Enforcing and protesting against dress codes in Second Life

Basilique Ball - VII - Becky & Brixton
Basilique Ball – VII – Becky & Brixton, by Caitlin Tobias

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.

DJ Ylva kickin' it at Bar Moderna
DJ Ylva kickin’ it at Bar Moderna, by Tem Haalan

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.
Basilique - Bar Moderna - Pepys and Bunjie
Basilique – Bar Moderna – Pepys and Bunjie, by Caitlin Tobias

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?

23 thoughts on “Enforcing and protesting against dress codes in Second Life

  1. I do try to follow the dress code when i see it required.
    Still i wonder if for one to follow it, a venue should not offer at least a free full outfit, when required, as many can not have them on their inventory and will not feel inclined to spend money on that.
    Besides im much more shocked when i do see hosts or owners, wearing 2008 outifts and still using invisible prims on their shoes.
    That is some i wish, all venues could prevent, by offering alphas, and notecards to point how invisible prims look horrid when someone is with Alm on.


    1. My initial reaction to your comment was: “Provide free outfits? So, on top of tier, venue, decor, entertainment, and marketing cost, as the host, I am also expected to provide outfits for my guests? How entitled and lazy can people be? While I’m at it, maybe I should pay them for their time while they attend my party too?”

      I then considered the RL occasions in which outfits are provided, and I thought of the following examples:

      1. In workplaces, uniforms are often provided at no cost, though I can understand that because if I want you to look like every other airline attendant on my airline, then it makes sense that I control what you wear by providing it for you – furthermore, it’s not like these uniforms are available on the market somewhere. The same would work in SL. For example, in my theatre productions, I pay for all of the costumes, including essentials like shapes and skins.

      2. In schools, parents are expected to purchase uniforms for their children to wear (at no small cost, I should add). While it’s debatable who’s responsibility it is to pay for it, I suppose it’s understandable, if you lump it in the category of school supplies. Also consider the fact that childrens’ bodies are changing so much in those years that to expect the school to cover costs would be unreasonable; so, I can see why parents are expected to pay.

      3. In wedding parties, it is customary for the members to pay their own way when it comes to clothing – the women buy their dresses and the men rent their formalwear. And these things are usually worn once.

      4. At public places like Wat Phra Kau, I paid a small token to wear the sandals they provided. At St. Peter’s, no such provisions were made, and it was up to me to dress appropriately. In SL, I provided attendees to Paradise Lost with a free mesh angel/devil avatar (that cost me 20,000 L$ to have custom made), so they could be part of the performance.

      When I think about parties; however, I do not agree that I should also be expected to outfit my guests, in addition to serving up every other convenience. If so, I honestly believe they should go elsewhere – like home, to their mothers.

      I know some role play sims provide basic starter outfits; but that is again when basics (like period costumes) will do. I seriously doubt that every woman at a cocktail party wants to wear the one cocktail dress I might provide – I suspect I’d have zero takers. Part of the point, when going to a party, is the activity involved in dressing up for it. This isn’t kindergarten where one’s carers might change your trousers if you have an accident, it’s an adult cocktail party.

      So, after consideration, I am sticking to my original reaction: This sense of effortless entitlement has to end somewhere. Since when are hosts in RL expected pay for their guests attire? Sorry, that’s just not working for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well i would like to point that Sl can be but not always a extension of our rl life. But i do understand and abide by the rules of a hosted event and if it says formal attire ill use one, there quite a few free ones on marketplace and not old, so it will be not for the price one does not comply,

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m baffled as to why anyone would throw the toys out of the pram in such a manner regarding dress code. I don’t slavishly follow the fashion boards, but routinely have managed to pick up some lovely freebies as my SL progresses. I find it’s part of the fun to say ‘I’m going to Frank’s Jazz tonight’ and then search for freebies, or old inventory items, and see what looks the part, or is ‘new’ for the occasion, even if it’s five years old.

