To write civilizations comparable to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, I’d need to draw on my double major in archaeology and history to break down every major and minor component of world building. This series of posts will attempt precisely that, and explore how different factors within a world affect and shape each other. This week I’ve paired Food with Fashion, because both are closely linked to plants and animals, all of which is influenced by geography, climate and trade.
Farming & Irrigation
Let’s start with the basics -what food do your people in your world eat? How are different crops grown and irrigated? Is your civilization set in a fertile part of the world where regular rainfall is sufficient to keep crops and herds alive? Are crops and livestock watered by canals and aqueducts channelling snow-melt from mountain rivers across land/ desert? Or are crops grown on mountain terraces through which water is carefully drained?
Does your civilization have enough water and arable land to feed itself? Or is it like Rome -dependent on the breadbasket of Egypt? If your civilization depends on regional trade to feed itself -how does that impact on internal and regional conflict?
If your civilization is small-island or coastal based, is the local diet predominately seafood? What are the staple crops in the region? Does your civilization have vast trade networks allowing them, for example. to locally grow potatoes from South America in Europe? Or are the crops grown and livestock reared limited to what is locally available/ native plants and animals? If so -what region of the real world and what era of history might you need to research to write this plausibly?
Climate & Geography
Is your civilization’s climate hot in summer and mild in winter like Australia, cold in winter and mild in summer like England or can it be 30 degrees Celsius in summer and -30 degrees in winter like Toronto? Is climate determined by the existence of a frozen northern or southern pole? Is there a latitude of tropics like our world? Or is your civilization’s climate determined by mountains with freezing temperatures, or the desert deprived of rain because it all falls in the mountains? How does climate determine which crops can grow and which livestock for food or trade can be raised in your civilization?
How does geography and climate affect seasonal change in your civilization? Does your world have summer, spring, autumn and winter? In Australia, most trees are evergreen -native leaves don’t change colour or fall off and some native flowers predominately flower in winter -not spring. So do plants in your world behave according to the same seasons as ours? Or is your civilization set near the tropics, where the only seasons are Wet Season and Dry Season?
Geography & Cultural Fashion Influences
There’s a good chance this will be heavily influenced by climate and geography in your world, but that won’t necessarily be the case. Traditional clothing of the First Australians was scanty because of our hot, dry climate, but in the 19th century Victorian, British fashions had men and women wearing stiflingly hot, conservative clothing, causing fainting in summer. A few deaths from heat exhaustion failed to change these fashions. So, in your civilization, is fashion locally developed and suited to local climate, or is it the product of an influential kingdom/ empire, a distant empire ruling the locality, or a colonial motherland? If one of the latter -what is the geography and climate of the influencer and what do their fashions look like? Linking back to seasons -does climate vary much between your seasons and do fashions vary accordingly?
Fabric Availability -Trade & Fashion
In answering the above, consider what plants/ fibres are locally available. If your civilization is European influenced, do they wear woollen garments from locally farmed sheep? If it resembles the Americas, is it cotton from cotton plants? If the ancient Middle East, linen from local fibres or silk from Far Eastern silkworms? When deciding what your people are wearing, think about (or research in a particular region and time period of our world) what fabrics are available locally, and what can your civilization import from elsewhere in your world?
Costume and Social Class
Whether people in your world have access to different materials to make or buy clothes won’t just depend on regional or international trade networks -it depends on social class and wealth. In any civilization, it’s likely that poor people will be wearing the cheapest, most readily available clothing in any era. In some eras, like the Egyptian Middle Kingdom in which only the pharaoh had the wealth to send foreign trade expeditions and personally funded and controlled them -it might only be the very wealthiest and highest classes who can afford and access clothing made from imported materials. So aside from asking -what material is available in my civilization? You might also need to ask, how does what is available vary from class to class or rank to rank?
I’d also ask -are there restrictions imposed by people in power on fashions? In Egypt there was a sudden change from elaborate pottery at all levels to only the wealthiest having it around the emergence of the Old Kingdom -the times kings and an elite class first appeared. Is there anything that only the ruler or only the elite can wear in your civilization?
I’ve barely scratched the surface of world building here, but future posts will delve into trade, material culture, social status and politics, conflict and much more.