When social media giant Facebook rebranded as Meta, analysts quickly predicted how the Metaverse would be a $760 billion business by 2026. The sales pitch is that people can be anyone they want to be in these new digital worlds. But many will remember that we have been here before and the same was said about the arrival of the internet.
The liberation of one's Internet presence from popular prejudices famously inspired the early meme about online anonymity with the caption, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." The cartoon was drawn by Peter Steiner and published by The New Yorker on July 5, 1993. Of course, there is an argument that privacy and anonymity work very differently in a digital age, but could it be restored in the Metaverse?
If every prediction came true in our newsfeeds, the future of work, meetings, and entertainment would all take place in an alternate digital universe. But exactly how this Ready Player One-like world will come together is still unclear. However, the popularity of digital clothing suggests people will spend big when personalizing their appearance online.
A quick online search reveals that we already have virtual influencers with millions of followers, and digital clothing skins are not a new concept either.. Many will remember when Second Life arrived in 2003, users could buy and sell their digital fashion creations for real money. Gamers have also been buying clothes for their avatars for over a decade. More recently, Fortnight famously made $9 billion in two years, and elsewhere a digital dress sold for £7,500.
What's the point of digital clothes?
Some might argue, what's the point of physical clothes? For the most part, everything we wear has gone far beyond the primary function of clothing and much more about using fashion to represent us in the way we want to be perceived by others. Nobody needs a £30 baseball cap and £400 smartwatch, but accessories, as well as clothing, are much more about personalizing our appearance in the physical world. So, why should digital clothing be treated differently?
The most obvious answer is that these clothes do not actually exist and are just made up of pixels rather than textiles. However, digital clothing contains everything we associate with traditional fashion. It's just not tangible. But users are wearing these clothes in everything from digitally altered photos to games or digital and hybrid worlds such as VR or augmented reality.
The concept of digital clothing is taking the "skins" culture from games like Fortnight and taking it to another level. As the lines between and offline begin to disappear, users are increasingly attending concerts, connecting with friends, learning, working, and gaming online. As Web3 comes kickstarts the next phase of the internet, it's only natural to expect the value of digital clothing to become a big part of digital environments as our online life expands and develops into something many cannot yet comprehend.
All style and no substance?
Social media has transformed how people see themselves and present a version of themselves online. Many will routinely add augmented reality filters before sharing an image online, and this trend is beginning to impact the fashion world. For example, the creator of This Outfit Doesn't Exist is bringing virtual clothing ranges to life as more and more turn to digital-only fashion to zhoosh up their Instagram feed.
Digital fashion celebrates inclusivity and promotes the idea that anyone, regardless of their body type, size, sexuality, or gender, can wear anything. The convergence of physical and digital worlds is often referred to as phygital. The trend is one of the main reasons retailers are preparing for an Extended Reality (XR) where the products we purchase are represented in both the physical and digital world.
As non-fungible tokens (NFTs) enter the mainstream, big brands such as Nike acquired RTFKT and Adidas are exploring how to provide their customers with exclusive merchandise and virtual experiences. Elsewhere, even Gucci and Louis Vuitton are releasing NFTs as collectibles.
At the TedWomen Conference last year, Gala Marija Vrbanic told the audience that "Digital fashion is not an alternative but an evolutionary step." Your future fashion purchases could enable you to wear your virtual outfits across digital channels such as TikTok, Instagram, or the Metaverse.
For those that think none of this will take off, experts are already predicting the market for "skins" in online games alone will hit $50 billion by 2026. As a result, the phrase "one size fits all" is about to receive a significant upgrade, with early adopters attracted to wearing clothes on their social feeds that contain features that cannot exist in the real world.
With the rise of Metafashion already underway, our online existence looks destined to get quite complicated. People are already securing mortgages for virtual land, and some are beginning to turn to graphic designers to build virtual homes and hire interior designers.
Here in 2022, unleashing your creative self-expression through the medium of a digital wardrobe will feel like a ludicrous concept to many. But as someone who grew up watching Michael Knight communicating with a self-driving talking car through a smartwatch, I have learned that reality is often stranger than fiction, and the truth is unbelievable.
Will worrying about the digital dress code for a virtual work meeting in the Metaverse become the epitome of first-world problems sooner than we think? At this moment in time, I am ruling nothing out.