Society for Interactive Literature West

The Game of Empire

Costume Suggestions

While costuming is not necessary for this game, costumes do help build atmosphere; well-made costumes can contribute both to your own and to other players' enjoyment of the game.

One very important point: this game is not a masquerade. You will be wearing your costume for hours on end and moving about through throngs of people in the City of Ten Thousand Magicians. If your costume is too hot, too cool, itchy, overly bulky, or doesn't let you sit or move freely, you may find yourself very uncomfortable before long. If you plan to wear something that sticks out (a sword in your belt, or a long train on your dress, for example), make sure you won't be a hazard to yourself or the people around you. We strongly suggest that you consider the practical aspects of your costume as well as the artistic ones.

Some of the most effective costumes are simple ones that merely suggest how others should see you. These have the added benefit of being easier, quicker, and cheaper to put together, not to mention more comfortable to wear for a weekend. Nice props or accessories can go very far towards creating an image. Remember that people will look at your face most of the time, so a good hat is much more useful than the perfect boots.

The general mode of dress in this world is rather like that of the Arabian Nights stories: long, flowing robes, everything very lightweight, full, and draped. Think loose robe, caftan, sari, harem pants, long full swirly Gypsy skirt, big puffy-sleeved shirt, long sleeveless tunic, full light cloak, and the like. Headgear might be a turban, keffiyeh, cowl, hood, or scarf. While footwear is probably sandals or soft boots, we'll be indoors and outdoors in January.

Colors are generally exuberantly bright, covered with elaborate beadwork, embroidery, or painted designs, and jewelry -- bells, bangles, beads -- is abundant. Hawking Nomads might be more subdued than the rest. Because Hawkings have a rough life in the desert, they often have facial scars, which can be easily simulated with face paint.

For inspiration, watch the musical "Kismet", or head for the local Indian restaurant that always has Bali-wood musicals playing. For a Hollywood look at African, Indian and Arab costumes, try "Indiana Jones", "Zulu Dawn", "A Passage to India", "The Wind and The Lion" and "Lawrence of Arabia". For the truly outrageous psuedo-Middle Eastern look, watch "Baron Von Munchhausen".

In light of recent world events, we ask that you not make any costumes which cover substantial portions of your face, so as not to alarm civilians. This includes face paint, which should not be so extensive as to disguise your identity. If you do wear a keffiyeh, please do NOT wear one of the black-and-white striped or plaid ones which are associated with Palestinian terrorists. If you choose a turban, do NOT choose black which is associated with militant and terrorist Muslims. There is no political position implied in these statement, only a desire not to freak out the hotel guests and staff. Other colors or patterns are fine.

Weapon Analogues

Ceremonial or functional weapons are often worn, especially those with curved blades. Consider the current real world political situation, other hotel guests and staff. We'd like to be invited back to the hotel next year. Think carefully before you choose or bring a costume weapon.

If the weapon could in any way harm someone (an unsharpened metal costume sword, for example), it must be completely legal in the state of California. It must be firmly peace-bonded (tied into its sheath so that it cannot be drawn) with something that is brightly colored and difficult to remove, such as an orange zip-tie. If the weapon is completely incapable of harming anyone, it must be obvious to any observer that it is fake. You may only draw it in the Player Lounge or a private hotel room. Never brandish any weapon of any level of realism in any area. The GMs are the final arbiters of whether a weapon or your actions with it are appropriate.

I Can't Sew, Now What?

Your first stop is The Institute for Draped and Wrapped Clothes. Click Web Library. I promise, you wont even need a safety pin.

Browse through your closet, or through the shelves of your local secondhand, fabric, craft, costume, and toy stores -- you may get some good ideas. Use your imagination, and look for things you can chop up and modify if they're not quite what you want. Fabric paint and dye can turn a cheap plain fabric into something dramatic. In fabric stores, try the remnant bins -- small pieces for reduced prices. Even a small amount of a particularly interesting fabric or trim can work well. If you need lots of fabric, secondhand bedsheets are usually the cheapest thing around.

