One thing we don’t really think about when we first sit down to tell a tale is the attire our characters will be sporting. (Or not sporting, as the case may be.) But it does eventually come up, and how we get that across to our readers without boring them to tears is important.
Much of the time, my characters wear armor, the men and the women both. I’m an equal opportunity author–I think women deserve to be encased in gleaming tin as often as men, so there you go.
When I am reading a historically based novel, I want to be able to picture the characters in the right style of clothing, but unless I am reading the curtain scene in Gone With The Wind, I don’t want exact details. In most cases, a sentence or two giving us a general description is all that is really necessary.
Some of you may say, “But clothes are an essential aspect of the culture I am trying to describe!” I agree – every culture is rich in the way their clothing is decorated, and in what is considered appropriate for each gender. But again, a sentence or two here and there will do the trick. If you give the reader the general idea they will fill in the blanks with their imagination. Too much detail may cause the reader to lose the momentum of the tale.
As a reader, unless we are talking armor, I want to know what they are wearing, but don’t waste my time giving me more than a few sentences.
However, if we are talking armor, while I, as the reader, don’t need too many details, you as the AUTHOR, do need to keep some details in mind when you are writing the story. Your knights are not running bare–they are fully clothed in steel. That affects HOW they move.
First of all, it’s important to note that ‘fully armored’ means the characters are wearing:
- Helmet: a form of protective gear worn to protect the head from injuries
- Gorget: a single piece of plate armor hanging from the neck and covering the throat and chest.
- Pauldrons (or spaulders): a single large dome-shaped piece to cover the shoulder
- Besagews: circular defenses designed to protect the armpits
- Couters: the defense for the elbow in a piece of plate armor. Initially just a curved piece of metal, as plate armor progressed the couter became an articulated joint.
- Vambraces: forearm guards, defenses for covering the forearm
- Gauntlets: several different styles of glove, particularly those with an extended cuff covering part of the forearm
- Cuirass: back and breastplate
- Fauld: bands of metal surrounding both legs, potentially surrounding the entire hips in a form similar to a skirt.
- Tassets:a piece of plate armor designed to protect the upper legs
- Culet: a piece of plate armor consisting of small, horizontal ribs that protect the small of the back or the buttocks
- Cuisses: to protect the thigh.The word is the plural of the French word cuisse meaning ‘thigh’. While the tassets of a cuirass could protect the upper legs from above, a thrust from below could avoid these defenses. Thus, cuisses were worn on the thighs to protect from such blows.
- Poleyns: armor that protected the knee
- Greaves: shin armor
- Sabatons: covering for the foot. Fourteenth and fifteenth century sabatons typically end in a tapered point well past the actual toes of the wearer’s foot, following fashionable shoe shapes of the fourteenth century. Sabatons of the first half of sixteenth century end at the tip of the toe and may be wider than the actual foot. They were the first piece of armor to be put on.
That’s a hell of a lot of steel and it took some time to put on. The very fullest sets, could be configured for a range of different uses, for fighting on foot or on horse. They were complicated and took a while to get on correctly, and a man needed help with some of the more involved things, like lacing them on.
The reader doesn’t need to know this, and they don’t care. But what the AUTHOR needs to know is how this sort of attire affects what your character can actually do!
Realistically, most medieval soldiers did not wear full sets of armor as their daily attire. In general they wore the minimum amount of metal they could get away with unless they were going into a situation that could result in a battle. When your characters are out riding around, if you have them only partially armored, they will be more able to move around in a logical manner, than if you have encased them in a gleaming sardine can.
Think about the many layers of what your characters are actually wearing–it can’t be done! For that you must undress them, and it is a bit involved, so they must plan ahead for their romantic trysts and leave the armor at home.
When writing historical fiction it is important to remember that people are not really that much different nowadays than they ever were. They get cold, so they wear clothes, in many layers. The warmer the weather, the fewer the layers. Inside a warm building, they may be lightly clad. Keep that in mind as you are writing, and convey the idea of their attire with a minimum of words, and your reader will get more enjoyment from the tale.