Dressing for (Fantasy Worlds) Success

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There are some things everyone would choose. Who wouldn’t want a magic ring? Although maybe not the One Ring; I don’t think any of us have enough darkness to handle that. Of course, if the ring possesses the right properties then it might not matter what you wear. But there are lots of things you can’t do when you’re invisible – so here are my wardrobe choices for those times when you need to look just right, whatever doorway might open.

Newt Scamander’s suitcase, obviously. It beats Mary Poppins’ carpet bag hands down. I’d also like one of those wee bottomless purses; that could be very useful. I probably first encountered this type of magic bag in Andrew Lang’s The Grey Fairy Book, since I worked my way through all the colour fairy books when I was still in primary school, but apparently the object appeared in print as early as 1509AD (fairytalez.com) and it was just as effective when J K Rowling wrote about Hermione’s purple beaded bag almost five hundred years later.

Kell’s coat (A Darker Shade of Magic). Whatever situation presents itself, whatever disguise is required, simply take off the coat and turn it inside out. Sometimes you have to do this several times to get the right coat for the occasion. “Kell wore a very peculiar coat… the first thing he did when he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed.” In my case, one of the sides would be Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak (assuming I didn’t have the Ring) and another would be one of Lothlorien’s elven cloaks. And, of course, one side would need to be The Doctor’s coat, complete with sonic screwdriver. Which doctor? Well, I was going to go for Jodie Whittaker’s new look – I do love a hood – but I’ve realised she’s actually wearing a hoodie under a coat (not a long hooded coat) so I’m going for Peter Capaldi’s elegant scarlet-lined coat.

Vanastalem. I don’t think you can go wrong with the spell Agnieszka is forced to learn in Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. Vanalem – Vanastalem – the simplest form of the word conjures up a straightforward working outfit. The more complex the word, the fancier the clothes, until with a mouthful of syllables you can clothe yourself as befits royalty in full court dress. That’s a lot easier than transporting a wardrobe suitable for all occasions – maybe I won’t need that suitcase after all. “Power shuddered out of me. Crusted pearls and whalebone closed up beneath his hands like armour, and he jerked his hands off me and stepped back as a wall of velvet skirts fell rustling between us.”

Wherhide trousers and vest. Vanalem is all to the good, but for everyday wear I can certainly see the sense in a fabric which is resistant to pretty much everything except threadscore (Anne McCaffrey, Dragonflight etc). They’d look good with the coat, and after all I will be riding a dragon of some kind. Or, at least, something huge and disturbing and not altogether easy to see, which people’s minds will tell them is a dragon for want of a better label to pin on the phenomenon (Sheri S Tepper, Grass).

Footwear. I favour soft, low-heeled boots myself. Comfortable for walking – good for running away (always a better plan than fighting, if possible). A pair of Hermes’ cast-offs would do nicely, for those time when flight is required and one’s dragon is otherwise engaged. I’m sure Percy Jackson could get me a pair. Shoes seem simple, but stand for a lot. I’m not even going to get started on the social, or sexual, symbolism of footwear. But my bottom line is that comfort is more important than looks. I plan to journey – and I don’t intend to get blisters!

If you were running away into a fantasy-world adventure, what’s the one object or item of clothing you couldn’t do without?

And here’s the list of books I’ve just referenced:

J R R Tolkien                       The Lord of the Rings

Seanan McGuire               Every Heart a Doorway

J K Rowling                          Fantastic Beasts (screenplay)

P L Travers                          Mary Poppins

Andrew Lang                      The Grey Fairy Book

J K Rowling                          Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

V E Schwab                         A Darker Shade of Magic

J K Rowling                          Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

BBC Television                   Doctor Who (the 12th and 13th Doctors)

Naomi Novik                      Uprooted

Anne McCaffrey               Dragonflight

Sheri S Tepper                   Grass

Rick Riordan                       Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From Texas to Poldark, via The Shire

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There’s an interesting article in The Times today (‘When TV is your style guru’, Harriet Walker) about the way in which, these days, we get our fashion information direct from film and TV – the article cites programmes such as Game of Thrones and Mad Men as being particularly influential.

Now, I don’t think this phenomenon is new. If I look back to my own teenage obsession with fashion, it was influenced far more by film than by magazines (which I couldn’t afford) or newspapers (which were bought, rarely, by my parents and not available for me to read).

I always had an interest in clothes, fed in part by my Auntie, only six years older than me, who passed down some very trendy 1960s clothing. I especially remember the hot pink tartan kilt and matching skinny rib jumper, and the lurid orange nylon bell-bottom jumpsuit that produced marvellous amounts of static, creating a lovely light show under the bedclothes, or in any darkened room.

But the experience that suddenly made me aware that fashion was created, and then fed to the public, as opposed to being a response to public taste, was going to the cinema to watch the John Wayne film Hellraisers. This film about oil well cappers, based on the freely reimagined fictionalised biography of famous oil firefighter Red Adair, was costumed by a wonderfully inventive and elegant designer, Edith Head.

It’s probably fair to say that my attention was caught by the clothes not only because they were especially gorgeous, but also because the film was pretty slow. And then there was that essential moment of serendipity – the following day I went to play with a friend, and her Mum had a fashion magazine with an article specifically about the film costumes, and their designer. It was the first time I’d associated a particular person with design, and it led to a happy few years searching out Yves St Laurent and Chanel and a wealth of other designers, and hunting down other films dressed by Edith Head (there are a lot!) not to mention becoming one of those sad people who sits in a darkened cinema and watches the credits roll up.

These days one of the things that impresses me is the quality of costume design in modern productions. Gone are the days when the crew could mock something up out of metallic knit and call it chain mail. One exemplar of this drive for perfection is Peter Jackson, whose Tolkien extravaganzas, deservedly trumpeted for their creativity and production values, should also be appreciated for their painstaking attention to detail in costume design – everything from the weave of elven cloaks to the design of jewellery.

I was thinking on just this topic last Saturday, when I watched the most recent episode of Poldark. I know it’s hard to tear your attention away from the swooningly lovely Mr Aidan Turner, but do me a favour – next time, take a brief glance at the dresses worn by Demelza (upmarket peasant girl, but beautifully made and fitted) or Verity’s half mourning – delicate subtleties in shades of grey. And the menswear is just as good – subtle differences in station and attitude in matters as simple as the turn of a cravat, or the length of a coat. Another example of this drive for realism and believability in costume design is Outlander, recently filmed in Scotland and showing on Amazon Prime. Gorgeous work, from hessian rags to full tartan regalia, all with just the right amount of dirt for verisimilitude.

I am eagerly awaiting the sight, when spring finally arrives, of kilts on the street in numbers, or the return of the cravat. No, there’s nothing new in looking to film and television for fashion tips. It’s been going on since the first Victorian playhouse opened. Long may it continue!