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 Post subject: Szat's costuming notes
PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 8:51 pm 
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Hello, hello! I recently dug this up in my files. Clearly written for MEM distribution, I decided against it at some point, probably because I felt some twinge of shame or self-consciousness that often happens when I compose long-winded design posts. However, since I wrote this one in Word rather than "post Reply", I still have it! And since I'm feeling shameless today, you all get to see it and rage at me for the lecturing jerk I am. Enjoy!



Costuming characters: A discussion of period garb

So, outfits are one of the most debated elements of art and character design (particularly for females). Having done a good deal of work with fantasy, I’ve had to learn more than I ever wanted to know about clothing, and feel like sharing some of that information.


Period

Let me get one thing out of the way – you do NOT need to mirror an exact period and region in earth’s history. But, having some idea of the technological level and materials available in your setting is good, and approximating a region and period is a good way to get a ballpark on the matter.

In general, though, the particulars of fashion do not need to adhere to any one period (Such as Edwardian, Elizabethan, or Victorian) unless you’re doing actual visual work, and even then while the materials and available fashion/armor technology might be derived from one era, stule can be fantastic in nature.


Material

Cloth: Cloth is the product of the textile industry. To get cloth, you need to be able to harvest some sort of fiber, spin it into threads, and weave the threads into cloth. Cloth comes from three main sources. Plant Fiber cloth requires farming. Cotton, Flax (which makes linen), or some similar plant needs to be domesticated, harvested, and processed at a decent scale. Wool or Hair cloth requires animal husbandry. Essentially, you need to domesticate an animal with a thick enough coat that it can be sheared. Wool has some specific traits, and is preferable. Silk requires its own industry which traditionally involves the mulberry silk moth. Cloth is soft and pliable. It is comfortable and you can do a lot with it, but at the same time, most cloth offers essentially no resistance to physical harm for the wearer, and cloth is more likely to itself become damaged from environmental stresses (though some tough cloths do exist)

Leather: Leather, I use to broadly to refer to all clothing material that’s something else’s skin – proper leather, hide, pelts. It’s easier to garb oneself in leather if animal husbandry is practiced, but not impossible to make leather clothes off simply hunting. Leather is usually not rigid (though it can be hardened), but is less able to bend than cloth. Particularly when fitted, it’s also hot and doesn’t breathe well. Leather has a decent resistance to physical damage (dependant, of course, on its thickness and preparation techniques). Leather garments are less likely to be ruined by rough treatment and potentially offer some minor protective value, but restrict mobility when they cover joints closely.

Metal: Metal “clothing” is largely not clothing, but rather armor. Most armor pieces could be constructed of bronze, iron, or steel: in general, steel would be preferable when available. Between bronze and iron, there are many historical and metallurgical debates: some will say that having bronze arms and armor when your opponent has iron is like bringing a knife to a gun fight, while others insist that iron only eclipsed bronze in human history because it was easier to mass-produce iron pieces. My own research suggests that the former is more true than the latter: Cast iron is marginally lighter than bronze and will hold its edge MUCH better due to being harder, and stronger in most other respects as well (such as having over half again the yield strength). I’ll discuss armor more later

Exotic Materials: This is fantasy, of course – options exist like Giant Spider Silk, Mithril, Chitin, dragon scale, or such that have their own properties. My advice is to be sparing and consistent with your special materials. If the carved shell of a giant pillbug is the hardest material available, while being very light, it shouldn’t weigh someone down, but should restrict movement at joints due to being rigid, and armor made of such a material will still have to have seams, buckles, and the like, especially if many small plates need to be interlocked.



Form – Menswear

Naturally excepting of times when a particular place and time in the history of Earth is directly mimicked, the average fantasy male has an outfit that consists in its basis of a shirt and some pants, with various bells and whistles as befits the character. No matter what those are though, the basic form of the most basic pieces remains the same: Bottoms with individual tubes for the legs, long enough to cover up to the top of the shoe, and top with fill-length sleeves. There are some variations: Tops can loose their sleeves or be entirely dispensed with in cases of extreme heat or barbarism, though the hero wearing naught but a loincloth is somewhat discredited.

