LARP at Play: Costuming and You, Part 1

This week and next week’s article is courtesy of a conversation I had with a fellow LARPer and friend, Adam. We got onto the subject of costuming and by the time our several minute conversation had ended we agreed that an article (or two) on costuming would be a good idea. Thus from that conversation we have Costuming and You, parts one and two. This week I’ll be sharing part one and next week will be part two.

One of the points we did agree on, and I think many LARPers will agree with, was that part of the joy of character creation is the fun of costuming that character. Their stats may all be noted on that sheet of paper in your pocket, but the character really comes to life when you dress up and assume that role. There were many valid points that we discussed during that conversation and those points are what I’d like to share with you with the hope it’ll help you have a more engaging time when you assume the role of your character.

  • Costuming helps enhance and keep game atmosphere: I can’t repeat this enough times. The game organizers can decorate the game space, have awesome NPC costumes and provide cool props, but that can all be put to waste if you suddenly have a cadre of PC’s in shabby costumes (t-tunic just thrown over street clothes, for example). Yes, it can be harder to costume for certain genres, however most organizers also understand that if a honest, conscious effort is being made to be more forgiving. At the same time this isn’t an excuse to show up in a sloppily created costume. Just as organizers should do all they can to provide a setting that helps you suspend your disbelief and create the feeling and atmosphere conducive to the game they are running, you too have a responsibility to do all that you can to costume appropriately to help enhance and uphold that atmosphere.

    LARP Organizers and plot crews, don’t think I’d let you all off the hook so easily. Just as it’s important for the players of your game to be well costumed, the same is true for your NPCs; even if the NPCs are just toss away crunchies. The players should never have to ask “What do I see?” when an NPC approaches them. The more you can do to enhance game atmosphere through NPC costuming and props the better the game will be and more engaging the players will likely be with the game environment.

    It’s also important to make sure that you communicate to your players the expectations you have for costuming and make up, and keep those expectations realistic. You should also be aware of the message your expectations send and set. If you’re going to have some pretty stringent costume expectations for your players, they have a right to expect that you’ll have a lot to offer them in return (see the point just below).

  • Expectations: Make sure that you’re aware of the game’s overall costume expectations and do all that you can to meet them. Likewise, game organizers should be fair and aware of what the they can expect from their players based on the costume expectations they set.

    I really like what Kitten, a member of the Mortalis Games forums had to say on this, “… If you are more forgiving with your armor and costuming requirements, the atmosphere may not be as authentic but the average here-for-the-fun-of-it-and-pretty-well-broke players will likely be more content (and may surprise you with how creative they can be!), while those with the desire to go above and beyond have the satisfaction of being envied and admired.

    “… On the other end of the spectrum, the higher the expectations on armor and costume, the more the game needs to return in retrospect: extra bonuses for good costuming; strict, fair, and well-followed rules on armor points (with benefits for going the extra mile), contests for Best Costume or Best Armor, etc. If you expect more from the player, the player expects more from the game. If you demand above-average costuming for a below-average to average game, expect to have some very disillusioned players who won’t be coming back.”

    You can read their whole comment here.

  • Costuming for the Weather: Those who play games inside a climate controlled building won’t need to worry about this point near as much, though you should consider how your character would dress during extremely hot or bad weather upon arriving at the in-game gathering location (particularly if you might step outside for a bit). If you’ll be one of those playing outside a lot, this point becomes more important; as you create your costume, be aware of the weather it’ll be worn in. If temperatures will fluctuate during the day, dress in layers so you can shed layers as it warms up and then add them back as it cools down. If it’ll be really hot, wear light weight fabrics in light colors. If it’ll be really cold, wear a light layer next to your skin, then add on the heavier, thicker layers. While there are a bunch of synthetic fabrics out there, I’ve also found that when costuming for temperature extremes that sticking to primarily natural fibers is best: Cotton, linen, silks when it’s hot and cottons, silk, wool, flannel when its cold. This is because natural fibers breath better and some fabrics, like wool, will keep you warm even when they are damp.
  • Appropriateness: As you create or develop the costume for a character make sure that it’s appropriate for the game’s location, the game’s genre and style and your body type. Showing up in a Princess Leia slave girl style outfit, as appropriate as it might be for the character you’re playing, it might not be appropriate for the game’s location or non-participants that might be in the area. Overly skimpy, risqué and excessively gruesome costumes should be kept to private venues and then only put on and removed within the confines of that venue’s changing areas. If the venue won’t have changing rooms for you to get changed in then make sure you wear something over the top that’s modest or covers the shocking parts of your costume that you can quickly remove once you get to the game site. If you really must wear something that shocking to a game that isn’t at a private venue, tone it down as much as you can and then wear a skin colored body suit underneath, that way if something does shift the wrong way you won’t suddenly have a horrible, embarrassing and inappropriate wardrobe malfunction. Better yet, have a “public safe” outfit that you can wear for such occasions.

