Ophelia's Gaze: Three Things I Hate Hate HATE About the Virtual Fashion World
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of virtual world and MMO fashion
As much as I love the artistry and aesthetics of Second Life avatar fashion, some things just make me want to tear my hair out and give up altogether. These are the social problems that plague face of fashion in every world... And I'm just as guilty of them as anyone else. I was reminded of all these things recently when Hamlet approached me about trying to do a Hottest Female Avatar contest. Even the idea of doing the Hottest Male Avatar contest, a three year tradition until this year, turns my stomach, and here's why:
We're Bad at Making Objective Judgements
In the beginning, the Hottest Male Avatar contest had been an attempt to show that men in SL could be attractive at a time when their options were limited. As men's fashion expanded, the contest refocused to highlight male avatars that stood apart from the crowd with highly personalized looks. There had been drama from the start, but it intensified each year as the winners deviated more from the norm.
Our knee-jerk reaction is often to decide that someone or something is altogether unattractive, rather than realizing that they're only unattractive to us. We say "OMG that dress is hideous" when we should say "OMG I don't like that dress". This confusion of subjectivity with objectivity only serves to divide us, and intensifies a lot of unnecessary negativity between subcultures and style groups.
Keep reading for more bad fashionista habits worth breaking!
We Treat Fashion Like an Arms Race
RL fashion site Coco and Creme recently posted a fabulous piece called Fashion and Friendship: When Dressing Becomes a Competitive Sport which should be required reading for a lot of SL fashionistas, and which also has a lot to do with my second and third points.
Sometimes it feels like we're desperate to be the first one to wear a new release, or to discover some amazing shop no one else knows about and keep it to ourselves. The more extreme among us will even outright refuse to tell people where we purchased an item, and wear invisible inspect shields to keep people from examining its origins. What battle are we fighting here that we're so desperate to win? What's the worst that will happen if we wear something that's over a year old? What exactly do we get out of stepping on other people's expression for the sake of elevating our own look? Fashion itself doesn't need to be a competition, and it's the act of competition that really seems to bring the worst out of it and us.
We Don't Always Dress for Ourselves
Coco and Creme also ask three excellent questions in their article that are worth repeating to every fashionista in Second Life (and elsewhere):
• Do you genuinely love what you have on or do you just love the attention you receive when you wear it?
• What would you wear if no one (your best friend, boyfriend, etc.) was there to judge your outfit?
• Would it matter to you if no one complimented or even liked your look? If so, why?
I'd add one more: Could you explain to someone else why you're wearing what you're wearing? And no, "because I like it" isn't quite good enough. The ability to approach fashion from a critical and self-aware perspective is vital for a good fashionista, and it's what takes an avatar from being a wireframe hanger to being living art. Since the edgy high fashion look has become more popular in Second Life, I worry that more and more fashionistas are slipping into the trap of dressing for everyone but themselves, either for attention or because they just don't know what else to wear.
My father used to tell me that because I'm relatively tall I wouldn't always be able to find things that I liked and that fit me properly, so I should just deal with whatever was in my size. With the internet this isn't quite true anymore, and it's the same in Second Life. If you look hard enough, almost everything is out there somewhere, so there's really no need to settle on the status quo if it's not what you want in your heart.
Fashion should be an expression. Express yourself, and help your fellow fashionistas do the same.
Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.