The Basics, Part VIII – “Fashion”

Welcome back!

Today, I’d like us to take a brief look at fashion. Let’s think haircuts, beards, moustaches, top hats, monocles, spectacles, piercings and tattoos.

Before we continue, we should probably appraise the culture’s technology. For tattoos, that doesn’t matter quite so much, (although, acquiring the pigments for inks might mean a trek or perhaps they’re already at hand), but for spectacles that could be a bit trickier. Glass needs fine sand, a kiln, or perhaps, blowing and then cutting – either way, there needs to be a level of technology there. As for stylised beards, razors need to be invented. But assuming you have these at hand, let’s consider the style you’re going for.

Does the length of hair determine anything within the society? Status, for example? Is hair kept short on account of helms? The Normans, for example, seemed to have short hair on the back of the heads, going by the various tapestries depicting them. Roman soldiers also had short hair, whereas, many, many other warrior cultures had their males wearing long hair.

How your culture wears its hair will set the aesthetic to some degree. Is there any cultural significance in it? Are beads worn? Hair ornaments? Is there a difference between how males and females wear their hair? Is it a way of segmenting the classes, if indeed, a class system exists? Is it a uniform? Is it up to the individual? Same for tattoos, piercings, etc. Are brands/tattoos used to mark nobility or criminals, slaves, etc? How visible are such things? Are they an intensely private thing, found in an intimate or usually unseen location? Are they enchanted or magical in any way? Perhaps they are a ward against evil, or an ancient language that bestows abilities on the wearer? Are they added as a ritual? A mark for each duel a duellist has won, perhaps?

Another point to consider is clothing: not only the colours and fabrics involved, but the production of clothing. Buttons could be extremely costly, not only in terms of material, but in terms of sewing the button hole. It might be easier to use sashes and ribbons, ties. In this case, how easy or difficult is it to obtain the fabric and then to weave and sew it? If machinery is involved it might be easier. These can play a role in the economics of your world. During the Medieval era, East Anglia in England grew incredibly wealthy off the wool trade. The ‘Silk Road’ was named for silk – despite many other valuable commodities being carried along it, such as spices. Dyes are also another important factor.

All this ties into how your characters are attired. In a science fiction futuristic setting, perhaps it doesn’t matter. Or perhaps it does. What artificial/advanced materials do your characters wear, if any? What inks (smart inks, perhaps?) do your characters wear for tattoos?

This can easily be translated as enchanted cloth, enchanted inks for a fantasy.

Perhaps it is a contemporary setting – does your character question where his/her clothing comes from? Fur may be considered a social faux pas, but jeans are the norm… but where do those come from? A sweatshop? Maybe it doesn’t matter to your character.

The bottom line is this: how your character presents themselves is indicative to the society they dwell in to some degree; the more characters you dress (or as not), the more you provide an insight for your readers into your world’s culture. This applies to all garments, hair styles, and so on. What’s functional, what’s not, and why?

In my own writing, clothing, hair styles, tattoos, etc, tend to play a major role, both in terms of the character of the setting and the individual styles of the cast. Some of it is dependent on occasion, some on age, but most of it I tie to personality – not that I always allow my characters to wear what they please. Colour plays a large part in this too. It does, of course, greatly depend on the story at hand, however.

You can also take into account other jewellery: this could be skulls of birds worn around the neck, precious jewels, bits of metal, stone, or beads, or whatever you like. They could even be flowers. How is it worn and why, and is there any symbolism behind it, and if so, who is aware of it?

Obviously, this is just a quick overview at what amounts to an extremely deep topic! Climate is someone one should definitely take into account for clothing, and if you, dear reader, find yourself at a loss, I humbly suggest turning to history and viewing our own world’s culture. Consider what arose out of necessity, fashion, religion, the materials at hand, and if there’s anything that appeals to you and works for your world: adapt as necessary!

Until next time!

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