This week I engaged in a ritual that I perform every couple years or so: paging through the September issue of Vogue. The US 2015 edition is over 800 pages of fantasy, fashion, and fugly. It got me thinking about how I engage with fashion in both the real and virtual worlds. Fashion is a spectator sport for me, so I’m trying to stay with my own perceptions and behavior and not generalize.
I’m certainly not a fashionista. I watch Project Runway and I’ll visit a fashion website now and then, but I don’t participate in fashion. I wear clothes. If I had it my way, my uniform would be comfy pants, flat shoes or boots, a tunic, and a blazer or hoodie every day: easy and flexible. My figure is plus-sized and I hate most plus-sized stores with a deep and abiding passion. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a simple white shirt if you need it in a bigger size? Places like Lane Bryant seem to think that making the shirt out of a thin and clingy fabric, adding flowing sleeves, sheer panels, a plunging neckline, or tacky embroidery is the way to go. That’s why most of my new clothes this year came from eShakti, where the clothing is made to my measurements and I can often customize the neckline or sleeves, too. [If you want to give them a try, this eShakti link will give you $40 off your first order and may give me a credit as well.] I’m not saying they’re perfect, but the cotton shirts, tunics, and dresses I’ve gotten from them are among my favorites.
Also, I admire shoes with heels but never wear them anymore. I keep going between love and hate about the Ferragamo shoes in the photo above, which is from an ad in the September Vogue. Hmm. I love boots. Maybe it’s the ’90s girl in me: I still own my first pair of Doc Martens and think that sturdy boots are appropriate footwear with almost anything, from jeans to gowns. It amuses me when another woman says she likes my shoes, which happened to me in physical therapy this week. My shoes might sometimes be cute, but first and foremost, they’re always comfortable. (In this case, it was just a pair of Skecher’s GOwalks — slip-on walking shoes that held up to heavy use on European cobblestones.)
I’m much more adventurous with fashion in virtual life. My Second Life life avatars have distinctive styles that allow me to play around with different looks while remaining true to the “personality” of each one. Kay is a tall, thin ice blonde and tends to dress in elegant or businesslike clothing. My first avatar is smaller and rounder; she has a lot of cute or feminine looks. My other female alt tends to dress futuristic or goth, while my male alt wears whatever I can find cheaply, because I only sign him on when I need him for a photo. While I tend to use a human avatar and dress in relatively conventional ways in SL, I appreciate the freedom to go outside of those boundaries, too.
In a virtual world I can play with fashion because the hassle and investment are so much lower. Finding clothes that fit is easy because I can change my avatar’s shape with a few clicks. No such luck if something is too tight in the physical world! New hairstyles and makeup are even easier. I can walk and run on any surface in the highest virtual heels. A new outfit costs pennies and my closet space — my digital inventory — is almost limitless. It’s much easier to find new looks, too. Shopping in the real world is something I dread, and when I need to buy a particular outfit, like a dress to attend a wedding, I know that I’ll tromp from store to store getting hot, tired, frustrated, and full of self-loathing. In SL I can go to the latest fair, fashion event, or runway show and see plenty of new items that will fit perfectly. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of SL fashion blogs to visit for styling tips and pointers to exciting items, too. I don’t have favorites that I visit regularly, but feel free to share yours in a comment.
I’m often amazed at the skill of designers in SL, whether they’re creating items that could translate in the real world or things that are complete fantasy. I know that some designers have tried to bridge the divide and launch their products in the physical world as well, but I don’t know of any who have had success. (Again, if you can fill in that blank, please leave a comment!) In virtual space they escape some constraints, but they need to be technologists as well as artists.
Fashion is also an issue in the MMORPGs I’ve played. Not so much for me in ArcheAge, because I stick to myself, though I’m hoping to get a costume in the anniversary event so that I can hide my unimpressive armor. When I played Perfect World International and was active in a guild, it felt important to have the latest fashion items, dyed to the color I usually wore and mixed and matched in interesting ways. Fashion played a role in the social life there, just as I see people comparing and envying costumes in ArcheAge chat. Fashion is usually a money maker for the game company, or at least a way to drain some of the in-world currency out of circulation, so it has a strategic place for them as well.
As I’m in my mid-40s, I doubt I’ll start taking a serious interest in real world fashion if I haven’t by now. Since I appreciate the artistry of it, I’m glad I have virtual space to play around and try things without sacrificing practicality and comfort, even if I don’t get to wear any of the gorgeous things my avatars can.