WorldBuilding: How History and Fashion impact each other.

Fashion and fashion technology are very important for world building.

For example, if your characters have metal accessories that means their culture has knowledge and access to both ore and metal smithing. If your characters are wearing leather that means access to animals and tanning. If they have polyester,  they have plastics. I see a lot of fantasy and sci-fi world building where people basically ignore how the events in their world would impact what their characters are wearing. Wars close down trade routes, certain fabrics and dyes get hard to source, certain techniques are lost or deemed too much trouble.

This is a short essay I wrote for the final of my Fashion History class.

The prompt was to compare and contrast three tumultuous time periods and how the events of the period impacted people’s fashion and couture.
Since it was an essay we didn’t need to source things but if people are interested I can provide a list of books about fashion history that can elucidate my points.


    It is impossible to separate history from fashion history, and not just because its literally in the phrase. Fashion, like all of art and culture, is implicitly connected with the values and events of its period and reflects these ideas through its construction, ornamentation, cut, and color. This is why tumultuous and traumatic periods of history can be shown through the dramatic and sometimes inexplicable shifts in clothing and textile technology throughout all of human history. In this paper I will be analyzing three different time periods through the lens of popular fashion trends and show how these events impacted not only the lives of the people who lived them, but the very fabric of society.

     The fall of Rome was a tumultuous period in time. Nations that had spent several hundred years under Roman rule were suddenly cut loose and left to get by on their own, the expensive fabrics owned by wealthy Roman aristocrats were no longer as easily procured, entire trading routes and roads disappeared. Before the fall, Roman fashion had gotten quite extravagant – hair got bigger, the drapings and fibula got more extravagant, the dyes got more expensive – this could be linked to prosperity but I believe that it shows a certain degree of social stratification, something that the Roman Empire has in common with the period before the French Revolution. For most women, their everyday clothing might consist of a stola, modeled after the Greek chiton, and a secondary over tunic called a dalmatic. These pieces weren’t cut and sewn but rather draped across the body and held in place with fibula pins. Men of the period were allowed to wear the classic Toga, but only if they were actual Roman citizens and not just one of the many conquered peoples.

     After the fall, most of the Roman influence over Europe disappeared. While it may have taken some groups of people more time to let go of their memories of the empire, the extravagant and overly complicated draping of the period fell out of use throughout most of Europe. It wasn’t practical to spend an hour pinning yourself into a bedsheet when you needed to hunt and farm to survive, so the clothing of the ‘barbaric age’ reflects this need for practicality, particularly in the proliferation of t-shaped tunics and trousers as common garments. While ‘Barbarian Trousers’ were around before the fall of the empire, they were only common with tribes that lived much farther north, hence the name ‘Barbarian Trousers’. Roman soldiers would occasionally wear them, but only when the weather and temperature demanded it and they weren’t considered fashionable or acceptable. After the fall, most of Europe saw an increase in cut and sewn garments over drapery and therefore embraced trousers or similar leg coverings. Even the Byzantine Empire, which wasn’t hit as hard by the fall as other parts of the world, showed an increase in cut and sewn garments, their dalmatics no longer being draped pieces but sewn garments. I think this is shows that during the breakdown of society – the loss of world powers or the increase in individual labor to ensure survival – simple shapeless garments are much more likely to proliferate. Garments like the t-shaped tunic and barbarian trousers still exist today in the form of t-shirts and jeans and serve similar functions. The fall of Rome brought couture back to the practical for most of Europe, although it wasn’t going to stay that way for too long.
    

       One of the most memorable examples of impractical fashion and a great example of historical events impacting fashion is the French Revolution. While there were many factors that lead up to this eruptive historical event, the extravagant visual divide between the couture of the wealthy and working clothes of the common people became a rallying cry for the revolutionaries; ‘Viva la Sans Culottes!’. This phrase roughly translates to “Long Live the people who don’t wear short pants” and was commenting on the fact that the wealthy tended to wear hose and breeches instead of long pants, which were worn by sailors and working folk. Before the revolution, the aristocrats in France had taken their fashion to a gargantuan extreme; women wore extravagant gowns covered in minute details, hair was reaching new heights and the elaborate updos could have entire battle scenes staged within their powdered curls. The Watteau and English gowns, which at the beginning of the century had been monochromatic with panniers a modest few feet in diameter were now practically tables, some extending up to 6 feet across. Where today we might say ‘less is more,’ the pre-revolutionary France clearly believed that ‘more is more’ and ‘most is best’.

