A newcomer asked me today, through a mutual friend, if I could recommend a "good place to buy a beautiful avatar."
While it's true that you can find many places to buy a "complete avatar"...some of them free, others going up in price all the way to "eek!"... I don't think that any one-stop-shop will result in getting the most beautiful avatar, although it may certainly give you an "acceptable" avatar.
Something every new person should keep in mind is that there are literally thousands of creators in Second Life. Most of them are very good at making one thing in particular...skin, or hair, or shoes, or jewelry, or animations. But however talented a person may be, she is not going to be outstanding at EVERYTHING. The best creators in SL are specialists, and that means you are going to have to go to more than one place to achieve a truly outstanding look.
Another thing to keep in mind is that your avatar represents YOU in the virtual world. It's a statement about yourself -- your taste, your attention to detail, your thoughts, your preferences. You might not be the actual creator of ANYTHING on your avatar, except maybe the shape...and sometimes not even that. Nevertheless, your overall look is a result of a whole bunch of choices, and it determines, to a large extent, how people you meet will react to you. It takes more time and effort, but a unique look you create yourself is going to say much more about you than something you bought straight off the shelf.
Creating a dazzling look seems daunting, especially to the newcomer. My biggest piece of advice is, take it slow. Don't rush. Your look isn't an end, it's an ongoing journey...so GO SLOW and enjoy that journey, and the scenery along the way.
(A short aside here. If you are VERY new and still wearing your "starter" avatar, you're going to have problems. The avatars most people choose at sign up are "full mesh" avatars, like a whole second body worn over your regular body. They are not editable! Go to the Avatars button, the top button on the left side of your screen. Choose an avatar from the "classic" group. These don't look quite as good as the mesh avatars, but they are editable, and you're going to change that look!)
Let's start with the most basic part, your shape. Get a set of the free Standard Mesh Sizing Shapes from the SL Marketplace. Pick a size, any size. Now, customize that shape so that it has the look you want. Concentrate on the facial slider settings, and leave the body alone. Because it's a Standard shape, it will fit standardized Mesh clothing better...but not if you go messing with the body sliders.
Save your work as you go. This will not be a one-hour process. Most of us "tweak" our shapes for several weeks, or even months, in several sessions, as we notice things about our appearance.
Next, go to several of the major skin makers and get a pile of demos from each of them. Try them on back home. Look at yourself under different lighting, in different poses, and from different angles. Pick a skin that works well with your shape...or if you fall in love with a particular skin, adjust your shape so you look your best in that skin. Once you have a shape/skin combination you like, go back to the skin store and buy the fatpack for that skin. What do I wear? Laqroki, but be sure to try several different skin makers!
Find some eyes you like. Eyes are usually inexpensive, so you can collect quite a few. Not all eyes look good with all shapes, the iris diameter must be a good match for your eye opening.
Next, the hair. You can go wild and wear a different hair color every day of the week, or you can buy several styles in one shade...this will make it appear that you are simply wearing your hair a different way. Decide whether you like mesh hair or not. It has the advantage of not poking into your shoulders like flexi hair, but it is also stiffer looking and doesn't move as naturally as flexi hair. I recommend having at least one long style, one ponytail, one shoulder length, one short, and one updo to begin with. As with skin, TRY DEMOs for hair! Many styles don't look as good on you as they did in the picture. Some of my favorite hair stores: D!va, Analog Dog, Amacci, Truth, Damselfly.
Your next major purchase can be an animation overrider, or AO. How you move plays an important part in how you put yourself across, so try out several before making a choice.
By this time, you've probably also picked up some clothing. You can save a lot here by getting freebies and group gifts, and by shopping the "60 Linden Weekends" or "Steals and Deals" or similar programs. Google "Second Life fashion blog" to find a huge assortment of resources and links! See my earlier post, "Bargain Hunting."
Learn about the different types of clothing! The most basic is "clothing layers." These are textures painted directly on your avatar shape. They are skin tight, and always fit. They have their own unique symbols in your inventory...a jacket symbol, a shirt, a pair of pants, and so on. Then there are attachments. These may be regular prims, "sculpted" prims, or (most often these days) mesh. They can add bulk and realism, and stick out away from your body, but they may also need the addition of an "alpha mask" clothing layer to hide parts of your body that would otherwise poke through them. All attachments, no matter what they are, have the inventory symbol of a little cube. Clothing may combine these parts...a cute blouse might have a Shirt clothing layer, plus attachments for the collar and the cuffs.
Shoes...here you need to decide whether you are going to get Mesh feet (and maybe hands.) If you do, then you will look for shoes that are made for your specific brand of feet. The SLink feet and hands are very popular. My current favorite place for shoes is N-core, and for boots it's Bax Coen...but neither one makes products for SLink feet (yet, anyway.)
Jewelry...you will want both casual jewelry and formal jewelry. I like Earthstones and GeWunjo for casual, and Lazuri or Chop Zuey for formal, but there are tons of others out there too! You'll want to edit your jewelry for the best fit on your avatar...get that necklace as close to your body as you can, without poking into it.
(A word here about bling. "Bling" is the sparkle that flashes from some jewelry, and from some other items. Bling seems to fascinate newcomers to SL, and I have seen people walking around blinging away like a light show. They may attract incoming airliners, but experienced residents avoid bling, or only use items with very subtle bling.)
(And a similar word about facelights. I like a subtle facelight, but it's easy to overdo it and walk around in a dazzling brilliance. You don't need one, but if you want one, see my blog post: "Facelights - Arrgh or Ahhh?")
There are many other touches you can add. Accessories like sunglasses or a purse or belt, false eyelashes and makeup tattoos, mesh breasts and buttocks, and the list goes on. Remember, it's a JOURNEY, not something you do once and then it's over.
Enjoy the ride!