What do people wear in House of Matchsticks?
For me, clothing, fashion, and style are an essential part of YA Fantasy worldbuilding (or any worldbuilding, for that matter!). Clothes can communicate our mood, thoughts, and feelings, and how we dress is a huge part of our identity.
Are you someone who labors over every outfit you wear? Someone who loves to dress up for special events, but goes casual day-to-day? Or are you someone who fully embraces function over fashion?
Whoever you choose to be, 1) you deserve respect no matter what your clothes look like, and 2) there’s someone like you in every fantasy world! When I was first developing the House of Matchsticks series, I wanted Benemourne to be home to every kind of person, whether they spent time on their appearance or not.
And, like in every world—fictional or otherwise—clothes are an important form of expression for HoM’s characters. Read on to find out how I imagined the wardrobe of some of the core crew from House of Matchsticks.
But first … a little about Benemournian aesthetic.
Retro-futurism and Benemourne
I always knew I wanted to write House of Matchsticks in a fantasy world that borrowed from retro-futurism. Not just because I’m interested in steampunk, dieselpunk, and cyberpunk (all the punks 😎), but because Benemourne runs on Adrudian, a mysterious ore that Benemournians use to power their engines and technology.
Adrudian shares qualities with both diesel and steam—and a fantasy world that runs on technology rather than straight-up magic is already edging into -punk territory—so, in some sense, fantasy retro-futurism was the natural place for HoM to land.
And I’m so happy it went that way. Retro-futurism gives SFF authors so much interesting material to work with in terms of worldbuilding. For me, it was exciting to imagine a new world that takes inspiration from old style and tech, but leaves behind the nostalgia of some alternate history narratives.
House of Matchsticks, as I’ve drawn it, is a little steampunky and a little more dieselpunky. And I had already imagined some of the characters looking like certain 1940s-era adventurers from books and movies past, so lots of HoM’s aesthetic borrows from the American 1940s.
The Collector: That Film Noir Detective Look
An icon of 40s-era film, the film noir detective is widely known for his three-piece suit, trenchcoat, and fedora. Film critics have suggested noir’s hard-boiled PI is an embodiment of the crisis of postwar white masculinity; that is, an embodiment of certain men’s anxieties about being men after WWII.
Not to mention he silently keeps to the shadows and often finds himself in inclement weather—the foundational reason for that iconic trenchcoat/fedora combo. ☔️🕵️♂️
Isaline: Watchling Workwear
The 1940s was a time of transformation for women’s clothing in the US. With more and more women going to work in factories and other industries during WWII, the usual suits and rayon dresses weren’t practical anymore. Enter: women’s workwear.
Though women didn’t fight in the war alongside men (most worked for the military in clerical positions), much of their workwear fashion had a very utilitarian, military look. A look I thought would be fitting wardrobe inspiration for Isaline, a Watch-in-training learning to catch lawbreakers for the King.
Isaline’s work clothes (left) would be altered to make it easier and safer to fight, and during school days she’d wear a blazer or suitjacket (center) with slacks, or a fitted coat and pleated skirt (right). Her all-weather jacket for her Weapons Portion would be made of tough, water-resistant material ideal for sitting out in the rain … but not for swimming in rivers 😉
Of course, we’ll want to imagine a little ✨deiselpunk✨ in the look, too. A bit more modern, but definitely still inspired by those fashionable ladies from the 40s.
Jack: A Little Indiana Jones
Okay, cheating a bit because Indiana Jones was set in 1936. But, if we think about it, the basics for treasure hunting are all there: leather jackets, button-down shirts, gloves. These things all happened to be in style for men in the 1940s, though materials varied thanks to resources being redirected to the military during WWII.
Speaking of the military, men were wearing quite a few military-inspired outfits in the mid-to-late 40s. Trenchcoats, bomber jackets, and pea coats were all borrowed from wartime dress.
Benemourne’s male-presenting Treasurehunters take cues from these styles. Leather bomber jackets with fleece or wool collars, ties and button-down shirts, and even—if Cameron is so inclined, I’m sure—pinstripe slacks. Treasurehunter dress is styled for function and fashion, because let’s face it: they’re a tad vain.
For his part, Jack is almost always seen wearing dark or muted colors (goes with his mood 😅). His clothes will be a little bit older, a little bit ragged, but they do the job. Maybe the Treasurehunter vanity hasn’t hit him quite yet.