# Why do only clothes stay in an animal transformation?

I have a race in my world that has the ability to transform into animals at will. For reasons of practicality, the animals do not wear clothes and the clothes disappear during transformation. For reasons of public decency, when the race transforms back into humans, they are still wearing the clothes they first transformed into.

Now, in order to prevent this race from having the ability to carry an infinite amount of items, only garments transform with the person. Things held or purses do not, and end up below or on the animal upon transformation. Why would this occur?

Notes:

• Ideally, items in pockets would not transform, but that seems to be a stretch, so you can drop that caveat.
• Deities do not factor into the magic for this world and cannot be used.
• The transformation does not necessarily follow this world's laws of physics, but I do want the reason for transformation to be reasonably logical and consistent.
• In such a world, I highly doubt such earthly concepts of decency would have developed. It's far more likely people would just be naked. – Samuel Oct 26 '15 at 22:25
• @Samuel probably true, though other (human) races who don't have this power mix and have the same society. I also simply want there to be earth values of decency in this case. :) – DonyorM Oct 26 '15 at 22:26
• Since you are speaking of magic, you might as well let them carry a limited amount with them as well. Otherwise it just gets annoying that someone can carry a 100 pound buffalo pelt coat but not a memo pad and pencil. – Oldcat Oct 26 '15 at 22:33
• When in doubt, do as the Animorphs do. – Liesmith Oct 26 '15 at 22:52
• I like the discworld way of handling things. Angua has stashes of clothes all over town. – Journeyman Geek Oct 27 '15 at 2:06

$$\tiny{\text{Since this is a "magic" question, we are only looking for explanations which don't break people's suspension of disbelief}}$$

# The Magic Relies On Self-Image

This magic works by the caster transforming their self-image into whatever animal. So they need to think of themselves as whatever they're changing into. Via their mental image of themselves, it provides a pattern for the magic to change them to match. The magic, for whatever reasons, takes clothes when they transform, but then gives the clothes back because the people shifting their shape imagine themselves with clothes.

To sum up: if you think you're a bear, you become a bear, fur and claws included. If you think you're a person, you become a person, hair and clothes included.

# Local Absorption

The magic "looks" around the thing it is transforming, and takes a certain amount of matter with the things that it is transforming. About $$\frac{1}{4}$$ of an inch in every direction, so most clothes (and gut bacteria!) go with the caster. If the object has good bonds with things outside of this range, or the object is mostly outside of the range of this magic, it isn't taken with them. When transforming back, the magic returns the matter it took, along with the thing transformed, to its former arrangement.

This means the spell "remembers" what was around the transformer, and restores those things to the transformer when going back to the original form.

• Self image is a good idea. Magic that tries to bring clothes have to explain why clothes are different than other things, which is hard. Self image explains that – Cort Ammon Oct 27 '15 at 4:20
• I think this is a good approach. I'd think that people's clothes might often be a bit different when they "came back" - for example, someone might not remember which socks they were wearing, and would come back with the socks they pictured themselves wearing. This effect would be minimised if, as often seems to be the case in fantasy fiction, each character wears exactly the same clothes all the time. – Max Williams Oct 27 '15 at 8:49
• I like this idea and would add a twist: If the individual has a particularly strong connection to certain items ("I just wouldn't be me if I didn't have my watch") then those items can come along with them. That allows OP to include anything that they really need for the story. – Engineer Toast Oct 27 '15 at 12:48
• To expand on that even more, what if someone's self image was as the opposite gender, or what if they imagined themselves as somebody else? Are we now into more of a "changeling" magic power rather than "animal transformation"? – DoubleDouble Oct 27 '15 at 20:19
• @EngineerToast - "I just wouldn't be me" without this 20 ton cargo pallet I want to shape-change away and transport to a faraway city in bird form. – Oldcat Oct 27 '15 at 23:26

The clothes are magical and required for the transformation magic. (This is a bit like HDE 226868's answer, but I think we come at it from different perspectives; the linked answer is more biological, while mine is more magical/fairy-tale.) This does add a significant vulnerability to the powers, but it's an interesting one: the magic clothes can be stolen to deprive the shapeshifter of the ability to take animal form.*

There are several precedents in folklore, such as Selkies (with seal-skins) and Swan Maidens (with feathered robes).

