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Box of one

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I recently signed up for Stitch Fix, an online styling service that delivers a monthly "fix" of clothing and accessories through the mail. You fill out a form, and a group of stylists selects several pieces to match your style. While completing the lengthy questionnaire, I pondered my fashion: Am I more a stripes or solids gal? Would I wear something other than dark jeans? How much did I want to alter my wardrobe, and how much did I just want to avoid shopping?

The site's suggestions offered a few fashionable upgrades. Tailored blazers and Haymarket check scarves splashed across the screen, followed by maroon jeans and bright orange bangles. To complete the outfit, Stitch Fix presented a pair of checkered flats and a navy clutch. But when would I tell them I'm so uninterested in handbags that I keep my credit cards in my phone case, my keys clipped to my hip? Or that my left foot is slightly larger than my right, something temporarily exacerbated by my current stint as a distance runner? Was I paying only to fill out a slightly modified stock form, or would my "personal stylists" actually guide me through these quandaries?

Nowadays, you can order all kinds of boxes. There's the Bijoux Box, a monthly offering of "hand-curated jewelry;" the Birchbox, a set of grooming products "tailored to your profile;" and the Boodle Box, a teen-aimed container of "adorable trendy accessories." There's even the Barkbox, a monthly toy supply for dogs.

These selections recall the Club of the Month subscriptions of yore, which not only delivered new items to your door but also served as a correspondence course. You got the item and information about where it came from, who made it, why it was important. Before the Internet, the clubs shared knowledge and a chance to dazzle a dinner party. This new breed of box, though, prides itself on being highly personalized. Through algorithmic magic, your items are selected to suit your pre-existing tastes. You're paying someone else to find something that suits you. The new box is self-absorbed, reinforcing what you know and like or offering a small stretch of the comfort zone—that is, if you accept.

With a series of Stitch Fix clicks, I traded a store-clerk conversation for sending strangers detailed opinions through a form where only one party could speak. Was I paying to be helped or to feel important, a bona fide expert on only myself? —Tina Haver Currin

Tina Haver Currin lives in Raleigh, where she works as a copywriter for film and TV.

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