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For reasons of both balance and making each class in my videogame visually distinct from each other, magic uses tend to wear long robes, capes, and other hallmarks of wizards and witches. This often clashes with what the more physically inclined character are wearing (since they wear actual armor to avoid getting murdered by enemies) and, more importantly, civilians (who go about in whatever is appropriate to the era).

I get the mechanical purpose of "squishy wizards", but I'd be happy with some reason why magic users dress differently from ordinary people. Sure you can't wear armor, but why march into battle with in what is basically a nightgown and sunhat instead of some causal wear?

How can I justify visually distinct magic users?

I'm fine with the reasons for a magic user to not wear armor, but I'm looking for any reason for magic users to dress differently from rogues and ordinary civilians. Also, the magic users' clothing need not be stereotypical wizard/witch-y (anything to set them apart would be fine), but justifications for those types of outfits would be accepted as well.

Some level of adventuring/traveling practically would be appreciated, but not totally necessarily.

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  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps magic requires a fantastic amount of concentration? So much so that the feeling of armor or even clothing would be too distracting? Would explain why they like everything to be loose and flowing. $\endgroup$ – UIDAlexD Jun 4 '18 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ If this is just about marching into battle, wizard's robes are just traditional uniforms. Why Grenadier Guards wear so much unpractical bearskin hats? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 4 '18 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ @UIDAlexD Nudist wizards are something I would love (and considered), but its a difficult thing to fit into RPG progression mechanics. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Jun 4 '18 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ Reminder to close-voters: The problem cannot be fixed if the OP is not made aware of it. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 4 '18 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ That being said, this has been flagged as primarily opinion-based, and I believe I understand why. You've basically asked, "Anyone know how I can craft my magic system to get the result I want?" The answer is, essentially, "However you want to." We don't create a user's magic system, though we are quite happy to poke holes in one from time to time. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 4 '18 at 20:31

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Pride

Wizards, compared to other people, are basically miniature gods. They can do all kinds of things that would be otherwise impossible. The visual distinction is intentional, to show that they are different, above the rank-and-file. They practically invite attack because they are not afraid of whatever physical assault a lowly soldier might muster.

Drama

There's a degree of showmanship in wizardry - flowing robes exaggerate the movements of casting a spell. And after all, if you can call down lighting or hurl fire from your hands, aren't you probably a little bit of a show-off?

Tradition

Wizards wear robes because wizards have always worn robes. Physical warfare evolves as weapons become more powerful and armor more durable, however, magical warfare does not conform to the same conventions. No update in armor is going to be as powerful as a wizard's barrier spells. And with so much more learning to do, who has time to worry about the fashion of the day? Not wizards.

Social pressure

Maybe it's not the wizards' fault. Maybe everyone else is interested in keeping tabs on the mini-deities among them and force them to wear what we conventionally think of as "wizard clothes" so they can easily identify them. Given the overwhelming number of "normals" compared to wizards, they found it easier to cave rather than fight back - magic is not something likely to be looked at with favor throughout most of history.

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  • $\begingroup$ please add technical reasons! $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Jun 4 '18 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ These are all perfectly good reasons. I especially like the showmenship angle. If doing magic is your profession, you would have to advertise, right? Personally, I wouldn't trust a lawyer who wore jorts and sandals to work. Social pressure is also an interesting angle. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Jun 4 '18 at 21:01
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If you take a really close look at most depictions of what you call nightgowns, you will see that they often have intricate patterns woven onto them. Magic usually deals with symbolisms of all kinds. The patterns on said gowns may be magic sygils.

A nightgown has much more space upon which to scribe arcane markings than a T-shirt or a pair of pants. In fact, the more folds it has on the hem, the more space for enchanted writing it will have.

