Holy transcoding, Lev! One of the interesting recent developments in Second Life fashion is the increasing extent to which programming and automation are a part of virtual dress-up. An interesting example of this is a line of clothing from one of Second Life’s greatest and oldest design houses: PixelDolls. What initially caught my attention was the following ad:
As I research Second Life fashion, one feature I’m always on the watch for is the language or even cultural logic of technology showing up in unexpected ways, and this sign really grabbed my attention. In plain English, it says that the skirt comes with an HUD (heads-up-display) that enables the user to change the color and fabric of her clothing while she is wearing it. According to the Universal Font of All Knowledge, an HUD is an interface or data display that doesn’t obstruct a user’s view; HUDs were originally developed for military aircraft and later became a common metaphor for first-person shooter video games. Here’s how it works:
Here I am standing in the skirt against a white background. At the right of the screen are two HUDs. The lower one controls my body’s poses and animations, e.g., how I sit and my gait when walking. the one near the top controls the skirt. It features several fabric previews. Clicking one of these previews instantly changes the color and/or fabric (i.e., texture) of my skirt. Here I am in all my fabulousness.
There are a couple reasons why this development is worthy of comment. First, this paradigm does not match our real life mental models of clothes. If I want to change the color of my clothes, I have to change into other clothes. Historically, fashion designers in Second Life have sold multiple color variants of the same garment separately: buy this red shirt for 50 cents, blue for 50 cents, etc., or buy all six colors for $2 (in what’s called a “fat pack,” an unfortunate name for women’s clothing if I ever heard one). In your inventory, you would end up with 6 shirts in your inventory, and if you wanted to change them, you’d have to dig around your inventory and drag it onto your avatar, to replace the one you were wearing. Abstractly, this process mirrors real life, except that we use closets, not Windows-Explorer-like inventory systems, and our closets don’t (typically) have thousands of garments in them.
The second significance, related to the first, is that usability is transforming the way clothes are made, sold, stored, and worn/used. This system is, at least superficially, far more usable than the old way. Interaction design is asserting itself to replace the more literal translations of real-life to Second Life fashion that preceded it. I know in real-life wearable computing that some researchers are exploring fabrics that can change color, and one wonders if Second Life here is a prototype of future fashion.
Finally, I said “at least superficially” more usable in the previous paragraph, because as a user, I still have a concern about this strategy. The HUD only works for this skirt. I bought a pair of matching trimmed heels (pictured below; don’t hate me because I’m beautiful) from the same store display, and they came with their own HUD.
If we extend this logic forward, for every multi-use garment we wear, we’ll have a separate HUD. And HUDs are as much of a pain to manage as garments, perhaps more so, because they are more abstract and interactive than clothes are. Thus, we could go from managing too many clothes to managing too many HUDs.
This HUD-based approach to handling clothing variation is an interesting development, because it has interesting implications for virtual fashion and real-life fashion and wearable computing in the future, but it can’t be the right answer. HUDs will have to become more flexible, more interoperable–in short, they’ll have to become clothing management applications–if they are truly to get the job done.