People who know how I dress would probably refuse to believe this, but I am a regular reader of the fashion pages in the newspaper, especially when there is some big event like London Fashion Week on. I don’t update my own style, such as it is, with any great frequency – an observer with only my wardrobe to go by would conclude that there had been no major developments in male couture since Richard Hell started wearing ripped T-shirts in 1976 – but I do like to keep in touch with the latest trends, so that when I meet someone new I can judge how much of a fashion victim they are.
LFW has of course been overshadowed this year by the death of Alexander McQueen. Fashion is by its nature ephemeral, but there is no doubt that McQueen was one of those designers who deserves to be thought of as a serious artist, and whose influence on popular culture went far beyond the catwalk. The tragic circumstances of his passing, with so much of his career still in front of him, only adds to the feeling that the world has lost a major talent.
Anyway, I mention this because I was reading an article about Swedish designer Ann-Sofie Back’s new collection, which apparently has been inspired by her experience working as a stripper in Second Life. Interestingly, she doesn’t seem to rate SL, or the virtual fashion industry, very highly, describing it thus: “Second Life is quite a shitty, slow game where nothing much happens, but people do make an effort with clothes, hair and make-up. The weird thing is, you have the chance to really create something fantastic – you know, with rabbit ears or you could be green. But most people want to look like Katie Price and Peter Andre, and wear clothes like people on Big Brother. It’s even more conformist than real life.”
I won’t pretend that I know enough about the SL fashion scene to say whether or not Ms Back’s opinion is accurate, though my limited observation has made me think that there is quite a degree of conservatism operating, with most of the items available being a variation on a few themes, so she may well be on to something.
The assertion that SL in general is essentially conventional does seem more counter-intuitive, when one thinks of the myriad of character types one meets around the grid. Sometimes outward rebelliousness masks inner conformity though, and the rules governing a subculture can be as rigid as any in more mainstream society. Someone needs to do some anthropological work among SL‘s Furries or Tinys or Vampires or whatever to see if this is the case.
Considering all this has led me to reflect on the way I have been leading my virtual existence, on the grid and in this blog, and how much I have used SL to break with convention and explore facets of my personality that I normally keep hidden. Sadly, I must admit that I haven’t really taken up the opportunity to reinvent myself to any great extent. My avatar looks pretty much like I do (or did 20 years ago at least), and my activity is a similarly unadventurous echo of the ineffectual political agitation and low-powered cultural and psychological rumination that passes for my day to day intellectual life.
You may think that the fact that, faced with the limitless possiblities for self-expression offered by Second Life, I have chosen to create an alter-ego that is at most a slightly polished version of my real self, is a sign that I have a dreadful lack of imagination, and you may well be right. I however prefer to recall the research in this area which suggests that it is the people with the lowest self-esteem who are most likely to idealise their virtual existence, and to conclude that my rather boring cyber-identity proves that I must be supremely well-actualised in real life, and that my personality has only a little room for improvement.
And talking of Richard Hell…