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I've tried to write up a few new styles of swordsmanship for a story I've been planning. I've got a lot of mileage from different sword types and techniques, but have one idea that I can't find any real world evidence of.

Basically there is at least one school of swordplay that uses ankle length dresses as part of its fighting attire. The idea is that the dress obscures the movements of their legs, making them just a little bit harder to predict in terms of movement and attack.

While this seems fairly plausable to me, I can't find any historical accounts of anything like these combat dresses. So I decided to come here for some feedback.

Does the idea of dresses for dueling make enough sense to include in a setting, if not as a logical idea than as a gimmick a school could use to stand out, or am I completely wrong here? Any evidence I couldn't find would be appreciated, but I perfectly fine with some well informed opinions as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "fitting attire"? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 4 '18 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn Just clothing that is worn for formal duels and competitions. Its a bit of a combination of uniform for advertising a school and just making sure your students don't show up wearing sandals and a beer stained shirt. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Aug 4 '18 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ In many societies men have worn costumes that were different from female attire in that society, but which looked sort of like women's dresses to modern Europeans and Americans. So there is absolutely no rule requiring you to describe men in a fictional society wearing pants usually or when dressed for a specific purpose. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Aug 4 '18 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ Just a note on word usage: men don't wear "dresses". A substantial piece of outer clothing which is worn by men and looks sort-of like a post-WW1 woman's dress is called a "robe", unless it has more culture-specific name. A light-weight piece of clothing which is worn by men or women and looks sort-of like a post-WW1 woman's dress is called a "tunic", or, especially in medieval and early modern Europe, a "shirt" or "undershirt". Tunics were worn as under clothing or outer clothing in the antiquity, especially by the lower classes or at work. Shirts were alwyas under clothing. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 4 '18 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ Did you mean "fighting attire"? $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis Aug 5 '18 at 2:18
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First off, as has been pointed out in at least one other answer, if you're watching your opponents leg movements, you're approaching combat wrong. Your eyes should be on their weapon, period. The one possible exception is if your opponent attacks primarily with kicks, in which case watching their legs is watching their weapon. As such, unless your style involves a lot of leg based attacks (not likely because of the next issue), it probably won't have much benefit for what you want.

There's another issue though. It's pretty hard to get your legs tangled up in pants. It's not very hard to do so in a dress or skirt. This means you have to pay a lot more attention to how you are moving, which distracts you from paying attention to your opponent.

Also, if this is a rare choice of uniform, it also puts you at a disadvantage because it tells your opponent what your combat style is (or at least what the basis of your combat style is).

There are a couple of potential benefits though:

  • An armored skirt or dress is less likely to further restrict your movement than armored pants. In particular, it's easy to make a banded mail or scale mail 'dress' that hinders movement less than scale mail or banded mail pants would.
  • If you don't go for the armored approach, you now have a lot of spare cloth to get your opponent's weapon tangled in. You can use this to try and disarm them.
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Seems like a gimmick. When fencing you should keep your eyes on your opponent's sword, not their feet. Watch their feet and you are asking for a stab between the eyes.

The only thing that comes close is cloak and dagger fencing. From Wikipedia:

The purpose of the cloak was to obscure the presence or movement of the dagger, to provide minor protection from slashes, to restrict the movement of the opponent's weapon, and to provide a distraction. Fencing master Achille Marozzo taught and wrote about this method of combat in his book, Opera Nova. Fighting this way was not necessarily seen as a first choice of weapons, but may have become a necessity in situations of self-defense if one were not carrying a sword, with the cloak being a common garment of the times that could be pressed into use as a defensive aid. Both Marozzo and other masters such as Di Grassi also taught the use of the cloak with the rapier.

So maybe you want to focus on the upper part of the dress, not the lower one.

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    $\begingroup$ also ankle length skirts are long enough to be stepped on in combat, people don't stay straight legged in combat. tripping and falling on your face bad for combat. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 5 '18 at 4:46
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In Kendo sword fighting you wear very loose pants that look like skirts.

enter image description here

Image copyright Deposit Photos.

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    $\begingroup$ However, there is really no martial art-related purpose to that. It is rather an adaptation of the traditional Japanese clothing of the era & class, just as the standard judo/karate gi is adapted from the usual Japanese clothing of the period in which these martial arts became popular. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Aug 4 '18 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ technically, the gi was adopted from the instructor's attire from the period in which judo and karate became popular. A look at the photos of the students in those early classes shows a bunch of guys in loincloths or gym shorts, depending on their income. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Aug 4 '18 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ A hakama is not a skirt. It's also traditional Japanese attire, and thus has nothing to do with combat. $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Aug 4 '18 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ @AustinHemmelgarn So they are skirts which some people call trousers even though they look like skirts and are worn like skirts and have all other physical characteristics of skirts? $\endgroup$ – Philipp Aug 4 '18 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ They're separated into legs, always... So are trousers. And when instructing wearing a hakama, most will tuck them up to help show their feet... Left down, they do obscure your feet, and seeing an opponents feet is useful, as that is the first part of the bodywork to move or shift. $\endgroup$ – RemarkLima Aug 5 '18 at 8:40
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Scottish sword fighters traditionally wore kilts because they gave more freedom of movement. The seams of most pants do ultimately put a limit on how far one can move, a sufficiently pleated kilt does not. I believe Roman soldiers also used armoured skirts for a similar reason, armoured pants can be difficult to make, and hard to move in.

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Cool idea.

It makes sense with one caveat: Dresses move. You can still get an idea of leg position by watching a dress. If the goal is to obscure legs and leg movement, the dress would likely have some boning. It might include something like a rigid hoop that ensures the dress holds its shape, rather than defining the body underneath it.

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