In my world, Elves live in a tall forest with a canopy so thick that almost no light reaches the forest floor. Due to this, Elves have all but gone blind. The sun still warms the upper layers, but the warmth might not reach the floor where the elves live. Other factors to consider are that the primary danger is spider-like webs that one could get stuck to; the high and low temps over a year are -17° to 32°c (15° to 90°f); they are a scattering of smallish, remote villages in a medieval, war-like world. How does this differentiate their clothing from an area with a normal amount of light?

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    $\begingroup$ Whenever thinking of clothing always consider: a) do they even need clothing? b) what do they really need clothing for? Strictly speaking, humans can live very happily entirely naked in very cold environments; which means that we don't actually need them. What's different about your Elves? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Apr 26 at 0:58
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    $\begingroup$ I know this is apropos of nothing: but I am curious as to why your elves have gone "nearly blind" rather than evolved better dark vision, especially when there are potentially evolutionary hazards which would be beneficial for them to see? I.e., whopping huge spider webs! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Apr 26 at 1:01
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    $\begingroup$ What cultures have lived in cold environments without clothing? $\endgroup$
    – Nightmare
    Commented Apr 26 at 2:06
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    $\begingroup$ The Fuegians. It's always cold, very windy (Furious Fifties). Temperatures rarely get out of the forties in the summer and can be well below freezing in the winter. It's as far south as the coast of Labrador is north. The Natives do actually have some genetic adaptations to the climate, in addition to other non-clothing means of keeping warm. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Apr 26 at 4:18
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas i would challenge the idea of "live happily naked in cold environment". Humans are not exempt from Laws of Thermodynamics, so any human trying to live in hypo-termic environment needs clothing of some kind. Even if they could try to tough it out, long term exposure to low temperatures would destroy them. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26 at 7:52

4 Answers 4


From an anthropologist p.o.v. of this world, clothes originated to provide warmth, protection from animals (which include whatever creatures live in this world), and for cultural purposes. Warmth and protection are pretty self-explanatory, lots and lots of layers of thin clothing, so that if you do get stuck in a web you just shed the outer layer, made of some material to retain warmth.

Culture is perhaps more interesting to me. If this world is medieval like, does it mean there is a class system for the elves within their villages? Clothes can be used to signify class or roles within such a community. But as you mentioned, it is quite dark. The common elves perhaps could wear very practical rags, but the more powerful elves could live in lit up houses to show their extravagant, colorful clothing. However, as you mentioned, the elves are nearly blind, so if they are so blind that they can't see these colours, perhaps special emphasis is put instead on texture, with lots of silks (perhaps woven from these giant webs? or maybe imported from other civilisations?), or perhaps on sound, with lots of tinkling bells and chimes. It depends on how big the villages are and how their social systems are structured. Due to how remote they are, each village may have a unique social structure and cultural practices, but typically with humans the smaller the village, the less revered it's central figures are, if there are any central figures at all.


That would require countless adaptations:

