Even Space Cowboys Hanker to Look Shiny - Costuming for a Firefly Larp

I'm sure regular visitors to skaro.com are amazed, but your humble author has found a larp genre that is actually quite easy to costume! That said, one person's easy is another person's root canal, so... here we are. Who am I? I'm a long-time larper (since 1993 or so) and a costume-wonk for nearly as long, 'nuff said. I'll admit that I'm a latecomer to Firefly, but better late than never, right? This web page is a work in progress, so keep an eye on it for updates (last update: August '05 - made an additional suggestion for Alliance officers' costuming).

This is meant to be a general overview, not an exhaustive analysis. With luck, what you find here will provide you with a starting point for more in depth research.

Influences
The costume-influences on Firefly are quite obvious to identify and most of them are illustrated in the pic, above:

- First and foremost, there is the wild west. Practical clothes in colors that help hide the dirt. Leather and denim for heavy-duty wear, cotton and wool the rest of the time. Earth tones dominate (see 'hide the dirt', above) and accessorizing is limited to your style of gun-belt and holster. It's practical gear, with little time for frippery or vanity. Furthermore, resources are limited away from the Core worlds, so everything is worn for as long as possible, patched up, and worn again. A good pair of boots will last you a lifetime, and possibly help extend it, so they'll be well-worn and (next to a person's rig) quite possibly their most important item of clothing...

- Next up: the Asian influence, primarily China. I don't know much about the costume of China, so I can't speak authoritatively on it, but it seems that denizens of the 'verse in this mode favor long robes or boxy tunic style tops and pants, usually of some colorful brocade. Items are sometimes mixed with "western" clothing, sometimes not. Kaylee's ensemble of sky-blue brocade jacket, black stretch pants, practical boots and a battered parasol comes to mind. I could be wrong, but it seems that the moneyed classes prefer the Asian style of dress - probably because it indicates a certain security and non-concern with practicality, and brocade will cost more than leather or homespun. The Asian influence isn't limited to China - traditional Japanese, Malaysian and Filipino garb has been spotted in the run of the show, so you've got a lot of latitude there.

- Finally, there is the civilized end of the 19th Century - as opposed to the wild west look. Simon's suits are archtypically Victorian in cut and color. Hallmarks of an upper-class gent's suit of that period include: the suit is tailored close to the body (unlike the more casual 'sack suit' that was popular at the time), a high collar on the shirt (wing tip, or 'mandarin' style), and a vest with a high neckline and many buttons. Sleeve garters may be worn by a working man, but not an idle fellow, or one of professional standing.

So What Do I Do Now?
I'd start in your closets. No, really. I told you this was an easy genre to costume! After you're done rooting through your cupboards, read the below and make a plan to spend an afternoon at your local thrift stores. Despite the number of retailers I've listed at the end of this page, I'd be very surprised if you couldn't put together a passable costume with some diligent thrifting and closet-searching. Things like gun-rigs and jewelry are, of course, just gravy and not essentials.

Another article of mine - Costume Tips for the Cheap and Desperate - goes over the basics of how to assemble a costume with at least two week's notice. I suggest you read that, first, and save me the effort of re-hashing it all here. Don't worry, I'll wait...

...done already? Good. Now, let's create a few f'r instances and see what comes up.

Typical Frontier Ship Crew
Inspirations range from contemporary gearhead, to wild west dudes, so you've got a lot of room in this category.

These guys dress for work, and don't have either the time or the money to muck about with fancy gear. Whatever you put together, it should be sturdy, practical, and just a bit hard-worn. You can mix and match the major influences into whatever you like, and come up with some great outfits. F'r instance:

Keep it basic (and easy) - blue jeans, work boots, an earth-tone button down shirt. Well-worn dungarees and a tee-shirt. Beat-to-hell fatigues (like Jayne wears). A duster-style coat if you happen to have one, or be like Kaylee and find yourself a brocade jacket to top off otherwise unremarkable gear.

A little niftier - and more expensive - fitted riding pants (such as good ol' Captain Tightpants tends to wear), a gun belt and holster (I've found new belts for around $90, holsters start around $50 - try ebay for something used/cheaper), clothes made of leather or suede - from dusters, to pants, to shirts.

In general, I'd stick to earth tones and dark colors - avoid bright colors and newer-looking items, although your persona might well have one good outfit for special occasions, or perhaps a 'good' coat or pair of pants that have been through hard times and are now relegated to everday wear. I'd suggest start looking in your closet, and go from there. Diligent thrifting will pay off in this category - from leather dusters, to cowboy boots, to fatigues that some old soldier has outgrown. Other resources include military surplus stores, Western wear stores (there seems to be one in every town) and the links, below.

Typical Alliance Crew
Ooh, you picked a toughie.

