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Sci-Fi Worldbuilding and Clothing? (1 Viewer)

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SerenataImmortale

Senior Member
The story I'm writing is set on Earth around 30-50 years from now after society has been altered by a large war and a number of major advances in biological science. Ergo, this involves world building on my part, including (at least some) clothing description. Unfortunately, visualizing clothing is the part of writing creativity that I'm worst at, and everyone ends up in a t-shirt if I ever need to say what they're wearing.
Any advice on how to better go about this is appreciated - thanks in advance!
 

Skodt

WF Veteran
WF Veterans
Personality usually lends to clothing traits. A rich fellow will not be wearing the same clothes as a poor fellow. One would most likely be seen in a suit, or dress shirt; while the other maybe a baggy shirt, and jeans. A woman will not wear what a girl does. A sun dress for a woman will be of a different style and cut. Where a little girl will be conventional, the woman's may be scandalous. Even then it is personality. If a woman is outgoing she probably dresses less conventional. A shy woman may be seen in a oversized hoody and sweat pants. A prissy woman will not be seen in cheap clothes. A business man wears suits and tie. A construction worker a white shirt and dirty jeans; sometimes ripped.

What I mean by that rambling is first think who your character is. Are they loud? Quite? A leader? these questions will guide you in what they wear.
 

Angelicpersona

Senior Member
Go exploring the internet. Find some key words and do a search. Find things you like and either take them wholesale or amalgamate them to make your own style. The style in my fantasy novel encompasses styles that stretch for a century (late 18th to early 20th century), and some of my characters wear pieces from here and pieces from there so that you couldn't put your finger on exactly which style inspired it.
 
First thing I'd think about is climate and geography (what's it like outside? Hot, cold, forest, desert, city?). Second is economics (what raw materials are available, who makes the fabric and clothes, who buys them and how much do they cost?). Third would be issues related to social position and setting (rich, poor, casual, formal). Finally there's the individual character's preferences.
 

OurJud

Senior Member
Well first off let me say I look forward to reading this when you're finished, Serena. It sounds right up my trumpet!

As for the clothes, it's hard for anyone else to say as they're not privy to the world you're creating. I'm guessing you will have visualised it many times over by now, and so should be armed with images that we are not.

What kind of look are you going for? Cyber-punk? Industrial? Clean and clinical? Tell us more about the vibe you're aiming at and I'll have a much better idea.

What you can do is look at how fashion has evolved over the last 50 years. What fell out? What was it replaced with? What hasn't changed? You can then apply those rules and say a similar thing will happen in the next 50 years.

Also, above all, it's worth remembering that this is set 50 years from now so no one can possibly know what folk will be wearing. It's your world, your idea... there are no rules is what I'm saying.
 

reverend ben

Senior Member
Weather does a lot for clothes too. Rainy weather, harsh sunshine. People tend to wear dull colors when the weather is cloudy and gross all the time, and bright colors when the weather is nice all the time. Rich folks wear new clothes, poor folks wear old clothes. They had still suits on Dune, cause they needed them. If the world has changed a lot, clothing style might be mandated by the environment for survival.

Also think about the nostalgia of the last twenty years for the earlier part of this century. T-shirt and baseball cap and jeans might be things that 'old fashioned-y' people wear.
IMO mylar is really cool.
 

Gamer_2k4

WF Veterans
Why does their clothing matter? In the 200,000 words of my sci-fi novel, I believe my only references to clothing are mentions of uniforms ("a big man in a green uniform"), and mentioning that someone puts on a jacket because it's cold outside. I have no clue what my characters wear because I don't need to know.
 

OurJud

Senior Member
Why does their clothing matter? In the 200,000 words of my sci-fi novel, I believe my only references to clothing are mentions of uniforms ("a big man in a green uniform"), and mentioning that someone puts on a jacket because it's cold outside. I have no clue what my characters wear because I don't need to know.

But with the greatest of respect, Gamer, that is your story, and everyone writes differently - thank God. As others have already said, some are driven by plot, others have no interest in it and prefer their stories to be character-driven. Character-driven stories/novels are far more likely to concentrate on the finer details of things, simply because that is the whole point.
 

Gamer_2k4

WF Veterans
But with the greatest of respect, Gamer, that is your story, and everyone writes differently - thank God. As others have already said, some are driven by plot, others have no interest in it and prefer their stories to be character-driven. Character-driven stories/novels are far more likely to concentrate on the finer details of things, simply because that is the whole point.

And with just as much respect, OurJud, my story IS character-driven. However, by character-driven, I'm referring to personalities, emotions, and actions - not clothing. Or, to put it another way, my characters are revealed and drive the story by what they think and do, not what they wear.