The idea has also been used in modern fiction: for example, the "Werewolf Skin" book in the Goosebumps series of juvenile horror novels.

The clothes need not be literal animal skins, though; they might just have patterns or colors reminiscent of the relevant animal.

I also thought of a kind of reverse mechanism also inspired by fairy tales: in the story "The Six Swans," there are brothers who are (involuntarily) transformed into swans, and to turn back into humans, they need to have magical shirts thrown over them. Following this, perhaps your shape shifters need to put on certain clothes in order to return to human form. This second method isn't consistent with the wording of your question, but it occurred to me that it also ensures that the shape shifters are clothed when they become human.

*If you dislike having the clothes be a significant vulnerability for the shapeshifters, you could make it so that they are fungible, commonly available, and relatively easy to make. The methods for making them would be well-known to the race of animal-shifters, due to the practicality of such clothes. But for magical reasons, they can only be made out of certain materials, and they can't have too much mass.

Ajedi32 made a comment that pointed out another way this could work that also seems effective and eliminates the element of vulnerability:

Or maybe instead, the clothes are magical but not required for transformation magic. It's just if you try transforming while wearing regular clothes, you'll ruin your outfit and end up naked when you transform back.

• Or maybe instead, the cloths are magical but not required for transformation magic. It's just if you try transforming while wearing regular clothes, you'll ruin your outfit and end up naked when you transform back. – Ajedi32 Oct 27 '15 at 20:11

Why not just make the clothes an illusion. The clothes being the skin of the changeling. The regular "people" would see the skin of the changeling as clothing, but in reality the clothes don't actually exist. When the change occurs, the "clothing" is basically overcome by the growth of hair (or whatever might grow).

• This is pretty similar to Samuel's answer. – HDE 226868 Oct 26 '15 at 23:56
• @HDE226868 - Sort of, I guess. What he is suggesting is not what I had in mind. More so, the skin is the clothing or appears to be so ... – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Oct 27 '15 at 0:34
• This seems like the opposite of Samuel's answer. Samuel is suggesting the clothes are real and combine with the skin in some kind of structural way. Paulster is suggesting the skin projects the illusion of clothing. This could be magic, some kind of hologram, a psychic projection,etc. However, it could be confined to "natural" clothing that could be literally made of hair/fur for a combination of the answers -- it's an illusion that it's clothing, but there's physically something there. – MichaelS Oct 27 '15 at 2:23

Make the clothes be a part of the creature.

I don't mean that literally, but assuming they transformation turns them into furred animals, or a choice of animals, they could use this fur to weave clothes. Then have the nature of the magic be that only things from themselves can transform with them.

You could weave this into the story, as they grow from children to older they're taught how to transform in a ritual you could make it extremely evocative. They're taught by family members so they're not embarrassed by their nudity in the first few transformation, and during this the animal they transform into is shaved, then the family goes through the process of weaving clothes that they can eventually transform with. They could be handed this at the point they're considered fully ready to be active members of the community at a coming of age ceremony.

Alternatively you could also include other family members to explain what happens with transformation during pregnancy and they can share heirlooms and clothes of family members.

• That's a decent idea, actually. It doesn't work to well for my story but still a good answer for someone else. – DonyorM Oct 27 '15 at 16:53
• No worries, I thought it was an interesting take on the whole idea, good luck with your story! – MerlinsBeard Oct 28 '15 at 10:54

Let the clothes fuse into the skin. They're needed for protection during the transformation.

Polar bears have black skin. This might seem counterintuitive, because the furry guys have coats as white as snow. What makes them look white, though, is their fur. The individual hairs are transparent, and reflect light. Thus, polar bears appear white.

The same thing could happen for animals. Fur, scales, or anything else could fuse into the underlying skin, camouflaged by the outer covering.

