Clothing: The Resurgence of Texture

It’s been quite a long time since I blogged about the state of the clothing market. It was back in January 2014 in fact.

Back then I predicted that clothing would get ever more difficult to make and that more and more clothes would end up being made by fewer and fewer designers, and that we’d get a stagnation of the clothing market. However, when I wrote that, Fitted Mesh was in its infancy and it was unclear where it would go. And where it went was Mesh bodies. Of course this is probably not news to you as Mesh bodies have been ‘mainstream’ for over a year, apparently. I say ‘apparently’ as I haven’t been very active on SL for the past year so I am playing catch-up.

As you are probably aware, there are now a number of competing Fitted Mesh bodies available from designers like SLink, Maitreya, TMP (The Mesh Project), Belleza, and the like. A Fitted Mesh body is essentially a bodysuit that completely replaces your body (which is now being referred to as ‘Classic body’) by using an Alpha Mask to make your Classic body invisible from the neck down. Unlike with Rigged Mesh, the Fitted Mesh responds to the sliders for modifying your body (no more “standard sizes”), which in theory should mean that you still have full control over your shape and look. However, it is of much higher quality and much more realistic than the Classic body shape. In short, it is what Linden Lab should have done themselves with the Classic body.

Mesh clothing compatible with these bodies is available, and older Rigged Mesh clothing will still fit, albeit with some tweaking and the use of additional alpha masks to mask off parts of the Mesh body. How this is achieved varies by body, and some are more clunky than others. I’ll leave it up to you to research further.

For tattoos, skins, and indeed any other texture (which of course includes System Clothing textures), the designer has to  provide an “applier” that is compatible with the Mesh body. An applier is essentially a script that tells the Mesh body how to paint the texture onto it. You’re probably no stranger to appliers if you have used Phat Az, Lola’s Tango and other body modifications that pre-date Fitted Mesh.

Without an applier, the texture will be worn by the Classic body which of course is hidden when you are wearing a Mesh body.

There is an applier specific to each designer’s body, but there is also an ‘Omega’ applier system which is a universal (and free) system understood by many Mesh bodies. If your body is Omega compatible (many are, with the exception of a few such as TMP and SLink Physique) you can use Omega appliers on your body.

So, with all that background information out of the way, it is time to talk about the actual subject of this post. Which, ironically, will take far fewer words to achieve than the preamble.

I recently made friends with someone and she was showing me some of her outfits, and I noticed that some of her clothes were what only a few years ago would have been dismissed as rather out-dated pre-Mesh texture clothing. Only she had fairly recently bought them because they looked ok to her, but crucially had appliers for her Mesh body.

And this got me thinking about my old post where I said that texture-only clothing designers were being left behind. Suddenly this is no longer the case. All a texture-only designer needs to do now to bring their clothing to a whole new audience is to master the ability to provide appliers. From what I can see, this is fairly straightforward and is certainly way easier than making Rigged Mesh.

My personal feelings on texture-only clothing haven’t really changed – I still think it is immensely hard to make it look realistic and even harder to give the impression of 3D shapes with only a 2D texture – and this is never more the case than with things like buckles, clasps, and the like. These will always look better implemented in a 3D medium such as prims or sculpts (in the past) and Mesh (now), but as I have previously pointed out this is much, much harder to achieve. However, traditional 2D texture clothing applied to a Mesh body certainly looks better than when applied to a Classic body – there is less of that awful distortion and glitching that really ruin it, and it definitely gives it a new lease of life to the extent that you could feel happy to wear it.

So, in summary, I think that the clothing market may have opened up somewhat because right now there is a big demand for reasonably-priced texture-only clothing that can be applied to a Mesh body. And, furthermore, texture clothing simply looks better on a Mesh body than on a Classic body to the extent that it is acceptable to wear again.

Maybe there is a place for the small hobbyist designer making texture-only clothing after all. And that has to be a good thing, because the vitality of Second Life depends on user-generated content.

