So this should probably belong on clothes.stackexchange.com, if there were such a thing, but here I am with a question that I hope is not too complicated or specific for this site.

My situation: I've got an order of witches, that try to hide themselves. They've got powers in the area of gravity manipulation and telekinesis, and as a result they can do A) really cool acrobatics to take out foes; B) very efficient long-distance running. But when not doing any of these things, they need to be able to pass for regular women in their society.

They live in Sumer, where the dresscode is this: dresses

Yup, ankle-length dresses.

So, questions:

  • Can you do acrobatics and/or long-distance running in a long dress? (I suppose one that's wide at the bottom to allow you to stretch your legs all the way) Would it be impossible, possible but very annoying, or easy enough?

  • If not - can you easily modify a dress (tie it up or something) to allow those moves?

  • If not - can you do it with a slighter shorter variant that goes down to the knees? I think I could make them have the lowest part to be detachable if that was the case.

Other suggestions? Sorry if these seem like very basic questions - I am a male and have never walked in these things before...

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    TV Tropes has a scad of relevant pages. I'd start with tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MagicSkirt (even though it's about Very Short Skirts). – RonJohn Dec 5 at 16:36
  • "Can you do acrobatics and/or long-distance running in a long dress?" No, but they're witches. Assert that they can. – RonJohn Dec 5 at 16:36
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    @RonJohn Yeah, miniskirts I am trying to avoid since they would definitely not blend in well with the Sumerian fashion... I'll give it a read though, so thanks for your input. As for your second comment... No. This is hard magic, not "a wizard did it". – KeizerHarm Dec 5 at 16:37
  • My point is that it's fiction. If you want your witches to have placed spells on their dresses so that they don't interfere with Action Moves, then make it so. – RonJohn Dec 5 at 16:40
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    Ginger Rodgers did some petty darn demanding dancing in full evening wear and high heals. Reputedly you can see the blood stains from those high heal straps cutting into ankles during a day (or two ?) of shooting. Your witches have it easy. :-) – StephenG Dec 5 at 17:55
up vote 101 down vote accepted

This is going purely on personal experience - but, yes. I’m an acrobat and have done acrobatics in a variety of ridiculous items of clothing (dresses, onesies, you name it). However, having the freedom to move one’s legs makes things infinitely easier, so I would suggest:

  • Tying the skirts in a knot above knee-height
  • Having a slit down the side of one leg to increase movement
  • Having very broad skirts, but somehow tying them to the wearer’s ankles, so the fabric moves with the body
  • Slightly cheating and having culottes or other wide-leg trousers that appear to be skirts/dresses when standing or walking normally.

Anything that keeps the legs closer together (i.e. somersaults, handstands, front/backflips) can be easier, because you don’t have to negotiate wading around in yards of fabric. Things such as (aerial) cartwheels, roundoffs, and walkovers (where the legs move at different times) are likely to cause a greater issue, purely because you can’t keep the fabric trapped in place. Having said that, cartwheels can be done with either one hand or aerially, as can walkovers, thus allowing your acrobat-witches to hold their skirts in place while doing epic moves. However, remember the parachute-like effect you’re likely to get if they jump down any distance - having a dress billow up in your face really gets in the way of cool acro.

By the way, I’m working on the assumption you’re imagining something more akin to acrobatic tumbling or parkour, rather than static work (contortion, partner/group acrobatics, etc.). If multiple people are involved, skirts can make things a lot trickier, but it is still possible to do partner acrobatic work in a dress. Happy to edit if you want more thoughts about the logistics of static acro while wearing a dress.

