Venue dress codes and event entry policies are a murky and complicated area that can be a minefield for venue owners in RL. In a virtual world like Second Life, wherein live large numbers of people who don’t feel any rules apply to them, it can be a quagmire. Dress codes, and their enforcement, are the most common and contentious issue I deal with as a region host and venue owner.
In response to asking people to adhere to dress codes, I have been called – and I quote: a “stupid cunt”, a “fascist”, a “pretentious snob”, and a “worthless bitch”. I have been subject to abusive rants in IM, local chat and group chat – even days after the incident. Some protesters have said that my venue – Basilique – is a “worthless shithole” and that it should “be banned from Second Life”.
This kind of behaviour isn’t only limited to strangers either. I’ve had a DJ quit on me in the middle of a set – and take her friends with her – because I asked one of her friends to conform to the dress code. Her friend refused to comply, asked me to justify my rules, insulted me for not providing a justification that satisfied him, so I ejected him. After a mass exodus led by the DJ, she then wrote a blog post about me and my draconian practices. To be fair, she didn’t name me specifically, so I won’t name her.
I find this conduct shocking, mainly because the enforcement of dress codes in real life (e.g. at school, clubs, workplaces, social occasions, entertainment and religious venues) isn’t usually the kind of issue that inspires passionate and public revolt.
In real life, dress codes are usually followed intuitively. I personally accepted dress codes from the moment I entered school. I wore a uniform for a large proportion of my primary and secondary education. When such explicit rules were not in effect – like when I transferred to state schooling for my senior years – dress codes were unwritten guidelines that were enforced by peer pressure.
Amazingly, I was not creatively stunted as a result.
In workplaces, formality cuts both ways: casual workplace environments, such as tech and creative media, are similarly restrictive in their approaches to dress codes as more traditionally more formal environments like banking or law. And it’s not just white collar office workers; every line worker on a factory shop floor knows who are in management and who are the labourers, based often on the way they are dressed.
In my work life, I’ve worn suits and casual wear, during which I’ve been able to do my job equally well.
We even expect people in certain industries – medicine, police, emergency services, hospitality, military, religious, and public transportation – to wear uniforms. We might even treat non-uniformed staff in these fields with an air of suspicion, even possibly doubting their competence or fitness for their roles.
For more formal occasions, like formal parties or dinners, dress codes are specified and it is rare to see people flagrantly ignoring the expectations of their hosts. Can you imagine a guest arriving at a black tie in jeans, and then refusing to leave citing a personal attack on his personal freedoms? The very idea is comical.
When travelling abroad, most of us at least try to respect local customs of dress – even when they might not align with our personal values or typical dress sense – such as the case might be in places of worship located in hot climates that insist on tourists covering up. If I had objected to putting on the the shoes provided for me at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, or refused to cover my shoulders at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, it would have been entirely my loss, and I’d regret it to this day. People don’t object to these rules in RL; they cover up and get on with it.
Why have dress codes survived in real life? They persist because respecting them signals our want to abide by the norms set by the group with which we wish to engage with at the venue or occasion to which we have been invited.
All of which leads me to ask: Why are dress codes in Second Life met with such a disproportionate amount of vicious antagonism? Why are these rules of dress – to which we are so accustomed to in real life – the focus of such fervent rebellion, leading to protestant cries against restricting creative self-expression?
Is there something about the virtual world that gives rise to such dramatically violent opposition to things we might otherwise accept as utterly basic in real life? I honestly don’t see the point of such indignant and vocal resistance.
When you adhere to a dress code, you are saying: “Thank you for inviting me to your house. I’ll show my gratitude by respecting you as my host and I will honour your expectations of me as your guest.”
Adherence does not imply that you are a sheep, a pawn, have given up your freedom, or are being controlled. It’s just a dress code for a couple of hours, people; it’s not a prison sentence.
Maybe I’m living in a different world. Perhaps my perspective is limited by my admittedly one-sided position as an estate manager? When I think about a region or venue owner in Second Life, perhaps I can too easily put myself in their place and fail to see the other side of the argument?
Take the two familiar proponents of the argument, for example:
On one side, we have someone who has spent time, effort and money in bringing an experience to the public – often entirely for free. They volunteer to organise an event, provide a venue, and even hire talent for the enjoyment of friends and strangers. Once planned, they give their time – again freely – to welcome people they don’t even know to a party, whilst encouraging them to enjoy themselves as long as the event continues.
On the other side, we have the dress-code violating guest who, to paraphrase Shaw, acts the part of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making them happy.
How dare the event host expect the guests to adhere to their rules and guidelines, one of which happens to be a dress code? How presumptuous of them to expect their guest to go to such herculean efforts like reading a notecard, or opening their outfits window, and clicking one of the options?
The scales are so one-sided on the side of the sim owner, it’s enough to make me wonder why I feel the need to write this post at at all.
On one hand, owners and hosts want to make people feel welcome and have an enjoyable experience at their venue or place. On the other hand, they want to create and keep up an atmosphere that enhances (or at least does not detract) from the intended experience they aim to offer.
In my opinion, the way people dress in a place or at an event is just as contributive to the experience as the host’s choice of theme, decor, music and activities.
For example, if I seek to create an elegant atmosphere – like a formal party accompanied with classical music and dancing, a guest showing up in torn jeans, or a latex miniskirt, wearing a t-shirt and trainers (sneakers) detracts from the immersiveness and coherency of the atmosphere I am aiming to create.
