Style 101 for the Male Newb

Noob Dude: A Style 101 for the Second Life Male Avatar – Part 1 – The Absolute Basics of the System Avatar

OK, that title is one hell of a mouthful, not to mention a pain in the arse  to type, but needs must when it comes to search terms and all that.

Welcome, newbies and oldbies alike, to this first in a ‘Style 101’ series for the Second Life male avatar. Whether you’re freshly-rezzed and brand spanking new to the grid, or you’re a grizzled old SL fart looking to upgrade his system avatar to the bewildering array of mesh heads and bodies, I hope to cover your pixel arse (in a manly fashion, of course) with these posts.

As a resident of SL for the past fourteen years (and a dedicated fashion whore for about twelve of them) I’ll be guiding you through the minefield of putting together a great-looking male avatar. I’ll try to do it on a budget as much as possible, but I’ll be honest upfront: you will  probably need to invest a bit of real life cash into this (you’ll definitely  need to, if you’re upgrading to mesh) so be aware of that.

We’re going to begin, though—as all tutorials should—at the very beginning. I’ll be explaining the system avatar: what it comprises, how to work with it, how to get into edit mode so you can change it, and what the relevant terms and meanings are.

The Second Life starter avatars have gone through several iterations since I joined up back in 2007. If you’re new around here, you’ll probably be wearing one of the great new starter avatars that have been available for the past couple of years. The most recent ones were released just a month or so ago, and they’re fantasy-themed. From left (2007) to right (2017), here are some examples of how the male starter avatars have changed over the years:

And you see the stylish bloke in the header image of this post? Here he is on the second day of his SL existence, way back on June 25th 2007:

*shudder* Yeah, being someone who loves black, I picked the Male Goth avatar. The day I figured out the viewer’s camera controls and finally saw my face, I shrieked  and went shopping. You kids don’t know how lucky you’ve got it these days ;-)

The System (or Classic) Avatar

What you’re seeing in the first two pics of that composite image up there is what we call the system avatar. You might also see it referred to in SL as the classic avatar. It’s the basic, underneath-it-all avatar that we all have. It comprises four parts that cannot be removed, which are:

  • shape
  • skin
  • eyes
  • hair

Without any one of those four items your avatar won’t rez, which is the term we use for something appearing inworld. You would just appear as a swirling white cloud, or maybe a white egg-shaped blob, depending on which viewer you’re using to access SL.

Here’s what the inventory icons look like in the official viewer:

And what they look like in the Firestorm viewer:

I mentioned that those parts can’t be removed, but they can  be changed. You can only change them by replacing them with a different version of the same thing. Want to change your skin? Wear a different skin. Want brown eyes instead of the blue ones you’re wearing? Wear a new set of (brown) eyes. And so forth.

Let’s break it down a bit more. I’ll be using ‘LL’ to denote the official Second Life viewer by Linden Lab, and ‘FS’ to denote the third party Firestorm viewer, since the menus are slightly different in each.


The Second Life shape is a series of numbers that give form to your avatar. You can access your shape settings by right-clicking on your avatar and selecting Edit My Shape (LL) or Edit Shape (FS viewer in default menu mode) or Appearance > Edit Shape (FS in pie menu mode).

Once in the Shape menu, you’ll see a bunch of different tabs for body parts such as torso and legs, as well as other tabs for individual facial features such as your eyes and nose. In each of these tabs you’ll find finer gradations, or individual settings. For example: under the Nose tab you’ll see options for size, width, nostril width, nostril division, and several more, each with their own slider.

You can make your own shape or buy one that has been created by another SL resident. If you’re buying from someone else, always make sure you look for a shape that states it’s Copy/Mod (can be copied and modified). To wear a new shape, right-click it in your inventory and select ‘wear’.

You can ‘demo’ shapes, too (that is: you can pick up a free copy of the shape to try out). However, demo shapes will always be distorted in some way so that you can’t just wear them and never buy the full version. Usually they will have enormous hands, or—in the case of a shape created specifically to be worn with mesh heads—they may have matchstick-thin arms and/or legs.

The Shape settings are also where you can change your avatar’s gender.


Having a shape is all well and good, but without anything to cover it, there ain’t much to see! This is where you need a skin, which is a layer that covers your avatar shape. As you can see from my starter avatar composite image, the original avatar skins were bloody awful. Thankfully, we now have much better ones. A good place to start, if you want to try new skins, is your Inventory’s Library folder, but we’ll get to that in another post. For now, we’re just covering the terminology.

