Five by Five #2 – The Seams of Destiny a.k.a. Your First Larp Outfit

Recently there’s been a new influx of newbie players in the Croatian larp scene – or, to be honest, the influx has taken up again. There are things that new players think of that more experienced ones would never even imagine – more on the good than on the bad side, but still…

One of the things that confuse people the most is choosing the clothing part of their gear for the first larp they’re gonna attend. Of course, not a lot of people realize that chamber larps and larps set in a modern setting definitely count as larps, too – and you don’t need anything special to wear for those.

On the other hand… there are a few things to consider when choosing the first outfit for a genre larp, be it a part of an outdoor fantasy campaign, a one-shot sci-fi game or anything similar. Enjoy this short (well, one can hope) roundup of hints and tips for choosing your very first larp outfit.

One / Shopping in your closet

#1 Do you really want to spend a lot of money on your first outfit? You already know the answer – and it is a most definite no. There will always be people who will tell you “larping’s an expensive sport” or whatever – and I deeply believe them wrong. Sure, you will probably spend a cent or two over the years – but when you’re just starting out, your motivation and roleplay count way more than what you’re wearing. Give it time, test this new shiny larping thing, spread your budget over different parts of the hobby and enjoy the process.

#2 Is there anything black, green or brown in your everyday clothes? There will probably be at least something. Not to say that your favorite geeky t-shirt will be appropriate for a sci-fi larp – but you will probably be able to wear a regular longsleeved shirt under a waistcoat for a steampunk larp etc.

#3 Do you have any trousers and/or skirt appropriate for the setting? I, for once, would never wear any of my work skirts to an outdoor larp, but there are some which fit indoor larps perfectly. With trousers it might be a bit harder – especially for fantasy and medieval larps – but if you go for muted earthy colors or the omnipresent black you can probably get away with anything. (Other than denim. You don’t want to wear denim to fantasy or historical larps. You just don’t.)

#4 Is there anything you won’t mind ripping apart at a game? An older shirt or something similar? You know when you’re a kid, and they tell you to bring your “older clothes” to a playday and stuff – larping is play, after all. And in outdoor larping there is definitely always a possibility of ending up covered in mud.

#5 Is there anything you can borrow from a friend’s closet? And here’s where we get to a lovely practice quite common among Croatian larpers – and excellent for beginners. People who have been larping for some time probably have at least three outfits, and they can usually wear only one at a specific game. What’s to stop them from helping out a fellow newbie by borrowing parts or a complete costume? All you have to do is ask – and be ready to pay the favor on, when the time comes to mentor someone in the future.

A bit of closet shopping, a tiny bit of sewing and an awesome attitude is all you need.
A bit of closet shopping, a tiny bit of sewing and an awesome attitude is all you need.

Two / Defining the requirements of a game – and of yourself as a player

#1 What is the setting of the game? The most important thing. Even if you’re not gonna dive into a setting’s lore, you will have to grasp the basic info about a universe you’re joining by playing a larp. It can be as simple as dressing as a member of a gang or as complicated as designing and creating a complete outfit for a postapocalyptic mage from scratch. (Which is not something you will do for your first larp – at least I hope…) Know the setting – and use it well.

#2 Are there any GM guidelines for outfits or can you ask one of them for hints? The GMs are gods and godesses of the game – at least the caring ones. They will be more than happy to provide costume guidelines, be it in pre-game info or by answering your questions. Some of them will even help by providing info on where to get parts of your costume, whom to ask for help – or even by helping you make something. You never know unless you try – and they will be more than happy when you create an outfit appropriate for a setting they’ve created or chosen.

#3 Can you adapt something you ordinarily wear for the game? Same as One, but even more so. On my first outdoor fantasy larp (Tragači zore, Croatia, 2012) there where whole nations who wore stuff creative alternative people usually wear in Croatia, and the GMs navigated them – almost all of them were newbies – to the stores which cater to those groups. And yes, it worked quite prettily.

#4 Which costume designs appeal the most to you? Skip this part if you’re on a tight schedule for the article – because I’ll never tire of talking about costume inspiration. It correlates with character archetypes you’re attracted to – but is obvious at the first glance. Some people really like medieval aesthetic, and some will never stop wearing oriental-inspired outfits, even adapting them for high fantasy settings. In my case, it’s the Middle East and North African cultures which inspire most of my outfits – if you see a person wearing a headcovering similar to a turban at a Croatian larp, it may very well be me (definitely stop to say hi – I’m the short one with glasses). In your case, it might be anything – you just need to love it and adapt it to the game, your needs and your starting budget (see part One, above). If you feel like googling, be my guest and start with Trisha Biggar (movies) and the Vinshaar (larp). You’re welcome.

#5 Are there any special requirements based on the game style, expected weather or terrain? For starters, I’m still a bit afraid to wear long gowns or skirts at outdoor larps, but quite a few of my co-players – the co-alpha included – wear only long underdresses at larps, and it works for them. A friend just tucks the front part of the skirt into her belt and climbs as many ingame hills as necessary. Weather’s gonna influence the number of layers you’ll need – and some of the fabrics you’ll use – and the terrain and the rockiness or mudiness of it will define your footwear. For a more battle-oriented larp you will probably need some sort of armor, but for most fantasy larps you don’t need to bother yourself with it. Understand the game style, be informed about weather at the site at that specific date and talk to people who have already larped on that terrain. You’ll save yourself quite a bit of miscalculations regarding your outfit.

