Building Beyond is an ongoing series of conversations about how much fun worldbuilding can be. Building a world doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Let’s give it a try, together.
Every creature is sentient and wears clothes. This includes paranormal creatures.
Maggie Tokuda-Hall has an MFA in creative writing from USF, and a strong cake-decorating game. She is the author of the 2017 Parent's Choice Gold Medal winning picture book, Also an Octopus, illustrated by Benji Davies. The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is her debut young adult novel, which was an NPR Best Book of 2020. Her graphic novel, Squad, is now available wherever books are sold. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband, son, and objectively perfect dog.
Gailey: How does the sentience of all creatures change the demand for different fabrics?
I like to think that all ghosts are naked. Like, the soul remains, but why would the outfit? If I were a ghost I think it'd be fun to pop up naked now and again and just bounce my boobs thoughtfully in someone's periphery. Imagine if your house were haunted by a ghost who just showed up in mirrors bouncing their titties. A+ haunting.
Gailey: What creatures are at the leading edge of fashion trends?
I mean, I feel like the gimme response here would be vampires since they've had centuries to accumulate wealth and develop a taste for finer things. But by that logic Hannibal Lector would be well dressed, and I've never heard him described as a fashion plate. I think it'd actually be werewolves. They bust through their clothes on a regular basis, and so they'd have a sense of temporality with their fashion that'd allow them to take some risks. Like, power clashing? Yes, let's try it! If it doesn't work, then whatever, these threads will be gone in a mere month!
Gailey: What kind of garments might appeal specifically to werewolves?
As a scientist of werewolves (a werewolfologist as we're known in our community) I think about this a lot. I know that in Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series the boys wear jean shorts (jorts), but like many things in the series, that is scientifically inaccurate. We know now that werewolves favor light fabrics, and also reject pants on sight unless they're stretchy or tearaway pants. Nowadays, it's much more common to see a werewolf wearing a nice kimono, or a maribou-lined dressing gown. These garments boast easy removal, and are very winsome to boot. So if you see someone wearing a robe in public, it's not that they're hungover, it's that they're a werewolf. We have the werewolf community to thank for the advancement of athleisure wear going mainstream, and for that we salute them. A fun fact that many people don't know?
The Dude, in the Cohen Brothers' film, the Big Lebowski, is actually a member of the werewolf community. It's not explicitly a part of the narrative, but he's often shown in his robe as an homage to his heritage.
Hugo-, Nebula-, and Locus Award winning author Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and once wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat. He is the author of many books, including Empress of Forever, the Craft Sequence of fantasy novels, and, with Amal El-Mohtar, the internationally bestselling This is How You Lose the Time War. His next novel, LAST EXIT, launches in February 2022. His dreams are much nicer than you’d expect.
Clothes Make the Bug
First, what’s a ‘creature?’ Is anything in animalia game? If so we’re talking micrometer-long parasitic jellyfish, we’re not even talking gnats, we’re talking dicopomorpha echmepterygis, a parasitic wasp that’s smaller than a paramecium, invisible without a microscope. An eight-micrometer jellyfish is about thirty times smaller than a cotton sewing thread. So: what’s the fabric? A human hair is about 75 micrometers across, and the thinnest silk thread in the world claims to be a little less than a fifth as wide, so—still about three times the diameter of our little jellies. At this point, you’re talking nano-scale looms, 3d protein printers knitting little argyle socks for our friend d. echmepterygis.
But would they wear socks? It’s harder to cool down when you’re small—cooling being on the bad side of the inverse square law, which my autocorrect hit as ‘inverse squee law,’ which is I guess the law that governs the reaction to bad casting decisions in comic book movies… Anyway. It’s really hard for tiny things to cool down, since you heat up across your volume but you only cool on your surface area, which is also one reason nano-cloud spaceships are not a good idea. But it’s spooky season, not nano-cloud spaceship season, which is… probably spring. Because pollen, I suppose. Back to clothes.
