Stopping by for the first time for the A-Z Challenge? Read a short intro to the A-Zs of Worldbuilding here!
Clothing and fashion is a topic near and dear to my heart – fashion designer was one of the careers I wanted before deciding on writer.
My mother started teaching me how to sew when I was seven (maybe six? It’s been a long time since then. Well over 20 years.) and clothes are about the only thing I can draw, as long as I’ve been given a croquis to work with. I’ve worked with enough fabric over the years, and put together enough patterns – and even put together some things without patterns – that I know how clothes work. How they come together. What shapes you need to put together and manipulate to get a garment to look a certain way.
We’re all familiar with the oh-so-elegant clothes and armor covering the fronts of books, with so very little realism.
Please don’t do that. The only people in any world who dress impractically are either people who don’t know better (which is enabled by our technology-reliant lifestyle), or the rich. The people who have to work – and work hard – to survive are the ones who develop everyday fashion. The items that have to be sturdy and reliable, and warm or cool as the weather calls for it.
Learning about textiles is also a very important part of fashion, and it can impact the type of clothing you design while world-building.
Above all, research. If you’re doing a medieval fantasy, do research into what type of textiles were readily available in actual medieval times for the specific setting you’re writing (though settings like that are usually pseudo-European). I’ll give you one hint: not cotton, especially for peasants. The availability of cotton that we’re spoiled with today has only happened in the last 200 years.
So, what are things we need to consider?
What textiles are readily available, either through trade or cultivation? Fibers can come from multiple sources, whether local or distant. They can be grown from plants (think of linen, which is made from flax; hemp; cotton) or animals (wool; silk).
What is the most commonly available textile, the fabric even the poorest wear?
What’s the most expensive textile? Is it limited to certain people, or is it available to whoever can afford it?
What is the climate like?
What elements do your characters need to protect themselves against in their natural environment?
There’s a reason the Eskimos wear fur, and a reason why the Egyptians cultivated cotton. Each is appropriate for the environment they lived in. Hint: Leather is not a good choice to wear around a lot of water – it soaks water in, it does not repel it. Leather can be made waterproof, but it has to be maintained, and someone on a long journey is less likely to be able to keep up that maintenance. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just keep it in the back of your mind.
What is accentuated, and what is hidden?
What is fetishized or taboo, and why? How does it affect the styles of garments?
What sort of life does the character wearing a garment lead?
What kind of upkeep can they afford to maintain?
Do they have someone to help them get dressed, if the garment has complicated fastenings in hard-to-reach places?
How durable does a garment need to be?
What kind of elements will it be exposed to?
To Hem It Up (Pun Definitely Intended)…
Look at cultures and climates that are similar to the one(s) you’re constructing. When you compare the climate with their resources, do you start to see a correlation?
The Original Image (Which has been cropped, edited, and flipped) for the banner on this post was taken by Liga_Eglite under a CC by 2.0 License.
My intention is to turn the A-Zs of Worldbuilding into a workbook after the Challenge is finished. If you’d like to stay notified about that, you can subscribe to my newsletter here. Please make sure and select the A-Zs of Worldbuilding option!