I suppose it just depends on what aspect of personality the author chooses to focus on.
 

OurJud

Senior Member
Apologies, Gamer, I wasn't really suggesting either yours or the OP's stories are one or the other of those things. I simply meant that for some writers it is important to give finer detail. I suppose if I were forced to come up with an analogy, it would be that we are like painters; some like to write photo-realistically, other impressionistically.

Anyway, to get back to the OP's question, it is a given that the planet will be hotter, and as others have said, this will influence greatly the type of clothes.

And thanks to this month's issue of the BBC science magazine Focus, I can provide (for the UK at least) summer temperatures and rainfall for the 2050s. According to the Met Office, they will range from 126mm of RF and temps of 33°C in the South to 295mm, 27°C in the North.

Not as hot as I imagined, actually. I remember as a kid, seeing the thermometer during Wimbledon fortnight reaching well into the 40s, although that might have been direct sunlight.
 
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SerenataImmortale

Senior Member
Apologies, Gamer, I wasn't really suggesting either yours or the OP's stories are one or the other of those things. I simply meant that for some writers it is important to give finer detail. I suppose if I were forced to come up with an analogy, it would be that we are like painters; some like to write photo-realistically, other impressionistically.

Anyway, to get back to the OP's question, it is a given that the planet will be hotter, and as others have said, this will influence greatly the type of clothes.

And thanks to this month's issue of the BBC science magazine Focus, I can provide (for the UK at least) summer temperatures and rainfall for the 2050s. According to the Met Office, they will range from 126mm of RF and temps of 33°C in the South to 295mm, 27°C in the North.

Not as hot as I imagined, actually. I remember as a kid, seeing the thermometer during Wimbledon fortnight reaching well into the 40s, although that might have been direct sunlight.

Agreed. There really is no right or wrong when it comes to individual methods. Poe does not write like Hemingway, but that doesn't make one superior or inferior to the other - Hemingway's style suits the stories he likes to tell, and likewise with Poe.

And some works (not just sci-fi/fantasy) do well with "world building" type details. For example, the main character in Crime and Punishment wears rags and a top hat. His enormous debts are in roubels, not dollars. His apartment is a dump. The reader would still know that the character is an arrogant jerk if all of those details were left out, but the fact that they were left in just makes him a more fleshed-out arrogant jerk, as well as a jerk that resides in a larger world.

But, I digress. Thank you to all posters for your helpful and much-appreciated advice, and thank you OurJud for the Focus statistics in addition.
 
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Outiboros

Senior Member
Why does their clothing matter? In the 200,000 words of my sci-fi novel, I believe my only references to clothing are mentions of uniforms ("a big man in a green uniform"), and mentioning that someone puts on a jacket because it's cold outside. I have no clue what my characters wear because I don't need to know.
The clothing itself isn't too important, though it can be at times, but I find it a handy tool. It can be used to describe recurring characters whose names are unknown to the reader, and as said above by Skodt, it can be used to describe a character without really describing a character. A woman who prefers masculine clothing, a man in a grease-stained Hawaiian t-shirt, a woman who shows up at a date in a dress that had clearly been hanging unused in a wardrobe for half a decade, and so on.

As said before in this thread, it all comes down to the writer's preference.
 

Jeko

WF Veterans
I agree with Gamer_2k4; clothing is rarely important, unless something is done with it. It needs to be used for plot, characterisation or world-building for it to be important. Don't just give the guy a shirt. Give him a torn shirt - that tells us a few things, a few interpretations available. Give him a pink, floral shirt and we can worry about his masculinity. Use everything your characters do to communicate who they are and how they'll behave.
 

Sandy

Senior Member
Perhaps it becomes important if the apparel distinguishes groups (cultural or status) as a means of identity? Not so sure about the pink floral shirt signal though... I've known some really macho guys who really look good in them!
 

Angelwing

Senior Member
The story I'm writing is set on Earth around 30-50 years from now after society has been altered by a large war and a number of major advances in biological science. Ergo, this involves world building on my part, including (at least some) clothing description. Unfortunately, visualizing clothing is the part of writing creativity that I'm worst at, and everyone ends up in a t-shirt if I ever need to say what they're wearing.
Any advice on how to better go about this is appreciated - thanks in advance!

Some types might have a certain dress by default. For example, in my story (set around the early 2150s), political leaders' dress isn't described, because I figure that they would wear suits anyways. That works for me. I could maybe describe the color or style of something, but in general it's pretty well set, I think. There are things that I don't see going out of style even many decades in the future, formal suits being one of them. I suppose describing a woman's formal dress (such as the first lady of our solar system in mine) could be important.