Why would this occur? Well, there's obviously some sort of biological connection between clothes and the creature. Given that during shapeshifting, parts of the body/bodies could be exposed, perhaps clothes are needed as protection, to somehow trap body heat. Changing from, say, a warm-blooded human to a cold-blooded reptile would be a problem otherwise. Different body temperatures alone would need fixing. Clothes can do this.

• Perhaps the magic has the same earthly notions of decency regarding nudity :) – Samuel Oct 26 '15 at 22:57
• @Samuel What? Magic that actually plans for its own consequences? Impossible! :-) – HDE 226868 Oct 26 '15 at 23:02
• In my world, the transformation takes place inside a blob of white light, so only fully transformed creatures are seen. Makes things easier :) – DonyorM Oct 27 '15 at 1:40

Even when there's magic doing something, I like the idea of least-magical-specialness. So for this, how about saying that the transformation involves a lot of involuntary thrashing about.

Then you can claim that the transformation will "suck in" whatever is consistently in close contact with the transformee, like their own hair and clothes, and also any rope binding their wrists.

Anything that is dropped (like a item in their hand) or even just moves about a lot during the transformation (like a sword on a belt) doesn't get acquired by the transformation magic.

Now, you have a narrative excuse for transformed creatures maybe wearing an identifiable loose coat, or still wearing a swordbelt, or something. And interestingly, when they change back they might find they've still got bits of gravel, or feathers from a torn pillow, or their handcuffs, or whatever else from the location of their previous transformation.

Changing shape takes energy. It is roughly as difficult as doing pull-ups. With light clothes any decently trained human can do it. You can still do it with a watch on and with some potions strapped to your belt. With heavy armor it will become very difficult. Also the task will tire you out so you are not very useful in bear form and need to change back quickly.

Some properties of this way:

• There is no item number limit
• There is a (tight) weight limit
• Stronger (as in stronger shape-shifting magic) individuals can carry more
• If you overdo it by strapping 100 pounds of stuff on you you just fail to lift yourself up / transform
• Smuggling a ring in rabbit form is easy to do, stealing the king's treasure that way is not possible (in one run)

If you had to do pull-ups in real life you would probably ditch your wallet and phone, even though they don't weight much. Same goes for shape-shifting, you only carry what you have to.

A mother may be strong enough to transform carrying her baby, run away in fox form and effectively completely hide the baby from harm. Not sure if that is a good or a bad thing in your world.

• I like this idea. There could be additional amounts of "effort" required for certain things. Or even hard requirements. You could make it harder or easier depending on how physically different you are from the other animal. or, in the mother-baby scenario, perhaps living things do not change with you - but you are capable of changing other living things - so if the mother had the "strength", she could transform both herself and the baby into foxes and run off carrying her baby fox with her mouth. – DoubleDouble Oct 28 '15 at 20:41

Magic follows the laws of mystical types, not of physics. Magically, an animal is an indivisible atom of its particular species. It is not made up of claws and hair and teeth, nor cells, nor molecules or atoms. Mystically it is a whole, a poetic manifestation of an ideal archetype. The archetype is not physical and not limited to the physical body; a spider's web is part of it's archetype, as is a cat's purring or a dog's loyalty.

Just as a cat's archetype includes purring and chasing mice, a person's archetype includes clothing. When you transform to another archetype, your clothing disappears with your humanness, and reappears when you take human form. Your choice of clothing is merely a quirk of your personal distinctiveness, like the tone of your voice or the shape of your eyebrows, and is likewise restored.

The shapeshifter simply transforms from one archetype to another, and back.

This has similarities to other answers but it represents a complete solution, thus I'm posting it as an answer rather than a comment. Also, please forgive the poor writing of it.

The magic of the transformation could be linked to competence of using it and to organic materials. I will elaborate on this below and hopefully it not only solves the question but provides some extra narrative ideas.

