There’s a slight chill to the air, in many northern parts of the world; in the south, the first blush of summer is turning to true warmth. And in both places, you’ll find people using scarves to protect themselves from the elements.
Scarves are a funny thing. Loosely defined, they consist of any square, triangular or rectangular piece of fabric. Usually, they are not attached permanently to other types of clothing. In cold places, scarves of heavy material are used to keep warmth in, especially about the head and neck. In warm places, scarves of light material are used to keep the sun off, especially about the head and neck. And they date back to as far as 1350 BC, in Egypt, and even further up north.
All of which means it is plausible for any culture you dream up to have scarf-like accessories. It’s possible a future of controlled environments might render them obsolete, but considering how much the fashion world loves selling us bits of cheap-to-produce fabric, I doubt very much that obsolescence would push them out of style. (Besides which, hobby knitters will continue to learn on scarfs until the end of time. Or the end of the knitting.)
Considering all this, I’d strongly suggest using scarves as a method of showing group allegiance in games. Tabards are popular in medieval and high fantasy settings, but scarves have the advantage of being period and technologically appropriate in a much wider range of settings- meaning, when the game ends, you can use them again.
The true and faithful knights in her highness’s service can wear the silk (or rayon) mark of her favor. The roughnecks working the steam-ranch of that crazy old scientist can cover their mouths with the bandanas he issues, specially treated to keep them from inhaling certain… ah… local hazards. The highland clans can wrap themselves in the tartan patterns of their fathers. The settlers on the Sublight Colony Ship Drifter can show their political allegiance by the color of their synthetic neck-warmer-cum-airbag.
So, yeah. You can do damn near anything with them; if you’re looking for an accessory you can use again and again, try a scarf.
Shown Above: Paul Gustave Dore by Felix Nadar, via Wikimedia Commons. Photo is in the Public Domain.
John Duns Scotus of Duns, Scotland, was one of the most celebrated philosophers of the medieval era. He was a brilliant thinker who taught in Oxford, Cambridge, and Paris. He also had the enviable luck to be famous in his day, the late 1200s and early 1300s. “The Subtle Doctor”, as he was known, wrote works that would become university textbooks for years. All of this philosophy was not without it’s quirks; one of his accepted teachings was that tall conical hats helped to funnel information to the wearer’s head.
Incidentally, seven hundred years later, his name is synonymous with idiocy.
This wasn’t caused by the hat thing. The prestige shifted to shame in the 1500s, with the rise of reformers and humanists. Duns’ works were considered to be needlessly complex, and the revolutionary winds of change meant that everything associated with him was suddenly out- including the hats. The hats took on a meaning of shame as an effect of the fallen star of his teachings, just as his name did- by 1577 the name had become synonymous with stupidity and stubbornness (though this may have been more directed at the man’s followers than the scholar himself).
It’s unclear when exactly people started making bad students wear the dunce cap as a sign of shame; a dunce table for failing students appears in the 1624 play, “The Sun’s Darling”, but the word “dunce cap” doesn’t appear in English until Dickens’ novel, “The Old Curiosity Shop”, in 1840.
(The source of all of the above is the excellent educational materials of the Museum Division’s Schoolhouse, in the little town of Fort Walton Beach.)
Straw hats are one of those clothing items that have existed for so long that it is nearly impossible to pin-point their earliest uses (well, with the archaeological technology we have now, anyway). They can be made using grass or reeds, which is plentiful in nearly every human-occupied biome, and are a fantastic adaptation for dealing with the sun since they provide shade and allow for breezes to cool your scalp.
Even more interestingly, the shape of the hat in the past is pretty much the same as the floppy wide-brimmed hats you see at beaches or hovering over mint juleps in Louisville during derby season; like it’s pan-Asian cousin, the European straw hat has kept an iconic shape throughout the centuries. They were used amongst all classes; the peasants wore them, certainly, but so did nobles when out of doors.
It can be difficult to immerse yourself when you see clothing you associate with modern times, but firstly, old doesn’t always mean different, and secondly, straw hats will keep you cool when it’s hot and sunny out, and that is very important.