Another similar group is military personnel. Military dress uniforms as they are don't look terribly different from each other, certainly between a country's branches, but also countries themselves. Usually the differences just come in color and some other cosmetic adjustments. I also expect that a standardized one for my story's Solar military would still look quite similar, despite the big time difference between now and the 2150s. The only trouble I'm kinda having is battle dress uniforms, as far as a/any camo pattern, coloring, and the looks of some gear. Luckily I've been able to work out most of the gear stuff, but still.

Some "street" people, whether poor, petty criminals, laborers, etc might still wear t-shirt and jean type combos almost by default. I don't know for sure that those two clothing pieces would last to 2150, but for yours, I bet they would. I just don't see what would replace them. T-shirts and jeans are just so simple yet "effective."

Not sure if I've really helped you any lol.


EDIT: Something else that both of us, writing futuristic stories which involve Earth and its people, might want to consider regarding clothing among other aspects, is what part culture plays in what people wear. Maybe there's been periods where some people have been trying to destroy borders and such, which leads to an upsurge in various cultural groups' pride in their heritage and such. Maybe they strive to redraw some borders based on cultural boundaries (for example, in the middle east and Africa mostly, but perhaps other places too). Of course if there's the war you mentioned, then that would likely change things like borders anyways. But still, what if there's another renaissance, but instead of being in Italy, its like in Eastern Europe, or not in Europe at all? Perhaps there's great religious revivals in the future, as there have been in history, and remember: history repeats itself. All these could affect clothing.

I don't know how deep you want to get into things, though, but just some considerations, eh? :)

EDIT 2: (sorry, I just keep running my mouth on this stuff lol!) This isn't really about clothing, however in a roundabout way it is. The main thing I do to establish who a character is and in turn what the character could expect him to look like is give him a name that pretty clearly denotes what country/part of the world he's from. Haruto Nakamura is Japanese, Zubair Judeel is South African, General Magyar is Hungarian (Magyar literally means "Hungarian" in Hungarian). When someone reads "Haruto Nakamura" or just "Nakamura," along with some potential description I give, they may start drawing conclusions on the character as a whole, including their outside appearance. THIS is what I use to describe appearance, NOT just clothing.
 
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Shadoe

Senior Member
I think clothing is a huge part of world-building. The clothing styles worn is going to be a reflection of that society. So to decide what kind of fashion you have in your world, you have to look at your world.

Did events leave the world a very damaged place? If people are struggling to get by, clothing will be simple. T-shirts and jeans, straight, a-line dresses, more sandals than shoes (if it's warm enough), less embellishments.

If the world is chugging along pretty much the way it is now, there would be more variety in dress. Styles often swing back and forth between formal and simple by time period. Think of the overdone hair and clothes of the 1980s and compare with the more casual look we have now. Where is your world in this cycle?

Wealth plays a role too. Characters who are poor will dress more simply than characters who are wealthy. Consider the fashions of the movie Hunger Games, for instance.

How much do they work? If these people are laborers, they will have simple, sturdy clothing designed around what they do - jeans and flannel shirts for factory types, but suits and dresses for office types. People often dress similar to their working style when they're on their own time, so work and play clothes would be "gussied up" versions of what they work in.

How formal is society? During the Victorian era, society was very prudish and formal. Necklines were high, fabrics were stiff, layers were many, and the contours of the clothing gave little hint of the body shape beneath. By contrast, during the reign previous to hers (the "Regency era"), society was almost scandalous (by the standards of the period). Clothing, also, was much more daring, more casual. Fabrics were light, there were fewer layers and clothing was tight to the body.

Look also at what your society admires. A military society would have styles that resembled military uniforms (think of WWII styles), while a society worshiping the glamor of movie stars would have the formal and embellished clothing of the 1930s.

If you're world-building, then the fashions you mention in your story should reinforce what you're trying to say about your world. Look at what you're trying to say about the world you're creating, and design your fashion accordingly.
 

Omi

Senior Member
I'm in the camp that while clothing can help YOU to worldbuild, it is rarely necessary for the reader. Readers will "see" with their minds whatever they imagine no matter how much you describe it.

If you tell me a character is wearing a t-shirt and jeans. You imagine dark blue jeans with a white t-shirt but I in my mind's eye I see black jeans and a red-shirt.

If you say that the character is wearing "dark blue jeans and a white t-shirt with a band name on it and red tennis shoes" I'm going to see a different shade of blue, a different shade of white, a different band name and a different style of tennis shoe than you do. Indulge me to take the example farther.

