What are you wearing today? How long did it take you to decide to wear that today?
Fashion is all around us. In some ways, it defines us. Wear a certain type of clothing and people associate you with certain groups, stereotypes, emotions, thoughts, memories, and more. Our outward appearance – even if it’s not the best way to judge someone’s character – makes an impact.
What do your characters wear? Why? What do people think when they see someone dressed a certain way?
I’m going to spend two Blips on this – one for Fantasy and one for Sci-fi – because fashion is an oft-overlooked portion of worldbuilding, and I think that ought to change.
Yes, I’m a male author. And yes, I take time to figure out what characters wear and what is fashionable where.
Break all the stereotypes, right?
Anyway. Fantasy fashion tends to be… restricted. Wizards and hermits wear long robes, poor people wear rags, and rich people wear colorful dresses (for the women) and puffy-sleeved coats (for the men). No one takes time to consider what really make fashion tick in a certain culture.
Why do people wear what they do? Why this color or that? Why this cut or that?
The ‘why’ is just as important as the ‘what’. The wardrobe of fantasy character is quickly becoming its own cliché. We don’t give a second thought when we read about a peasant or a noble because we’ve already got enough fantasy clothing templates to assume:
-Male characters will wear trousers and well-broken-in boots, with a white shirt and some sort of coat
-Female characters will wear long dresses (usually green or brown with the occasional red) and have their hair pulled back.
-Every character ever has a cloak.
Why do we assume this? We’ve seen it over and over.
So I’d like to give a few quick tips on how to make fashion in your novel unique.
Whatever the Weather
We wear different clothing in different climates. You won’t catch me wearing a long-sleeved shirt close to the equator, nor will you catch me without one near the South Pole. Those things just don’t happen. Fashion is about comfort (at least, it is when you’re not talking runway fashion) and climate.
So, when you consider what your characters wear, consider where they wear it. If it rains a lot, cloaks and hoods are important. If it’s hot, loose and less makes most sense. If it’s cold, pull out the layers and the furs.
Culture to Culture
You’ll find a lot of fantasy characters wearing the same exact things as everyone else. It’s like there’s this unanimous meeting among fantasy nations to wear the same thing, no matter where the border between countries is drawn.
And this is just not realistic. If you look around our world, you’ll find different fashions in different countries, and even in different provinces of countries (or states, if you’re in one of those kinds of countries). Around the world there are thousands of different kinds of fashion, each of which varies across culture.
So. Don’t be lazy; be realistic. When you consider fashion, consider culture. What is considered taboo (such as ladies wearing pants was in 1400s Europe)? What is considered elegant or poor or rich or plain? Why?
Class to Class, Color to Color
These last two are simple, so I thought I’d smash them into one.
The clothing that a person wears reflects their monetary standing. The wealthier they are, the more expensive their clothing (unless your country is unique in that respect). Show this, and explain why certain types of clothing are more “expensive” than others.
If cotton is rare and silk common, which is going to be more valuable? Cotton, of course. That is backward to our world, but that could be an interesting aspect of your world.
Finally, color. A while back I talked about the importance of color in describing things. That includes clothing. What colors are popular where? Why? Does a certain color clothing indicate social status or emotional state (for example, holy men might wear pink and people in mourning and/or just married may wear teal with stripes of lavender)?
Vibrancy of Fashion
Here I go again. Ready?
If our world has thousands of fashions, why shouldn’t yours? Time is a reason not to, for one thing, but why not half a dozen instead of one? It doesn’t take a lot of time to decide what sorts of things people wear when.
So be diverse. Be vivid, be colorful.
Let the fashion show begin.
What do you think? Do you include fashion in your worldbuilding? How do you show it in your novel? Leave a comment and share!
Philophobia: Romance is like the monster in the closet (D. V. Mayfair)