  • sturdy almost armor-like clothing covering most of the body. A blind or near blind person traveling through thick canopy needs a sturdy protective layer of clothing to prevent constant injury from sharp branches, etc. This must include stiff, knee-high boots to protect the legs from injury (especially twisted ankles) as well as some kind of a hood with a mask to protect the face and eyes. Elves might be blind, but poking their eye out on a branch would still mean nasty infection.
  • personal jingles. Since blind elves would be invisible to one another, it would be vital for them to be able to HEAR each other, even if they are not speaking. They would be covered in personalized sets of bangles, jingles, tiny bells, and rattles to make specific noise when walking and moving. Those could be very culture/class based (ex: nobles wear metal bells, peasants wear bone rattles etc)
  • textured clothing. Half of it comes from the jingles, but otherwise they would likely cover themselves in patterned clothing with fringes, thick embroidery etc, both to impress others, and as a form of identification.
  • lanyards. A blind person in total darkness cannot afford to drop or lose their stuff, as they would be hard pressed to find it again. This means their tools, weapons, waking canes, all all other possessions would need to be tied to them on lanyards, rope or chain. It is also likely that most people would carry backpacks of stuff with them, since setting stuff aside to find later would be difficult.
  • Braille-like or knotwork "writing". They would have their clothes, personal items and even skin marked with finger-readable writing. This might even include puckered scars or piercings.
  • knitted clothing. They have access to spiderwebs and plant fiber to spin thread out of, but building and working a loom to make cloth would be very difficult while blind. Knitting on the other hand, can be done blind, on touch alone.
  • smell pouches. they could wear small pouches with potent smelling herbs, both as a form of fashion, and for identification (ie: healers smell of mint, hunters smell like pine etc)
  • layering. It would be very hard and dangerous for them to start fires. Not only working around fire while blind is dangerous in itself, but the risk of starting a forest fire with the thick canopy around them would be great. Instead of using fire for warmth, they would wear super thick, layered clothing.
  • nudity would be extremely taboo. A completely naked person with no bells, jingles or smell-pouches on them is basically invisible to elves, especially if the person is well trained in moving silently. That would make a very dangerous spy/assassin/thief. And if the naked person is even caught, how do you identify them? You would have to already know their face or voice by memory, otherwise they are just anonymous ghost.
  • Armor could be covered in spikes. In most circumstances, spiked armor is stupid. but for a warrior who is totally blind, and fights against invisible dangers, being covered in spikes like a hedgehog is a great advantage. The monster/enemy would injure themselves attacking you.
  • clothing must be quickly alterable. Moving through thick bushes while blind, means you are better off with form fitting clothing that does not get snagged on branches all the time. However, if you are in danger from (likely equally blind) attackers, it is beneficial to spread your clothing to obscure your shape. All fighting in the dark is basically grappling with weapons: you want your clothing to obscure which part of you is the head, or the arm, or torso etc, so that the enemy stabs your cape or fake "sleeve" rather than your actual body. Consider something like a thick jumpsuit that can be instantly converted into a form-obscuring poncho when a cord is pulled, sort of like a flying squirrel spreading its membranes.
  • "self cleaning"clothing. If you are a blind medieval peasant in a thick forest, hygiene is very difficult. You never know how dirty you are on touch alone, and most of the water in such a forest would be leech-infested swamp, in which you do not want to bathe. This means you need clothing carefully designed to shed sweat, pump moisture out of boots, prevent mold from forming, and that could be easily scrapped clean, inside and outside. And you cannot just forget it and be a dirty, smelly dude, because everybody (including deadly monsters) would be able to smell you from a mile away.
  • fur and animals skins are precious, elite items reserved for the nobility. A blind elf in a thick bush, is not going to be an effective hunter. It would more likely be easy prey, desperately fending off predators, elven or animal alike. Killing a large animal, especially a predator would be very rare, and their fur/leather/carapace a precious resource and a sign of pride and warrior status.

Conclusion: im envisioning your elves wearing very complex, almost overdesigned "lifesuits" that would be a year-round clothing, armor, backpack, tent and sleeping bag in one, and which would be very specifically designed for each social class and culture. It would be covered in very complex identity markers, and wearing suit that does not belong to you would be a great crime.


Very Practical Clothing

So, to begin with, you have very distinct seasons in that area, so you need different sets of clothing for the cold and warm seasons. You need warm clothing probably from animal furs for the cold season(s) - minus 17 is pretty cold - and you need much lighter clothing for the warm/hot season.

There are normally a lot of different factors going into the kind of clothing a people wear. Appearance matters as much or often more than function. People who are richer than others will wear clothes that are better put together and made from more expensive materials. People will also wear decorations, like jewellery.

For your elves though, this will be different. It's always dark, and they're almost blind anyway, so visual component will not matter that much. Their clothes will probably be very practial and quite ugly to look at, if anyone was able to look at them. Function will be almost all that matters - so clothes of rich people will be better fitting, have better craftsmanship and be made from more durable / more protective materials. There is still one aesthetic component those clothes can have - clothes of more fashion-conscious elves may be made from materials that are more smooth and pleasant to the touch. But otherwise it will be very practical.


It has the story of the life of the wearer stitched into it in braille or a equivalent. To touch another person thus, is to get to know him. There is also a way to have "silent" conversation, by guiding a persons fingers over standard conversation tree building blocks. So much so, that little metal plates, that make distinctive notes when hit, point to basic tactical sentences.

Pling in D-Minor means "spider overhead take cover"

To stitch your daily diary entry into your clothing is a beloved fireside ritual every evening. Once you die, your clothing becomes part of the home, telling your tale, and overtime, these drapes hanging down from the homes, wind down into the chronic of the village. Animals who eat the past are a real danger and also fire.

But worst of all, is the stitching silk-spiders brood, that invades almost unheard and inserts lies into the stories of that world, that people.


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