If you can't sew something yourself - or don't have time to do so - an alternative suggestion would be to convince your GM to allow a 'redesign' of Alliance uniforms, and all y'all Alliance characters get together and pick an ensemble that looks good and can be put together without breaking the bank. The simplest options would be a dark grey or black turtleneck, black pants and boots - everyone has those items in their closet, or can get them, easily. Iron the heck outta them pants, launder your shirts within an inch of their existance - go for a fastidious, well-turned out look. After all, you're professional military men, not some rabble of Browncoats. Heh.

If you think you can do it, take those gray turtlenecks, some black bias tape (you can get it at a sewing store), and some fabric glue (I reccomend the fabri-tac brand, you can find it any sewing or craft store) and replicate the trim-pattern of the Alliance tunic on your shirts It wouldn't be perfect, but it is evocative - that black triangular motif is very distinctive, and there'd be no confusion as to your character's identity, I think.

If you want to sew a uniform, I suggest you start with either Folkwear's Belgian chef's jacket pattern - which I've had success with when I did a bit of cosplay, and there are some pattern notes on that page - or a Civil War officer's jacket pattern. You can alter the length as needed, and the front closure to the shape seen on the show, and add black bias as needed for the motif on the front. Should I ever go nuts and decide to make an Alliance uniform myself (unlikely, I've got to run up a new Battlestar Galactica one first) then I'll be sure to post a dress diary online. ;)


Additional suggestion: Find yourself a shirt like this one, in a coordinated color - bonus points if you find it in charcoal gray and add black bias tape described to it, above. As you can see, the shape is very evocative of the Alliance officers' uniforms any may well be the original inspiration. I don't recommend cutting off the buttons, as that will leave you with visible button holes - and a shirt flapping wide open. Just tell the players that you're in a "dress" uniform. NB: if the link is broken, tell me and - incidentally - that particular link points to a "Brushed Twill Longhorn Bib Shirt" by Wah Maker. Scully - another western wear manufacturer - calls it an "engineer shirt"

Frontier Resident
Not too much different from typical Frontier ship's crew, I'm thinking - more emphasis on "working" clothes, as 'colonist' is often interchangeable with 'farmer'. Sure, they're going to carry guns, too - you still get to wear a rig if that's cool - but think of what a ground-pounding colonist would wear. Clothing would be tough, breathable, and cut close to the body as foofiness tends to get caught in the combine and thus kill the wearer. A hat to keep the sun off would be essential.

You almost certainly have gear in your closet that can be made to work for this. Jeans, a flannel shirt, a pair of work gloves tucked into your belt. Shy away from anything that looks too new - rumple it up/leave it to crease in your dryer before wearing.

Registered Companion
Anyone who knows me, knows I was going to give this group their own treatment. You can draw your inspiration for a Companion character from anywhere on the globe, as long as it's sumptuous and at least somewhat classy. Tartwear should be left to the everyday whore. Companions sell an image, along with, er, certain other things. Bright colors, soft fabrics, and jewelry - all of the things your typical denizen of the 'verse doesn't see every day should dominate your costume. You're representing a little bit of softness and luxury in your clients' lives, so keep that in mind when dressing. Yes, I know that Companions do far more than sleep with clients, but what does everyone think of when the see a Companion? You got it... ;)

Quick suggestions include: cheongsam style dresses (found in thrift stores and Chinatowns everywhere); kimonos are expensive to buy, but there are several 'costume' patterns available through any sewing store (wear with or without geisha-style makeup) which would be much cheaper to make and offer you customizable options re: fabric; evening-wear of a more contemporary western style will work - long body-hugging outfits, with just a bit of cleavage or a high-cut side seam, like evening dresses from the 1930s, for instance. As I said think classy and not terribly practical. I would suggest staying away from Victoriana formal wear because, frankly, it takes a long time to take off. I don't think a Companion would waste billable time like that, unless a client specifically asked for that garb.

First resort, look in your closet. Pull out your "fancy night out" clothes and those might well do the job. Failing that, go to the thrift stores. Brocade is a popular fabric, and you're likely to find skirts, jackets and dresses in that fabric, as well as who knows what else in the pleasantly-slinky department. The key to thrifting is perserverence - frequently visit a LOT of stores. Kimonos are easy to sew, but require a significant amount of fabric, five or six yards, at least, plus the obi if you want to wear one.

The Upper Class
Obviously, the best episode to refer to for costuming the upper classes is Shindig. I'm writing these notes after only a single viewing (bad fangrrl! No shiny for you!) but I identified the following influences:

The ladies generally wore European clothing, from the 18th and 19th centuries - from sacque gowns to corseted bodices and bustled skirts. I suspect this is because of the sheer fussiness involved in the styles - wearing those outfits proves you've got money, time and a significant personal staff. I most definitely did not see short skirts, BDSM/gothy fashion, spiked heels, or gaudy makeup. Despite the emphasis on European/American fashion in the episode Shindig, I'm sure that a player could get by with formal wear from practically anywhere on the globe. With that in mind, I've included some links at the bottom of this page that you might want to rummage through.

The gents seemed to draw from a broader range of inspirations - which is nice, because guys often get shorted on costuming goodness. I glimpsed everything from "American frontier formal" (such as what Mal wore) to Persian garb, to Chinese tunics and trousers. Whatever the inspiration, the duds were always what would be worn by the upper classese of that culture.

