(This was originally posted on my Patreon at the beginning of the month)
A question from Lizzie (via message, due to internet issues): I can’t remember if you’ve answered this elsewhere, but what does what someone’s wearing tell about their status, where they come from, etc? I remember that the lovely art of the main characters had quite distinctive common placements of embroidery for instance.
So first off I’m going to take advantage of that very nice comment r.e. art to remind people that there are character portraits of most of the Argentum crew (done by IllustratedJai, who is both a very talented artist and my partner). This is very much an ongoing project, so don’t worry if you don’t see a specific character yet – they’re on their way.
And, speaking of character portraits, I think the best way to answer this question is actually to take a look at the folks we’ve got so far and what their clothing says about them. So!
Amelia’s wearing fairly standard clothing for someone of her gender (feminine female-presenting), age, and social class, with one notable exception – her skirt and boots. In general, knee-length skirts are associated with poorer folks, as the assumption is that someone of Amelia’s status wouldn’t be walking anywhere in the muck and so could afford to wear ankle-length skirts and dancing slippers. Amelia’s making a very deliberate choice here to foreground practicality over showiness, and it’s one that absolutely causes raised eyebrows and tutting amongst more traditionalist upper-class folks.
I also want to draw attention to what she’s wearing on her feet, as they’re an example of something we’re going to see a few more times in this rundown: soft boots. These’re very much a Sacaask Thing, and are essentially knee-length embroidered soft-soled house shoes/slippers, worn to protect the wearer’s feet from cold floors and protect the floors from hobnailed outdoor boots.
In terms of other notable things about this image, the broad bands of embroidery on Amelia’s jacket there are very much a show of status and wealth, especially since they’re in gold thread. And, if you look closely, you can see that there’re embroidered butterflies on her boots and jacket, echoing the golden butterfly hair decoration she’s wearing – this is a very coordinated outfit, put together by someone who can afford to coordinate.
On to Viola, who’s also bucking tradition here, though not in the way you might think.
The issue here isn’t the trousers – Sacaan has two distinct ways to be a female-presenting person as far as dress goes, and the one which Viola’s showcasing here absolutely includes trousers – it’s the fact that she’s not wearing boots or socks, which is not only considered distinctly lacking in class (at least in the circles in which Amelia’s family move), but also highly unusual given the city’s climate.
Then again, when you have claws for toenails and transforming into your other form would ruin anything you’re wearing if you have to transform quickly…
Unlike her twin brother Sebastian (yes, I know, that was very deliberate on my part) Viola’s very squarely invested in not letting people forget she’s a werewolf, which is why she’s wearing those bracelets – those’re a traditional design from her clan, open-cuffed at the back so that they’ll stretch around her forelegs when she transforms.
The embroidery on her trousers and waistcoat follows the same motif as Amelia’s, signifying that she’s a member of the same family, though the embroidery on Viola’s clothing is a good deal more plain and workaday than the gold thread and wide panels on Amelia’s. She’s also wearing a black waistcoat, which is a very specific piece of political signalling that we’ll see again when we get to Archer and Sabbat – though, admittedly, that choice of clothing is a good deal less fraught these days than it was back during the Usurper’s reign and the run-up to the Revolution.
Here we have someone whose clothing says something very specific about them – namely, that they’re a junior priest of Ashkenta, Twilight Sister, the Daughter of the Dusk and Dawn, goddess of knowledge, liminal spaces, and transitions (amongst other things). The priests of Ashkenta are all societally non-binary, and use a variant they-pronoun which would probably be literally translated as ‘sacred-they’ or ‘priest-they’. Many of them also consider themselves non-binary in their personal gender as well as their societal one, and Anneke falls into that category.
All the priesthoods in the city have specific clothing (usually robes) and Ashkenta’s priesthood are no exception – they wear layered robes in black, grey and white, with red cord belts and red detailing (usually in things like headdresses and embroidery on their outer robes). Anneke’s wearing their underlayers here, since they’re indoors, and they’ve ditched the headdress they’d be wearing if they were wandering around outside.
Archer & Sabbat
So these two give us a very nice study in contrasts, because while they’re both technically wearing the same getup (off-white shirt, black waistcoat, black trousers, black boots) they’re signalling very different things in the details.
For a start, Sabbat’s still wearing his outdoor hobnailed boots (and probably ruining Archer’s floors in the process) – that’s a very deliberate ‘I don’t care what you think of me’ choice, and the kind of thing which would likely get him in a lot of trouble in certain quarters. He’s also wearing black-on-black embroidery, which is another bit of deliberate provocation – while it’s not something anyone can ‘get’ you for, it’s very much got cultural connotations associated with being not exactly on the level. Add the fact that he’s wearing more outdated and worn kit and his whole getup in this picture is very much ‘yes, I’m lower-class and probably a criminal, the fuck’re you going to do about it?’
Archer, on the other hand, is very much signalling noble (specifically masculine male-presenting), albeit one who’s either somewhat impoverished or dressed down/not particularly interested in showing status. His embroidery’s in silver-coloured thread, which is a show of wealth, but it’s confined to fairly small areas of his waistcoat and completely missing from his trousers – which suggests that he’s probably wearing at-home clothes (though, because he is a noble, his casual wear is still covered in silver embroidery).
Both of them are wearing black waistcoats and, like I said above for Viola, there’s a political reason for that.
Black used to be reserved for mourning, at least when it came to waistcoats and coats, so someone wearing a black waistcoat was signalling that they’d lost someone close to them. Wearing mourning after the mourning period was over had a specific secondary significance – you were saying that you believed that for some reason the business of the person’s death hadn’t been properly concluded.
Around 25 years before the time that our story begins, almost the entire royal family of Sacaan (including the monarch, his wife, and [it was believed] all but one of their children) were killed after a fire broke out at their hunting lodge and, as might be expected, the entire city went into formal mourning as a result. What wasn’t expected was the fact that, after the formal mourning period was over, a fair number of folks stayed in mourning garb. They were making a very specific point – that they believed that the fire hadn’t been an accident, and that whoever had murdered the royal family hadn’t yet been brought to justice.
That was… a dangerous point to be making, in the political climate of the time, especially given that the finger of suspicion pointed very firmly at the new Queen’s uncle (who was, given his niece’s age, very explicitly the power behind the throne). Protests happened, arrests were made, and the wearing of black waistcoats, armbands, veils and other accoutrements of mourning was actually banned for a time.
What this meant in practical terms was that black waistcoats became very much a symbol of the resistance against the Usurper (the aforementioned uncle). And, since the resistance was very much tied up with the Order (the uncle was a Sinnlenst sympathiser and the assassination of the previous king a fairly direct reaction to his permissive policies regarding magical education)… well, there’s a reason some folks kept right on wearing those waistcoats even after the Revolution and the overthrowing of the Usurper.
Neither Sabbat nor Viola were old enough to actually fight in the Revolution (though both of them do remember it), so their choice of waistcoat colour is very much based on signalling support for/membership of the Order in general. Archer, on the other hand, is wearing a waistcoat that dates from the years when wearing it would have been illegal – and, in fact, one that he was actually arrested for wearing.
I’ve barely scratched the surface here – I’ve not talked about wedding attire, or formal coats, or specific meanings of embroidery – but given this is already a very long post, we’ll call this part one and save the rest for another day. I hope this was the start of an answer to your question!
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