In the case of those of a scholarly, wizardly, or priestly persuasion, “Robes” may be worn. These robes are, in general, expected to be something like a monk’s habit: a simple pull-over affair, naturally made out of cloth. More modern mages might adopt robes, however, that are halfway between a bathrobe and a coat, long and flowing but intended but by nature open in the front, whether it has clasps or buttons (rarely) or is simply allowed to flap about. This garment doesn’t make a lot of sense except as a badge of office, but as a badge of office it certainly affords better ability to traipse about the wilderness than would a traditional robe.

When speaking of accessories unique to the masculine, the “Coat”, “Greatcoat”, anachronistically “Trenchcoat” or appropriately but seldom used “Duster” is an item that, while certainly useful, I feel is a little over-used. Certainly, such a garment – leather or heavy/treated cloth to resist damage, full of pockets, possibly water repellant – would be fantastically useful, though they long postdate most other fashions seen in fantasy. All too often, however, such an item is simply given to a character as a status symbol, a hint to readers that they are not to be trifled with. I don’t think people need to stop giving characters long coats, because they are very handy, but I do think they ought to consider whether or not the character should, in fact, have one.

Rarely is period costuming actually used for men, and I think it would be nice to see more of it. We may think breeches and powdered wigs look quite silly, but when they were worn that was not the case.

Someone who wears ‘plain’ clothes in harsh conditions should have an eye on a mix of protection, mobility, comfort, and durability – style is a luxury afforded to those whose battlegrounds are more often ballrooms than deep mud in the woods.


Form – Womenswear

Outerwear for women in fantasy (with the same caveat as given for menswear) is of a different sort. Most commonly, a female character not expecting to do much adventurering will probably be expected, at the outset, to wear a dress (or more accurately, a gown of some sort) or a skirt and some sort of top. As casual, around-town wear, it does just fine.

In the modern day, this tends to be seen as politically incorrect – women nowadays can wear pants, and thus they are often granted such clothing in fiction, in spite of any other cultural expectations that are set up for them.

My personal opinion is that a character should wear what is appropriate to her (or his) setting and needs, so I will endeavor to briefly explore the design of a practical lady-adventurer’s garments in the case where dressing after the male fashion is not an option.

We begin with the skirt. A full-length skirt is horribly impractical for running, climbing, and the like in, while one that is too high risks pointless exposure as well as being an even stranger sight than the pants we are deliberately avoiding. However, a heavy skirt at knee length (probably pleated, potentially made of leather but heavy-duty cloth would also do) allows full mobility, possibly even more than fitted leather pants, while still protecting the thighs from sight, scratches, and potentially (particularly in the case of stronger garments) errant claws, teeth, and/or blades. Remember, kids, the femoral artery is not something we want to show off.

Since you don’t have coverage for the calf yet, our lady adventurer will also want something to handle that area: tall boots are the most likely: they should be flat-heeled unless the lady is doing a lot of riding (at which point heels are positive for both genders, to hold the foot in the stirrup). They should stop just below the knees, about where the skirt begins, to avoid restricting that rather important joint. There will, of course, be some loss of flexibility at the ankle, but not being shredded by the brambles you’re stomping through should more than make up for it.

For the top, a sleeved, cloth garment is appropriate, though just how much sleeve is up to debate. Neckline, as well, is something that can be debated. Her particular personality and condition might dictate some of this: in hot climates, at least lacking a high collar would be good for staying cool. But, no baloth anywhere has ever been bedazzled by a humanoid’s cleavage, so while modesty might not be a necessity, immodesty is not in particular called for

Undergarments
Here’s the topic I hate to admit I’ve had to do the most research on for fantasy costuming: breasts. Specifically, there’s the fact that many women will need to support them somehow, and the modern bra dates back only to the turn of the century, requiring both some degree of elastic (for fit) and mass-produced civilian steel (for underwire). Essentially, such a garment can’t exist before the industrial revolution, which necessitates that ladies in “period”-eque fantasy (which most of the multiverse is) wear something else.

