How to Use Fashion to Build Your Fantasy World

Hi, guys!

We all know that fantasy worlds tend to have their own unique fashions. But they’re not all about beauty and appearances.

The styles and fashions in books can be used for some major world building.

What your characters value (or don’t value) says a lot about their society.

The trends in any world are likely going to be set by those in power, i. e. those who have the means to do what they want. Those who don’t have the means are just… stuck trying to keep up.

Which is unfortunate.

But usually true.

A society with rulers who don’t have to work the land or fight battles opens up the door for highly impractical fashions such as corsets or massive jeweled head-pieces.

A hunter-gatherer society might value durable clothing more than crowns with pretty rocks fastened to them.

A highly capitalistic society will likely revere brands over craftsmanship.

A warrior society will likely value clothes that keep their armor from pinching them or items that show their physiques to advantage.

So if you show me your character eyeing a gemstone-encrusted doublet, I’m going to assume that wealth is important in their country. Those in power likely sit on their asses making decrees, going to pompous parties that the rest of the realm could never afford, and wearing things just like that doublet.

If you show me your MC getting jealous over someone else’s brand new sash (They got one with 20 pockets?!), without further context, it tells me that your character lives in a gatherer society of some sort. Whether they’re gathering berries for food while on the run or spell ingredients, having the ability to keep things close at hand is clearly important.

Which tells me that people need to be somewhat mobile and very prepared.

These are all important world building details that can be worked into the story through fashion.

And then there are the gender roles that can be conveyed with fashion. If every woman in your book wears a long dress at all times, it implies a certain level of gender inequality.

Dresses, by their very nature, are less practical than pants. Forcing a certain gender to wear them limits some of the things they can reasonably do.

They catch on things. They drag the ground. They wrap around your legs (making it harder to run, thus also implying that the society sees little open conflict on the home front or that the men of the society are using cheap tricks and deeply embedded oppression to keep the women of the society in check).

Requiring long dresses of women also implies that a level of “restraint” is required from the women of that society. After all, long dresses (unless worn with a slit up the side) are notoriously known as modest clothing items in reserved patriarchal societies.

And this “fashion used for world building” thing doesn’t even apply strictly to clothing. Fashionable body types, i.e. what’s seen as desirable in a mate, depends heavily on the society, as well.

If your characters just survived a famine, they might find a well-fed/softer body more attractive than if they live in times of plenty. Because clearly, that person has a good food supply.

By contrast, warrior societies will prize strong, fit bodies.

Maybe certain tattoos mean certain things (I’ve done this in The Regonia Chronicles).

Maybe a certain hairstyle means they’re grieving (I’ve done this in Allmother Rising).

At the end of the day, this is fiction, and you can make up whatever you want. If your warrior society wants to run into battle with diamond encrusted armor because diamonds are super plentiful there and they’re super hard to cut… Go for it.

It’s gonna be heavy.

They would literally have a bunch of rocks hanging on their armor.

But you do you.

I’m just saying that looking into some sociology and using fashion to full advantage might be a good way to convey the world your characters live in without wasting page after page after page on exposition.

As for my own writing efforts last week, I wrote about 4,000 words in The Regonia Chronicles and made some major headway on the new cover for Soul Bearer.

I also edited about 7500 words on Where Darkness Leads. I had hoped to have this round of edits done by the end of August, but it’s turned out to be way more labor intensive than expected. I’m just over a third of the way through and have already cut 4,000 words. I cut about 7,000 words in the last round of edits.

This was a really old manuscript though. I used to be pretty long winded, apparently.

Anyway.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

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