Similarly, if I am hosting an informal beach party, someone showing up in a Barney costume, when everyone else is dressed in active or swim wear, serves to disrupt the mood and coherency of the scene.
When I’ve gone to great lengths in assembling decor and a windlight that creates a feeling that one is in a modern night club, and someone walks in wearing three face lights that amount to the brilliant light that emanates from a thousand suns – I think it’s fair to ask them to take it off so that my guests don’t feel like they’re having their corneas melt down their cheeks.
Venues and regions in Second Life vary considerably in their dress code expectations. Some owners couldn’t care less what a visitor wears – which is what I refer to as the ‘come as you are’ dress code. That’s totally fine, if that’s what people want, and there are a multitude of places where one can literally dress however one wants.
Owners that are keen to promote role play in their regions will insist that you dress in character. Owners of naturist regions in Second Life demand full nudity within minutes of arrival. Formal ballroom owners expect their visitors to dress formally when enjoying their venues. It’s not as if dress codes in Second Life are a foreign concept that we’ve never seen before.
Still, in my experience, people view dress codes – and their relationship with a group or region – on a continuum that ranges from apathetic to committed:
- Apathetic. People with this view, might be genuinely surprised that a dress code exists (often because they don’t take the time to read signs or notices). When asked to conform to a dress code, they are likely to leave quietly because changing is either ‘too much effort’ or because they don’t have the required dress in their inventory.
- Disgruntled. People with this view may not be aware of dress codes, but will complain when asked to conform. They will rebel against rules, will sometimes question them, and at times vociferously complain about them either privately or publicly. Often, their defensiveness can become personal and abusive, where they might refer to your rules as ‘stupid’, ‘fascist’ or worse.
- Obedient. People with this view grudgingly conform to dress codes because they place higher value attending your event or visiting your place, or because they are compelled to fit in.
- Motivated. People with this view ask about dress codes in advance, and conform to them to follow the rules. They are typically new or somewhat on the outside of the group, and might be motivated to become more involved and accepted by the groups members.
- Loyal. People with this view have an interest in perpetuating the group’s rules and values, without necessarily being part of the official structure. They will not only conform to the dress code, they will often help others in following it too. They appreciate the immersive value that dress codes can give. They don’t see rules as a personal attack on their freedom, but rather a limit in which they can be creative, that serves a greater good for retaining the integrity of the experience they seek.
- Committed. People with this view, either officially or unofficially, help enforce the dress codes. Appreciating the value of such rules, they will alert violators when the dress codes is being contravened, help them to conform, and if that is unsuccessful, they will alert you to take remedial action.
Setting a dress code is pointless unless you are ready to enforce it, and that’s when things can get really silly. What kinds of actions do land and club owners / managers take to deal with dress code violations?
They might, as I do, attempt to clearly tell people about the dress code before they arrive. I do this by including a note of it in my notices, and placing signs near my venue’s entrance.
Many people, when inviting friends to events will teleport them directly to the middle of the venue – without advising them of the dress code. Understandably, these hapless newcomers end up violating the dress code without even knowing they are doing so. Unfortunately, no notice or sign is be able to pre-warn them of the requirement, so the typical conversation must begin. I find that most of these visitors respond apathetically, and will leave. That’s perfectly fine. Some, however, respond in a disgruntled way, which I don’t understand at all. A minority of these visitors will respond with grudging obedience.
If signs and notices are either ignored or unseen, evidenced by a lack of compliance, I will ask people to change into the proper dress code and send them a graphic or notecard that explains it. I also often give them a landmark to a nearby place where they can change in privacy, if they wish.
If they don’t comply with that polite ask, I will ask violators to leave the area or the event. I find that this kind of request is most effective in IM, because people can become defensive in local.
If my IM is ignored (which is often the case), I will tell them to read their IM, in local chat. If that still does not work, then I will eject them. In the case of severe verbal backlash – or repeat offences – I will ban them.
All of this takes time and energy that I’d rather spend in enjoying the event and time with my guests – but I appreciate that this is part of the route I’ve chosen when I host events.
As I noted earlier, this approach engenders all sorts of abusive and retaliatory responses. Sometimes, I’ll wait and wait and wait, before I ask someone to change – often out of avoidance at the rudeness I’ll be subjected to. Most of the time, when the abuse comes, I will take it in stride. At other times, I’ll admit that I just get tired of the tediousness of it.
I don’t even need dress code violators to agree with me. My place, the experiences I host are not for everyone. Should that be the case, just leaving quietly would be more than welcomed.
If the shoe was on the other foot, and I was a guest in someone else’s region or event, and I was faced with conforming to a dress code that I felt violated my personal values or caused me distress, I’d just excuse myself quietly, and leave.
It’s that simple.
I wouldn’t imagine disagreeing with the host (how could I possibly expect that to have any effect?). I wouldn’t try to persuade anyone else to collude with me in boycotting the venue on the basis of their rules. Not in a million years would I fire off derogatory remarks or abusive vitriol towards them and their establishment because they didn’t bend over backwards to change their world just to satisfy my personal whim.
It just seems like reasonable, mature, and adult behaviour to me. Yet, dress code protestations happen at least once, at every single event. Am I expecting too much, or am I missing something?
Please world, enlighten me with your views?