Outfit collections for larping need love, lots and lots of love, and not a small amount of storage space. Once you’re slowly going to more events, and your first outfit doesn’t fit the characters you play any more, what are you going to do..?
The approach to fantasy outdoor larping, or costume genre larping overall is as varied as it gets. I’m sure there are people who just can’t stand cloaks – and people who play only modern and/or sci-fi larps (but in costumes or specialized clothing) and have no use of cloaks whatsoever. Your collection is your choice. All it takes is a little bit of effort, following the setting’s guidelines as much as you can, and no one will mind, no matter how basic (or complex) your outfits get.
I’m just here to get you started in terms of building the said collection, as a longtime costumer and lover of layered outfits. And nope, nothing written here means you have to have a collection. Most of the time, it’s roleplaying first, costuming later – the way it actually should be. But no one’s to say you can’t indulge yourself in a splendid piece of larping clothing, from time to time…
One / General costuming tips
#1 There’s always a second chance. If there’s one “rule” of larping outfits and costumes in general, it is this. Take your time, do what you can do now, and fix things for the next event. It’s called building a collection for a reason – no instant solutions, plenty of second chances. (Just make sure not to include outfit pieces that could physically hurt you or your co-players if they fall off mid-game, like sharp jewelry. Everything else is included in you regular larping experience.)
#2 Always check out second hand and thrift shops, as well as the flea market – and do it when you have plenty of time, on a full stomach (so you don’t go home with excessive junk). It’s incredible what can be bought for little to no money, only to grow into a favourite outfit piece. Take your time, grab a pack member along, and enjoy the hunt.
#3 Don’t bother with single-use outfits, fit just for one specific larp (or geek convention). If you can’t imagine yourself wearing an outfit on more than one event, you’re basically wasting time, more so if you don’t have time to waste in the first place. (Not many people do.) Still, if a single-use outfit is pretty easy to put together, and pieces of it can be taken apart and used later… your call!
#4 Detail makes perfect – find (or create) detail in everything. Modernistic clothing minimalism was never really a thing, in the past, and most fantasy larps draw inspiration from the said past. Find detail in fabric patterns, jewelry, carved leather (or faux leather) pieces, in hats, gloves, boots… Even if you wear the simplest peasant tunic, you can always find ways to make it look used, lived-in, and not new – in tears, detailed stitches, undertunics that are just a little bit off in colour, etc. Realistic appearance is something many larpers strive for, and wearing minimalistic outfits, which seem like they’ve just been shipped from an online store, doesn’t feel realistic at all (unless, of course, in a sci-fi setting).
#5 There are exceptions to every rule. Say, when your girlfriend’s brother is going to an Elder Scrolls larp, and you really want him to feel like a part of it, and you go waaay above basic costuming to give him as perfect a Thalmor robe as possible. (Yup, that’s sewing golden ribbon in beetle-like ornaments on a sewing machine for you non-gamers out there…) Sometimes, an outfit seems just so perfect, you don’t really care if one event is all it’ll see. Sometimes, a character (or larp) is so important that nothing really matters and you’d easily go naked or in borrowed blue jeans. (No denim in fantasy larping, remember?) Life and larping surprise us all, every day, and sometimes we’ll surprise them back, disregarding every costuming rule – and that’s perfectly okay, as long as your having fun – which is, after all, the main goal. (Also, did I just say rule, again? Eames forbid. Suggestion, really. Hint? Suggestion, that’s the one I was looking for.)
Two / Ground rules (Suggestions!)
#1 Start with cheaper, general outfits to figure out your real needs before you invest in clothes for the lives of your characters. Figuring out your costuming style might take some time, and if you’ve just started larping, it’s better to wait it out a bit, until you find out what you like, how you can get it, and who can help you on the way to your outfit collection (if that’s something you find fun). No one really knew what we were doing when we got into larping, did we? Luckily, outfit-wise, there’s not really much to know – and everything is adjustable along the way.
#2 Go for the smallest number of pieces possible and grow on it if you feel like it. There’s a longtime larper in Croatia, actually a dear friend, who regularly cycles what appears to be 5 or so costume pieces throughout events. When he needs something more, or something specific for a role, he’ll ask around and borrow stuff from other people’s collections. Although it’s an approach that wouldn’t fit everyone (myself definitely included *shudders*), it works! And it surely doesn’t hurt his play. At the start, you probably won’t need more than one of everything (one bottom piece – pants or skirt or whatever you fancy, one shirt, one overpiece – vest or jacket or an abundant piece of fake fur, one cloak if you’ll spend more time outdoor at a fantasy larp, one pair of good, non-sneaker shoes etc.). Once you get into it (and you’re positive you’re loving this larping thing), grow from your basic pieces into whatever you desire. There’s no need to rush it, unless the next event is really something big and/or important.