This means that you've got a lot of latitude when it comes to costuming. As usual, the rule is to be evocative without breaking the bank. If you're a female player and you don't happen to have a closet crammed with Victoriana, just wear your bestest duds and doll yourself up. Or hit the thrift store and pray your luck is in - look for old evening dresses, or long skirts and nice blouses/shirts to go with. Essentially, avoid the don'ts listed above, and you're set.

The chaps are in a cup-running-over situation. The most affordable default is, of course, whatever fancy togs you happen to have. Black slacks, a dress shirt, shiny shoes, a nice vest and - of course - a tie of some sort, and you're in business as a dapper dude of means. I rather liked the "American Frontier Formal" look, myself, which can be replicated with some thrifting/sewing - key visual cues would be the cut of your vest, the color of your shirt (anything but white, I'd suggest, to differentiate you from the Euro influence), and tie.

Other options are a good kung fu suit (I've seen them in satiny material, right? Or am I high?), a rented tuxedo, a kimono - with our without hakama - middle eastern garb in fine fabrics... the list goes on and one. Look below for links about non-western clothing, as I must admit total ignorance of anything but kimonos and even then, there are better sites than my ramblings to refer to. ;)

A Shepherd of Souls
Hm, there's not a lot to go on here, so this is almost pure supposition on my part: keep it simple, keep it somber. Wearing a cassock would certainly be plausible - bonus points if you've got one cut in the frontier style. Otherwise, dark colors - gray and black - a plain shirt and not-too-dressy slacks will get you by. You want to present an image that is sober, reliable, and of a person not prone to vanity. Shun accessories, embroidery on your shirts, or fancy belts. Again, this is a look that could be easily pulled together with clothes you already own.

A Voice of Caution
When playing in a LARP, even if you're in a private setting, never, EVER carry realistic looking weapons. A gun-belt is a dandy prop, but do not holster anything that a total stranger (especially a cop!) can't recognize as a fake at fifty yards. In the dark. Honestly, I'd be hesistant to even carry a bright orange water pistol in a realistic gun-rig, as who wants to become a larping horror story? The same is true for knives/bladed weapons. If there's the slightest possibility that a stranger will mistake it for a real weapon, don't bring it to game.

Useful URLs
Even if you can't afford to buy brand-new clothes, rummage through the retail sites, as their catalog pictures will give you an idea of what to look for when raiding your friends' closets or going to the thrift stores.

My own collection of costuming resources for the LARPer and check out Costume Tips for the Cheap and Desperate if you haven't already - part of a larger archive of LARP advice.

Costume Resources at BrownCoats.com - Of course, I find this link after I've spent a couple of hours creating this page. This might be the ONLY resource you need, so check it out first. The emphasis seems to be on cosplaying the characters, but all of the links are generally useful for the larper.

Can't Take The Sky - the best site I've found for Firefly screen caps - and therefore costume reference!

Costuming for the Wild Wild West movie - you might think it's totally unrelated but the page has some nice pictures, and offers a good overview of the influences on another wild-west/fantasy fusion.

How to Select a Wild West Outfit - written for members of the CMSA, this is a nifty resource for non-members, too.

Wild West Mercantile - clothing for men and women. The site nav is a bit haphazard, but be patient. Carries formalwear.

Texas Jack's - clothing, coats, leather, all that good stuff.

Women of the Wild West - for the ladies, obviously.

Old West Links - scroll down to Merchants, Crafters and Artisans, about halfway down the page - LOTS of links!

Retro Western Wear - an eye-catching collection of 20th Century vintage and vintage-styled western wear for sale. Check out the fancy shirts - great for a dressy night on the frontier.

Western Wear Links at Cowboys.com - title says it all.

Victorian Fashion - courtesy of victoriana.com

Mens Clothing and Accessories in the Victorian Era - courtesy of victorianbazaar.com - have a rummage through the site.

Traditional Chinese Dress in Taiwan - nice pix!

How to Wear a Kimono - the real deal. The entire site is worth browsing, as it includes tips for making kimono, a discussion on hakama pants, happi coats and festival clothing, etc.

How to wear a kimono or yukata - illustrated with photographs, unlike the site, above.

Chinese Wedding Dresses - the prices will probably make your hair curl, but look at the pretty pictures!

A Selection of Cheongsam and Qipao Dresses

Chinese Coats for Men - some of 'em are a bit silly, but it's a good visual reference.

Barong Tagalog - Traditional Phillipino dress. The style can vary from casual to formal.

A Selection of Barong Tagalogs - for men and women.

A Turkish Lady's Ensemble - the site's badly laid out, but click on the pix to see larger versions, click on the title for a description on a seperate page.

A Guide to Persian Clothing - woefully short on illustrations, but informative nonetheless

Retailer of cholis and saris - dig those pix!

Utsav sarees - a nice collection of wedding saris, very pretty!

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