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    $\begingroup$ Dang, this is actually really cleaver and visually striking. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Jun 4 '18 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ This is the solution I would go for. The sygils can also be invisible to muggles. So it looks like wizards are just wearing drap old robes. To other wizards, the sygils are obvious, like burning brands or whichever visual effect you want. Activated sygils can "burn" brighter, or possibly stronger wizards can see more of the another wizards sygils than less powerful/trained wizards. So even though they are marked out as wizards by their clothing choice, there is the still the possibility of deception, stealth and even surprise relevations etc. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Jun 4 '18 at 21:15
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There's not a huge need to justify this, as it happens in real-life:

First off, we have Acedemic Dress. Today that is mostly only worn around graduation ceremonies, but originally this was the typical attire at medieval universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge. This was almost certainly the inspiration for the magic-user robes trope, and doesn't look too far off from it today.

enter image description here

I've heard people who wear this every day promote it as very practical attire for their profession, as it is very easy to just throw the robe on over whatever you happen to be wearing when you need to drop your studies to go out in public for some reason. That should of course equally apply to a typical magic user, as they also spend a great deal of their time on their studies.

The colors, stoles, and patterns can perform a signaling function to other practitioners to indicate exactly to what school the wearer belongs. To everyone else, they just look very colorful and diverse.

A person who wears armor will have to spend a lot of time maintaining it, while a person trying to wear normal fashion in human society has to spend time keeping on top of what is currently fashionable, and maintaining a proper wardrobe accordingly. A magic user is wholly focused on their craft, with little time for such nonsense, so the robe is both their most practical option, and a way to signal this.

I'd argue the closest modern equivalent to the magic user is the computer programmer. As one myself, since 1985 when I go out in public, I don the closest modern robe equivalent: the Baja Pullover. The style for these is essentially unchanged in the intervening 30+ years.

enter image description here

Same logic applies. I don't have to keep track of fashion, don't have to worry if my shirt is stained or otherwise offensive, or even in extremes, existent. Just throw it on and go.

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Why do CEO's wear expensive suits? Why does the Pope wear an impractical hat? Why did French emperors wear dainty tights and big wigs?

Their clothes are a status symbol and sign of tradition. Magic users wear pointy hats and robes because that's what magic users wear.

Armor is not worn because the magic users have always believed they are strong enough to not need it. Normal clothes are not worn because the magic users have always believed they fail to represent their status.

Robes and pointy hats have always been worn because they've always been worn, and to do differently is a sign of weakness or a breaking of tradition.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is nice, but it's hard it justify in an interactive medium like video games. Sure, a character might use this justification, but what about when the player is choosing what his wizard will wear? $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Jun 4 '18 at 20:45
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Casting spells requires the appropriate gestures, and for that you cannot be slowed or hampered by an armor.

Moreover, you might also want to hide some of the gestures, especially those which requires hands only movement: therefore having a large sleeve where hiding your hands is a good advantage.

You also want to concealing carry along ingredients and amulets ensuring them protection from thieves and ease of access: this is again achieved by having those item under you clothes and easily accessible to you.

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    $\begingroup$ This would be my answer. Also, magic requires so much study that practitioners don't have much time to worry about things like hygiene or fashion. The nice thing about robes is that you could be wearing pretty much any old dirty clothes (or nothing at all) under them. Just throw the robe on and you are good to go. Donning effectively protective armor is much more work, and wearing proper fashionable society clothes (or even keeping up with what they are) is comparatively a nightmare. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Jun 4 '18 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ ...as a Computer Programmer I have the same problem, and since roughly 1985 have solved it with the robe's closest modern-day equivalent: the Baja pullover $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Jun 4 '18 at 21:23
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Maybe normal cloth disturbed the mana flux and mages attire is designed to make it easier to absorb mana from the ambient.

Also there is the cultural factor as mages generally are pictured as a highly educated class, so there is space for elitism and need for distinction,mages are manipulators of the laws of the reality not a peasant making fire balls

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Given that most games with an equipment system have mage-type equipment give mechanical bonuses to magic, I would go with it actually makes you better at magic. Maybe the clothes are specially designed to make it easier to concentrate and do the gestures, or the material itself is magically conductive (perhaps also providing a degree of protection from enemy mages), or something like that.