    Enter the French Revolution. It may seem drastic but in the days of the Reign of Terror, wearing the wrong thing could lead to a permanent vacation of your head from your body. Fashion became an easy way to target the rich and affluent and the women in France suddenly found themselves ransacking their closets for their least obtrusive pieces of apparel. For most women this turned out to be their underwear – a long chemise dress made of light generally white linens or cottons, often accented with a sash creating a high waist directly under the bust. While part of this fashion came from the lack of other options, another part of it was influenced by the new cultural ideology embracing Freedom and the renewed interest in the Greeks and their democracy. This is often called the Neoclassical style and at the time Freedom meant more than just freedom from the King or the Church, but also freedom from the corset and from constrictive garments. Unfortunately for many people, this freedom also meant freedom from their necks.

        Fast forward a century and the world plunges into World War 1, the war that led to the first worldwide youth movement – the Flappers and Jazz Babies. The War was preceded by a period known as ‘La Belle Époque,’ also known as the Edwardian period in the United Kingdom. For women this period was typified by the S-shaped corset, which created a permanent posture of ‘anterior pelvic tilt’ where the hips are pushed back to create a very tight curve in the lower back, which then pushes the bust forwards and out, much like a pigeon. Another motif from this time period is the Art Nouveau movement, which was typified by organic lines and natural imagery. The S-curve shows up prominently in Art Nouveau, and the sinuous lines could be seen in the tailoring of skirts from the period.

        This all changed drastically after the war. The jazz babies of the 20s wanted nothing to do with their parents, adults had ruined the world with war after all. Jazz was the music of the era, and in the United States, prohibition led to a huge underground crime wave, with bootleggers and speakeasies finding clients all over the country. Its interesting to note that the fashions that arose from this more adult world of burlesque and booze were obsessed with the idea of youth. Women of the period, fashionable ones at least, wanted to look young, very young, prepubescently young – flat chests, bobbed hair, showing some leg, all of these things were in direct opposition to the past decade. The waistline dropped down to the hips, the signature look of the decade. Makeup was being embraced and smoky kohl eyes and pouty lips were all the rage when seen on the silver screen. The art of the era changed from the flowy organic look of Art Nouveau to the drastic geometric and stark look of Art Deco. While other time periods in history that suffered great losses of human life were then followed by periods of clothing that promoted procreation, this entire period feels like it was desperately trying to hold onto an innocence that had been lost during the war. I believe that this reaction wasn’t about sex, although methods of birth control were beginning to take hold, but about wanting to feel young and yet facing the dark terror of knowing that nothing would ever be the same again. Live fast, die young, and be intoxicated as much as you can to avoid thinking about how dark the world really is. Just another summer at the Gatsby mansion. 

    The fall of Rome, along with the French Revolution and World War 1, are periods of extreme stress and change and its only natural that fashion should change to fit the needs and ideals of the era. Whether that need is for practical garments like t-shaped tunics and pants, or simple garments to show the wearers lack of wealth, or even showy garments to broadcast a lust for life and lurid escapism – Fashion is the history we wear on our bodies. It is both an everyday need and a decade defining visual. Every garment is a reflection of the people who wore it and the time that produced it and its fascinating to see how things as ephemeral as ideals, hopes, and dreams can mix with things as concrete as weather protection, sun protection, and posture support.

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Flash Fiction–Prompt: Secrecy

//NOW SERVING NUMBER 38. NUMBER 38 PLEASE COME TO THE FRONT//

Hamish slumped in his seat, rolling his driver’s license between his fingers and glaring at nothing in particular. Passport offices, to his mind, were on the same level of hell as the Post Office. He considered leaving but his sister’s words were still ringing about his head like a bloody siren.

“Do you want to be the only graduate to miss out on the class trip to America?”

Which he didn’t, really. Despite the amount of loathing he felt for his classmates, he wasn’t going to miss America for them. And anyway, he stroked the side of his phone in his pocket, blackmailing the ‘future leaders of Britain’ was too good an opportunity to miss.

“NO YOU IDIOT”

The sudden exclamation nearly gave Hamish whiplash as his head jerked up. He had secluded himself in a rather unused corner of the office and had apparently missed the arrival of two rather shifty looking men in black trenchcoats and wide brimmed hats. Peering a little closer, Hamish realized they were also wearing very dark sunglasses, which stuck him as truly bizarre since the lighting in the office was very dim and the light above them had a very annoying tendency to flicker.