Ladies Wide Large Brim Summer Beach Sun hat Straw Beige via Shop Hot Punk. Straw. Ships to most countries. $9 USD
Gargoyles are a remarkably colorful quirk of architecture. Their architectural function is that of an ornate downspout that stretches far enough away from a masonry building that the water doesn’t run down the building and erode the mortar. They are often associated with Medieval European architecture, though decorating a downspout occurred to many fancy-building-makers in history.
Depending on who you ask, gargoyles were also meant to threaten or inspire the congregation, threaten or inspire the clergy, and/or threaten or inspire demons, monsters, ghosts, and lewd women. (Check out this, this, and this.)
This diversity of interpretation is, I believe, inherit in semi-permanent visual symbolism, especially in an age where illiteracy is wide-spread. Even if a book of gargoyle symbolism existed in the medieval era, it would not have mattered to the majority of people in that era who could not read it. They could, however, obviously read the expression of a bit of stone work. It was clearly threatening them. Or, it was clearly threatening others. Unless the priest told you otherwise; then it was clearly doing whatever the priest said. Unless you didn’t trust the priest, that is.
The point is, things get complicated when all you have to go on is symbols, and complicated can be fun. Think about developing a motif for your character, some kind of symbol they have on their clothes and gear. It could be as simple as a charcoal paw print; illiterate orcs need some way to tell one helmet from another, and they probably aren’t going to write their name on it. If you really want to get into it, consider whether your character has superstitions or conflicting interpretations of other character’s motifs- perhaps a nature spirit views an open-petaled flower is a symbol of sexual availability, leading to some serious confusion between said nature spirit and a serious-minded maid with a rose-print tea set!
One of the best, most spot-on enemies in Skyrim is the Draugr. In Norse myth, Draugr are the reanimated bodies of the dead, come back to life to spite the living and protect their own grave goods. They are strong. They reek of decay. They kill the living, by crushing or tearing or slowly driving them completely insane.
They are an excellent example of the kind of monster whose monstrosity comes from not being “properly” dead. There are some theories that the horror at death comes from ignorance- see, for example, this discussion on vampire beliefs. I don’t have access to the original research, so I can’t make specific critiques, but I am somewhat suspicious of the idea that the medieval European peasantry was unfamiliar with death.
After all, how unfamiliar can they be, when their undead monsters so closely match the decay dead humans experience? No, I speculate that the horror of the undead is simply the horror of something outside the natural order, and the social order. That thing in the ground (or on the pyre, or in the shrine) isn’t Gunther anymore; Gunther is gone, his laughter and his love of mead and his hatred of his rivals dispersed like smoke on the air. But the universe has kept the bloated remains of the lips that smiled and the hands that killed. Now Gunther is a rotting corpse, now a dry and brittle one, but no matter what it becomes, it’s still wrong. It’s not Gunther.
And it’s coming for you.
If you’re interested in roleplaying a draugr, standard Nordic gear will do; however, I’ve found some awesome skull helmets that communicate “undead” in a rather direct way. Another thing to consider is that the Viking period of Norse history was characterized by a great deal of… you know… vikinging. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable for a Viking to have acquired some unusual headgear.
It is a little known fact that the fashion industry mastered time travel; what other explanation is there for the release of spring collections when most of the northern hemisphere is shivering? They put this power to good use, thankfully, allowing us to have plenty of time to plan our spring wardrobes. And this spring, (like many springs before!), peasant blouses will be making their pretty, floral presence felt.
The style known as the peasant blouse most closely resembles traditional peasant ladies’ shirts from eastern Europe. Images from the Romanian Peasant Museum are a good starting point for this staple garment, as are paintings like the one shown above. It, however, a very simple thing: a shirt that has been gathered at the neck, sleeves, and waist. This gathering can be as complicated as elastic, or as simple as string. It can communicate that your character is a simple member of a simple people- or it can communicate that your character is a wealthy and powerful person with a penchant for following trends that involve making “peasant” clothing out of expensive materials with absurdly complex embroidery and bead work. And, because it’s in style at the moment, you have plenty of options!
Peasant Style Wild Flower Print with Three-Quarter Sleeves by Aqua via Bloomingdale’s. Polyester Georgette. Comes in Navy/Yellow/Mint. $88
Now that you’ve got all that cold, hard (or dry, grainy) cash, what are you keeping it in?
