VTuber Uprising: Virtual Fashion

Vtuber model illustration (Lyn Brook / Xpress Magazine)

An empty box of brightly colored hair dye makes its way to the bottom of your trash bin as you end your monthly ritual of upkeep on your bleach burnt scalp. You make your way back to your computer desk, past the two outfits you deem worthy of expressing yourself that you could actually afford drowned out, by the closet full of clothes you end up wearing everyday that you feel don’t portray your personality at all. The lights flicker on your computer as it breathes back to life and you swiftly type in your password and log in to your favorite video game. A virtual model appears on your screen, it has the hair and color you’ve been desperately trying to achieve for years and the outfit and silhouette you’ve dreamed of owning since you were a child. It’s you. You press the button to go live and begin your stream, you’re a VTuber.

Virtual YouTubers or Streamers, commonly referred to as VTubers, have been paving the way for those who do not want to be bound by material means, by creating a whole new level of fashion: virtual fashion. 

Fashion has always been an opportunity to express ourselves, share our personalities through visual impressions and tell a story, but what if the fashion you desire to showcase isn’t available? Whether that be due to finances, body-type, non-fictional materials or because you desire to be a whole different being entirely; how would you express yourself and let your personality shine through this medium with the too many possibilities of limitation?

VTubers have found solace in limitless options for creating their character models. You can show your personality and aesthetic off to the world in the form of a dragon with red eyes and some comfy casual clothes. Or you could show off your girly side with half blue, half pink hair and some cat ears. No matter what you want to be it is up to how far you can push your imagination in the realm of virtual fashion. 

“Although I can appreciate the sleek look and functionality of most clothing nowadays. . .I think there’s something magical about having something that might not be functional or conventionally fashionable, but makes you feel amazing,” said Lucastre Mavia, VTuber and fashion student.

It wasn’t until late 2016 when Kizuna AI, 25,  made her debut on YouTube and went on to be considered the first VTuber. Kizuna appeared with long brunette hair with soft pink streaks sprinkled throughout, which matched her pink bow and white sailor suit with matching shorts. Kizuna, along with many other VTubers, were inspired by other virtual personalities from the early 2000’s, specifically virtual singers who used the software known as Vocaloid. A cultural icon one might recognize from this era, who still makes music today, is Hatsune Miku; a virtual singer adorned with long neon teal pigtails, a blouse with a tie to match the color of her hair and a skirt.

Kisaka Toriama

In 2019 a talent agency named Hololive would form and begin assembling what are known as “generations” of VTubers, bringing popularity to this new form of content creation. Future VTubers from around the globe began dreaming of their future models with their sights on the ideal and unimaginable. From bright colors to pastels, to tails, ears and wings, to silhouettes the world had not yet seen, the world of virtual fashion had begun its journey into the future.

About a year ago, 26-year-old Kisaka Toriama, switched from being a real-life streamer to a VTuber. Toriama’s virtual model can be seen wearing a simple pink and white

dress with heart shaped buttons, thigh high stockings, pink shoes, a tail with a pink bow, half pastel blue and pink hair with cat ears. 

“When I was younger I avoided the color pink, but as I grew older I realized how confident the color pink made me feel, as well as I enjoyed how girly it made me feel. That was something I was interested in and wanted to convey,” said Toriama in an interview over Zoom.

Since Toriama’s debut as a VTuber her Twitch channel has become a realm of her own imagination and control. Toriama said that the reason she ended up making the switch from streaming her real face to having a virtual model represent her was because she wanted to have control over her image. She wants her audience to know that she is an artist, first and foremost, conveying her favorite imagery within cats, colors and japanese culture. This is something she couldn’t have accomplished without the outlet that virtual streaming has given her. 

When an artist is commissioned to create an up-and-coming VTuber’s model, they are known as that VTuber’s parent. Toriama has gone on to help create four other virtual models for future VTubers and each one of them has expressed an entirely unique aesthetic.

Bianca Duba

“They each had vastly different fashion senses, one was a casual and suave aesthetic with a t-shirt and jeans, the next a dragon-girl with red eyes, a tank top with a jacket falling off the shoulder and tight pants, another a bat-girl with two-toned pastel hair, overalls and suspenders and the last was heavily inspired by anime with intricate details and small patterns,” said Toriama about her VTuber “children”.

VTubers who are just starting out, also known as Pre-Debut VTubers, heavily rely on their model and other commissioned artworks/illustrations of their characters to begin representing their personality and brand. Since the only visual their audience has of them is their aesthetics, it is very important for a pre-debut VTuber to choose an outfit that represents them in the best way possible. Generally among the community this isn’t a hard task to accomplish since many VTubers imagine their characters months, even years in advance to creating their model. Their fashion matches their personality, and through that their brand shines. 

“In designing Bianca, I prioritized simplicity that was striking. I wanted an aesthetic that was immediately recognizable, and yet simple to make into a model. This took the form of mismatched elements, evocative imagery, and relatability,” said Bianca Duba, via Twitter thread.

Belinda Lange

Another aspect in designing a model might come from a more personal experience. Many VTubers come from the LGBTQ+ community, specifically those who experience gender dysphoria. Those who are transgender, non-binary or gender-queer often find it hard to express themselves the way they want to in reality, whether that be due to having too many masculine or feminine features, or simply because they are too anxious to wear the clothing they would like to express themselves in, in fear of experiencing hate. VTubing has created an outlet for this community to have control over the way they want to express themselves in whatever shape or form they so desire.

Belinda Lange, 25, is a non-binary pre-debut VTuber. Their model can be seen as a tall feminine figure beaming with confidence, dragon horns, red eyes, a choker, black tights, tank top and a fluffy casual sweater hanging off their shoulders. 

“Something I was going for when creating my model was shapes, angles, and edges to exude that badass, confident aura. But I didn’t want people to think I was unapproachable, I’m a friend, so I gave my hair and outfit curves to exude my soft and caring side,” said Lange in an interview over Zoom.

Lange went on to explain that it was intentional to give their model a more simplified fashion because they want people to be able to dress like them and relate to them. There have been a couple comments from the community so far that their outfit might be “overly simplified”, which at first almost compelled Lange to rethink their models fashion sense, but overall there has been a flood of love and appreciation for their appearance of a powerful individual in charge and radiating with confidence.

Leaflit

Not all VTubers strive for simplistic and relatable fashions, some strive for regal, avant garde or even god-like aesthetics with their models. Leaflit, a popular VTuber who only debuted in June of last year, is a blue slime-girl, with red eyes, a red antenna and red core. This is an example of a fashion that would be impossible to accomplish in real life because not only is the fashion impossible, but Leaflit created their model as a non-fictional species. This is another example of how virtual fashion has created an outlet for someone who wanted to express themselves past the limitations of textiles and being human. Leaflit, and many others, are examples of how VTubing is a way for people to express themselves in whatever way their imaginations can think of.

VTuber Edeamous VR, who poses as an animal-like spirit, expresses, “The universe is the most beautiful thing, taking that with you wherever you go and wearing it proudly; what could be cooler than that?!”