    Frank’s offer a freebie ballgown at the door, but none of us would want the fashion faux-pas of turning up in the same dress as someone else.Thus, the fun of the hunt, around current freebies, or through inventory, commences!

    Quite how some avatars appear oblivious to the existence of places like ‘Fab Free’ (where you can almost certainly pick up an outfit for any occasion) 3-4 or more years into their SL is beyond me.

    Don’t even get me started on the wide range of freebies available as !Soul!, at Allure and at Ydea, all of which I’ve snagged in recent weeks.

    It’s easy, it’s fun, and doesn’t require a lot of rudeness or drama to comply with any location’s dress code.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for you comment Ella. I remember a very long time ago, when I first considered going to naturist sims. It took me forever to buy a membership to Wild Coast, for instance, because I was a bit anxious about being fully naked in public. While I didn’t fully understand why one couldn’t just wear bottoms at the time, I still respected the sim’s rules, and gradually became more and more comfortable there – when I realised that whilst being nude in public wasn’t altogether natural for me at the time, it was something worth trying, and I got used to it. If I’d just decided that I’d never comply, I’d have missed out on many happy experiences at these places, and in meeting many great friends too. Sad how one’s knee jerk reactions and resistance to conformity can really limit one’s potential.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly so, Becky. I’ve never quite understood ‘furries’, petites, or Nekos. But why get into a strop over it? Plenty of people enjoy that, and it’s not for me to criticise. If YOU want to have a dress code within your own sims, it’s not for others to act stupid over it.

        I want to see sims with a dress code continuity. Keep it real, keep it consistent. And if you don’t like it…go elsewhere and don’t make a song and dance about it.

        Caitlin Tobias (Caity) appears to be equally appalled at the way people simply don’t wish to conform on her blog too. All any of us ask is that the dress code enhances the reality experience. I’m pleased that you were able to report that you stood your ground over this matter. 🙂


        Liked by 1 person

  3. The only time I have an issue with Dress codes in Sl is when they insist on everyone being Human, as I am a fur. But on those rare sims, I do not curse and rant and kick up a fuss. I simply leave quietly after reading the sim rules. or slap on the ooc tag if that is what is asked of me in order to not change a fundamental part of my SL persona. Clothing, pffft, I love dressing in theme to the sim! I just do it as an anthropomorphic fairy cat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to say that Basilique (my sim) is one of those rare sims. It’s not that I have anything against anthropomorphic animals or furs though. Honestly, I have nothing against anyone who wants to live SL in the way they want to live it. I’m sure you’ve not taken it personally, but perhaps this might help towards understanding why we do it. Personally, as I can’t speak for other sim owners, I am aiming for as much immersion as possible for my target visitor (humans being humans). Immersion is greatly influenced by others present, and we feel a place is more ‘real’ when we see people that look like we expect in the place, doing the things we expect. Tell me, how do you experience immersion? Is it your aim? Having never spent time in SL as a non-human, I imagine our experiences to be quite different? Do furs what the same thing? Or is environmental cohesiveness not important? I’m truly curious 🙂


  4. In everyone’s inventory there is a LIBRARY that provides free clothing. The best bet is to point the guest who say they have “nothing to wear” to an appropriate item that they can wear, and the list is pretty nice.

    As for the beam in by friends, its a simple thing to have a fixed landing point where everyone , regardless of who is teleporting the people into the venue will end up. Door mat greeters (multi language) can give a note card that opens up saying “we have a dress code, this is what it is (image) if you do not have this item please find it in your inventory library under – (name)

    I totally agree with you on how people don’t seem to believe the rules apply to them. Your better bet, and less stress , is to appoint someone to be a bouncer, not you the hostess, but someone else who will take the time to calmly discuss what is going on with the person , leaving you to take care of your guests. I have had people go into my private home, drag out their sex toys and think nothing of having sex in a pg region, and then yell at me because I was “intolerant” and ruined their SL experience. Clorox can not scrub my eyes enough .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really good point about the Library, I always forget about that – and I’ll remember to point it out next time. Also, your point about bouncers – I’m seriously considering this. I need to find a nice – but firm – man or woman who can support me in this, as it’s becoming too much to handle mainly on my own. Thanks for your advice and support.