"Cyrus was wearing his usual faded, mustard-stained t-shirt with his favorite band's name, the "MASHED POTATO MATYRS", printed on it. He is wearing navy blue jeans that are faded at the left back pocket and ripped at the top of the right knee. His red shoes appear absolutely spotless and are the elaborate and extremely expensive type typically worn by professional runners." I'm still going to imagine this different. Different mustard stains, a different rip, a different fade. No matter how well you describe your character, clothing or world the reader will make it their own through their imagination.

Now with that being said, clothing description CAN be important. Take Cyrus above. He is wearing faded, old clothing but his shoes are spotless and expensive. That tells us something about Cyrus and raises questions in the readers minds. Did he steal them? Is he just a sneakerhead? Did he blow all his money on them or win them in a bet? Is he a famous pro-athlete that simply doesn't care about his appearance? It can also be a clue if you're adding a mystery element. The killer left unique shoe-prints at the scene; the type that can only be found on one brand of expensive running shoes. I still feel that unless it is important, clothing description can be left out.

Additionally, readers are smart enough to assume broad things about your clothing unless it is unusual. For example, if your story takes place in a certain climate then readers will picture characters in clothing appropriate to that climate. No reader will assume that a character is traversing a humid jungle in full winter gear. They won't imagine that your character is climbing a snowy mountain in nothing but his boxers and a Hawaiian shirt. They won't think that a military unit is going out dressed in ridiculous outfits (unless you're writing about G.I Joe). Now as above, if it is important or unusual then mention it.

1 - Your character is in a humid jungle in winter gear because they are an alien from a planet so hot that the jungle feels like the Artic to them. They are trying to find a spaceship that crashed several hundreds of years ago in the Amazon to get back to their homeplanet.

2- Your character is climbing a mountain in only his boxers and a Hawaiian shirt because they are a superspy who was captured by the enemy and then stripped down and dropped into the mountains by helicopter to die a cold and lonely death. Like any superspy worth their salt, your character will have a hidden briefcase nearby containing a collapsible airplane with excellent heating.

3 - The military unit is displaced or out of their element (think of the British redcoats in lush, green forests). Alternatively, they are a highly trained group of specialists who want to go in plain-clothes so as to avoid native attention. Or they are a colorful gang of eclectic misfits with awful fashion sense.
 

Angelwing

Senior Member
3 - The military unit is displaced or out of their element (think of the British redcoats in lush, green forests).

Think Redcoats in just about any environment! ;)

I would say this: so you place a character in a cold/snowy environment--you probably subconsciously pictured them with warm clothes on, right? Don't assume your reader won't picture something similar. Now like Omi said of course, unless there's something out of place, don't spend too much time on clothing. An acceptable place to mention clothing that's out of place may be literally when it's out of place, like someone's under/overdressed relative to other people in a restaurant, say, or maybe if they're wearing a tux in the summertime and it's hot.

I remember a really good line from Black Hawk Down (can't remember it word for word) drawing attention to the layers of clothing, helmet, body armor, and gear on the soldiers in the hot climate of Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. If it was cooler, or 70-odd degrees out, there might not be so much mention of those layers.

Or in history books I've seen, it points out rope-soled/otherwise inadequate footwear that a number of Russian soldiers had to wear in their dreary encounters in World War I. They never mentioned anything about the attire of anyone else's military, really, because they wore the usual adequate standard issue military stuff-not worth taking up space in a history book. But rope-soled shoes were deplorably out of the norm for attire, so it was worth mentioning.
 

OurJud

Senior Member
Readers will "see" with their minds whatever they imagine no matter how much you describe it.

I think this is very true. A reader's mind will instantly picture things how they see fit. If I'm reading a scene describing a man wandering around his house, pottering in his garden, mulling about at his place of work, I need virtually nothing from the author in order for me to picture these places in my mind's eye. Chances are the way I imagine them is nothing like the author did, but so what? The author gave their world to me when I bought his/her book, and I shall imagine it just as I please.

Having said that, some writers do like to describe things in finer detail, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that either. Just don't get obsessive.
 

Gamer_2k4

WF Veterans
2- Your character is climbing a mountain in only his boxers and a Hawaiian shirt because they are a superspy who was captured by the enemy and then stripped down and dropped into the mountains by helicopter to die a cold and lonely death. Like any superspy worth their salt, your character will have a hidden briefcase nearby containing a collapsible airplane with excellent heating.

Maybe your character just happens to be Wim Hof.
 
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