All these sentient microjellies and parasitic insects aren’t warm-blooded, obviously, in part because they don’t have blood. Still, they have to be wary about absorbing too much heat from their environment, or even (at the scales we’re talking) producing it through friction. Human warm-weather and athletic clothing relies on the extremely specialized human cooling system—we have disproportionately many tiny veins in our skin, we have tons more sweat glands than your replacement vertebrate, and so on. We’re maybe the sweatiest animal on earth, is the upshot, so we can take advantage of neat tricks like ‘sweat-wicking’ clothes. Bugs don’t have the same systems. So—with the exception of the performance micromilitary snowsuits that will finally let the mosquitos conquer Canada—you’d expect your average tiny entity’s tailoring to veer in the direction of ‘barely enough for modesty,’ or, if you’re assuming different standards of modesty among insects, which you probably should, ‘barely enough for status projection’ or ‘mate attraction’ or any of the other things clothes do.
So we’re talking tiny little speedos over ovipositors. Gynosome sheaths for female neotrogla, designed to really spark against a background of bat guano during those 50-hour mating sessions. (Neotrogla are wild.) The Victoria’s Secret catalog for hymenoptera runs to several hundred pages.
But why are we spending so much time on small things, as opposed to the questions that truly weigh upon our souls, like what’s the well-dressed werewolf wearing this spooky season? Well, because capitalism, I’m sad to say. A quick hop and a skip over to the Smithsonian’s bug info website finds an estimate that there are roughly 200 million insects per individual human person in the world, with a top level estimate of ten quintillion (which is 1 with 19 zeroes after it) individual bugs. The entire human market tops out at just under 8 billion people (which is an eight with nine zeroes after it). That is to say, the potential insect market is ten billion times larger than the human market (19-9=10), which is about the difference between the price of a new iMac with extra RAM and the entire GDP of the United States of America.
You know how tiny crosstab populations tend to get underserved by the great engines of The Market? How people who are more than seven feet tall have a hard time flying on airplanes? The extra lengths you have to go to find a size 23 shoe? Well, compared to the size of the bug market, there are about as many of us as there are of people who are more than seven feet tall (total of apparently between 2000 and 3000 in the world). And one would imagine there are far more normal humans than werewolves, vampires, and so on, unless in addition to a wasp-clothes universe we’re also living in the World of Darkness roleplaying games, specifically the 1990s versions.
So, congratulations, humanity. We’re insignificant! I mean, more than we were already. There are still clothes for us, the market being the great paperclip maximizer that it is, even such a backwater won’t go un-sold, but expect what there is to be, largely, repurposed or upscaled special purpose QVC-level gear, or lovingly handmade garments that cost arms and legs, since there’s just not as much demand for macroscale thread as there is for nanolooms. Get used to wearing mosquito speedos, and A-listers showing up to the Met Gala in upscaled gynosome sheaths. (I don’t know how they’ll look without the bat guano background, but it’s all in how you work it.)
So: what’s the best-dressed werewolf wearing at fashion week? Whatever she can get!
But also plaid. You can’t beat the classics.
My world of fashion for every being would be highly specialized. Whole trends would emerge, flourish, and die within isolated groups; deep-sea crabs would undergo hat phases that no other species would know about. Werewolf fashions, being dependent on the phases of the moon, would go through accelerated cycles: what’s in today is awoo-t tomorrow.
All of these possibilities are just beginnings. Maggie's fashion-predictions steer neatly into a world of werewolf burlesque. Max's world of textiles provides a perfect foundation for a tale of insectile economic domination. My thing would mostly just be an excuse to get absurd about squids wearing little gloves, can you imagine?
How would fashion evolve in your world? Would there be any universally-beloved garment? How would you clothe a werewolf?
Do whatever you want with these questions. You can write something down in the comments or on social media or in a notebook nobody will ever see. You can draw or paint or sit down a friend and talk their ear off about your ideas. You can stare at the horizon and imagine, letting the infinite landscape of your mind unfold just a little farther than it did yesterday. No matter what you do, take pride in the knowledge that you’re creating something that has never existed before. You’re building a little corner of a whole new world.
If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this newsletter. The subscriber community is a wonderful and supportive one, and we’re spending 2021 finding new ways to stay connected and share experiences.
No matter what you do, please find ways to support Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, support Black people and communities, and participate in local mutual aid.
In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.
Subscribe to Stone Soup
Subscribe to the newsletter and unlock access to member-only content.