I strongly suggest that you don’t try to make your own skin if you’re brand new to SL. While it’s perfectly possible, it’s not a ‘starter’ thing, so you’re best off buying one that’s been created by another SL resident. There are  a few freebies out there, but be wary of ones that you find in ‘Freebie Warehouses’ as these are usually poor quality ‘photorealistic’ ones, or they might even be stolen content.

All skin-makers offer demos of their skins. These are (usually) free, and show you what the skin will look like, but they will be defaced by the addition of fine contour lines, or the word ‘demo’ (or maybe the creator’s logo) somewhere prominent, such as across your forehead. A demo is only intended for you to see what the skin will look like on your avatar, so you’ll need to purchase the full-priced version of the skin once you’ve found one you’re happy with.

ALWAYS TRY THE DEMO! In fact, try lots of demos. There are hundreds of skin creators in SL, and a skin that I love might be one that you really don’t like. There’s something to suit every taste out there, so don’t be afraid to take your time trying lots of demos.

Side-note: Classic Avatar skins vs Skin Appliers, BoM skins, and EvoX skins

In the past few years, add-on mesh heads and bodies have become very popular in SL. If you haven’t specifically purchased a mesh head and/or body, you need to make sure you only demo and purchase skins that are created for system/classic avatars. The ad image should include either the words ‘for classic avatars’ or should show this icon:

If you see the word ‘applier’, ‘installer’, ‘BoM’, or ‘EvoX’ on the ad (or what look like different logo images) then that skin is probably not for you, unless it also shows the above ‘classic avatars’ logo. As before, always  try a demo.


Well, those are pretty obvious, I guess. System eyes will change the look of your, well… eyes. To wear a new set of eyes, right-click them in your inventory and select ‘wear’.


Hooboy. Now the terminology gets a bit complicated. And we’re still only in the four things that can’t be taken off!

The hair that I mean here is this ugly stuff, shown on ‘Roth’ – the basic noob male avatar from 2007:

Crap on a cracker, that shit is horrible. But that’s the system hair, which—no matter what avatar you’re wearing—you have underneath it all. So why is it complicated?


That hair can be known as any variant of the following:

  • hairbase
  • brow-shaper
  • brows
  • bald base

Like your shape, this hair can be edited via sliders. It’s now obsolete and nobody uses it for its original intent of actual hair, because… well look at it! O.o However, it will show through any additional hair that you’re wearing if you don’t have your system hair sliders set a specific way, which is why you’ll sometimes see the hair referred to as a ‘bald base’. That specific setting is literally to get rid of the fugly system hair.

However, among the slider settings for system hair you’ll also find sliders to shape your eyebrows, which is why you’ll also see this referred to as a ‘brow-shaper’ or simply just ‘brows’. In fact, that’s the main use for it these days.


A hairbase (the first bit of terminology in that list) can also refer to something different: a tattoo layer (or an applier for a mesh head) that puts hair textures onto your avatar’s head, which go underneath add-on hair to give a more realistic and natural effect, or to cover any patches where your bald head might poke through.

On the left is a tattoo hairbase, worn with prim/sculpt-mix hair on a system head, and on the right is an applier hairbase worn with mesh hair on a mesh head. (More on the types of hair in later posts.)

In short: context is everything. If your avatar isn’t rezzing and someone tells you to change your hairbase, they mean this system hair. If they’re telling you where to find great hairbases for your avatar, they mean either the tattoo or applier type.

OK, we’re done with the four basics. What’s next?

Clothing Layers

These are pretty self-explanatory, in terms of what they are: undershirt, underpants, shirt, pants, jacket, socks, gloves, skirt.

We’ll get to the shoes in a minute, because yeah… that’s another hairbase-type thing.

Here are the icons in the official Linden Lab viewer:

And in the Firestorm viewer:

As you would expect, these can be layered, and they work just as they do in real life. Tattoos are the bottom layer, on top of your skin. Underpants and undershirt will go over the top of tattoos. Shirt and pants will go over the top of the underwear layers. And the jacket will go over the top of the shirt. Socks and gloves are self-explanatory, and the system skirt is something that—assuming you don’t fancy doing drag inworld—you will only encounter in the form of a base for jackets. However this is now obsolete and rarely in use.

