In my ongoing effort to better understand fashion in virtual worlds (it’s our future, you know), I’m posting a three-part series of interviews with Iris Ophelia, the official fashion correspondent for New World Notes, a long-running blog about Second Life, and Blue Mars, another 3D social world. You can follower her on Twitter @bleatingheart.
You mention in your blog that Mad Men, True Blood and Glee have big followings within Second Life’s fashion communities. What other entertainment products – films, games, music – have had a strong influence on fashion in SL?
Second Life is in a lot of ways just a visual representation of the Internet. Major Internet communities all leave their mark somewhere. Anime has had a huge impact on SL fashion for example. One of the earliest and biggest brands that’s still around specializes in cosplay costumes, and one of the more prominent style subcultures, nekos, also originate from anime, manga, and Japanese games. Aesthetics influenced by Blade Runner, Jules Verne, and John Norman’s Gor novels have all respectively taken root in Second Life, not to mention furries and the various fetish-based fashion communities. I know some people would argue that furries shouldn’t count as a fashion community, but considering the care and investment they put in buying, creating, and assembling their outfits I find them indistinguishable from fashionistas.
I’ve heard that it can be difficult to make plus-sized avatars in Second Life. Do you think it’s a problem that human-style bodies tend to come in very predictable configurations in SL? It seems to me that fashion design could become much more innovative in SL if there were a broader range of bodies to clothe . . .
It’s not as hard if you have some experience with the avatar shape editor; what’s hard is wearing that shape over a period of time. You have to edit your prim attachments (i.e., the virtual clothes you purchase) constantly if you’re lucky enough for them to be modifiable, but even then things tend to be shaped to suit slimmer body types. Unlike real life, all SL clothing technically fits any avatar body, but like real life whether or not it’s flattering or suited to your shape is a completely different issue. While I love seeing more variety in body shapes, and I have a couple plus-sized shapes myself, I have to admit that my own shape is a slightly curvy variation of a gazelle. That’s really the bigger issue– even if you can have a larger shape, it’s just not what the majority of people want. Humans have always made idealized versions of ourselves in replica, from Venus of Willendorf to Barbie. While there’s charm in making something a bit more unique, most people will stick with the more safe and comfortable image of ‘perfection’, whatever that is at the time. Considering how far back it goes in human history it’s clearly something really deeply embedded within our minds. Not everyone, myself included, likes the super-exaggerated supermodel shapes in Second Life, but the fact remains that it’s as emotionally easy to be skinny in SL as it is technically easy.
I love the fact that “I” can wear stuff in Second Life that I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing in the real world. I’m sure that’s part of the pleasure of shopping and dressing up in SL. Can you talk a little bit about why people are so willing to spend money on clothes in SL and what people are getting out of that investment?
I liken it to renting a movie. You know you aren’t buying it to keep, because Second Life won’t be around forever, but you pay and get your enjoyment out of it while you can. I think of Second Life shopping as more of an entertainment expense in that sense. It also explains why most people are hesitant to buy any Linden Dollars when they first join. Why rent the movie if you can just buy it for a little more money, or in this case shop for physical goods instead? After a certain point, most SL users find their particular answer to that question. For some, it’s because you can enjoy more rentals with the same amount of money it would take to buy. For others it’s because you can try things you aren’t sure about and experiment with new genres without making a significant investment in them. It all tends to boil down to entertainment, which everyone is looking for in some form.