Strip of Cloth/Breast Band: The oldest and simplest solution to the problem is a broad strip of cloth, wound about the chest and tied or pinned in the back. Such a measure can hold a woman relatively still (and flat, depending on her physical characteristics), is easy to manufacture, and is probably the undergarment of choice for the more goal-driven female adventurers.

Corset: The modern view of the corset is a torture device sold as fashion, that functioned by breaking ribs and restricting breathing. This is… not entirely accurate. Tightlacing of corsets did exist (For both genders, even!) and had many of the attributed problems, especially when not used properly, but even sometimes under ‘normal’ conditions. However, the majority of corset use through history is likely of a less devious nature – a stiff, shaped garment that distributes the weight of the bust across the hips. Usually stiffened with whale-bone (though reed was used in old examples and steel in modern ones), a proper, non-tightlaced corset does restrict the mobility of the torso: one cannot easily bend while wearing such an item. It would be possible to perform some physical activities in one (and according to Wikipedia, the late 19th century introduced variants intended for just that: cycling, tennis, riding, etc.), but this problem is enough to kill the idea as a favored garment for someone who wishes to stomp around in uncharted wilderness.

Bodice: While outerwear, some varieties of Bodice (it’s a term with many definitions) were supportive in nature. A sort of medium between a strip of cloth and a corset, weight would often be held by the shoulders. Historically, most bodices were two pieces joined while worn by hook-and-eye closures, laced (often in front, to be convenient for women who needed to dress themselves), and sometimes stiffened somewhat with reed or bone.
The main reason, as an author, to choose a bodice? It actually provides a style along with function, creating an image and shape (somewhat akin to a man wearing a waistcoat or vest) rather than an any-old-shirt scenario that presents no definite image. It lets you get more color and visual on the page without burdening a character with unwieldy, complicated costumes.


Accessories
Boots, Belts, Bags, etc. Not all of these are worn, per say, but they are part of costuming and worth noting

Footwear: can be roughly ordered in terms of height, from slippers or moccasins that do not entirely cover the top of the foot, to ludicrously high boots. In general, a good bit of footwear for someone who’s going out and doing things will be basically flat-heeled (unless riding boots, actually used for riding), and cover somewhere between the ankle and the start of the knee. Lower, and you need to deal with environmental hazards on the ground: step in a puddle, water gets in your shoe, feels awful. Higher, and you have serious trouble moving: shoes are usually made of pretty stiff material, and having that cover over your knees will make walking more of a production than it needs to be, when walking (and running) is something heroes tend to do an awful lot of.

Belts: For the love of Yawgmoth, please restrict yourself to one or two belts or belt-like items. A plain belt is good: It holds up whatever you wear to cover your legs (Skirt, pants, kilt…), and you can put things on it or hang them off of it to keep more of your gear at hand rather than in your bag (if any). A second such object, hanging shoulder to hip (properly a bandoleer or baldric) can be useful to hold something you don’t want at your hip. Any more than that, and you’re probably in danger of looking like you walked out of a rummage sale. It doesn’t work in art and certainly doesn’t work in text.

Bags: Most people treat the humble bag or backpack as an “invisible leather TARDIS”: it never appears unless needed, holds an arbitrary amount of stuff, doesn’t get lost, suffer damage, get wet, or anything of the like, and will probably never be mentioned when not in use. This is what we call an “Acceptable break from reality”

Hats: Hats come in a truly absurd number of styles. The functional ones keep the sun out of your eyes or your hair in place. All are basically aesthetic choices. Fezzes are cool.