Draped & Wrapped Clothes

Shawls, Sashes and Scarves
What could be easier than a long bright scarf wrapped or tossed over the shoulder? How about a busy paisley square folded on the diagonal and tied around the waist? A woven red sash 'round the waist of the Gypsy violinist? Indian, Pakistani, and Arab neighborhoods have many to choose from. Check the second hand shops in these neighborhoods, too. Beautiful and detailed images and information on Sardinian dress which includes shawls, scarves and drapes as major parts:

Not as tough as it seems, once you practice a little. First, some inspirational pictures. Web site about Sikh turbans for men. Sequence of draping photos at the bottom, guys. How to drape a woman's turban.

You'll need a piece of fabric one foot wide and at least six feet long (we had much more luck with nine-foot pieces; you can always wrap an extra time). Fold it in half the long way (ironing the crease will help keep you sane), so you have a 6" wide "ribbon". Muslin & gauze fabrics stay in place better that slippery silk or polyester.

Start by placing the folded edge across your forehead and wrapping it once tightly around your head in the same path as the keffiyeh cord, so it will hold itself in place. Keep wrapping the band around your head, but this time, do the wrap on an angle so that it comes higher on your head on the left side and lower (just barely above your ear) on the right. Next wrap, do the other diagonal, and so on, until your head is covered and you're out of fabric (with six feet, you'll probably get three wraps). Use the remaining fabric to cover the top of your head and tuck the end in. (If you get fancy, you can make a cone or other hat for the top of your head and wrap it into the turban.)

The wraps lay much flatter and look more decorative if, when you change the angle of the cloth at the back of your head, you fold it over to the new angle, rather than just stretching it into place. You can finish the whole thing off with a fancy pin pinned through all of the front layers. Perhaps a jaunty feather, O Caliph?

Turkish, African and Other Headgear
Turkish men: in a word FEZ. Worn by the Fat Man in "Casablanca".
Magyar (Hungarian) men:
Turkish women: Cycle thru pictures.
African women: Very detailed site on African female headdresses. If you click on "how to...", at the bottom of the page, you'll also be shown how to drape a skirt-like (or rather "veshti-like") garment that goes with the headdress.

You'll need a square piece of fabric three feet on a side, fringed or hemmed around the edges, and a decorative cord long enough to go around your head at least once. Fold it in half diagonally to make a large triangle. Put it over your head, with the folded edge across your forehead and the point of the triangle falling down your back. Wrap the cord around your head one or more times (across your forehead over the fabric, under the back of your head, not covering your ears), and tie it firmly, letting the ends dangle down your back.

Alternatively, you can skip the cord and experiment with other ways to deal with the points of the triangle -- sending one side point around the front of your neck and over your other shoulder looks nice, as does tying the side points together under the back of your head, either over or under the center point.

For the men, these are trousers formed by draped and tucked square piece of fabric. Red and black are common choices Yellow has religious connotations. Most other colors do not. Looks great with a kurta and those curly-toed shoes. Explanations and very simple drawings to drape a dhoti

Dozens of Indian fashion shops in Sunnyvale and Berkeley will be happy to sell these garments to the ladies. The blouse under a sari is called a "choli" can be made by the shop to fit you specially. The secret weapon of the sari wearer is a petticoat. It's a tube of fabric on a drawstring, usually cool cotton same color as the sari. Tie the petticoat snuggly around your waist and put on your choli before you start wrapping. Inspiration and instructions.  How to drape a Modern sari. We're most familiar with the dress-shaped sari. However, there are many, many draping styles, including one that makes trousers and blouse from one 12 meter narrow cloth.

A bit of the South Seas. This bright ikat or floral patterned square gets twist and tied in a variety of ways. A sarong is a piece of cloth, about 1.7-2 by 1.2-1.3 metres (7 by 5 feet). How to tie a traditional Indonesian sarong for men: a photo of a Javanese blacksmith in his sarong. For women, drawings showing several styles.

