World Building: Clothing [Pt.1]

worldbuilding clothingFollowing on from my article on building cultures, I am going to go over considerations and ideas when developing the clothes that the people in your world wear. It may seem simple enough but there are a lot of elements that need to be taken into account when developing a culture’s attire.

There are three main things to consider when working out what to wear.

  • What does it look like?
  • Why do they dress this way?
  • Seasons.

What’s it look like?

Obviously, this is important. A large part of building a strong mental image of your characters is to describe how they dress. As with most aspects of world building, this comes down to research. If it is a medieval world, research medieval clothing, science fiction world; research synthetic fibres and consider how they would behave. I am doing a series on medieval clothing, the first instalment; peasant clothes can be found here.

Why do they dress this way?

Almost as important as what it looks like, is the why? People wear clothes for a number of reasons:

  • Protection from the weather
  • Fashion & Trends
  • Comfort
  • To hide our privates

When you write you don’t need to answer all of these questions, but you do need to answer them in your own mind. In Etheros, characters mostly wear wool hose, cloaks, leather chest armour and thick leather boots. While (as yet) I haven’t explained why; the reasons are as follows:

Wool hose: In the great southern grassland there are a lot of sheep. Wool is readily available, and is the cheapest form of clothing.

Cloaks: Winters are cold and windy, a good cloak protects them from it.

Leather armour: The great southern grassland has a lot of cows and (as mentioned) sheep. So there is never a shortage of hides to be made into armour.

Thick leather boots: Most of the characters walk a lot, and leather is cheap. They need quality shoes.

Seasons

Weather is will have its own section, filled with info about how to create believable weather patterns for your world. But the seasons need to be taken into account when developing what your characters wear.

  1. Summer – Is summer hot?
    1. If it is very hot, remember that they will need protection from the sun.
    2. Is it nice and warm, so lighter threads are chosen over wools?
    3. Is it tropical, with monsoonal rains, so are water proofed clothes needed?
  2. Winter – How cold is winter?
    1. Does it Snow?
    2. Is it a dry or wet? 

Spring and Autumn (fall), should be considered in relation to Summer and Winter. How early does it get cold? Is winter short or long? Etc.

So tell me, how do you go about desiging clothes for your world? Do you focus purely on fashion? Do you want your characters to look cool? Or do you focus purely on functionality, like in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Pt.2 Coming right up.

Thanks a lot for reading,

Cortez

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4 thoughts on “World Building: Clothing [Pt.1]”

  1. I don’t design the visuals of the clothing for my characters. I can say they’re wearing a fine blue jacket or a long silk dress without needing to know what kind of jacket it is or what kind of dress it is. Novels are not movies; they’re not visual. As far as I see it, what the reader gets from knowing about clothing is a better understanding of character. Someone who wears impractical clothing that’s very expensive, you know something about them from that. Someone who wears basic, simple clothing, you get the idea they’re not very rich. Clothing serves the story. What the actual design of it is, my readers don’t need to know and neither do I. So when I talk about clothing, it’s about what the reader does need to know – is the character dressed appropriately for the context (weather, occasion, tasks undertaken etc)? What does the material, colour or type of clothing say about their wealth or ego? Perhaps a new set of clothes reflects a change in status, etc.

    1. Hi there Alice, thanks a lot for stopping by. I started answering but it got so long I turned it into a new article haha, https://avcortez.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/why-to-world-build-clothing/

      If you can’t be bothered reading that, the gist of it is that clothing designs can convey a lot more than basic character development: They can define class, houses, ranks, races, help build a scene, increase reader immersion and separate our constructed worlds from the real one.

      Clothes are such a good tool for conveying information in a show not tell way, because we all wear them. Surely, when writing you must have a mental image of what their clothes look like, or they’d all be naked.

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