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    Fascinating. Does tying the skirts in a knot (a) take very long (b) require regular retying as they work loose (c) be quick to release in order to appear 'normal' again? P.S. Thanks for saying that a split skirt is called a culotte! I didn't know. – chasly from UK Dec 5 at 17:24
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    Tumbling/parkour is a good way to describe it indeed... Thank you very much for the very detailed answer! – KeizerHarm Dec 5 at 17:31
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    I like this answer... But bear in mind that fabric is almost incomprehensibly more expensive when everything is hand-woven (and hand-carded, and hand-spun, and hand-dyed, and hand-picked, and...). Voluminous skirts may have economic and social implications - not the least of which being a suggestion of great wealth. – Jedediah Dec 5 at 17:43
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    @chasly from UK - tying up skirts tends to be fairly quick (you just pick up two handfuls of fabric from the hem at the bottom, and knot them together, generally at your hip, so it stays out of the way). It’s also very easy to undo in a hurry. But you’re right, it can need retying/retightening fairly frequently if you’re moving around a lot - although it’s very simple, just as if you were adjusting a shirt you’d tied around your waist. – K. Price Dec 5 at 21:26
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    @KeizerHarm - slits in dresses do risk making the legs visible, so it’s perhaps not an ideal solution if they wish to avoid indecency in their society. Your witches could wear leggings underneath their dresses (something I’d advise for any self-respecting witch who intends to spend time upside-down in a dress ;-) ), which gives the added benefit of being able to tuck one side of the dress in at the waistband for ease of movement. This could be easily unhooked if others are around, and might just look like lifting a skirt a bit to avoid tripping. – K. Price Dec 5 at 21:30

Men in that era wore similar clothes. Have your women do what the men did.

Girding Loins

enter image description here

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    That is brilliant. Thank you very much! – KeizerHarm Dec 5 at 16:53
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    Now, how do I choose which answer to accept when two answers both answer 50% of my question each... :S – KeizerHarm Dec 5 at 16:58
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    Toss a coin? ;-) – chasly from UK Dec 5 at 17:08
  • Well, I was about to, but I'm afraid the actual athlete's answer wins here ^^; – KeizerHarm Dec 5 at 17:38

Japanese martial arts often use a Hakama to obscure the movements of the feet and legs, preventing an opponent from understanding the nature of the offensive/defensive moves based on the posture of the legs and feet. Knowing which leg is forward or which foot is carrying the weight would be a great advantage in planning the countermove or defence for a martial artist.

Your witch coven is likely in the same sort fo position, wanting to obscure their abilities until the last possible moment to achieve surprise. A Hakama-like garment will look very much like ordinary outerwear, until suddenly it doesn't....

enter image description here

Hakama in a standing posture

enter image description here

Hakama in a fighting stance

enter image description here

Hakama in action

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    I've done Iaido (which uses Hakama) and can confirm from personal experience that it allows for almost entirely free movement. – Tom Dec 7 at 11:17

Here is a marathon runner in a long dress.

https://youtu.be/j-U6uv7zEhs?t=38

https://youtu.be/j-U6uv7zEhs?t=267

Note that she also wears sandals!!!


With regard to acrobatics, modesty is a problem. Either they can gather up their skirt as suggested by Jedediah or they can use a split skirt. These items appear to be a normal skirt when walking normally or standing but allow more extreme movements when necessary.

https://www.thelittlebazaar.com/m/Clothing/2995-henna-green-skort-palazzo-skirt.jpg

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    Great link, thanks! – KeizerHarm Dec 5 at 16:43
  • Oh, and footwear is no issue for my witches, since they run on air :) – KeizerHarm Dec 5 at 16:52
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    Running in skirts is a non-gender-specific thing for hashers. reddressruns.org/?page_id=2 – Graham Dec 7 at 8:42

They could borrow an idea from Victorian women and use a Skirt Lifter:

Victorian Skirt Lifter

The picture shows an 1870 example, provided by the Portable Antiquities Scheme / British Museum. Their description (with my emphasis) is:

Victorian dress lifter. Dress lifters were used to prevent long Victorian dresses from trailing in the mud. The two circular discs would be placed around the hem of the skirt, and could be locked tight by the device at the top, which is decorated in the shape of a seashell. A cord was attached to the waist and threaded through the holes of the locking device. This meant that once the lifter had been attached, the skirt could be hoisted up or down without the need to bend or use hands to lift the dress.

The Wikipedia page (which hosts the image) further says (also my emphasis):

A skirt lifter [...] was a device for lifting a long skirt to avoid dirt or to facilitate movement. It clamped on to the hem and was attached to the belt by a cord, ribbon, or chain.


I can now see a line of advancing witches who – at the first sign of trouble – simultaneously start to raise their skirts in a manner akin to a Roman blind before leaping into acrobatic, foe-kicking action!

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