The storage of money on one’s person is as old as money itself. The small drawstring bags so common at Renaissance fairs and larps would have been known as wallets in English; it wasn’t until the mid 1800s that wallet started to take on its modern meaning (source). If you are concerned with mimicking a certain period or culture, focus on getting a wallet made from the appropriate materials: did they use leather or fabric? Did they have metalwork? Zippers?
And, as always, remember that sometimes there are things that didn’t exist in history but should have. If your game world allows you to experiment or be creative, for the love of Cthulu, do so!
Scalemail Dice Bag of Holding Knitted Dragonhide Pheonix, Extra Large from Crystal’s Idyll; metal and acrylic yarn; $39
Image by Dysmachus via Wikimedia Commons. Per the requirements, this post has a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.
A particular quirk of medieval European medicine was the costume worn by plague doctors- a long, dark gown, wide-brimmed hat, and respirator mask made from leather, lavender, and glass eye pieces (source). This is what came to “heal” you in your weakest hours. This is what your friend saw before he died of the Black Plague- and your brother, and your partner, and your child.
It is a luxury to have a healer whose presence rests your mind as well as your body; in the midst of battles, droughts, and plagues, it is a luxury that most simply cannot afford. Don’t be afraid to play a creepy doctor.
More Plague Doctor Masks:
Paper Mache Venetian Plain White Zanni Masquerade Mask on Amazon; $10
Blank “Nasone Grezzo” Venetian Mask on Amazon; $25
‘Tis the season for hangovers. Ugh.
Luckily, modern (and ancient!) science has many things to help alleviate the symptoms of debauchery. My favorite: have a good dose of aspirin for your size/age, a cup of black tea (or your caffeine of choice), and as much water as you can stomach.
PS I AM NOT A DOCTOR DON’T TAKE THINGS THAT YOU ARE ALLERGIC TO OR MAKE YOU ILL
However, it does make me feel better. Plus, it has the advantage of easily translating into fantasy realms. Willow bark tea is a staple bit of pain relief in fantasy universes; willows contain salicylate acid, which is a main chemical ingredient in aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). You could even use aspirin pills; this short article on the history of pill making indicates a technique well within the reach of most humans in the last thousand or so (though it does not, sadly, have a date on the earliest pill use, so that is my educated guess).
I’m not recommending you make these pills, just to be clear! But modern aspirin pills are not out of place in any medieval-equivalent fantasy universes, and can be easily incorporated in to role play by healers and the like. Besides, if you’ve gotten yourself hungover at a larp, you probably want to spend the first part of your day “role playing” hiding in a corner, sipping tea, and being a bit miserable anyway.
Note: If you are going to keep medicine with you at a larp, be sure you’re obeying the recommended storage (not too hot or cold, as the label dictates).
I support codpieces! Which, in turn, support cod!
Well. Originally, codpieces were designed to cover cod, which were slipping out with embarrassing regularity as men’s tunic and jack hemlines rose in the 15th century. It wasn’t until the 16th century that lift and support became their primary function. Nevertheless! I support them, even when they did not support themselves.
In all seriousness- codpieces were used popularly in Western Europe during the 15th-16th centuries, and fell out of use as puffier men’s pants came into style, which tended to obscure the codpiece anyway (source). It is commonly discussed as a wealthy men’s fashion, and it was incorporated into armor, which between the two means most characters from the period (or a fantasy equivalent) could pull it off.
There is another excellent point the Larp-smith brought up- codpieces can be protective! For gentlemen enjoying this great game of ours, it may have occurred to you already that a bit of protection wouldn’t go amiss. Besides, let’s be honest. Those of us who enjoy the male body think it’s only fair that there be a male equivalent of those “protective” corsets. Come on, guys. Be a gentleman and show it off!
Celtic Creations at Etsy sells embroidered fabric ones for $10.
The-Larp-Store has velveteen ones in Red and Green for $16.
If you’re the crafty sort, you can purchase a cup from, say, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and decorate it yourself!
Top: Henry VII’s armor on display in the Tower of London. Photo by litlnemo.
Bottom Right: Charles V Standing With His Dog by Titian. Via Wikimedia Commons.