Alternately, perhaps it could even be a placebo effect, a magic feather where you're a better mage simply because you feel like one. This could tie into the tradition aspect other answers have mentioned, and would probably work best in a belief/intent based magic system.

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Comfy clothes help mages concentrate

You wouldn't want to accidentally lose your concentration when casting a spell. That happened to Bilbo The Hairless One for example and everyone know how long his beard was before the incident. Being in your favourite pair of super-fancy wizarding clothes that you always wear when casting spells helps you maintain your concentration. The better a mage the less rituals he needs to maintain concentration, but especially for newbie mages it's important to have some things that are consistent when casting a spell. And you want to make sure that the clothes are not itchy, or else you might end up as Tsahra Wo We Don't Talk About who suddenly started swearing while casting her Fireball spell...

The rest is tradition.

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The classic D&D explanation is that armor impedes magic. There are somatic components (try making grand sweeping gestures in plate armor). There are audible components (try moving silently around a circle without clinking chain mail). There are physical components (how many pockets does leather armor typically have? Are pouches on belt sufficient?). And that's before we get to the weird ones like "mage must be skyclad" in some traditions (clad only in sky... aka, naked).

Besides, as a warrior, you want your mage easily pierced, in case he/she gets uppity and starts thinking they run the party just 'cause they've been to school and can math and stuff. Never work with an armor-wearing mage... it's like working with the valedictorian-quarterback-artist. You'll never get the attention you deserve.

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Sense it looks like my question is going to be put on hold, I might as well post what I ended up deciding. This is mostly a combination of Renan and Chris M's respective answers, but everyone who posted deserves credit.

Magic users, like all tradesmen, fall into two categories: Masters (who have apprentices) and Journeymen. Journeymen mages travel from town to town selling their trade and as such need to advertise. In the past, a few nations mandated that magic users must wear large pointed hats while in public (after all, they could be considered untrustworthy hypnotists and are technically always armed). Even after those laws were repealed, magic uses everywhere took to wearing the hats to highlight that they were capable of useful, employable magic.

Not only that, but wards, siguals, and ruins that are beneficial to magic users started to be Incorporated into their clothing. Robes are occasionally used due to their high surface area, but cloaks and ponchos are more practical for the traveling Journeyman mages.

In terms of game mechanics, maybe mage clothing could allow for additional charm/accessory slots that are needed to boister the power of magic users' spells. Now their potential gear includes pouches, straps, and big pockets to suggest why this is the case.

This does create the strange image of a wizard in a bright cone hat, a runic poncho, and cargo pants facing down the forces of evil, but I consider that more of a feature than a bug.

Thanks to everyone for the help.

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Many excellent answers, but I would add that the robes could be a sort of uniform or badge of office. Beyond simply being a symbol of status or a visual warning or cue to others, they could be used as a visual sign of being granted official legal privileges/powers.

As an example, in Raymond Feist's Riftwar series of books, one of the cultures within the setting has empowered (most) magic wielders with special legal status. These individuals all wear black robes to denote their status, and are often even referred to as "Black Robes" - demonstrating the significance their signature wardrobe has gained in their society.

Of course, this is highly setting dependent.

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  • $\begingroup$ The question is now closed but this is my favourite answer. You mention 'warning' but I didn't notice anyone else answer that. In addition to what what you say about indicating their special status this could also serve to warn people in the same way that brightly coloured animals do. It is no doubt tiresome for a magic user to always be dealing with people who want to start fights in bars, especially if their magic is not flexible enough to deal with people short of incinerating them or is a limited resource that they don't want to waste on drunken fools. $\endgroup$ – Eric Nolan Jun 25 '18 at 11:49

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