    While most people don’t have an issue with making sure that their costume fits the game’s genre and style, I think a reminder is still a good idea. Be aware of the game’s genre and costume accordingly. Be aware of the materials you’re using or incorporating to make sure that they enhance the costume in a way that fits with the genre. A bright, construction orange shirt probably wouldn’t work well for a fantasy themed game, but might be perfect for that post-apocalypse LARP. Also, be aware of the game’s style. A theater style LARP will be more forgiving and open to having an elaborate costume that might include a lot of straps, spikes or “appendages” than a live-combat LARP where such a costume would likely create a safety hazard and thus not allowed. Please don’t let your costume become a safety hazard and design accordingly where such things can be easily removed for more active games or are less obtrusive, thus preventing them from becoming a safety hazard.

    Be aware of your body type and costume accordingly; some materials and styles are flattering for only certain body types. Yes, this means that just because you can wear something doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. Keeping this in mind will not only will help you create something that will flatter your body type and remain comfortable, but can also keep you from creating a health or safety hazard. Wearing a piece that’s too large in some way can not only be cumbersome, but can lead to safety issues. Likewise, wearing something that’s too small in some way can be a potential health hazard if you can’t move or breathe in a fashion that won’t cause you to keel over.

  • Utilizing colors (or lack thereof): If you tend to be the kind of person who creates very monotone costumes in a particular color or very few similar colors, consider adding an accessory or two or that adds a splash of color to your outfit. If you want to go dark, you can do it without going all black, mix in dark jewel tones to add some depth and variation. The same goes with very pale colored costumes, very light pastels mixed in with the white or ivory do the same. Some groups may reserve certain colors for various items like belts or sashes for special groups, such as knights and white belts. Be aware of such color restrictions so that you don’t make a color fumble with your costume. Also be aware of the colors you pick and the time of year. As noted earlier, darker colors will soak up the heat of the sun much more than lighter colors.
  • Footwear: Wear good shoes! It doesn’t matter if you’re going to be walking around a hotel ballroom or out booking it across a field with a horde of NPCs in tow. Take care of your feet and they’ll take care of you. Most game organizers understand this and are willing to be more lenient with footwear/costume clashes (particularly if you have special shoe inserts/orthotics you need to wear). Make sure the shoes you wear are broken in and well cushioned too. Nothing will ruin your feet faster than wearing shoes that you’ve not broken in or are ill fitting. Likewise, don’t wear a style of shoe you’re not used to wearing. If you hardly wear high heels, don’t suddenly wear a pair of stilettos to a game. Your feet will hate you (and your back might too). If you’ll be participating in a live-combat game make sure you wear shoes with at least good arch support and good ground gripping tread on the bottom, good ankle support is strongly recommended.
  • Cleaning, repair and storage: Keep your costume pieces cleaned and in good repair and they’ll last you a long time. When they get dirty or smelly, clean them as soon as you can to keep stains or smells from setting in. Torn or ripped costuming should be repaired as soon as possible keep further damage from compounding the problem or making the costume unwearable. If you don’t know how to sew or the damage is beyond your skill to repair check around your LARP group or the LARP community in your area; someone is bound to know how to fix it or know someone who can. If your costume has been in storage for a while air out the pieces before wearing; a musty costume that’s been stored away for months on end can be rather unpleasant smelling. Packing small blocks or balls of cedar wood around your costuming are not only good for helping to repel wool eating moths but also keeping mustiness at bay. You may also want to spray down your costume with a product like Febreeze to help clear out any nasty odors it picked up while in storage.

Here’s a parting treat, a link a friend sent me: Warm Weather Costuming for LARPs, Renaissance Faires, and Conventions. Thanks, Conor!

Next week I’ll cover various resources that one can utilize to help create a fun and dynamic costume on the cheap in part two of Costuming and You.

In closing, do you have any other points that you feel should be shared? Any sources or tips you want to share for next week’s half? Any other costume related thoughts you want to share?

As always I love to hear feedback and suggestions for further articles. Feel free to leave a comment here at the Mortalis Games site, write Amber at webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com or once this goes live on RPGnet, visit the article’s forum thread (there should be a link below the article to it) to see what else has been shared or to leave a comment there.

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