Google Turns Its Algorithm Power on Finding the Perfect Little Black Dress

Unveils, the union of fashion nerds and computer nerds

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Google has combined the powers of fashion nerds and computer nerds to create, a shopping site that seeks to imitate the glorious experience of browsing through a store stuffed with limitless racks of clothes, except that when this (algorithmic) personal shopper suggests something would look great on you, it is not an insidious lie.

The Boutiques site "uses computer vision and machine learning technology to visually analyze your taste and match it to items you would like," its CEO explains, based on input from "taste-makers of all types" who took its visual quiz to teach the site "to understand their style genre." The site features advanced search filters to make it easier to find the perfect clothing item you've imagined in your head and are sure must exist somewhere in reality. Like Polyvore, Boutiques offers inspiration photos, as well as famous style icons you can emulate and an outfit finisher for when you can't figure out what to wear with your latest find.

(One clear drawback is that the site doesn't have a feature offering guidance for what to wear in socially terrifying events, like "My husband's coming back from Iraq" or "My case is being decided by the Supreme Court" or "I've been plucked from obscurity to be the Republican nominee for vice-president.")

  • Better Sifting, Cathy Horyn says at The New York Times. When you pick "whatever your style preference — classic, romantic, casual — the inspiration panel automatically adjusts for them, like a support group that can read your mind with surprising precision. And that may be’s ultimate game-changer — how precisely it analyzes your preferences to give you what you requested. As many online shoppers know, search engines tend to give you stuff you don’t really want. A request for fern-colored shoes might yield fern shoes, plus fern-print blouses. But, as two experienced online shoppers found when they tested the site earlier this week at Google’s New York office, if you ask for cobalt blue shoes, you get them," Horyn writes. "In simple terms, what the style experts did was come up with about 500 words for color, shape and pattern — robin’s egg blue, for instance, and gingham — and then the engineers trained the algorithm to know what each was. They would have pictures of what gingham was and what gingham wasn’t."
  • A Step Forward in Online Shopping Technology, Search Engine Land's Greg Sterling says. "On the surface Boutiques may resemble other 'social shopping' sites such as Polyvore or Stylehive. But the underlying technology, I’m told, is much more sophisticated than comparable female-centric shopping sites. Boutiques is a highly visual, social and personalized shopping destination built on sophisticated machine learning and visual recognition technology. Munjal Shah, CEO of, the company Google acquired in August and which built, likened it to Pandora for apparel. There’s an elaborate taxonomy and structure behind the presentation of content on Boutiques."
  • It Has Its Quirks, New York's Amy Odell writes. "In creating your own boutique, Google attempts to analyze your style with its 'Stylizer' that forces you to choose between two images, usually of models or celebrities wearing outfits, but landmarks or alcoholic beverages randomly pop up if you skip through all the selections." Plus, there's nothing for dudes. "Men's ought to come down the line, in the typical online retail fashion of adding men's after women's proves successful. Though it wouldn't seem like a bad thing to launch menswear with womenswear since many men prefer online shopping, which saves them the embarrassment of physical shopping. Then again, maybe it's more embarrassing for them to shop from Ryan Reynolds's e-boutique."
  • An Interesting Play for Google, Seth Weintraub writes at Fortune. It's "unlike anything Google (GOOG) has done before.  There isn't any advertising and the imagery is big and beautiful. This is all about shopping." The celeb feature will be a big draw, Weintraub says, because much like "celebrity playlists on iTunes, Celebrity Boutiques show the favorites of celebrities consumers may want to emulate in one way or another. Google has an impressive lineup of both entertainment stars and celebrity bloggers listed at its opening."
  • No Google Branding, Zee notes on The Next Web. "On face value this appears to be a very random move from Google but the visual search technology itself stems from Google’s acquisition of for a reported $100 million. Before the purchase, ran similar sites including, and the styling tool Interestingly there’s virtually no Google branding on the site. Is this the first of many? It screams 'experiment.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.