# Fuzzyness

The definition of self is inherently vague, so it's difficult, even before you get to clothes, to be clear on what is part of the organism that transforms and what isn't. For example, does the outer skin layer count? It consists of dead cells. You might argue that the genetic material matches, but it may be slightly mutated, much like the cells of another similar organism might be. What counts as the organism's self in this case? What's the threshold of difference that makes it count as part of this organism versus belonging to something else or nothing at all? Also, what about dust, contaminants (water, airborne chemicals etc.), the air in the organism's lungs (if it has them) and other surrounding materials? What about a severed arm?

We can take advantage of this vagueness and solve it at the same time by specifying that the magic has an origin point and its effect has a shape and/or radius, including some things and excluding others.

# Organic chemistry has priority

If you can decide upon the origin of the magic itself (which perhaps should be answered anyway considering that you need to explain why magic is part of some humanoid species, but fish or whales can't use it, nor can plants - and if they can, why don't rocks have it?), perhaps some internal organ or structure that allows control of it or contains it, the position and characteristics of that origin can determine how it operates on its surroundings.

My preferred idea on this is that, assuming magic is:

• propagated as a form of energy
• it's medium is matter
• it interacts strongly with matter
• it can be controlled consciously

you get a substance that permeates the organism's body and the organism has control of it because it has control of the origin of it. The substance acts based on the directives of the organism, thus it can arbitrarily act or not act on certain kinds of matter, or more practically, certain chemical compounds in this case.

Assuming the performance of magic depends on its origin, that could explain why affecting organic compounds is so much easier (because its shape or character is affected by how it's generated or contained) and the relative vagueness of what counts as an organic compound can be addressed by a similarity metric. In this case, a single carbon atom counts as an organic compound, but it is strongly dissimilar to the compounds in the shapeshifter's body, thus making pure carbon compounds difficult to absorb, while still allowing trace metals and other chemicals included in the body naturally to be included.

# Competence

If the purpose of transformation is to alter the physical body, which is almost entirely organic (there are trace heavy elements and other non-organic parts of the body) then the owning organism can simply choose to expand the radius of the magical effect to other surrounding materials. How far it can extend this radius would be determined by its own competence in controlling the magic and how much magic it can control at once.

In order to include clothes, it can just expand the effect to include them. If it is substantially easier to affect organic materials, that automatically makes taking jewelery, metallic weapons (even those with a lot of carbon impurities, mouldy rust or alloys that include carbon), coins etc. very difficult, but it means that a papyrus scroll or a cake would be easier to include.

# Mass

The quantity of magic the user has available to them (which can be determined by how much they can contain within themselves or define the origin as a conduit with a specific capacity of magic flow, which effectively determines how much magic is usable at any one time - in the latter case, magic would require maintenance so if the organism loses consciousness, they transform back to a human or a default state or something very bad happens) determines the extent of the transformation.

The origin being a flow conduit also constrains how much magic a user can control at one time, even if they can absorb it from their environment. Even if they are surrounded by abundant amounts, they can only use a limited amount at any one time due to flow capacity constraints - it would still present an advantage as far as how long they can remain transformed for instance.

This means you technically can include a library with your transformation, or a stack of clothes, but the cost of transforming with them is prohibitive, making it impossible.

This also means that the mass of whatever you include must be accounted for. Including your clothes while transforming into a bear isn't going to matter much (it may be an advantage) but if you transform into a bird it's a bit more problematic. You could allow some small degree of control over the mass of the transformation, so that these effects are mitigated (and so you can explain why some transform into more or less massive forms and why some transform into larger or smaller versions of existing animals, due to mass constraints), but including this allows for an easy explanation for why the shapeshifters don't transform with an army, fly like a bird to the target location then unload them from their bodies.

# Convenience of scale for the shapeshifter's body

Since bodies contain enough non-organic compounds and since clothes are apparently a standard inclusion in transformations in your case, an explanation is warranted for why shapeshifters have enough magic or control over it to manage the low efficiency of transforming these parts.

If you assume that the origin of their magic is some organ, that has evolved with them or has been implanted genetically (or magically), you can hand-wave the scale of magic allowed by claiming that the organ naturally has the capacity for a full-body transformation because it evolved to exactly that capacity or was intended to be capable of that much. Those who are experience in shapeshifting are more efficient, thus the small excess of magic they are left with can be used for clothes.

