Fake It and Make It

Fake It and Make It

In this piece, we’ll show you how to cheat when making a costume. Specifically, we’ll look at how you can make an outfit seem historical by identifying a few important visuals elements and using them to communicate a historical period outfit, without needing to actually be historically accurate. Similarly, you can communicate your character’s personality or traits by adding certain items or clothing to their outfit. We will refer to these as communicators.

Our brains are lazy, and built to take short cuts — we fill in the blanks to save energy. If we have two or three dots, our brains will automatically connect them based on our collective and personal knowledge and fill in the rest. By adding known communicators for an archetype as a “dot”, our co-players will recognize it and add the traits of that archetype themselves. The shared cultural knowledge of the Nordic countries is biased towards Western cultural heritage, and this is also the focus of this piece. However, decomposing a look into archetypes works across cultures, and some archetypes are common in many cultures.

When you work through these methods, have in mind which cultures your character and co-players are from. Remember that your perception of color and other gendered communicators may also vary from era to era. When a person wears a golden crown, their (at least Western European) co-players know this person is royalty and treat them accordingly. They know this because the crown is, in Western culture, a clear communicator of ”royalty”. By adding communicators to your outfit, for instance
accessories, props, garments, or colors, which visually communicate traits and characteristics, your costume will speak for you, saying things so you don’t have to. Most people already do this unconsciously when planning a larp outfit. We’d like to help you do this consciously.

The Five Bullet Method

The Five Bullet Method is a tool to help you identify the style of clothing you want to achieve. It requires you to have some visual material from the era you want to portray — for example a fashion drawing, a painting, or a photograph. Each bullet in the method is an element — a communicator —and when you combine them you make a style. As we’re talking about costumes (and not historic accuracy) you don’t need to represent every detail to create the impression of an era.

How to Use the Five Bullet Method

Some larps provide you with visual material for costume inspirations, but if the one you’re working toward didn’t, head for Google or Pinterest. We suggest you start by searching for a fashion plate, a drawing or painting of a fully clothed figure, as you will get a full body illustration, unlike many paintings. You might search for
“Fashion plate 1790”.[1]Other examples of search words you can add: Body: Petite, fat, tall, slim, short, hourglass, triangle, rectangle, inverted triangle. Regency, Biedermeier, Victorian, Edwardian. 1920s Paris, Roaring twenties, Tango. 1930s New York, Film Noir, Femme Fatale. 1940s London, Utility, WW2, post-war.

Scroll through the results and get an initial impression of the style, look for any similarities in the fashion plates. When you’ve done this, choose an illustration that appeals to you. Now, go through the five bullets while looking at your chosen reference: What does the silhouette look like —where is the waist placed? How long or short are the different elements? Are there visible layers? What are the colors and patterns on the garment? Are there any accessories accompanying the garment? Keep in mind that some fashion plates can be really unusual — it is fashion after all. To get a better picture, repeat this process with a few more illustrations. Compare and combine and you’ll have a stronger foundation for the next step.

The Five Bullets

  • Lines: The silhouette and where it’s cut. Examples: long and lean, hourglass, waist placement, sleeve shapes, neckline.
  • Lengths: How long or short. Examples: hemline, sleeves, trousers, vests, differences between day and evening wear.
  • Layers: Both the invisible layers and how the visible layers show the era. Examples: undergarments, overdresses, sheerness, how the fabric falls, vests, jackets, coats.
  • Color and pattern: Color schemes favored in the era. Examples: Bright muted, saturated, pastels, contrasting, color blocking. Examples: Large or small motifs: floral, dots, stripes.
  • Accessories: All the things you wear that are part of the outfit but aren’t the clothes. Examples: hats, gloves, belts, bags, jewelry, canes, shawls, parasols, shoes. Of these items, lines and lengths are the two most important for understanding a look.

Refining the Style

Once you know what the palette of the era you’re working in looks like, you can start to figure out how to represent your character. A character has certain characteristics — age, gender, class, occupation, beliefs etc. They also have personality traits, which are, often points on a scale: — young to old, introvert to extrovert, etc. Which characteristics and traits are most important will depend on the character, game, and genre. When you’ve identified the characteristics you think are most important to communicate to other players visually, it’s time to think about what the communicators are for those characteristics and how to transfer them into costume.


What do we think about when we see a contemporary young adult in front of us? What colors are they wearing? A working class person or noble — what materials are their clothes made of, linen, wool or silk? What, if any, jewelry are they wearing? Clothing often directly communicates these characteristics. For example, in modern Western culture, we associate light pink dresses and lots of white lace with young women, and our brain will fill in all the other traits we associate with being young and female. When defining what your character should wear, start with the characteristics that will set the frame for who they are.

