Tag Archives: clothing

Q&A: Combat Ready Street Clothes

What kind of easy to find modern day civilian clothes are good for a fight (to wear to a fight)?

Jeans (lose fit without being baggy, skinny jeans or baggy pants, not so much), work boots (steel toed preferred, but not necessary, a non-slip grip is a huge perk), work shirt (heavy cotton or denim), leather jacket (preferably with insulated sleeves to provide some padding).

A t-shirt isn’t the end of the world, also, some durable varieties of work pants can work just as well as jeans.

The important thing is making sure the clothes allow freedom of movement without getting in the way.

-Starke

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I’ve seen several photos portraying Japanese girl gangs fighting in long pleated skirts. how viable of an outfit is this in terms of combat?

I’m going to avoid talking about the cultural context for the skirts, which there is and just focus on the practicality.

The answer to any question involving combat is “it depends”, and when we talk about an article of clothing that is dependent on that specific article of clothing. It also depends on the kind of combat you plan to have your character engaging in. Street brawls are very different from armored melee. If your character is a female soldier, she’ll be dressing according to whatever regulations her military has (that could involve a skirt for dress uniforms, but battle and dress are different).

There is no “one-size fits all” approach as the field of battle matters, the kind of opponent matters, the skill level of all parties involved matters, context matters. What your intentions are matter.

They all factor into the decision making process. What you need to do when looking at articles of clothing and trying do decide if it’s a yes or no is learn to think from the internal perspective of someone who would actually be engaging in physical conflict. If you’re thinking of someone heading into a dangerous situation where they couldn’t outwardly look like they were expecting trouble then the question is: if you expected to be caught and forced to fight, what kind of clothing would you prefer to be caught in?

It starts with you and we work our way out from there as you learn more about the conditional nature of combat. When it comes to Hollywood, the irony is that most of the clothing male action heroes wear will work for basic street combat whereas the clothing for women won’t. Would you want to be hunting monsters through the sewers in six inch heels? Probably not.

For what the girl gangs are doing, it works. In fact, it works better than a miniskirt or any other tight clothing common for women in the US or the leather bondage outfits you often see women fighting in on television. You’ll still see women in the real world wear those. Not because it works, mind you, but because they’re afraid they won’t be perceived as feminine, sexy, or attractive. They overcompensate in the wrong direction, the same way Hollywood and media do, and for the exact same reasons.

Sometimes, people make choices that have nothing to do with what’s appropriate or what works. Sometimes, they’re trying to balance between societal expectations, cultural mores, gender constraints, and what they’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes they’re trying to be outside the box and inside the box at the same time. And, sometimes, they can get away with it. What they’re doing and who they’re fighting means they’ve a greater margin for error, versus someone faced with an enemy where they need every advantage they can get.

What you want, especially with street fighting, is freedom of movement.

This is why you often see tank tops or very loose fitting shirts on military personnel. If you’ve got a shirt that fits tightly around the shoulders, that’ll impede your movement, restrict the rotation of the shoulder. If you’re pants are too tight or limit flexibility, then that slows you down and will limit how high you can kick, how well your leg moves, etc.

You want durable clothing.

Clothing that protects you in a fall or when you’re rolling around on the ground. If you can’t see it absorbing impact or protecting you from scrapes when you hit the earth, then it isn’t a good pick.

You want clothes that breathe.

Combat is a high energy exercise, it’s frenetic, it’s fast, and it takes a lot of exertion. If you’ve ever brought the wrong kind of clothing when you’re going jogging or watched makeup melt off girls in P.E. class then you know what I’m talking about. Clothes that cause you to overheat, that don’t allow the heat to escape your body, that you can’t run or sprint in, will actively do you harm in a fight. By participating in exercise with a high energy output, you are already heating up your body. (This is part of why we sweat, we’re cooling our body down.) The hotter you get, the faster you burn through your water. The hotter you get, the faster you reach a point of critical exhaustion which will get you killed.

However, “what works” for combat is heavily dependent on the kind of combat your character plans to (or potentially might) engage in. The rules change based on what you’re doing, what you need, what the chances of success are, who the enemy is, the terrain you’re fighting on.

There’s also the other side, beyond practicality, which is you know, cultural expectations and considerations. How your character feels about gender norms, whether they care about being perceived as feminine or masculine, whether they care about expectations, whether they’re vain, or willing to get themselves killed over fashion.

There’s also the part in fiction where how someone is dressed becomes an indicator for how serious the situation is/threat level is. That’s a visual tell you see used often in film and television.

Remember, skill and experience don’t free you from the same constraints that affect other characters. They just mean your character can make more intelligent choices based on what they know. They can get away with more, but it will still catch up to them in the end.