# Convenience of complexity

Assuming the shapeshifting is under the control of the shapeshifter, this implies that control is required to return to a previous form or properly transform in the first place. The original body of the shapeshifter being already too complicated to have a full conscious grasp of, it would be required that they already have some natural, unconscious imprint of their original form or at least animal or organic forms. This information could be contained within the origin of the shapeshifting capability itself.

This allows excluding complicated objects from being absorbed during transformation, as it would be difficult or impossible for the shapeshifter to return them to their original form. A book, for instance, wouldn't be written, but just a collection of paper - it might look like a book, but its written contents would be wiped or distorted. Forgetting to restore the form of object the shapeshifter has absorbed may cause them to incorporate the mass into their own body, inadvertently producing more bone mass, longer hair, a tumor, a full bladder or a different object altogether.

Clothes, being organic (most of the time, at least) and relatively simple, may be restored relatively easily by comparison, as could a particular hair style or scar.

# Transformation side-effects

Since this is a magical transformation, we can assume that the heat absorption or production from the transformation can be ignored, even though it would be significant for a change of this scale in a small period of time under natural circumstances.

However, control may not be optimal by the shapeshifter, producing excess heat that damages or burns their clothes as they transform (amongst other effects, such as heat stroke that they might suffer). This can be an excuse to have clothes sometimes be discarded by less efficient shapeshifters or have them accidentally destroy them, requiring a new set later.

# Caveats of this approach

Grounding the origin of shapeshifting and its rules in such naturalistic mechanisms will invoke the question of the origin of magic. Is it natural? Then why isn't it ubiquitous enough that all organisms have these capabilities? If it's an organ or other internal structure that makes shapeshifters special and it has naturally evolved, why hasn't it happened to other organisms? If it's artificial, whoever did it should have control over magic, either intrinsically or through artificial means - so how did they come about those means?

A long series of questions can be asked which makes using "magic" as the explanation seem pointless (it is, after all, the quintessential have-wave - if it doesn't do away with explanation, why use it? :P) but this approach may inspire you to provide an explanation that seems deep enough that whoever reads your story will be satisfied enough :P

Make the transformation an illusion.

If the transformation is not a literal reconfiguration of matter, but rather a magical illusion that gives the caster the appearance, abilities, and characteristics of a particular animal, then the clothes can stay on. The surface of the illusion is mapped to the body of the human inside it, they walk on the feet of the animal, get wounded where the animal is wounded, and see through the eyes of the animal. Just as if you were wearing a bear costume over your clothes, or an eagle costume, but either appears the correct size for the specific animal.

The illusion covers things close to the body like clothes (this means clothes get damaged from physical damage to the animal body), but large external items like backpacks and purses need to be picked up by the animal form.

• How would this allow the human to fight? If this were an illusion, than wouldn't the person's body shape still be different (not trying to be critical, just thinking through it). – DonyorM Oct 26 '15 at 22:41
• Magic. We're already very deep into that realm here, so we can say that the illusion created is material; it has the ability to manipulate matter instead of being purely a trick of the mind, but it is still an illusion. You could explain this as the wizard reinforcing the illusion with more spells; a nudge with the animal's head is combined with a spell to push against an object, and a swipe of claws or a bite is synchronized with a spell that causes similar damage. This requires that there be few practical limits to the number of spells cast in a particular time (no D&D-like balancing here). – KeithS Oct 26 '15 at 22:50
• @DonyorM For all intents and purposes, the person transforms into a bird. They will have the weight of the bird and feel the air under the bird's wings as air on their own arms. Changing weight can be thought of as an illusion on the force of gravity. Gravity only 'sees' something the mass of a bird. – Samuel Oct 26 '15 at 22:51
• This sounds a bit like the "shifting" seen in the Wolf's Rain universe. They don't actually shift, but remain wolves; this is shown on screen several times, for example where wolf tracks show where a human just passed or individuals change between human and wolf appearances. They simply appear to humans as humans, while focusing on it. Presumably this took a fair amount of mental focus and energy, which is why they do it a lot less when no humans are nearby. – a CVn Oct 27 '15 at 9:59
• I'd suggest editing in the bit about gravity, etc. being convinced by the illusion. Perhaps something like "This is a very convincing illusion, to the point that the laws of physics fall for it as well." – Rob Watts Oct 27 '15 at 19:31

As a slight variation on the other suggestions, you can have them only able to transform materials that are "natural".