Items carried: Unless abusing a bag, remember that things have size and weight. Most people have two hands (But want one free), two hips, and one back to carry ‘large’ items on/with.


Armor
Not all characters wear Armor, but those that do would do to remember a few basic pointers.

Armor for Him
Male armor is a pretty basic affair, because we have a lot of examples to draw on. Which is not to say it can’t be done poorly, just that you can look to basically any model if you want to do it right.

Armor is essentially a contest between mobility on one side and protection on the other. The more vital areas you cover (and the better you cover them), the less likely an incoming blow is to actually hurt you, but the slower and less flexible you become

Torso and Arms: Covered (or not) by a shirt (mail, flexible) or breastplate (metal or hardened leather, shaped) at the outermost. Contains lots of vital organs: basically everything between the neck and waist is serious business. Wearing a flexible armor (chainmail, scale, etc) is low-cost, other than the weight and discomfort, while wearing a rigid shaped piece costs you a lot of ability to bend.

Hands: You kind of need your hands to, you know, hold your weapons? Thick gloves might hold off cats or fencing blades. Metal gauntlets will protect you from a wide range of attacks, but of course cost you nearly all your manual dexterity.

Head: Let’s face it: nobody in fantasy art wears a helmet, except perhaps for dwarves and Vikings. This is about as stupid as midriff plate for the ladies: protecting your hear from blows is rather vital, as your head contains your brain meats

Upper Legs: Really important, really hard to handle. The problem is that your legs are what let you move. They also have your femoral artery. This can be protected by a skirt (for either gender: look at roman soldiers) or tough pants, but that doesn’t afford a lot of protection, especially not against bludgeoning weapons. Plate leg-coverings, though, turn your speed way down. You might get away with chausses or tassets, but all represent some sort of tradeoff, especially with regards to crushing attacks

Lower Legs: Boots, greaves, or schynbalds can protect the lower leg with relatively little trouble.


Armor for Her
Possibly the most hotly debated topic in fantasy armor design is what to do with armor for women. In general, I feel that “Armor for her” and “Armor for him” is basically the same thing, except where worth noting…

While some women might be able to wear some armor designed for men with no modifications, others would require accommodation, especially in shaped pieces. There are also two other aspects worth considering. One is that we have essentially zero precedent for what cultural evolution would do with feminine needs in armor, since no culture that used armor as we think of it had an integrated military. The other is that no matter what option you pick, somebody’s going to get upset over it, so you should strive for internal consistency above “realism”

In general, the principle is this: if you REALLY don’t want to be hit there, it should probably be covered. That’s true for all armor, not just for the ladies. This means that if you’re bothering to armor up, you want at LEAST your torso between the neck and waist protected: midriffs and cleavage are not good for armor. Beyond that, protecting your upper arms, hands, and legs is a plus.

In general, concavities in armor are also a bad idea – if your armor is meant to be entirely practical and the lady needs accommodation, she probably needs some manner of keel. However, not all armor in history is totally practical: many cultures (such as the greeks and romans) have designed fancy showpieces that hamper somewhat their protective value for looks. If you’re going to do this, though, do it across the gender board: if boob plate is a thing, males should have similarly showy armor like a sculpted curiass or other “fancy” armor pieces

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 10:08 pm 
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This is fabulous. Thanks for posting it!

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 10:22 pm 
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Ahahaha yes this is awesome! This is so useful! We really need to keep track of the stuff like this you type up, Szat, since it's great advice.

Although I take issue with your statements about belts! I mean, what's silly about this:

Image

Nothing. Nothing at all.

Also, aren't there some historical examples of armour designed for women? (I take your point that these weren't part of an evolving system of armour designs as male armour was.)


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 10:28 pm 
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It's a sad comment on something that the only woman I can immediately think of who wore practical armor was Joan of Arc.

And, of course, the fact that she wore men's clothing was one of the points used to prove that she was a heretic.