#3 Take special care about the universal fantasy pieces: cloaks, headgear and simple bottom layers (half-hidden pants, underdresses, skirts etc.) Muted colors, natural fabrics and heavy cloaks are your friends. Not everyone wears cloaks or headgear – you’ll have to find out first if you like them – but they add a welcome layer of warmth in the woods, especially if made of wool and/or fake fur. As for the bottom layer, you can get away with almost anything as an upper piece – shirt, tunic, simple top – as long as your bottoms are setting-believable. (And yes, prepare to destroy a pair or two or a dozen in the great realm of outdoor larping – not just with mud, but with tears and non-sturdy fabric. Don’t sweat the losses – there’s always another pair just waiting around the corner, or in the fabric store.)
#4 Go for interchangeables – and definitely layerable pieces! For medievalish fantasy settings layering is actually period friendly, and for warmth-loving modern day larpers it’s the best thing since woollen hiking underwear. When you’re acquiring or making a new costume piece, make sure it fits your existing outfit collection in style and color. (Wait a second, am I writing larping or style advice? Some of the things seem vaguely familiar… or universal?)
#5 Don’t you dare underestimate the value of good footwear for outdoor events. If you need me to elaborate, you’ve never been in knee-deep mud, or larped under heavy rain. Footwear is where many fantasy larps go easy on the players, since a good hiking boot is ugly-as-hell-yet-reliably-waterproof, and most of the time you can get away with almost anything (other than sneakers!) if you cover your ankles with appropriate fabric scraps. Leather shoes (random boots, Dr Martens, etc.) are oftentimes left visible, and no one seems to mind much. Just… go for waterproof. You may or may not expect an inquisition of any sort, but always expect rain. Just to be on the safe side.
Three / Dress for yourself – finding your theme
#1 Wear stuff you like – not stuff you think you should like. Following the crowd makes stuff easier, but if you feel like wearing something totally different (yet setting-appropriate), by all means…! There’s just three things you have to bear in mind – it has to be weather-friendly, setting-appropriate and you have to feel good in it. That’s basically it.
#2 Know your theme. As time goes by, many people fall into a costuming pattern, getting and making pieces revolving around a theme, a flavor, our a favourite costume pattern. Some people larp in dresses only, some go to incredible lengths to make leather and/or fur outfits with their own hands. Still, a theme is more than pieces, coming closer to costuming inspiration. For me, plenty of times, it was the Middle and Far East, or at least my version of it (I just can’t stay away from turbans). For the co-alpha, it’s something closer to Viking or Celt or standard medieval (but that’s also slowly changing, is it not?). It won’t stop either of us from making or wearing something totally different, but it helps when we’re in a hurry and it helps with the interchangeability of, basically, everything.
#3 Know at least something about your theme’s background. If you’re drawing inspiration from real historical clothing, Google a bit deeper than the first couple of pictures, find historical patterns you can adapt and so on. More often than not, you’ll run into people at larps who know something about your clothing inspiration’s real-life roots, and you wouldn’t want to appear totally ignorant, would you? It also helps in not appearing to be randomly clothed, or not mixing patterns that would’ve never been worn together (unless that’s exactly what you want to do).
#4 Find ways to mix your theme into other genres and setting guidelines. If you, like me, have a wardrobe full of loose, square pieces and headscarves, it might take a bit of effort to fit into a standard medieval setting. Still, as we all draw inspiration from basically everywhere, who’s to say that my “Mongol hat” wasn’t bought in-setting at a faraway marketplace? (Still, I’m still sorry about the awesome, incredibly simple kimono jacket I made pre-TESC II just to realize there’s no way in the universe for a random Breton girl to wear something so Readguardish.*sigh*)
#5 Don’t take it too seriously. Well, never take anything too seriously (except caring for your partner and post-larp care). If there’s no theme whatsoever inbetween the clothing you like, that’s your theme! If you don’t like anything special, just dress for the sake of not wandering in the woods naked and that’s perfectly fine. (If that’s the case, I’m not really sure why you’re reading this, but it appeared in your newsfeed and you just had to click and… hi! Glad you’re here, whatever the reason.)
Four / A note on group costuming
#1 Be really sure you want to do it. If there’s one thing I’d feel like saying about group costuming, that’s it. Dressing up a group of players is hell, even if you’re all basically getting costumes for yourselves, because suddenly you have to think like you’ve spread yourself in several bodies and not two people will have similar ideas and life’s a bitch and… just… be really, really sure. It’s most definitely worth it – especially because people tend to react pretty well – but it’s still double hard than regular, one-person costuming.
#2 Choose simpler patterns which can be adjusted to most of the players in the group. Experienced costume crafters and seampeople will tell you – with perfect accuracy – that the “one size fits all” trope is common marketing crap. People you envy for the way they wear their outfits have clothing issues you’d never even think of. Larpers are human, and humans don’t fit any “standards”, at least from my sewing experience. Instead of elaborate patterns, better go for simple patterns and shapes and let everyone add their own twists and adjustments – resulting in a happy larping group.