“But Hans, it asks for my birth name” The whispered voice of the second man was plaintive and just a tad defensive. Hamish tried to place the accent but couldn’t narrow it down past ‘German-ish.’

“If it asked for your mother’s home address would you write that down as well?”

“Well if it asked nicely…”

Hamish leaned forward to better hear the exchange. Objectively he wondered if the two realized how very suspicious they looked, in spite of their strange behavior. No one in their right mind would be wearing a leather coat in July. The first man, Hans by the sound of it, gave a put upon sigh.

“Must I remind you of the very important nature of our mission?”

“No Sir” The second man sounded like he had heard this explanation before, ad nauseum.

“Must I impress upon you the importance of SECRECY?” Hans seemed to have a habit of rolling his ‘s’s to the point where he sounded rather like a cartoon snake.

“No Hans” This got the second man a very harsh glare from the first.

“I mean, No Sir”

“Good. Now what is our cover story?”

Hamish, by this point, was vacillating between amusement and a small amount of consternation. He was reasonably sure the two men were spies, although what kind of spy would dress like a shady movie villian was beyond his reckoning. And he was reasonably sure that whatever they were doing was probably not very honest. He was drawn from his thoughts by the second man’s voice.

“We are from America” The man’s heavy affected accent sounded more like a bad French impression than anything else. “We have come here to study your nice rocks. My name is Indiana Jones and I am an…” Hamish had to bite his knuckles to suppress his laughter.

“Archeologist”

“Arkayeeologist”

“No. Archeologist”

“Arrrkeyoologist”

“You know this will not work if you insist on sounding like a child.”

“Archeeologist”

“Fine.”

Tears were threatening to fall as Hamish tried not to make a sound. His worry vanished as the two continued going over their ‘cover story’.

“And My name is?”

“Hans… are you sure we shouldn’t switch?”

“YES! Now tell me, WHO AM I?”

The second man, now named Indiana, gave a put upon sigh.

“You are my beautiful and sexy assistant Lara Croft. Who my work and life would be meaningless without” He recited, voice monotone. He gave the first man a grumpy glare. “I should be Lara. You’re just jealous that I look better in heels.”

“LIES! My calves were MADE FOR HEELS”

“You won’t even shave your legs” Indiana complained, looking down at his own legs. “My legs look lovely in tights.”

“Do I need to remind you who is in charge of our MISSION!” Hans bellowed the last word loud enough that several of the other patrons looked over.

“No sir” Indiana grumbled, looking very put out.

// NOW SERVING NUMBER 46. NUMBER 46 PLEASE COME TO THE FRONT//

Hamish glanced down at his number and sighed. He had been hoping to watch the rest of the exchange. Getting up he purposefully walked past the two men in black, giving them both a good once over. As he shouldered his backpack he had to admit that Indiana was right. His legs WERE much more suited for heels.

FlashFiction: Thunder

A couple years ago I took part in a flash fiction exchange. I have fond feelings for the shorts I wrote during that period and I’ve decided to post some of them. As I was telling my writing group recently, my current novel’s protagonist grew from this series of shorts.
I actually wanted to turn this into a filmed short at one point, with the first half done very b-movie parody, with cardboard sets.
The characters from the second half are the first introduction of Hamish and Chelsea in my writing. They’re relationship was drawn from my relationship with my brother and I found them quite easy to write. During the course of the fiction exchange these characters kept showing up and it grew into a series of shorts I eventually titled Manchester United.

Prompt: A picture of a lighting storm during a volcano eruption

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Writing – Sing, Sing a Songfic

I generally feel bad when I say people ‘shouldn’t’ do something in fanfiction, since I feel like fanfiction is a beautiful world where you can follow your own fancy to the end of your proverbial rainbow. However, if you are trying to improve as a writer, if you are trying to write works that will engage the fandom, if you are trying to make sense… Please consider my suggestions.

Today I will discuss the ever popular songfic
and offer up my suggestions so that you do not drive your readers into fits of painful laughter intermixed with the urge to vomit.

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Take Control of your Capacity for Change

You have the capacity for change.

There’s a trend I’ve noticed, well I say noticed, but really its been around for the last decade or so. It boils down to this idea that we should all be perfectly happy the way we are, that the way we are is perfect and that the world as a whole is evil for telling us that we’re not good enough.
It seems, in essence, to be a highly defensive response to the media inundating us every day with images telling us we won’t be good enough if we don’t have this bag/makeup/car/lifestyle/weight.
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