Legit Worldbuilding Tip #4


or – “Creating the Fashion for Your New World”

People in different cultures have different ways of dressing. That’s a simple fact. So why then do so many people in fantasy novels, science-fiction novels, etc., end up wearing pretty much the same thing we do in our world?

This isn’t to say that you have to do something completely wild and crazy with what your characters are wearing (though that can be fun). But it does make sense to think a little bit more about what people are wearing and why they’re wearing it. 

Before we get into what to have your characters wearing, though, let’s think about what NOT to have your characters wear. 

Don’t Appropriate

This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. The one thing you shouldn’t do when creating a fantasy world is appropriate clothing from other cultures. Draw inspiration from them, certainly. But don’t just take a Japanese kimono or Nigerian textiles and transplant them into your fantasy world – especially if your characters are predominantly white.

So, all right, now that this very important disclaimer is out of the way – let’s get on to what you SHOULD be doing. 

How Fashion is Shaped by Morals

This should almost go without saying. Fashion is hugely shaped by the morals of a culture. Once you’ve thought about the things like your world’s religious values and their general morality, it should be easier to think about what your society will actually deem “appropriate” in terms of dress. 

Short skirts were unthought of until a century ago in the Western world. Then came the flappers. There were several things that inspired the flappers – recent women’s liberation movements and the fact that fewer women than ever before were “settling down” in the prime of their life being key factors. The flapper movement died down with the Great Depression and short skirts were out of fashion again until the 1960s, when hemlines started getting higher and higher at the advent of the sexual revolution.

It’s also easy to look at cultures and civilizations throughout history where baring one’s breasts was no big deal. Today in the Western world it’s still shocking to see an exposed nipple, and that has a lot to do with the fetishization of women’s breasts. You don’t see that in a lot of other places, and even in other points in time.

So when writing your story and trying to think of what people wear, think about things like this. The fae in your novel – will they have the same morals as humans? Maybe not. In the Dragon Age games, the Orlesians wear masks, supposedly to hide their “true faces” because all the nobles are embroiled in political games. (We’ll let it slide that this is really just because the game designers didn’t want to create a new face for every single Orlesian character).

Fashion and Functionality

Another factor that largely plays into fashion is functionality. Women didn’t wear trousers in the West for a long time – then came the advent of the bicycle. Shocking as it may have been to some, women suddenly started wearing bloomers out in public! 

So think about it. What are the people in your world doing? What work are they performing? How are they spending their free time? They might have different types of clothing/shoes/accessories for different parts of their lives based on functionality. That’s not to mention class differences (as lower class people may have different functionality needs) and that brings us to our next point – 

Fashion and Class

There’s always a huge interplay when it comes to fashion and class differences. In fact, it’s one of the huge factors that play into trends, and has since – well, since huge class differences became a “thing.”

The upper classes adopt a trend. Over time, those trends trickle down through the classes until they’re eventually adopted by the lower classes. Once those lower classes fully adopt a trend, it’s seen as “gauche” by the upper classes. They move on from that trend and adopt a new one. And so the cycle continues.

Scarcity is another huge factor when it comes to trends. I’ve already spoken about scarcity in my post on economics, but it plays a big role here, too. When something to do with fashion is scarce, it becomes a major player in its adoption by the upper classes of a world. 

Purple dyed clothing was an indicator of royalty, wealth, and privilege throughout history because purple dye was so scarce. And let’s talk about pearls. Once a staple of the rich, it was at one time illegal for anyone but royalty to wear pearls. But in the 1940s and 1950s it was becoming incredibly easy to create costume pearls. That, along with television and movie ladies who made pearls a part of their “look,” led to the simple strand of pearls becoming a staple for middle class women.

Fashion and Technology

And on that note, let’s turn to the next big factor that plays into fashion, especially in the modern day and age. Technology is becoming increasingly important in the fashion world. I mentioned already that the ability to create faux pearls led to them becoming a staple for the middle class. But that’s not the only example of the function tech has played in fashion.

The ability to create faux materials made fabrics such as polyester incredibly fashionable and popular when they first came about. But then, there was so much of the stuff that everybody was wearing it and – no surprise – these fabrics became a sign of cheap quality. Then began a movement back toward natural fabrics – cottons, wool, etc.

And let’s look at what’s popular today. While they may not be trendy for everyday use, LED lights have made their way into the fashion scene. Silly? Maybe, but it’s not that surprising that it’s happened considering how easy it is now to slap some lights on something for a bit of easy clubwear.

If you’re writing a story set in the future, thinking about the technology that’s available is going to play a huge part in the fashion you create. So have a bit of fun with it. 

These are just a few points that you can think of when creating fashion and fashion trends for your worlds. Even small tweaks from existing clothing and accessories from throughout our history can make a big difference in helping your world feel unique. 

Thanks for reading as always, and remember that if you want to support me and allow me to keep making great content with this blog, you can do so with a small donation at paypal.me/legitwritingtips

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