Believe it or not, I do have practical reasons for putting some of my female characters in skimpwear. So, you do not believe me. Figures. No … I did not mean figures were the reason for skimpwear on my characters! Well, maybe just a little. Anyway, for the heck of it, I thought I’d post my own personal thoughts regarding skimpwear in my stories and images. This is my own personal thought about the subject, and certainly not universal much less applicable elsewhere. Unless you want to start calling it the Boutwell Doctrine, in which case I’m vainglorious enough to like it.
First, I want to get several overused cards off the table.
1. Skimpwear Is Historically Inaccurate
Of course it is. What about the word fantasy in Fantasy don’t some people get? 95% of what appears in fantasy never happened in the history of our species. As a writer whose name I now forget once said, “Never let historical fact ruin a good story.” He also wrote historical fiction, so if he can bend the rules, I can shatter them. I’d say the same about “scientific fact.” If you want fact, read non-fiction. Fiction is about the story.
Or is it inaccurate? According to the Romans, the Picts fought stark naked. Considering the Romans built a wall to keep the Picts out of Britannia, and the Romans were not known for being craven cowards, I tend to believe them. So, there is at least one historical reference for minimal garments in combat.
2. Skimpwear Is Sexist
And? People who say that act as if sex appeal is a bad thing. But we are talking about a group who believes they were all immaculately conceived. I don’t believe any artform should be politically correct. It should be politically challenging. Right now, nudity and sex are politically challenging because both the Right and the Left in the USA hate those subjects. So bring it on! Rattle those cages!
Of course skimpwear is sexy. Look. We create our own personal fantasy women, and there is nothing wrong with that. Many of us also create our own personal fantasy men, and there is nothing wrong with that, either. I’m going to dress my characters to accentuate that fantasy interest. Ultimately, they’re for me. Yours are for you. If other readers/watchers want to join the party, so much the better.
I do understand the issue of putting a woman in a bikini while the man is fully dressed. That is not my fault! Not in 3D art it isn’t. Conan and Red Sonja are the visual standards for protagonists in Sword-and-Sorcery Fantasy. They’re both half-naked. I want my SnS characters to follow the standard. It’s easy in writing, or in hand drawn art. It isn’t so easy in 3D. There are closets full of good Sonjaesque outfits in 3D for women. Can’t say the same for guys. Unfortunately, few 3D content creators have made decent men’s skimpwear. I would put a guy in a codpiece in a nanosecond if one existed. In 3D, I’m stuck with what I can buy. In a written story, I’m an equal opportunity skimpwearist.
Why? Let’s get to that, shall we?
WARRIOR VERSUS SOLDIER
That is it right there. In my mind, at least.
As a subgenre of Fantasy, Barbarian/ Sword and Sorcery Fantasy differs from the Epic Fantasy in many ways. The primary difference is SnS revolves around a solitary figure on a personal mission, while Epic revolves around a team out to save the world. The solitary in SnS may pick up friends and associates along the way, and the team will break up at some point, but the focal points remain fairly fixed.
In my mind, that solitary figure in SnS is a warrior. The team member in Epic is a soldier. There lies the difference that determines their choice of clothing.
I’m going to pick a female warrior because they receive the brunt of the skimpwear condemnation, although most of these points are applicable to a man. She is essentially a lone guerilla. She doesn’t fight for flag, country, or king. She fights for herself, and a worthy cause. Hit and run is her specialty. She has no shame in retreating to a more advantageous position. It isn’t cowardly to refuse to attack a fortified position staffed with 100 archers. It’s practical! Stealth is her primary weapon. Sneak in behind the enemy, slice his throat, move on.
If she fights face-to-face, then she needs a woman’s advantages. A man generally relies on his brute strength to power his way through a fight. Forget the five minute broadsword fights you see in movies. Those didn’t happen. Those guys spent more time glaring at each other while they rested than they did dueling. The fencing duel belongs to the foil of the Musketeer, or to the katana of the Samurai. Anyway, even given the astonishing weight of a basic hand-and-a-half sword, or maybe because of it, men will still rely on their muscles to put power behind that swing. Women don’t have that upper body strength. They do however, have much faster reflexes, superior speed, and better agility.
Any solitary guerilla female warrior isn’t going to want her reflexes, speed, and agility compromised by extra weight. She wants to dance into combat, slice, and dance out as fast as possible. To me, then, the lack of armor is a tactical enhancement for those assets, counterbalancing her lack of strength. Nothing to bind the arms and legs, so she is free to move as quickly as possible.
Then, there is that stealth issue. Armor clanks! You can’t sneak up on someone wearing fifty pounds of scale or plate. The scabbard is going to be noisy enough as it is. No sense in our warrior giving away her location when she’s trying to work her way around the back of the target’s neck.
Skimpwear is practical for the female warrior. It’s practical for the male warrior, too. Just because he has that upper body strength doesn’t mean he wants to waste it lugging around an iron oven all day. Oh yeah. Armor is hot.
Not so for the soldier!