  5. I have always felt rules of any kind on sims, from dress code to language use, fall under the line ‘owner pays the tier / rent, owner makes the rules’. If someone doesn’t like a dress code for an area, just don’t go there. Simple.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So agree. I wonder when I realised that everything in SL was made or paid for by someone else? I think it took a while. To be fair, many people who come to SL think it’s like a video game, and that none of it belongs to anybody – so it’s like a public playground that they can do whatever they please in. I think I have to remember to remind (or instruct) people about what you and I now see as completely obvious.


  6. “Given the opportunity, the natural inclination is to do what you can get away with doing. It requires a conscious choice to be a person of integrity in an environment that makes being anything you want to be, so very easy.” KZ 2010

    I have observed that some people tend to shed parts of their learned humanity when they log in to a virtual world and discover the freedom of cyber anonymity. Rather than build a character for their avatar that explores and expands positive attributes, they revert to a shallow childish immaturity reminiscent of playground antics.

    Having witnessed some of the incidents to which you have referred in this blog post, I can only say you have exhibited a mature self restraint that typifies the type person with whom I choose to associate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Kerena. On that note, I hate it when I lose my cool (and I have – in RL, without necessarily showing it in SL) because it really is pointless. I think what you’re saying is true – we all have a choice to act as we like – even moreso in a virtual environment like SL. I’ve not thought of it exactly in that way before, and now have even more respect for those who choose to do the right thing – even when ‘no one is looking’.


  7. Hi Becky,

    I have thought a bit about this, as I am aware of at least one of the occasions you mentioned. I find myself in uncomfortable agreement with much of what you say (uncomfortable because as you know I am partnered to the DJ you mentioned :)).

    Much of the comment above are things I agree with too, however they are really talking about the availability of appropriate clothing and about making choices regarding clothing prior to entry. I suspect once you have people being confronted inside a club, the availability of clothing is rather moot. Do I think then behaving aggressively or rudely should be tolerated? Certainly not!

    There are many venues or sims where there are dress or undress codes enforced, and in most cases, just like you have done, the dress code is stated up front. But in most cases that is also the landing point for the venue or event and it is not possible to bypass that (or so I understand).

    I think in cases where it is possible to tp people directly to a location inside the venue and bypass the dress code notices it sets up the possibility for this inadvertent rule breaking and then the whole subsequent dialogue where you have to advise and can get some people feeling harassed and making inappropriate comments to you, and forcing you to take action (none of which is pleasant and I think its sad that that happens as often as you imply that it does).

    There is some tension here between the desire to get people into the venue, and the desire to maintain the dress code. I think where you allow for direct tp’s by event hosts and DJ’s you are setting up the conditions for conflict.

    Its your sim, and your rules – thats fine – and anyone can choose to attend or not, I have no issue with that at all, but to me it all comes down to information. I think when you wish to enforce the dress / undress code, you have to make sure people are always informed about that before they enter the dress code area of the venue. Anything that reduces the number of times you have to have those discussions seems a good thing to me!



    1. Hi Whims,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, teleport routing does not help to address this, because it does not affect direct TP offers, only point to point teleports. One cannot disallow direct TPs unless you change the parcel settings to “Allow Group Access” only. This also doesn’t really stop direct TPs, but it does prevent non-group member entry by direct TP or any other route. So, I suppose the only way to go is to go group only, which of course raises the task of group invitation to the list, but I suppose that’s better than trying to help dress people individually.


    2. Update: I found the “blocked” option under teleport routing, and that works just as required: teleporting the guest outside of the parcel into the street. Thanks for the idea – hopefully that will work better.


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