The Clothes Maketh the Mouse
This article was originally published in the "Redwall Rag" newsletter, submitted by Jonquil.
I must first make an admission: I do not follow fashion, and I have no appreciation for whoever it was to first come up with the idea of clothing. If humanity had never moved out of wearing smelly furs, that’d be just peachy with me. Heck, if we’d never even figured out the conception of clothing, I’d be much happier then I am now.
But this is not a column of my anti-clothing ramblings, as fun as that might be. The subject of clothing comes up because, quite frankly, clothing defines an era of history. Even if the anti-fashionmongers like myself wish such was not so.
Clothing plays a small role in the Redwall books. Small, but vital. It serves for atmosphere. Redwall Abbey just wouldn’t quite be Redwall Abbey if the goodbeasts didn’t wear those green habits, described as loose, comfortable, hooded and forest green. (Basil Stag Hare remarks that they’re excellent camouflage) And the villainous Foxwolf would be less frightening if he didn’t run around being morbid in the skin of that wolf - not to forgot his mate’s peculiar taste in skirts. The villainously well-mannered father and son team of Ferahgo and Klitch in Salamandastron are all the more creepy for their damper fashion sense. And Cluny just wouldn’t be as spiffy without his eyepatch and that moleskull fastening his cloak.
Actually, the sheer medievalness of the clothing in Redwall is rather vague. We can probably assume it’s the more simplistic stuff of the true Dark Ages, from anywhere between the 6th to 10th century. The really elaborate styles would come around progressively closer to the Renaissance. For the most part, clothing is simple, and often creatures appear in the books to be wearing almost next to nothing - they get away with it because they are, after all, *animals*, not humans. Although if you notice, the vermin seem to be much more scantily clad then the woodlanders ^.-
First, the real world history. In the Middle Ages, most folks were limited to wool and linen, with occasional leather. Only the very rich could afford good fabrics like silk. Colors were usually fairly drab: red was as bright as your average John Serf could hope for - and that red would be a rather dowdy color to our modern vermilions and rubies. Greens, yellows, browns, blacks and reds were the limits for most. Blue was quite difficult to obtain, purple next to impossible. Only the extremely wealthy would have a *hope* of obtaining purple fabric - purple dye is obscenely rare in nature. In fact, until the invention of mauve in the 19th century, purple dye was more then worth it’s weight in gold.
The style of clothing was heavily dependant on a person’s place in life. The poor wore simple things - tunics, stockings, plain and simple dresses. The more elevated your station, the better clothing you could afford to have. The wealthy were, until quite recently, the only people who even had much of a chance to follow fashion trends and fads. To show off the fact that they did *not* need to do physical work for a living, they often tended towards elaborate, uncomfortable, flimsy clothing.
Holy orders wore clothing that was designed with the flowing styles of Roman tunics and robes in mind. These robes, habits, were dyed with the colors of the particular sect - black for Benedictines, white for Cistercians, brown for Franciscans. Habits were usually very plain and comfortable, consisting of draping robes with loose sleeves, and a cowl (hood) to keep the head warm. Usually a cord was used around the waist, and was rather useful for tucking up the hem when it got in the way ^.- For footwear, sandals were fairly typical.
Men didn’t wear that much. Tunics and stockings were about it - pants weren’t invented until the 16th century! Tunics, in case you’re not quite certain, actually resemble short dresses at this point - they often hang to about the knees, and are secured about the waist with a belt or cord. Stockings cover the legs underneath them. Women usually wore long gowns with sleeveless tunics over them, and wimples over their heads. Most people did wear some sort of covering on their heads, and women in particular usually wore veils, wimples, hats or the like. Cloaks were used for warmth, along with your typical woolen hats and mittens. The rich liked to wear fur, but the poor types just had to make do with wool.
Clothing wasn’t washed much, either - you’d have been considered very strange if you washed your outer clothing regularly ^.- Linen underclothing was, fortunately for everyone’s noses, regularly laundered.
Jewelry was, in a word, gaudy. Admittedly, the actual material used was rarely that nice - good mining, gemcutting and craftsmanship took some time to develop. But if you could afford it, you wore heavy amounts of jewels, albeit somewhat dull and poorly cut ones. Pearls such as those in The Pearls of Lutra would indeed have been sought after - pearls were considered extremely valuable gems, although, once again, the quality wasn’t necessarily what we would consider top notch. Regardless of quality, only the wealthy could afford to wear fine jewelry.
A side note on armor - it ain’t too common. A full suit of armor is both massively expensive and, worse, massively *heavy*. Other people have said things of this nature before, and you can look elsewhere for details, as I know little about the matter, but I’ll reiterate - you’re better off going with Armor Lite. After all, can you imagine how awkward walking around in one of those full suits of armor has to be? ^.- (And what if it *rusts*?)
How does this all apply to the clothing of Redwall characters? Obviously, they don’t have wool - although it’s probable to assume there’s some sort of fibrous material made of bark or plants that takes it’s place. Possibly, the fur an animal uses in grooming might be saved and spun into fabric. Who knows? (I, knowing nothing about the making of cloth, have no idea whether or not one could do that. Nor do I have any idea whether the maidenhair cloth you hear about in some fables actually ever existed. Strange idea, if you ask me.) We do know that some vermin, being rather unnerving creatures, wear the pelts of other animals - that would be rather on the sick and twisted side of things, if you ask me, but I doubt they would ^.- Probably worrying about actual fabric is being a little *too* obsessive. As long as you’re not clothing a serf in purple silk, accented with gold and sapphires. That would be bad.
Altogether, perhaps the real suggestion I have with trying to include touches of reality in your character’s outfit is this: be creative! Raid your library for books on clothing, and have wealthy characters wearing those bizarre pointy hats, harlequin patterned tunics, pointy toed shoes! Have your poor farmers wear ragged, coarse things of barkcloth, perhaps, in pale browns, yellows and greens. Give your female characters wimples! But... don’t worry about it *too* much.