Things to Shop For
   (Still no sewing involved)

Hit the flea markets, especially at Ashby BART for sarongs, African wear, Indian ankle bracelets, Tibetan doodads and beads of all sorts. At Greek festivals, sellers have bangled scarves. Goodwill shops and Indian clothing stores are popular destinations.

Bangles, Baubles and Beads:
For inspiration, watch the musical "Kismet". Head for the local fleamarket or Second Hand shop. For a nomadic look, get wooden, bone, "ivory", opaque stone beads. For the Caliph, the Shah and the Sultan's Wife, perhaps some paste & glass "Rubies", "Emeralds" and "Sapphires". Remember that little silver chain headdress you bought at RennFaire? It's just right for the Harem girl. Find bangles by the dozen at most Goodwill shops and in Indian clothing stores.

Bindhi & Cum-cum
These are the decorative forehead "dots" for Indian ladies. The fancy ones are self-stick and come on cards of 3 to several dozen. Buy a card for $2-3 and share!

For men or women, that handy Indian or Arab fashion shop will have vests with embroidery, appliqués, spangles or even mirror work. Hungarian and Eastern European vests still show influence of Arab occupation under the Ottoman Empire.

Salwar Kurta, "Punjabi Suits", Kamiz and Churidar
These are the tunics and pantsuits your Indian coworkers wear with different names in every Indian language. There are narrow-legged pants and blousy-legged pant styles. All button or cinch at the ankle. Dozens of Indian fashion shops in Sunnyvale and Berkeley will be happy to sell these garments to the ladies. Just add bangles and a scarf.

Kurta Pajama
Bet ya didn't know "pajama" was a Hindi word. Salwar pajama is Mahatma Gandhi's all white, embroidered cotton tunic & pants for men. Can go with shoes that have turned up toes.

Close your eyes and image someone in 1964 saying "Peace, Brother". He's got an Afro and a brightly patterned shirt, right? That shirt is dashiki. Your local Ethiopian shop (especially Berkeley & San Jose) has them in comfortable cotton. Leave the peace sign necklace at home.

Robes, Caftans, Jelabiyya, Tunics
These can occasionally be found ready-made. The jelabiyya is the Arab robe. Think "Lawrence of Arabia". To see the Berber burnoose and caftan in action, try "The Wind and the Lion" which takes place in Morocco.

Make It Yourself (or ask a friend)

If you're planning to construct a costume, good luck. Remember that it doesn't have to last beyond the weekend, so you don't have to get too elaborate or be too careful in the construction. Safety pins or fabric glue can take the place of seams, Fray-Check can stand in for a hem, a bit of string in the right place can save you hours of careful draping. Wire coat hangers make great bracelets (and if you like silver instead of brass, use some fine sandpaper to get a nice smooth finish). Save yourself dozens of trips to the store by thinking about everything you'll need (thread, fasteners, trim, etc) ahead of time.

Best place for patterns: Folkwear Patterns.

Cheapest fabric is probably old stripey bed sheets or something from the sale tables at Hancock Fabrics. For Asian fabrics: Cin heartily recommends the fabric stores in the Indian neighborhoods. Glitz and silk, it's all here.

Hints on how to make a few things:

Gypsy. Eastern European and Other Folk Shirts
For the truly inspired, Folkwear has a "Poet Shirt" and a "Cheesemaker's Smock". Both make up quickly and require only basic sewing skills. Looks great with a vest, full skirt or floppy harem pants. There's also the Shirts of Russia & Ukraine, Egyptian Shirt, Croatian Shirt and Roumanian Shirt patterns.

Folkwear's pattern, Vests from Greece and Poland, would do nicely. Cin recommends "buy it don't build it". Real ones are encrusted with fancy designs. Unless you're in love with making your own, be aware decorating a vest can be horribly time consuming. For women, the Greek "coat" is really a mid-calf vest.