So, be Helen Mirrim in R.E.D. and take out armed gunmen with a reinforced clutch and the element of surprise.

Try thinking about the situation from the perspective of the character involved rather than overall generic rules. Practicality changes on a situational basis, and there are plenty of people who will go Rule of Cool in real life. This is especially true of gangs, where efficacy loses out to intimidation.

People are people. All the factors going into a decision may not be the ones you expect or are looking for.

-Michi

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can people reasonably fight in long skirts/dresses? in the story i’m creating everyone regardless of gender wears skirts/dresses/togas pretty exclusively, so I’m wondering about the history of fighting in that type of garment. would their thighs chafe? is long skirts or short skirts better? is there a history of fighting in that type of garment?

Yes. The Scottish with their kilts. The Greeks. The Romans.

You can fight in a skirt so long as it doesn’t restrict your movement. Mini-skirts, tight skirts, leather skirts, jeans skirts, any sort of stiff, heavy skirt that restricts full extension of the leg is a no-go. You don’t want to wear anything tight, be it on the upper or lower body. (Well, okay, you want a sports bra.) The same is true of dresses, you can fight in a dress so long as the dress doesn’t restrict freedom of movement. Sun dresses over spandex and club wear.

An example of a working leather skirt in fiction would be from Xena: Warrior Princess, which is based on historical designs (Roman, I think). You’ll notice the skirt is made out of loose leather straps hanging over the cloth portion. This allows greater freedom of movement and protects the important arteries in the thighs without restricting the legs.

You don’t want to fight in anything that really goes above the thigh or below the shins, because above the thigh can get too restrictive and below the shin is a tripping hazard. A full toga, one that goes all the way down to the feet is too much cloth. It’ll trip you. This is why you don’t see the full toga worn in Greece and Rome as combat wear. Instead, if you look up images, you’ll see a much shorter variation of a skirt.

Basically, go back through military history and go through the different kinds of armor styles. If you do pick an armor type, make sure you research the military history of the group in question. Many different kinds of dress wear have cultural implications along with simply being armor. Don’t take random bits, do a full overview of the culture in question.

-Michi

Hi, I looked through the tags to see if there was anything about clothing but there wasn’t, so I hope this hasn’t been addressed before and that it’s fine to direct my question to this blog: I would like to know how realistic it is to fight in heels, stilettos and such? A lot of stories, movies, etc. have been doing it for ages, but imo it just doesn’t sound like a good idea. There seems to be a lot of challenge and danger to it

High heels are like bikini battle armor. In the realm of fashion, they are helpful because of the way they draw the eye and shape the visual impression of the leg. High heels lengthen the leg, draw the eye up, and highlight the shape of the butt (and more). However, with long term use, they are very hard on the joints (ankles, knees, and hips) and can lead to long term damage.

I know there are people out there who will argue that catsuits, spandex, bikinis, and high heels are practical combat gear for women. Some of them are very well-meaning, some of them are women who buy into it. You’ve probably seen some of them on this site. They’re the ones who take the stock photographs of female martial artists doing (slightly awkward looking) high kicks in high heels as “YES GIRLY GIRLS CAN FIGHT TOO!”. Well, they certainly can but not in high heels. (I applaud the women who can do full extension sidekicks in high heels though! What flexibility! Much balance! Incredible skill! A woman who can do a high kick in high heels is a badass. It’s a testament to their mastery of their body though, not high heel combat viability.)

High heels tip the body forward, putting all the weight on the balls of the feet. If you’ve ever walked around in high heels, then you know finding your balance can be tricky (especially on slick surfaces) and running is mostly out. (You can, it’s just awkward.) The original design for high heels was 14th/15th riding boots when they were a men’s fashion choice. They were never designed for walking on land.

My personal problem with the emphasis on high heels and women’s fashion for female combat oriented characters is the emphasis on visual beauty over practicality and professionalism or any respect for the problems created by reality whatsoever

When it comes to clothing, how you dress your character does actually matter. If a creator or artist approaches their female character with the belief that women don’t fight anyway, so further sexualization of them through their clothing doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things then they are actively contributing to the dehumanization of that character and upholding that ideal that women fighting at all (much less on an even plane with men) is a fantasy. (The reality is women all over the world do fight, do take on dangerous jobs in various shapes, sizes, and personalities.)

Why? Because it prioritizes emphasis on their appearance to the outside observer over the concerns of the reality they are facing. Whoever put together their outfit was thinking primarily about how they’d be perceived not on practical choices of what they’d choose to wear for traipsing through a sewer. When I think about sewers, peep toe shoes, skinny jeans, and spaghetti straps don’t exactly come to mind first as preferred spelunking wear. Galoshes, raincoats, and pants that repel moisture, yeah. Clothes from the $5 bin I don’t mind throwing out after, sure. My Coach bag and (if I owned any) $400 Jimmy Choos? Hell, no.

