Seated woman in green crushed silk dress wielding large knife, with dark red headress.
Photo by Ferdinand studio 

Introduction

To write civilisations 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 component of world building. My world building blog series will attempt that, and explore how different factors within a world can influence and shape each other. Today 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 people in your world eat? How are different crops grown and irrigated? Is your civilisation 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 civilisation have enough water and arable land to feed itself? Or is it like Rome -dependent on the breadbasket of Egypt? If your civilisation depends on regional trade to feed itself -how does that impact on internal and regional conflict?

Diet

Is your civilisation small-island or coastal based, with a the local diet of predominately seafood? What are the staple crops in the region? Does your civilisation 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 civilisation’s climate hot in summer and mild in winter like Australia? Or cold in winter and mild in summer like England? 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 civilisation’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 civilisation?

Seasons

What impact does geography and climate have on seasonal change in your civilisation? Does your world have summer, spring, autumn and winter? Or just wet season and dry season, like countries in our world near the tropics?

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?

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 Australian summer. A few deaths from heat exhaustion failed to change these fashions. So, in your civilisation, is fashion locally developed and suited to local climate, or is it the product of an influential kingdom, a distant empire ruling a locality, or 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 civilisation is European influenced, do they wear woollen garments from locally farmed sheep? Does your Americas inspired culture have people wearing cotton from cotton plants? If the ancient Middle East is the influence, do people wear 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 civilisation, it’s likely poor people will wear the cheapest, most readily available clothing in any era. Then in some eras, like the Egyptian Middle Kingdom in which only the pharaoh had the wealth to personally fund foreign trade expeditions -it might only be the wealthiest classes who can afford clothing made from imported materials. So aside from asking what material is available in my civilisation? 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 elaborate pottery around the emergence of the Old Kingdom. This is the time kings and an elite class first appeared and that even types of pottery became a status symbol. Is there anything that only the ruler or only the elite can wear in your civilisation?

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Related Reading

My other World Building posts:
Humanoid Life
Geography’s Impact
Power and Conflict
Cultures

World Building: Food & Fashion