Yay, history.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 9:42 pm 
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So obviously Szat is more in favor of practical clothing (no Final Fantasy outfits) but Magic tends to lean more towards the magepunky "who cares if it makes sense so long as it looks rad" aesthetic.

Anyone have any thoughts on that and how it relates to our work here at M:EM?


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 10:34 pm 
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I think it's a matter of personal taste. I do think that the more magic/power a character has, the less that character has to worry about armor or even practicality. If you're a death mage and can regularly, realistically expect to keep any attackers out of weapon's reach, you don't tend to worry too much about armor. Also, certain character flaws can overwhelm practical concerns. Take, say, Kahr-ret-Taris for instance. With his fighting style, armor would be a VERY good idea. However, his vanity makes him want to remain shirtless.

But as a guide, I love this. Very useful, very good.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 10:45 pm 
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I think it's a matter of personal taste. I do think that the more magic/power a character has, the less that character has to worry about armor or even practicality. If you're a death mage and can regularly, realistically expect to keep any attackers out of weapon's reach, you don't tend to worry too much about armor. Also, certain character flaws can overwhelm practical concerns. Take, say, Kahr-ret-Taris for instance. With his fighting style, armor would be a VERY good idea. However, his vanity makes him want to remain shirtless.

But as a guide, I love this. Very useful, very good.

I think it boils down even further than that. I think it has to do with the character in question, their relation to the world, and personal tastes.
All those things add up to quite a lot to consider when costuming.
One question you want is to answer if the character changes clothes between stories or not.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 11:41 pm 
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While this is great, I think a little flair is a good thing. First because like keeper mentioned our source material uses the mage punk style by default. It also helps make each character distinctive, especially when it comes to silhouette. While mostly a visual tool, it can come up in just writing based off the image crafted in head. It is very important that each character look unique. Using the cannon walkers, if you turn each into a silhouette most are still fairly easily recognizable. This is important, especially if we ever get artists again.

That's not say that it can't be both practical and unique, but I see nothing wrong with going heavy on belts (then again it's something I have a strange attraction to) or some impractical attire if it helps make the character stand out more.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 11:55 pm 
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jedi8187 wrote:
While this is great, I think a little flair is a good thing. First because like keeper mentioned our source material uses the mage punk style by default. It also helps make each character distinctive, especially when it comes to silhouette. While mostly a visual tool, it can come up in just writing based off the image crafted in head. It is very important that each character look unique. Using the cannon walkers, if you turn each into a silhouette most are still fairly easily recognizable. This is important, especially if we ever get artists again.

That's not say that it can't be both practical and unique, but I see nothing wrong with going heavy on belts (then again it's something I have a strange attraction to) or some impractical attire if it helps make the character stand out more.

Your point about silhouette's is an important one. I think it was Matt Groening who said once that every animated main character should be instantly recognizable in silhouette. Note that all members of the Simpsons family have odd and unique hair, as does Fry from Futurama.


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:06 am 
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jedi8187 wrote:
While this is great, I think a little flair is a good thing. First because like keeper mentioned our source material uses the mage punk style by default. It also helps make each character distinctive, especially when it comes to silhouette. While mostly a visual tool, it can come up in just writing based off the image crafted in head. It is very important that each character look unique. Using the cannon walkers, if you turn each into a silhouette most are still fairly easily recognizable. This is important, especially if we ever get artists again.

That's not say that it can't be both practical and unique, but I see nothing wrong with going heavy on belts (then again it's something I have a strange attraction to) or some impractical attire if it helps make the character stand out more.

Your point about silhouette's is an important one. I think it was Matt Groening who said once that every animated main character should be instantly recognizable in silhouette. Note that all members of the Simpsons family have odd and unique hair, as does Fry from Futurama.

Yeah it's something that got drilled into me in design classes (especially costume). It also helps sell the time period/archetype/etc.


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