The Clothes Make the Avatar

It often makes sense for an establishment to introduce a standard of dress for the people housed within its walls. Bars and clothing retailers can gently nudge patrons in the direction of their preferred aesthetic by dressing their employees in the clothes that customers should aspire to. Meanwhile, other institutions strictly enforce a dress code and block people at the door who might break it. Some policies are enacted for thought-related and behavioral restrictions, such as Religious buildings that insist on head coverings, sleeves, and an adequate skirt length, while other policies are given to promote group cohesion as with sports teams, and salarymen. On a darker note, forcing people into one type of clothing can lead to the deindividuation , as with soldiers and prisoners, whereby one’s identity is lessened, if not struck out completely, and people in these clothes more often fulfill the characteristics with which their clothes are associated.

T-Shirts Banned by one or another US School

Enclothed Cognition is a psychological term for the effect clothes have on our mindset and, thereby, our behavior. It is commonly known that a non-doctor dressing in a lab coat will perform better than someone wearing everyday clothes in memory tasks and exams. There are schools which have even encouraged students to wear “thinking jackets” to help improve performance during examinations. While the effect clothes have on the individual may be internal, it tends to be reinforced by the people and company around us who initially judge us based on our manner of dress. This is why we dress up for job interviews and companies like Omega will pay to have a watch featured in a 007 film. Our clothes, in a sense, define us individually and collectively.

Animation Studying Performance of Lab Coats vs Painter’s Smocks (Animation by David McRaney, Plus3Video)

As marketing branches into Virtual Reality where brands are experienced from a first-person perspective, developers cannot neglect the viewer’s avatar and how it’s presented. Creating an experience in the promotion of one’s brand may fail to impact an audience if from that perspective the user is a disembodied phantasm. Looking down and not seeing one’s feet is reported as disconcerting by some viewers while also giving a feeling of absence which may close them off from relating to a brand. Unfortunately, bodies are challenging for VR representation since there are many body types to consider. Being corporeal is only step one.

The next step may be giving consumers group representation through their avatar’s clothing. Successful brands know who their customers are and seek to know more about them. If they’re likely to be fashion forward or conservatively dressed, casual or formal, it’s important to project that image in the avatar’s attire. Likewise, the location of a VR experience must be appropriate for the clothing. You may be promoting a car model or travel destination and wearing the wrong clothes for that environment will distance viewers from the experience and the brand.

From Project Sansar, Exhibition of Clothing design

In the world of SocialVR, people are now able to design their own outfits, which may be worn or sold on the in-game marketplace, a practice that drew many people to virtual worlds in years past. Project Sansar has integrated with Marvelous Designer to bring fully customizable clothing from which they may profit socially and financially. Where the goal of a platform is lifelike self-expression, how your avatar is allowed to dress is of key importance. People may distinguish themselves from the stock clothing initially available to them and show an increased level of commitment to the platform by putting effort into the clothes they wear. Real-world brands and designers will also have the chance to self-promote by uploading virtual goods to the SocialVR platforms. There were some clumsy, unsuccessful attempts were made in non-VR virtual worlds, so brands must learn from this object lesson and give virtual goods the same attention to detail that’s expected from real-world products.

Me in Rec Room (Left) Laser Tag Ticket Counter (Right)

An alternate approach to clothing acquisition exists on Rec Room, where items of clothing and the size of your wardrobe correlate to the amount of time spent on the SocialVR platform and your accomplishments as a member. When signing into Rec Room the first time per day, you are gifted with a box containing a random piece of clothing or sports gear. Additional boxes are sometimes given when completing one of their games and it happens despite your level of performance. Meanwhile, there are items that are not given randomly, but merit-based, earned through in-game achievements. Completing one of the quests will grant you clothes or accessories befitting the aesthetic of that game (such as a quiver in a medieval adventure) and, more recently, playing Laser Tag will earn you tickets that can be spent on futuristic accessories (such as a red illuminated power glove). In this regard, clothing in Rec Room tells the story of your experiences in the platform because they are awarded, never bought or traded. They are a symbol of the users’ taste in games and their ability to succeed.

Wave-Shaped Clothes Rails from Dezeen

Consciously or no, clothes have an effect on the character and abilities of the people wearing them. Therefore, designers should dress people in clothes that offer the fullest expression of themselves. This will allow people to relate more closely to the experience and respond with loyalty to the brand or VR platform that allowed for this expression. Even in VR, with cloth draped over our bodies and limbs, we want to look down and with admiration recognize ourselves in the avatars we inhabit.

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Lance G Powell Jr

Graduate of Cognitive Science, SocialVR Researcher/Designer/Enthusiast. Also, a Writer of Books and Father of One.