Personality traits

Age, gender, class, beliefOnce you have a frame, look at the details. The table below contains five categories of core personality traits,[2]The five traits are also known as OCEAN or five-factor model originally drafted by Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal in 1961. followed by examples of scalable traits, one at each end of the spectrum. Next to them, you will find suggestions for how to portray this trait with communicators. Remember which country your co-players are from and their cultural background, as these can influence how they interpret the traits and communicators.

Here’s an example. For a musician character, an obvious communicator is an instrument. This could translate into very different looks, depending on their personality traits. Looking at the extraversion scale, for instance — from energetic to reserved, this could be transferred into costume by the communicator color of the clothes. Bright colors will speak of a happy and energetic court jester, and dark colors will give the impression of a moody and reserved bard. Another example from the conscientiousness scale is the trait “organised”. One way of showing this could be the character’s ink-stained fingers and the paper and quill they bring with them wherever they go. Their garments could be controlled and restricted — high neck, all buttons closed, straight tight sleeves, pressed seams, neat, and in perfect condition.

Core Personality TraitExample TraitsCommunicator
OpennessCautiousClutching a shawl, cardigan or hat. Subdued colors.
CuriousMagnifying glass. Notebook. Untidy hair or clothes.
ConscientiousnessOrganisedRestricticted. Neat. High neck. Buttons closed. Straight tight sleeves. Pressed seams. Subdued colors with controlled splashes of color.
CarelessStained, mismatched clothes. Clutching a wine glass. Untidy hair or clothes.
ExtraversionEnergeticLoose. Flowy. Bright colors.
ReservedControlled clothing or directly opposite to push people away visually. Darker colors. Earthy tones.
AgreeablenessFriendlyA flower tucked behind an ear. Light colors.
ChallengingShiny high boots. A weapon. A suit. Strict combined with in your face. Bold colors.
NeuroticismSensitiveGrasping a handkerchief. Smelling salt. Clothes that cover you. Shawls and scarves.
SecureStatement jewelry. A suit or tight fitting clothes. Bold colors.

The Sourcing Timeline

When you have made your analysis, you need to source your costume. Luckily, over the past 100- 150 years, fashion has borrowed details from previous eras — so there are shortcuts you can use. Remember, when we’re aiming to make an impression and not a replica, we only need to connect the dots.

In the illustration, you can see a timeline of fashion history in northwestern Europe. On the left is a rough map of the different eras of fashion and what time interval they cover. On the right are the timeframes that different fiction genres have used as inspiration for their clothing, useful if you’re sourcing a genre costume.

To use the timeline, find the visual style or time in history you’re going for and look at the links between that period and more modern clothing. Now that you’ve got specific bullet points that you know need to hit for your era and a set of communicators to make sure others will see your character as you want them to be seen, you can head to a thrift store and look for modern clothes that rhyme with the era you’re trying to recreate and which will fit your character.

For example, if you need a costume relating to the 1910’s, you follow the dotted line to the 1980’s. 80s clothes can have a silhouette similar to the 10s. When you find 80’s pieces in the thrift store, some of them may be close to what you need. Don’t forget that a minor alteration, like where you place the belt, can often shift the silhouette of an outfit putting it in line with your bullet. Adding decorations to a garment can also sometimes help it blend with the era you need it to land in.

Instead of relying on assumed shared knowledge and being uncertain if what we intended to say with our costume will be read as intended by our co-players, we can now work consciously with style and communicators. This will help us find the character for ourselves and help others understand us, letting us be more confident in our costume choices and our play.

Sourcing timeline graph

Become a patron at Patreon!


1Other examples of search words you can add: Body: Petite, fat, tall, slim, short, hourglass, triangle, rectangle, inverted triangle. Regency, Biedermeier, Victorian, Edwardian. 1920s Paris, Roaring twenties, Tango. 1930s New York, Film Noir, Femme Fatale. 1940s London, Utility, WW2, post-war.
2The five traits are also known as OCEAN or five-factor model originally drafted by Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal in 1961.


Anne Serup Grove (b. 1987) is a Danish larper and ethnographic designer by trade. In recent years, Anne has focussed on inclusive costuming and safety in larping.
Kerstin Örtberg (b. 1976) is a Swedish larper, reenactor, costume geek, and fashion designer. She was assistant producer for The Solution (2016) and has held talks at KP/SK and written texts, all focusing on costuming.