fashion icon.” I was ambivalent about it; sure that more than half of the people playing the game weren’t old enough to know who David Bowie was. My outfit included slicked back orange hair, heavy makeup, and skin-tight leather pants. My sister texted me to ask if there were any songs by Bowie that she might know. I searched for a video of a popular song that showed a classic outfit. Sending her the music video for “Rebel Rebel,” my opinion about the challenge changed. It encouraged my sister to learn about Bowie, and maybe made a few more young fans, too.
—Follow Sarah Grace McCarthy on Twitter: @birdy_grace