Three / What to look for in a costume

#1 Comfort. And comfort above all. You need to be warm enough, but your body needs to breathe; you need to be able to move for hours upon hours and not suffer any consequences (careful with corsets); you need to be able to stand up and sit down, walk and (probably) run and still have a full outfit on your shoulders. Larp outfits are not your everyday city clothes. Be aware of that.

#2 Sturdiness. Your outfit will probably have to survive more than one event, especially if you realize you like this larp thing. Don’t go for one-shot outfits. Choose something that might last – and it doesn’t have to be expensive, it just need to be well made.

#3 Versatility. Sure, it’s your first larp – but one can hope it will not be your last one. It’s always better to have three versatile outfits than three hundred unique ones. Some things – like underdresses, cloaks, headcovering and pants – can be used on all fantasy larps you attend, you just need to dress them up differently for each game. Larping can be like real life – and in real life, would you buy 365 different outfits to wear during one year? Didn’t think so.

#4 Layerability. It’s the same when packing for a trip – you need stuff that goes over and under other stuff. Outdoor larping can get quite cold, and you will probably want to add a layer or two underneath your tunic when the sun sets. Always try things on at home before an event – preferably a couple of days before – and see if they fit one over another. And no, your underlayers don’t neet do look authentic. They just need to do their job of keeping you warm and comfortable.

#5 Repairability. If I wanted to state things as simple as possible, I’d say you will have to be able to like a costume even if it gets damaged and repaired. Clothing damage is realistic, after all – and historic people especially couldn’t afford a huge closet of one-use clothes. There will happen a stitch or two in your beautiful floor-length gown, and you will have to live with it. So make sure the first outfit of your dreams will look appealing even after the first larp.

A good cloak is sometimes all you need - instant protection from elements. Also, smoke.
A good cloak is sometimes all you need – instant protection from elements. (Also, smoke.)

Four / What to avoid in an outfit

#1 Denim. Unless the setting’s modern or sci-fi. Otherwise – just don’t.

#2 Flimsy materials. There will be special-use outfits which can handle a bit of see through shiny fabric, but your first outfit should stay away from it. It will have to last for a couple of hours at the least, and you don’t want to go shirtless after your first encounter with a particularly angry forest bush.

#3 Sythetic materials (I like to call them “plastic”). They are, basically, plastic. And you’re not a piece of cake to be held in a fridge – sorry, but you’re not. You can rarely know how well a fabric is made until you test it – but with plastic (or any synthetic blends) you can be quite certain that it doesn’t respond well to heat, sweaty larpers and fireplace proximity.

#4 Outfits precious to your heart. I would never, never wear my Sabé decoy at an outdoor larp. It took me months, and it was the first outfit I’ve ever created from scratch. The cost of my tears would be too great if anything were to happen to it – and I will do my best to avoid that. You should, too – not with my Sabé decoy, but with your favourite convention cosplays or outfits etc. Larping requires heavy duty clothing. Repeat after me – larping requires heavy duty clothing. Ignore at personal risk.

#5 Too modern-looking clothes. Self-explanatory. If you’re not sure about what “modern-looking” is, google stuff like Mythodea or Demgard. See anything modern on the players? Didn’t think so.

Five / How hard is this sewing thing anyway?

#1 So you think you can’t sew? Seamsters are created, not born – and everything starts with the simple act of threading a needle. I’m sure you can get a couple of needles and threads from your local crafts or hobby store – and tear apart an old t-shirt in passable colors. The internet is full of sewing tutorials – and sometimes it’s even better when you figure things out yourself.

#2 Is there anyone in your close proximity who sews? And I don’t just mean exploit them until their fingers bleed. Ask them stuff. Let them show you stuff. Sometimes a good mentor is all you need.

#3 Ever heard of the T-tunic? The T-tunic is the simplest of simple fantasy outfits, and it can – literally – be made without a sewing machine. Google it, pick a tutorial you like, get some authentic looking fabric and an awesome belt and you’re good to go! Well, sometimes at least. When you’re not, get another tutorial. They have become really abundant online in the last decade or so.

#4 Adjustments count as sewing, too. Adding bottom pieces to your oversized shirt to help it double as a dress or tunic will most definitely do. And there are many other tiny improvements you can make on everyday clothing to use it on larps (take a look at the featured image – on the left or waay above on your cell phone).

#5 All it takes is a little patience. When we met, the co-alpha was decidedly non-crafty. Little by little, she took little projects and made them on her own – and made them her own. During the years, she has become the craftsperson of our pack – and I the seamstress. The main difference is that I handle the sewing machine, and she does everything with a needle and a thread. Wanna guess whose projects end up looking better ingame? It’s a very nice tie – because every tiny detail counts.

All you have to do is dare!

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