There was some great discussion after I wrote my first ‘Layering’ post, and much of it revolved around the idea that the message that should be taken is ‘layers look cool’ rather than ‘layers can make your character look more authentic’.
Layers often do look cool. That is certainly true. But layers can also help you to make your costume look more like your characters clothes, simply because it’s what people expect you to do – and it has historical precedent. (I know that LRP isn’t reenactment, but sometimes it’s good to take advice from those that have gone before us.)
I think this article misses the point a bit. What you can glean from it is “layers look cool,” but no one wears that many layers on a daily basis unless they live in a climate that can change temperatures drastically without warning.
Well, first of all. I do live in the UK. And we do have a wildly fluctuating climate. At Odyssey LRP I would fully expect to experience the whole spectrum from heavy rain to glorious sunshine. An outfit designed for a weekend LRP in the UK that is largely outdoors needs to take into consideration a huge variety of weather conditions. And those layers need to be able to be put on and taken off easily because our weather really is that awful. (Also I believe I’m now fulfilling my Brit Quota by discussing the weather with you all. If you don’t understand this comment – don’t worry it’s a British thing.)
But secondly we do wear that many layers on a daily basis. It’s summer and yesterday I wore a vest top, a long sleeve top, a hoodie, and a waterproof when I popped out to go to the shop. That’s pretty normal. It meant that when I came inside I took off my coat and later on I took off my hoodie when I warmed up. That’s how we wear clothes on a daily basis and that’s why our characters might look odd if they only have two layers to their costume (like a thick waterproof cloak and a thin tunic).
So here’s a great example. This is someone who is fully dressed to go to work in a smart job. The model has got four visible layers (I’m going to count a tie as a layer because it makes more of an impression than just a scarf) and many people would wear a vest under a shirt too. In fact on a really cold day he might wear a jumper or a waistcoat as well.
Here’s another one too, more casual this time. If you look at the model on the right, they’re wearing a t-shirt, an over-shirt and a warmer coat. That’s pretty normal in the summer when the weather could change.
When I was working as a fashion photographer something I learned from my stylists was that layers make it look like you’ve dressed yourself to go out rather than as if you’ve dressed yourself for a photoshoot. The hint of a t-shirt neck under a jumper, a shirt under a waistcoat, the top of a sweater under a zipped up coat – all these things make it look like you’re wearing your clothes rather than just putting things on because they’re an outfit for a photoshoot (or… in other words… a ‘costume’).
The modern clothes we wear, like those above, have grown out of historical fashions. And while we have technical fabrics now so layering is often much more ‘fashion’ than something that is strictly necessary, natural and non-technical fabrics often do work better when layered together. You see layers trap air between them which keeps you warm. So it’s highly unlikely that your character would only ever wear a tunic and a cloak because at night they’d freeze unless they had an addiction to standing next to campfires. And when you’re playing a game that runs time-in until late at night – or even throughout the night – these are the things your character is likely to be thinking about.
So I went in search of historical works of art that show realistic fashions of the time. Obviously this is slightly problematic because people are likely to be putting on their best or most fancy clothing, but it does give an indication as to the way people dressed.
Here’s a religious figure from the eighteenth-century to start us off. Three clearly visible layers – a white flowing gown (with lots and lots of expensive fabric to show status), a collar, and a black robe over the top. I’m pretty sure he was likely to be wearing a simple garment underneath too – which you might potentially see around his feet and which I think you can just see at his cuff where it’s a simpler line around his left wrist.
Verdict: Four layers.
Two seventeenth-century ladies painted as if they were sitting in a garden. They each have a white undergarment with a satin dress over the top and a wrap around their shoulders. They’re almost certainly wearing some form of shapewear too – but I shan’t include that here since you shouldn’t see it. If they were traveling to a friends garden they’d also wear some kind of traveling coat over the top too.
Verdict: Three layers + something heavier for traveling in.
Time for a hot, Mediterranean climate. We’ve got Dido (the Carthaginian queen) on the left, and Aeneas (the Trojan prince) in the middle. Now something painted c.1766 clearly isn’t going to be authentic to the time period depicted, but it will reflect what people knew from other works of art, archeology, and to an extent it will be a reflection of their own fashions of the time.
Dido: Blue long sleeve shirt, red full length mid-layer (check out how it shows at her feet) and a green skirt over the top.
Verdict: Three layers.
Aeneas: Pale blue tunic (just visible at the hem), armour (the green leather skirt is part of the armour), red/white outer cloak. What’s really interesting about the cloak is that it’s a red cloak lined with white – and the trim is on the inside. This would be a really clever way to introduce another layer into your characters clothes, without actually adding another layer (I hope that makes sense).
Verdict: Three layers (plus a cute cloak lining).
Hogarth was interesting, because he was known for carefully observing life around him. He was a satirical painter so things were often exagerated for comedy, however clothing seems to have been something that fascinated him so it always appears meticulously observed. This is a scene depicting upper class men with prostitutes – so a variety of class ‘looks’ are in place.
Prostitute (left hand side): White under layer, gold/yellow mid layer, embroidered white outer layer.
Verdict: Three layers (plus outdoors layer).
Tom Rakewell (right hand side): White shirt (visible at cuffs too), gold/yellow mid layer (waistcoat?), blue coat. Also notice details like the different coloured necktie hanging open.
Verdict: Three layers.
Even a painting that shows those who are poor and who work for a living (as opposed to the aristocracy) demonstrates layering of clothing. This suffers from the same problems as the Carthage/Trojan work above, but some of the clothing does seem distinctly medieval in flavour here (proof that fashion is cyclical, everything comes around, and nothing is new).
The boy on the left has shorts and a robe pulled around his waist. The lady in the centre has a green dress, an orange cloak of some sort and a white head dress. The man on the right is wearing two shirts and an apron )and presumably some shorts like the boy on the right). The child in the blue is wearing a dress and a scarf. Only the two very young children are only wearing one layer – and the figure in the white is possibly Christ and is often depicted in simple robes.
I could have easily selected images that only showed a single layer of clothing on a painter’s subject. However often these are often depictions of ‘drapery’, which is fantasy clothing designed to make people look like they’re from a classical era, or they’re showing abject poverty or people in states of undress (for example – workers in a field would only wear one layer – but they would be likely to have another to put on when moving around or if it rained).
Layers do look cool. But they also have a base in historical (and modern) fashions. It’s another tool to help you look more like you’re wearing your characters clothes, rather than a costume.