A character doesn’t become more badass by ignoring the physical constraints and dangers of the world around them. They just look more stupid. The required level of suspension of disbelief is higher for these characters than their male counterparts.

Now, male artists do this for male characters too. The problem is, of course, that you can actually make a case for fighting in biker boots, a loose leather jacket, and jeans. That’s actually practical street combat wear. Leather jackets work as makeshift armor, they can absorb a fair amount of impact. Biker boots are thick, made of leather, protect the shins, and they’re designed to take impact. They armor the foot. Loose men’s jeans are practical, provide freedom of movement, and they’re durable against friction burns. They survive longer and they’re thicker than other kinds of pants. So, when Steven Stallone turns to the camera in a goofy 80s action movie and says “You don’t need to get fancy, lady.” He’s actually right. You don’t.

However, if you have Black Widow do the same in a catsuit, high heels, or even just skinny jeans, a tight fitting leather jacket, a very nice red satin shirt that exposes her breasts, and heavy makeup, it’s not exactly comparable in impact. (One of the nice things about The Winter Soldier was how practically they had her dressed when wearing civvies.) 1) Because she already is dressed fancy and 2) her clothing isn’t any more practical to the situation than the person she’s bitching out.

Plenty of Urban Fantasy protagonists, super heroines, and movie characters do this. I’m not picking on Black Widow, but she’s getting passed around a lot. Buffy did this all the time and it’s part of why I couldn’t take her seriously (especially in the early seasons). Going down into the sewers in a satin pink spaghetti strap, a mini skirt, and matching sandals. Why? Because she likes sacrificing $100 to $200 in clothing every day. Single parent home, pushing minimal income, constantly complaining about her allowance, while burning a metric shit ton on clothing every single week. How is she affording that? The answer is she’s not. The clothing just pops out of the snow, like daisies. The same can be said of the female protagonists on The Vampire Diaries.

On the other hand, I give Charmed a pass because they constantly acknowledge how hard demon fighting is on their clothing. They try to fix their clothes with magic, they have to come up with money to repair the manor, they have to buy new clothes, they think about trading in their old styles for more practical ones and decide against it. The daily rigor, the stress on their wallets, the general mundane realities of every day life are expressed in the choices and habits the characters make and maintain. If they have time before facing a given crisis, you’ll even see them go run to change. Their clothing isn’t practical, but the show at least acknowledges that and uses it to humanize their struggles with being women and demon hunting witches.

The big problem with style and fashion is they help contribute to the idea that women primarily exist in fiction (and in real life) to be looked at. They’re decorative first, even when they’re dangerous. If you remove that aspect, men and women will in fact complain.

Yes, both of them.

Women are presented with a cultural idealization of beauty day in and day out, the stereotypes we’re presented with become a part of what we expect to see and may even idealize in ourselves. Recognition of beauty, being admired, is presented as a goal all women (whether or not they can even achieve the standard)  should aspire to. Not appearing beautiful is presented as bad by media, unworthy, unable to be loved. Conform to be worthy. For many people, they want both. To fit the cultural ideal of female sexualization while simultaneously rejecting it. It’s wish fulfillment and there’s no shame in it, media has told you you’re entire life that this is what you should want to be.

It doesn’t exist, but you’ll see plenty of people try to make it so anyway like the girls I knew in gym who’d cake on makeup before going out to play basketball or run the mile.

Looks first.

To challenge the stereotypes, you have to recognize them and that may require changing how you see women in media. It’s insidious and, more importantly, not necessarily evil. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be wanted, to be beautiful, to be recognized. But how a character looks and what they wear should always, always come second to what they need to get their job done.

I try to beat this by thinking about the situation first, instead of character. I construct a character to deal with a situation. With this set up, practicality usually prevails.

I challenge you followers. When you think of a powerful woman, or a dangerous female, what do you think of first?

-Michi

Hi! I have a question regarding clothing: how big of a part should it play in a fight scene? I know from experience that most modern clothing is restricting, and doesn’t work well when fighting. So my character wearing jeans shouldn’t be able to kick someone in the face– but should I let them anyways? It would make the scene cooler than if I stuck to the facts.Or should I describe how they have to fight in a different way than usual because of their clothing? Thank you in advance!

Clothing can be an important part of any fight scene. Honestly, most fights aren’t an elegant display of skill, they’re a scrabble dash where the attacker and defender are latching onto anything that gives a good grip. Clothes are great for that, grabbing someone by the shirt collar can be an excellent lead in to snagging them by the throat. You don’t have as far to go and it’s easier to hold onto while they are trying to run away. The collar will rip, but it serves it’s purpose. You even get the lovely psychological snag for their brain as they’re caught between flight: “I need to run away" and value: “wait, I can’t ruin my shirt!“, by the time they’ve managed to sort it out they end up standing there with a rather puzzled expression on their face. This is if you’re just still standing there holding their shirt, not if you’ve already taken the initiative in the confusion to put them on the ground.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of psychological persuasion, fighting is just as much about messing with someone’s mind as it is about messing with their body.