#3 Be aware of the timeframe. Dressing up a group is not really the same as dressing one person times the group’s body count, but it will still take more time than you previously thought – especially if you’re shopping for fabric and making costumes together. Building a costume for one person is time consuming enough, building a set… well, let’s just say you’ll probably be better off if you start at least a couple of weeks earlier than you would, if getting the outfit just for yourself.
#4 Go for similar, not same. If your group wants a tunic, decide on the color, length and sleeve format (if it’s important) and leave the small stuff (patterns, layers, border embroidery and the like) for every player to choose for themselves. We all love uniform groups, but I have a slight feeling that even organized groups in the olden days (religious, military or similar) never wore exactly the same fabric shade. Also, clothing changes through wear, and differences are bound to occur even in a tight-knit group.
#5 If in doubt, opt for one piece in common for the whole group and just go with it. We did both this and similar colors for the Dibella priesthood, with a palette in earthly shades (and that one was tough, even though it turned out beautifully) and identical scarves. I might recall even hearing a comment or two of how put-together the group looked as a whole, and if I’m not mistaken, someone didn’t even realize the tunics were all made separately, by different people, from different fabrics… lovely.
Five / Taking care of the collection
#1 Washing. Honestly, I have a ton of posts waiting on separate washing issues (most notably, mud), but to keep things simple, let’s just say you’ll probably have to wash stuff by hand more often than not. The co-alpha and I’s cloaks are all but one machine washable, but even that won’t help you with mud. Persistent grass stains (especially around the knees) are common and it’s nothing to worry about. There’s a reason dark pants are basically the norm in outdoor larping… Either way, take the mud down first, and then wash and rewash until you’re satisfied (and until the next event). It just takes a little more patience than with everyday clothes.
#2 Repairing. Tears and holes add to your outfits in terms of realistic appearance, and there’s not much you can do but repair them and not freak out over each little clothing incident. If you own at least a few pieces of fantasy clothing, you’ll probably have to learn to hold a needle and thread soon – luckily, it’s incredibly easy. Unfortunately, some things are impossible to fix – say, when your fake fur scarf catches pyrotechnic special effects – so it’s better not to get overly attached to pieces you take into the woods with you. Larping happens.
#3 Storing. Let’s be clear – outfit collections are a pain in the storage department. The co-alpha and I are barely managing with “one” closet (it’s a closet with a huge room around it), and we can rarely find just the piece we’re looking for. People we larp with have boxes under the bed, clothing racks and (the lucky ones) whole rooms full of larping gear. How you store your outfits depends on your storage options, but I must admit I’m happy no piece I own needs ironing to be presentable. (After all, have you ever met a fantasy traveller who has a portable iron in their sack? Didn’t think so.)
#4 Redesigning. Outfits which have seen too much wear, outfits which have long since changed color from the original one, outfits with tears you can’t repair – there’s a place for those outfits, too, in your future larping career, in repurposing, redesigning and reinventing. Sew something over the hole, pair up stuff you haven’t thought of so far, break clothes apart and add your own patches in different colors, shorten some up, lengthen other – you choose. I think there’s a Viking overtunic in the co-alpha’s collection which has been at least three different pieces so far, with different jewelry sewn in and worn in completely different ways. Grab some scissors and knock yourself out! (Just remember the needle and thread we spoke of earlier.)
#5 Replacing. Life has its cycles, and outfits do, too. Whatever I might’ve said before, growing attached to outfits (and characters, and larps, and players…) is hard to avoid. Sometimes you grow tired of certain outfits, or you switch genres, or you kill off the character associated to a specific outfit (or someone else does it for you). Sometimes it’s just time to throw something out to make space for something new. When that happens, know what you need, know what you want (most definitely not the same thing) and see how the new acquisition fits your existing wardrobe. Maybe it’ll take it in a whole new direction…
A note on armour: You might have noticed that I, umm, never talk about armour in terms of fantasy larping. It’s quite simple – I hate writing about stuff I know nothing of. There’s a ton of great tutorials out there, really, and if you want my advice, it’s as simple as “get qualified backup”. A lot of larpers wear armour of all kinds imaginable, and most of them are quite approachable and happy to help when you’re starting out. Know what you’d like to wear, know that it takes some time to get or make, find the right person to help you with it if you are making it, and enjoy! (And I’ll make sure to get qualified backup for the blog, too.)
Ready to see where your outfitting inspiration takes you? Make sure you enjoy it to the fullest!
Five by Five is a regular feature on Skirts ‘n’ Wolves, which runs on the first Monday of (almost) every month. I’m a huge lover of all sorts of lists, and larp-related ones fit right in. Come to think of it – got a great larp list idea? I’d love to hear about it! Drop a comment or an e-mail.