Harem or Gypsy Pants
You'll need two rectangles of fabric, slightly longer than the distance from your waist to your ankle, and three to four feet wide, plus enough elastic or drawstring cord to handle four times the width of your fabric. Lay the pieces down together, with the good side of the fabric on the inside. In both pieces, cut a slit the long way up the middle of the fabric, a couple of inches shorter than your inseam, to separate the pant legs. Sew the two pieces of fabric together, first at the inseam, then all the way up the outsides of the legs, so that you have a large pair of inside-out pants, which, obviously, you turn right-side out before wearing.

Now, you need to gather the waist and ankles. If you're pressed for time, just punch holes every inch or two and thread the cord in and out. Or you can set elastic in (remember to stretch it as you sew), or hem the edges to make a hollow casing to hold the drawstring. Tie one end of the string to a large needle and thread it through the casing eye first.

Alternatively, Folkwear's "Sarouelles" trouser pattern will do nicely.

Suits and Dresses
Follkwear has several patterns of this ilk.
Men's wear: Algerian Suit (Jacket, vest, and loose-fitting trousers), West African Robe & Trousers
Women's wear: Gaza Dress, Syrian Dress, Afghani Nomad Dress, Russian Settlers' Dress, Hepali Blouse and Tibetan Chupa

Burnoose, Szur, and Other Ethnic Coats
These are all various forms of outerwear. Good old Folkwear has patterns for the Turkish Coat, Tibetian Panel Coat, and Hungarian Szur

Robes, Caftans, Jelabiyya, and Tunics
Follkwear has several patterns of this ilk. To make the Arab Jelabiyya, take Folkwear's Egyptian Shirt and make it ankle length. For robes, make the Egyptian Shirt long and very full or try out the Moroccan Burnoose. Tunics can be made with any of the shirt patterns lengthened to hip, mid-thigh or even to the knee. The West African Robe & Trousers would be imposing on a big guy.

A Tunic Without A Pattern
The easiest thing to make is a T-tunic, so-called as the straight horizontal sleeves cross the vertical body of the "T". For proper fullness and long sleeves, you'll need two queen-sized sheets (twin sheets are fine if you want short sleeves). Cut the sheets into rectangles as long as the distance from your shoulders to your ankles and as wide as the distance between your wrists when your arms are outstretched.

Put the patterned sides of the sheets together. Fold them in half together, the long way, to find the center of the garment. The neck will lay better if you cut out a shallow rectangle or quarter-ellipse, starting about four inches from the fold and two inches from the top of the fabric. You may also want to cut a slit a few inches down the fold in one of the pieces to make enough room for your head if you're making a pullover caftan. If you're making a robe, cut that slit all the way down the fold in that piece, making the front opening.

Unfold the pieces and sew them together along the top edge (except along the neckline) to make the shoulders and the tops of the sleeves.

For a very full robe, just sew the long edges of the sheets together, leaving an opening as large as you'd like for your wrists. If you'd like real sleeves, fold the fabric in half the long way again, and make a mark where the armpit should be. To find this point, measure around your shoulder and armpit, add at least six inches, divide by two -- this is how far below the shoulder seam to put the mark. Measure around your chest, add at least eight inches, and divide by four -- this is how far from the center fold you'll put the mark. Draw a line from the mark to the bottom outside corner, and from the mark to the long edge of the fabric where you'd like the sleeves -- it's very in-genre to make the sleeves flare dramatically towards the wrists, or to gather them as for the harem pants. Cut about a half-inch outside the lines you've drawn, unfold the fabric, and sew the seams up the sides and along the undersides of the arms.

Turn the robe right side out and finish the edges. You can wear it loose or belted. This basic method can easily be modified to make a tunic, dress, shirt, vest, or other garment.


Remember, you don't have to costume at all -- these games rely on imagination. But if you do, have fun doing it. Good luck, and don't panic!



Empire Players Community

History of the World
Costume Suggestions
Signup & Casting Questionnaire
Tips for Playing with Style and Success

2002 Rules

SIL West | About | Design | Dragon | Starfire | Secrets | Contact