And I wouldn’t worry about the pants too much. Get the right kind of the jeans (a little loose, a little large) that are well-worn and used and it’s not hard to be able to kick above the head or someone else in the head in jeans. (So, long as they’re barefoot or wearing sneakers or shoes with good support.) I know that from personal experience. The trick is having a character who is limber enough that they won’t hurt themselves doing it cold (harder) or without a warm-up and has good enough balance that they can do the full twist, spin, or hip turnover in their sneakers on asphalt, cement, gravel, or dirt (harder).

They may have to change their fighting style up depending on what they are wearing. Such as hiking up or tearing a skirt, kicking off their heels, being forced to drop or toss away their purse or shoulder bag (if they do anyone can take it) because of the way they imbalance the body. Worry less if it’s a backpack, which are designed to be more stable. They may even have to toss away a jacket or divest themselves of a tight top, depending on how restrictive they are.

Keep in mind that anything they throw away while their fighting is an object that anyone else wandering by the scene from the bad guys to a random bystander can take or could get them in trouble if the cops arrive and they’ve fled the scene. A kick to the head is essentially a kill strike, at best a solid connection will cause brain damage by knockout, at worst the character could be doing a kick like a wheel kick which is designed to sever the brain stem.

So, try to consider the level of force the characters require to win versus what would sound or seem most impressive to the reader. A kick to the head is an impressive display of skill, speed, accuracy, and power. It’s also incredibly hard to control in a way that will not do significant harm to the other person, this gets even harder to do with spin kicks. Most spin kicks in Taekwondo, for example, are designed to be head shots.

If your character is using more force than required, they will be more likely to be held accountable by the local law-enforcement if they’re caught and will have a harder time pleading self-defense. Even when the others attacked first. Measure and mete out the level of response to the skill of the attacker as a sign of your character’s control. You’re less likely to overdo things that way and off put the reader.

-Michi

Hey guys, love this blog. You don’t know how many times it’s saved me from stupid mistakes. That being said, I know wearing hair down and piercings were already mentioned, but do you have a list of other things that would be completely impractical to wear into a fight? High heels perhaps?

Would the internet kill me if I said most female (and a lot of male) fashion? High heels tip a woman too far forward on the balls of her feet, it’s difficult to find balance there, even more difficult to move quickly and efficiently from foot to foot. They’re designed to make the leg look good, but they’re hell on the knees and the hips as the years go by.

Make-up will sweat off and it hurts when it gets in your eyes (personal experience), which is why I always get a good chuckle off of some of the female Urban Fantasy protagonists when they’re dressing up for their dates and talking about all the make-up they’ve caked on their faces. It’ll look less great if they end up in a tussle and the sweat starts bleeding the heavy stuff like foundation and mascara into the cracks and corners of their face (mouth, nose, eyes). Go light with the make-up if the female fighters wear make-up at all. The salt from sweat burns when it gets in the eyes anyway, it sucks even more when it’s become black goo. There are ways to get around this usually make-up that’s designed for female athletes (gymnasts use special) but you’ll notice they tend to stick with stuff that’s not water soluble and stay lighter than the average supermodel.

If your character fights, jewelery is a bad idea unless it’s a bracelet. We talked about piercings, but someone could also pretty easily wrap their fingers in a necklace and start using it as an easy access choke chain from behind, so if they’re going to go out, they should wear a necklace that snaps off easily under pressure.

Anything movement restrictive isn’t great, whether it’s skin tight jeans or a skin tight dress. You see a lot of moments in movies where a woman’s ripping a tear up the outside of her skirt, that’s why. You need much wider stances for balance than most of the minis allow.

That said, there are ways to get around this. When the character goes shopping, they’ll probably do so with an eye for practicality. They’ll buy pants that will have more elastic fabric and hang more widely off the leg. They’ll do weird things in the dressing rooms (okay, I do) like throwing punches and even kicks if there’s room to check the clothes for comfort. They’ll go in for bras that provide more support and less bounce, some women just go with sports bras entirely.

That said: no woman needs to give up her femininity to be a fighter, she just needs to balance the requirements and needs of her job (whatever job that is) with her desires for girlishness and general femininity. If she’s that sort of girl, a woman can be a serious fighter on the mat and the most popular girly girl you’ve ever seen off of it. So long as the author understands and balances for both (or uses one to get her in trouble with the other), they’ll be fine.

-Michi