Edit: Just to clarify, the creator of texture clothing must produce an Applier for you. There is currently no way of simply applying existing texture clothing to your mesh body, so unless the creator of your old pre-mesh texture clothing makes an Applier available, you’re out of luck.

Further reading

WARNING: Many of the these links contain digital nudity and are NSFW.……

Stratification in the clothing market

Whilst shopping lately, I’m increasingly seeing what seems to be the same dresses being sold at various different shops. This is not reselling, but a case of designers buying in meshes from third parties.

This is not a new phenomenon, of course. In the past designers often bought full permission sculpts for use in their products, but it was less noticeable as using a sculpt here and a sculpt there is more finely grained; it still creates an overall unique product. In other words, two outfits using the same sculpts might look radically different, because you don’t notice the common sculpts so much, or the designers may be using them in different ways, with different placements, sizing, and the like. They may even be using different permutations of several sculpts from different creators. The overall look is therefore completely different, and the end result unique to that brand. By contrast, a mesh for a dress is entirely monolithic which gives rise to the situation where several clothing brands appear to be selling the same dress.

Ladder of Complexity

Ladder of Complexity

Clothing has gone through quite an evolution over the life of Second Life. From the original “slider clothing” (a.k.a. “system clothing”) with or without user-created textures, through to texture  + prim, texture + flexiprim, texture + sculpts, texture + unrigged mesh, and finally to rigged mesh. At each step in this evolution, the bar for entry to the next level has been raised. Also, from sculpts onwards, they require external software for creation which has its own (often steep) learning curve.

Often, a designer may find they have insufficient skill (and/or time, motivation, commitment or, indeed, ability) to move up to the next level, and can sometimes buy in the 3D models (ie. sculpts or mesh) and texture them into full products. The reason is that in some cases others may have the skill to create the 3D models but not the inclination to make them into products and have the hassle of selling to Residents. In some ways this is roughly analogous to Retailers and Wholesalers in Real Life.

As each level of the ladder gets harder and harder to reach, so the number of people reaching it falls, and so the probability of those people selling their creations to designers lower down the ladder rises (since there is an increasing demand). Or, to put it another way, there is a very small pool of people creating rigged meshes, and from that pool some are keeping them unique to their clothing brand, and others are selling them for other designers to use. And that is why we are seeing many brands selling the same clothes (or appearing to), since not only is their choice more limited but the very nature of rigged mesh means the clothing is more obviously the same (as I mentioned earlier on).

The net effect of the above is that we are seeing a stratification of the clothing market in Second Life, with the “top tier” of brands being created by very talented people who can create 3D models (ie. mesh clothing), rig it to become rigged mesh, skilfully texture it, and then sell it to ordinary people like you or I. The “second tier” are the designers who are unable to create their own rigged meshes and must buy them in, thus running the very real risk that some of their clothes will be extremely similar, if not identical, to those of other brands.

Further on down the ladder, the hobbyists of old who would dabble with prims in-world and with simple textures created with the aid of clothing templates, are increasingly finding that their efforts look unsatisfactory compared to the top designers. They are either having to make their clothing very cheap to compensate, and find themselves unable to afford the rent on their shops, or else are giving up, disheartened. Neither scenario can be good for the long-term health of Second Life.

Nor is this situation looking likely to improve. As mentioned in my previous blog entry, Linden Lab have decided to go down the path of using collision bones for their Fitted Mesh project. Whilst this is a technically simpler and, some may say, more elegant solution to mesh clothing deformation, it makes the task of rigging mesh even harder for content creators, thus making that top rung of the ladder even harder to reach.

I’m not sure where this state of affairs will take Second Life, but I do believe that warning alarms should be ringing somewhere. By making content harder and harder to create, so less and less is going to be created. Not only that, but people who may have found Engagement in Second Life through content creation might decide it is not worth it and instead drift away. However, having said that, I do acknowledge that we need to move forward and people are expecting ever more complex and realistic-looking technologies which, by their nature, are harder and more complex to create. But that doesn’t necessarily negate my point.

So, anyway, those are my thoughts on this. They’re only my opinion, so please feel free to comment below with yours.