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Things to Consider About Clothing

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Mon Sep 01, 2014 11:51 pm
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Kale says...

Things to Consider about Clothing
An Overview of More than You Probably EVER Wanted to Know about What People Wear and Why
In which Kyll Had to Cut Back on the Sheer Amount of Information to Keep This Somewhat Reasonable in Length

One of the most neglected aspects of worldbuilding is clothing. What your peoples wear and why they are wearing it tend to be forgotten because clothing is so ubiquitous, we take it for granted in our daily lives. If you've ever stopped to consider why you wear the clothes you do, or why you're not wearing the clothes another culture does, then clothing styles appear to be quite arbitrary. If you look at the history of clothing and it's functions, though, then the arbitrariness begins to make sense.

So let's take a look at some of the fundamental aspects of clothing and how they impact the people who wear them.

Functional Aspects

Clothing, regardless of the culture, performs a number of basic functions. The most fundamental of these is protection, especially from exposure. Depending on the climate, clothing can be light or heavy, single or multi-layered, revealing or concealing, purely decorative or absolutely necessary. Wherever you have distinct changes in temperature, especially day-to-night or season-to-season, clothing becomes necessary to help people maintain a stable body temperature.

In general, colder climates require heavier clothing and the use of layers; the more layers you wear, the more protected you are from the cold. The materials tend to be animal-based in origin because plants struggle to grow the colder it gets. Furs and skins sewn together with sinew are common combinations, with wool being a popular choice in regions where food is available for wool-bearing animals.

Climates where temperatures vary require clothes of variable weights and layers. As the days or seasons grow warmer, fewer and lighter layers are worn, with heavier layers being put on as needed during cooler periods. Wool is usually the heaviest material in widespread use, with plant- and insect-based materials also being popular choices.

Climates where temperatures are warm and stable tend to have light clothing, with clothing often being optional. Plant- and insect-based materials tend to predominate, since they produce lighter fabrics than animal-based sources. Clothing in these climates tends to primarily fulfill other functional aspects, such as communication and storage.

It's worth nothing that armor is a specialized form of clothing, with the main function being protection from injury, and is also subject to the considerations of available materials and climate. Generally, metal is the least common material used in armor due to its expense, the expertise required to fashion it into wearable armor, and its sheer weight, while cloth, wood, and leather tend to be the most common, especially in combination. For example, the Greeks typically used armor made of linen, while the Japanese used wood and lacquer. Additionally, wooden frame shields covered in leather were almost universally common due to their light weight and relative flexibility when deflecting blows.

Perhaps the second-most fundamental function of clothing is communication. Both individual and social identification can be communicated through the clothing a person wears, especially when you consider aspects such as material, decoration, and cut. Generally, the more rare or higher quality a material is, the more likely it is to communicate a person's social status, and therefore the more likely its use will be restricted, either through economic means or by sumptuary laws. Additionally, the decoration of the clothing itself can communicate individual social status, such as their family of origin, their region of origin, the properties they own, the deities they follow, etc. or even tell entire stories. Color plays a huge role in the decorative aspect of clothing, as do woven and sewn motifs, the materials used, and ornaments.

Yet another important functional aspect is storage. Aprons, pockets, sashes, belts, pouches... the list goes on and on. All of these have been (and still are) used for storing items on your person, and if you've ever been in a situation where the suit you're wearing has no pockets and you have nowhere safe to stash your car keys or phone, you'll easily understand how important convenient, on-person storage really is.

Means of Production

I mentioned briefly above how different materials tend to be preferred in different climates, and also how the use of different materials impacts the functions of an article of clothing. Depending on how important clothing is to a culture, its production can be heavily ritualized, with the source of the materials being prized, and even worshiped. The rituals surrounding clothing production can really add a lot to the societies you depict, especially since these sorts of rituals tend to be neglected in most depictions of cultures, especially created ones.

One particularly notable example of the importance of clothing to a culture involves the Incas. Cloth was such an integral part of their society that it was used as currency and a means of recording and showcasing their history and religious stories, as well as trade transactions. The animals which produced the wool for their cloth were revered and well cared for, with ceremonies surrounding the harvest of their wool. The Incas are also well-noted for their intricate weaving and dyeing, the techniques of which produced pieces of cloth which remain wholly intact more than a thousand years later, as well as their extensive knowledge of fiber arts; the only fiber art the Incas never appear to have employed is crochet, though they were aware of all other forms of weaving, knitting, sewing, and knotting.

In stark contrast, the Puritans viewed clothing as a purely functional item. Very little value was placed on the clothing itself, insofar as it kept you decent and protected you from the elements.

The sources of materials used for making clothing have included minerals, insects, plants, and animals, though the most common sources are plant- and animal-based. Including less common sources is an easy way to differentiate your society's clothing, in addition to opening the door for unique functions, such as how asbestos was once woven into clothing to make it fireproof, and how tree bark is often hammered into sheets of cloth in tropical areas.

Clothing as a Reflection of Cultural Shifts

Clothing changes over time. There are a lot of reasons, with some of them being purely practical, such as a shift in climate, and others being more political, such as the opening of trade between two nations leading to greater cultural exchange. Clothing is very much a reflection of the culture it exists in, so when cultures change, clothing changes accordingly to better fit the shifting social needs. This is one of the reasons why different generations wear different styles of clothing, with a particularly dramatic example being the change in women's clothing in the early to mid 1900s.

If your story involves a major cultural change, then mentioning a shift in clothing can be a small and subtle reflection of those larger changes, especially if the change involves two or more cultures coming together, or even diverging. For example, if two nations go to war, the people in the warring countries would make a point of avoiding customs native to the opposite side while also inflating the importance of their own native customs. One way this can be manifested is by having the sides each take pride in wearing their traditional clothing as a sign of solidarity and cultural pride, with those who don't wear such clothing being looked down upon.

Important Notes

> Do not make the mistake of correlating primitive or simple means of production to shoddy clothing. Carefully constructed clothing lasts much longer and performs much better than shoddily constructed clothing, and so all cultures, regardless of their level of technology, devised fairly sophisticated methods of producing their own clothing to fit their needs.

> A single article of clothing often serves multiple functions at once. A good example are sashes which are often used for storage, decoration, to improve the fit of a garment, and also to distribute the weight of the garment. Up until modern times, belts served many of the same functions as sashes, though nowadays, their primary functions are improving a garment's fit and as decoration.

> The functions of clothing vary based on a person's occupation, such as construction workers' hats being primarily protective, or a stage actor's clothing being particularly colorful to make their gestures easier to see. Tying clothing together with a character's occupation is an often overlooked touch that can really make a character feel like they truly belong in their world and role.

> Studying other cultures' clothing and the histories behind it is one of the best sources of ideas and understanding to develop your own styles and histories. The sumptuary laws of Elizabethan Britain are very well-documented, and the Silk Road had a huge impact not only on trade, but also on the fashions and styles of all the countries it passed through (and it passed through many). The Crusades similarly resulted in a lot of cultural exchange and shifts in fashion, especially in the Russian courts, and the techniques in theater costuming are an excellent study in the importance of color and style in conveying subtle messages about a character.
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Wed Sep 03, 2014 4:13 pm
queenofscience says...

Whoever you are,your amazing for posting this. Thank you!!!
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