From seasoned general to puissant knight to raw recruit, that soldier is a brick in a wall. That wall needs to withstand a tremendous amount of punishment and hold. If it moves at all, it should move forward. Whether the soldier is a Roman at Alesia in the 1st Century BC or an Englishman at Agincourt in the 15th (the rough era upon which most fantasy is based, if it’s based at all), he’s going to face a variety of opponents. First, there will be a cloud of arrows shot at him from legions of archers. Then, here comes the cavalry, armed with ten to fifteen foot long lances, on horses traveling at 20 mph. Finally, he will face swordsmen. That soldier best be wearing armor, or he won’t survive more than thirty seconds. He does fight for flag, country, and king, and those three need him alive to fight again tomorrow.
Even women in soldier’s positions wore armor. Yes, they did fight. I’m thinking of the Vikings. In recent years, archeologists looked at the pelvic shape of bodies in Viking graves and noticed that half the raiders and traders were women. While Viking armor was minimal (boiled leather and chain), they did wear it. Vikings weren’t stupid.
So, if our warrior woman were a soldier in an army, you bet she’d wear armor. I just don’t create stories that involve organized armed forces, preferring to focus on just one character who moves fast.
Let’s apply this to my characters, namely Elisabeth Lovejoy, Aura Lockhaven, and Barbara the Protector. Elisabeth and Barbara are both warriors, so they wear skimpwear for the reasons I outlined above. Aura is an enchantress. That is a different cat up a different tree, but I’ll cover it anyway.
Given what I just said about warriors, why do Barbara and Elisabeth dress so differently from each other?
Because I want them to.
No, that is a legitimate reason. What is wrong with answering “Why do you …?” with “Because it’s what I like.” If the questioner doesn’t care for that answer, that’s his problem, not mine.
From a practical standpoint, Elisabeth and Barbara have different jobs, requiring different clothes.
Elisabeth is a serious character in a serious written story. She’s a monster hunter. She is more likely to face claws than arrows, so she needs to dodge fast instead of standing there and taking it. So, while she doesn’t wear armor (she has a reason), she does cover 90% of herself in leather, showing only the mid-thigh and upper chest. Elisabeth wouldn’t dress like Barbara. She doesn’t have a sense of humor. Her clothing fits the parameters of her personality and her role in the books. I leave the barely there outfits and near nudity to the enchantresses in the Aura stories. It fits them better in the overall scheme, and is much easier to describe in words.
Barbara exists on DeviantArt and is essentially an adult comic book character. She is just plain fun, and funny. She isn’t meant to be serious. That body? Come on! So, her clothes are also just plain fun. Even so, her clothes do fall within the parameters of Red Sonja.
As for Aura, she is a different character and walks between two extremes. She is a spellcaster, and spellcasters have totally different wardrobe requirements from warriors and soldiers. Even so, the fully covering versus skimpwear debate is applicable. I come down on the skimpwear side for her, and to me, it’s practical.
Epic Fantasy usually numbers a wizard among the protagonists, from Gandalf in Lord of the Rings to both Richard and Kahlan in Sword of Truth. In Sword and Sorcery Fantasy, the sword is usually the domain of the protagonist while sorcery the domain of the villain/ess. I chose the sorcerer for the protagonist simply because I wanted to. A long time ago, I outlined why my protagonist is a woman instead of a man, and that still holds. Besides, Aura began as an enchantress on her very first day of life nine years ago and I see no reason to change her role.
Spellcasters dress differently in the two subgenres. The standard for women spellcasters in Epic is toward the elegant and full covering. That certainly fits the more poetic nature of Epic Fantasy. In SnS, it’s toward nudity, but we are talking about seductive villainesses. As an action oriented subgenre, that also fits. Those are standards simply because it’s what J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard did, so there are plenty of exceptions to both.
Aura is a Sword and Sorcery spellcaster (naked), but she’s also the protagonist and a force for good (elegant and full covering). So, what do I do with her?
I split the difference.
There is also a real life example of the two extremes. I know some Wiccans. They tell me that they love long, flowing gowns. Who can blame them? Talk about glamour and elegance. However, those angelwing sleeves love to find their way into candle flames. So, they practice their rituals nude, or skyclad. Cloth also absorbs magical energy, and they want as much free energy as possible. The foundation for Aura’s magical system is Wiccan. It’s the one I know, and it gives her a realistic feel.
Again, I split the difference.
Aura does wear a dress in the opening trilogy, but not an elegant one. She suffers low-self esteem and wears a brown dress that she believes helps her hide from view. It doesn’t. A redhead can’t hide in a town of blonde and brown. It also doesn’t really fit her emotionally despite her insistence, and by the end of the opening arc, will be reduced to a rag. Her more familiar red outfit is a gift. When she receives it, she is told “Stop trying to hide yourself.” She will grow to accept that. Even though most enchantresses wear filmy little garments that don’t cover much, and Aura would rather be a nudist, she does honor the law and people’s sensibilities. So, in the context of the story, she herself splits the difference between the full dress of many and the nudity of her own magical order.
Besides, it’s what I want Aura to wear.