I’m not like Matt, I don’t really hate costume. Actually, I really rather like costume because I enjoy sewing fantasy costumes. I love being able to sew because it means I can get exactly what I want. It doesn’t matter if it’s a particular shade of putrid yellow for some healers robes, or some tiny Minoan robes that are the perfect size for just me, I can do all that stuff with my trusty fifteen year old sewing machine.
It’s a joy to be able to sew when you’re interested in fantasy costumes. There’s nothing that you’re limited by except your imagination. Want to use some couture finishes in your costume? Sure, why not? Go ahead! How about some totally fantasy armour based on Samurai layering? Just buy the right material and spend hours putting it together in front of the TV. What about being inspired by TV itself? No problem! I took a bit of Arya Stark to Odyssey in my costume.
But although I photograph fantasy games, I’m actually gravitating toward playing modern military games, and I have a filmsim coming up at the end of this month where we’re playing Eastern European rebels. This poses a problem for me. For I am 5ft tall.
I wrote a post some time ago where I mentioned how hard it was to buy basic women’s kit that wasn’t really expensive or frilly blouses. A few weeks after that I investigated trying to buy myself a gambeson (because I didn’t have time at that point to make one) but became increasingly frustrated that I had the option of ‘man size’ or nothing (except for one lone manufacturer who makes a kind of Eastern style women’s gambeson). The problem with ‘man size’ is that I’d have to buy a 40″ chest to accomodate my figure, but I only have a 28″ waist. And of course the gambeson would drown me around the shoulders, arms and hem and I’d end up having to take it all up and in anyway. (And as anyone who sews will tell you – it’s generally harder to modify an existing garment than make one from scratch).
Buying kit can be an exercise in futility. I don’t want to have to plan six months in advance, place an order with a costume maker, and then pay their premium prices. Sometimes I just want a cheap bit of kit from a trader at a LARP event. But a piece of kit that goes in and out in roughly the right places, rather than a piece of kit designed for a man’s body.
This wasn’t a big deal. I just went without the gambeson and figured I’d make one this winter (when I’m happy to be sat on the sofa covered in loads of layers of thick fabric) but this month the whole ‘kit doesn’t fit me’ problem has become very evident. At military styled LARP events there’s a dress code. You wear military kit. You can’t really make most military kit at home. Although you can buy the official fabrics and so on, it’s an awful lot of effort for something that will look like a pair of bog standard army trousers. There’s room occasionally to deviate (like when I made a MOLLE rig in blue because I’m a member of the media at Shadow Wars) but mostly you just want to be wearing kit that you can pick up from the army surplus.
The challenge for me is always boots. I have small feet so, I can always manage to pick up black ‘cadet’ boots, but they’re noticeably different to the cool Magnum’s that everyone else is running around with. The size four desert boots that I just ordered will have to be worn with at least two thick pairs of socks. And I can’t have the nice MOLLE armour either or the military vests because it’s always too big, or it rubs in uncomfortable places. Last time I wore a standard security belt with my gun holster attached it actually cut the skin on my hips over the course of the weekend.
This sends out a message to me. It says ‘this style of game isn’t for you’. As a woman who is actually not that far from average sized (I’m slim-ish and only three inches shorter than the national average) it frustrates me that I cannot simply look like my friends. I don’t want to have to have special kit, or wear trainers because I can’t get boots to fit, I just want to fit in. I want to look the same as everyone else.
So I suppose that this post is not only an angry rant that I can’t find military clothes that fit (I’m getting a dab hand at taking in men’s military shirts around the shoulders) but a plea to LARP traders. If we want women to make up more than 33% of LARPers in the UK, then we need to provide women with the kit to do our hobby. Men’s base layers don’t fit many of us women. Trousers have to be bought huge because men’s trousers aren’t cut to fit over our hips, and then we have to roll the bottoms up. Shirts and tunics have to be bought a couple of sizes too big as well, and then we look like we’re wearing our Dad’s clothes. And of course, not everyone wants to play a damsel in distress. Dresses and flouncy shirts only cater for so many characters – but the other characters shouldn’t have to play dress-up in men’s clothes.
I know it’s an economic problem. Leah and I have hashed this out at length before. But please, if you see the opportunity to stock some basics in a women’s size, then do so. And women – don’t be afraid of asking for what you really want from a trader, rather than putting up with ill-fitting kit.