Unlike your shape, skin, eyes, and system hair, you can wear more than one of each clothing layer, to a combined total of 60 layers. Be aware that—on their own—clothing layers are now considered old and dated. However, you’ll often still find them paired with sculpted additions such as cuffs and collars for shirts, to give them more of a 3D look.

A few useful tips concerning clothing layers

1. Underpants layers (which, yes, aren’t only for underwear but can also be used for jeans etc) will always be skintight, making them ideal for tucking into tall boots. Pants can be edited to have more of a flared leg. However, this looks pretty bad on its own, so you’ll often find sculpted ‘leg cuffs’ included with older clothing layer pants. These are intended to be worn with the layers, to give the effect of more realistic pants bottoms. Here’s an example:

The sculpted cuffs are far from perfect (you can see the joins halfway up the leg) but they’re infinitely preferable to the system cuffs.

2. You can edit variables of your system clothing layers, such as sleeve or pant leg length (turning jeans into cutoff shorts, for example). Right-click your avatar and (assuming you’re wearing the clothing you want to edit) look for the option to edit your clothing. You can also right-click worn clothing layer items in your inventory, and select ‘edit’ from there. As with your shape, you’ll find various sliders to play around with.

3. Tattoo layers aren’t just for body tattoos. They are also used for texture hairbases (as shown earlier in this post), facial hair, makeup, and other facial details such as scars and freckles.

4. Gloves and socks can also be used for nail polish, although—given the awful paddles that are the default SL feet and the mapping of nails on the SL hands—they’re, as before, very  outdated now.


The default SL shoe is another hairbase-like, multi-use thing. Sure, it can be used for the horrible painted-on SL shoe (look at the 2007 avatar in the first composite photo of this post) but its main use now is to shape the foot and give it height (in the case of platforms or heels) for wearing with add-on shoes. Hence the other names it goes by, which are shoe-shaper or foot-shaper. And, if you’re using the classic avatar, you will also need an alpha layer (more on those in a moment) to hide parts of your system feet so they don’t poke through the add-on footwear.

And, finally for this mammoth post, we have the other main wearable items, which are…

Alpha Layers, Objects, and Physics Layers

As before, here are the icons in the official Linden Lab viewer:

And in the Firestorm viewer:

Alpha Layers are special layers that hide specific parts of your classic avatar so that it doesn’t poke out through add-on items, such as sculpt or mesh clothing that you’re wearing.

Physics Layers add a bit of realistic ‘bounce’ to your body when you move. Yes, you too can have a jiggly butt if you so wish ;-)

And finally… Objects. These are a subject in their own right, but this icon could mean a bewildering number of things when you find it in a clothing folder (and it means other things when you find it in other folders). It might be any one of the following:

  • an item of mesh clothing
  • an item (or one of multiple parts) of sculpted clothing or sculpted add-ons for clothing layers
  • an applier for a mesh head or body part
  • an accessory (eg: hat, glasses, etc)
  • footwear
  • mesh, sculpted, or prim eyes
  • mesh, sculpted, or prim hair

… and several other things I’ve probably forgotten. Yeah, it’s a long list, so—as with the hairbases—context is everything. We’ll get to the various types of object once we move into details such as hair and clothing.

So, to sum up this post:

You’ve learned about the basic parts of the system (AKA ‘classic’) avatar. You know how to go into Edit Appearance mode, so you can change your shape and your clothing layers. You understand the basics about the various clothing layers. You also understand that they’re really  bloody dated and not recommended these days, however I believe that it’s good to at least learn about them to give you a good grounding for what’s to come.

And what is  to come? Well we’re not quite into the styling bit yet. The next post will deal with something a lot of SL newbies and oldbies alike struggle with: editing clothing, hair, and accessories so that they fit your avatar better. I’ll be explaining how to edit worn items manually, the difference between types of resize script, plus what can and can’t be edited. I’ll also be covering some basic viewer tips, like familiarising yourself with the Camera Controls, keeping your avatar still while you edit items you’re wearing, and some useful editing tricks that I’ve learned over the years.

Don’t worry if you’re not a newb and all this stuff is old hat to you. I’ll be getting to the stuff about mesh heads and bodies later in the series ;-)

Do, please, let me know if this post has proved useful. I’ll be creating a new page to hold links to the entire Noob Dude series, which you’ll be able to find in the left-hand sidebar of the blog.

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