Friday, February 24, 2012

Fashion in Fantasy: Females

Let’s talk about clothes. Yes, those things you put on your body. Believe it or not, your fantasy characters wear them too (unless they live in a dystopian nudist colony)! This means that we as authors need to think about our characters’ fashion.

The first thing that comes to mind when considering female fantasy clothing is that quintessential fantasy look: the medieval princess dress. You know the one—flowing sleeves, silver belt, train sweeping majestically past the ankles. It’s the one every little girl wants for a wedding dress. In other words, it’s awesome.

But let’s have a bit of a reality check here. What would it be like to wear these dresses year-around, as our dear old princesses did? In the winter, sure, it might be warm enough. But then in the summer, you’d steam yourself to death! (Note to self: possible villain torture idea?) And let’s doublethink those sleeves, too. With all the excess trailing fabric, it would’ve been extremely bulky, clumsy, and heavy to wear on a regular basis.

Next, the general “dress” is a much more versatile art form. There’s your poverty-stricken rough and sacklike dress, and then there’s the gorgeous-silk-with-rustling-beaded-train-thirty-feet-long dress, which will give your darling heroine just the grand entrance at the Prince’s ball that will achieve her deepest dreams. In the steampunk variation, your heroine wears a corset over a loose creamy white peasant dress (which, by the way, always looks way too clean to be realistic).

Then there’s the question of what to wear under the dress. Hoopskirts can provide quite the comical spectacle, used atrociously. Petticoats can be a source of endless frustration, or else much-needed medical bandages (speaking of which, why do the heroines always tear up their petticoats? Why not the outer dresses?). Corsets are always a big hit.

As for colors, the possibilities are endless—limited only by your imaginative fantasy dyeing processes. Browns, greens, and “natural” shades like darker blues and purples seem to be particular favorites. However, don’t be afraid to throw in the occasional splash of lime green! You never know, it just might be exactly the touch of color your story needs.

All that is not to say that your heroine must wear a dress. Sure, it’s conventional practice. But who says fantasy is about convention? Personally, I think it’s all about innovation: dreaming the new and daring to step out into uncharted territory. So go ahead, let your girl try on the trousers or breeches of her dreams. Let her wear a tunic and cape if she so likes (more on those garments in the next post). Just make sure that you reason these things out carefully in the context of your world. If she’s breaking conventions and tradition, make that clear, and don’t be afraid to judge her for it.

Another note about fashions, too: before the Industrial Revolution (and thus in the time of most fantasy worlds), there was no such thing as ready-made clothing. Everything was tailor-made or made by hand to fit. However, as fantasy authors, we can take a few liberties here. For example, you could create a “magical” automated process for producing some item of clothing—say, lace. Then your evil villains (or long-suffering and impoverished heroes) can use this ingenious production method to achieve their evil or noble ends. (Actually, Christopher Paolini used this idea in his Inheritance Cycle, but I won’t spoil where it comes up specifically.)

Whatever you do, please don’t make it typical. Do something different—maybe a different fabric (fibers from the fireflower makes the dress fireproof?) or a different color (yellow dresses dyed in faerie wax makes the wearer fall into a deep sleep?) or a different cut (sure, maybe knee-length hasn’t been done in your world for a few centuries. Why should that stop you?).

Now go take a look at your fantasy stories. Where can you add more detail about clothes? Where can you change the details you include and make them realistic and—most importantly—different? Then come back and share what you think!

God bless!


  1. I love the write dress!! It is so elegant!!

  2. The white one at the very top was the one worn by Eowyn in Two Towers of Lord of the Rings (the one that I really, really, really wanted...and still want to this day!). I agree, it's gorgeous! Thanks for the comment :)

  3. How did I not see this post until today? Fashion has always been a big part of the story for me. I love your comment about a nude dystopian. Made me snicker (isn't that a fun word?) In my work in progress, my heroine starts in dresses but moves to knickers very quickly. Her skirts just kept getting in the way of my story. And she's a tom boy anyway.
    Thanks for a great post!
    ~Sarah F.

    1. Aww, thanks for noticing! I love fantasy fashion myself, and I was wondering whether anyone else did, considering how few responses I've gotten! *insert semi-panicked look*

      Haha, glad I made you snicker! A nude dystopian society would be strange indeed. And, yes, knickers are far more easy to mobilize in, to be sure! Gotta love my jeans, personally ;).

      Thanks again!

  4. I have a shirt with sleeves similar to the ones on Eowyn's dress, and I can tell you that they are perpetually getting in the way. I recommend them for the lady characters who do nothing but sit all day. (Even sewing is out of the question: you'll end up sewing your sleeve into the project.)

    Splendid post, Sienna! You made me chuckle. I particularly like the image of the Steampunk Dress - the only decent steampunk-style I've ever seen - and the dress silhouettes. I'll be saving the latter for future reference.

    1. Haha, I'm sure those sleeves would definitely get in the way! I once had a much less extreme version of them--just like a few inches of drapey fabric--and I can tell you they managed to get into pretty much every dinner food possible. Still, they looked great! ;)

      Oh, I'm glad I made you laugh! I agree; that Steampunk dress is absolutely lovely--reminds me from something out of Sound of Music, honestly! I'm glad you liked them!!

      Thanks for the comment!


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