In other words they can transform fur and leather and it transforms with them, however any metal gets rejected and drops to the ground. Wooden buttons may (or may not) work but metal ones would not. Other clothes made from plant fibers such as cotton could either transform or not depending on whether you wanted to restrict them to animal products only or allow vegetable ones.

Either way this could be used for a bit of transportation but it would be highly limited. You could also restrict the weight of how much they can transform this way if you are worried about them turning into pack mules for mountains of animal furs.

In the Fantastic 4 movie from a few years ago (not the recent reboot) they included an explaination for the uniforms having the same superpowers as the people, by having them be some special biological stuff not ordinary cloth.

I like the idea that clothes would be made out of stuff that can change with the wearer. Arbitrary items would not. Swords can't. Money isn't. But other items have various utility in also being made of stuff that can go with the change, like notepads, some musical instruments, and weapons like bows and garrats.

Imagine a musician that changes his body to play, and changes the instrument as well! Perhaps his cloak (storing the excess matter) transforms into his lute, and can shift between different styles and tunings at will.

You can find suitable rules for what can be included. Stuff must be from living natural material, or animal material, perhaps. It requires a period of acclimation for that specific material, and the amount is limited with different individuals having different skill.

Maybe things don't always work as planned, showing other realistic limits. Like making a notebook out of material (leather and parchment, right?) And going through the training and acclimation, only to discover that restoring the notebook restores it to the state it was in when he trained for it, losing any new notes!

Playing on the theme some more:

Material from the body of a dead shifter works easiest and best, but is now taboo except for special family relics worn as totems. Animals are bread to be suitable, and not any leather-curing process works either. So it's a big deal like being Kosher: you don't want the cloth, leather, or cured bone to be "sour" or to expell the curing elements when shifted!

I think this gives you limits for the story, and flexibility to explore the boundaries and push the limits to give novel elements and plot points.

• I thought the Fantastic 4 (2005 film) explanation was more along the lines of that the uniforms were what the characters happened to be wearing when they got hit with the Phlebotinum that gave them their powers? – Dan Henderson Oct 27 '15 at 15:22
• Don't think so - they werent wearing goofy blue suits with a logo. It was a Von Doom invention that coincidentally became useful when they got irradiated – Oldcat Oct 27 '15 at 23:24

There are no actual clothes, they are part of the human shape.

If you have the ability to shapeshift at will, why would you keep changeable distinct clothes around? There is no need - if you feel cold, just grow a pelt/thick pullover, if it's hot, retract it.

You can of course carry stuff in the pockets, but as that stuff is not actually part of you, it will not transform. "Clothing" like metal armor should be excluded here, you need to put that on yourself and can not mimic it (as you actually want to have something between yourself and e.g. a sword).

To keep the shapeshifting in reasonable bounds, make learning a truly new form hard. Maybe it's exceptionally hard to invent new forms, but much easier to copy things. That way, clothing can be copied when you first see/use/feel/sense* it, as can animals. But growing extra limbs or becoming a little green martian? Nope. This would also prevent the shapeshifters from running around like yetis in winter and naked in summer, as they would not have access to a yeti-shape, so they need to copy or wear real clothing.

*: have a magical ability related to this.

• Sorry, this may not have been clear in the question, but in my world the shapeshifters don't have half-way transformations, it's an all or nothing process. Still a decent answer if someone else has a different type of shapeshifting. Nice first answer too! – DonyorM Oct 27 '15 at 16:50

The "Magic" only works on living things. Or formerly living things. Or even only on Organic Matter that is part of the person's body, or sufficiently close to their body.

Almost all clothes, purses, bags, shoes, etc. are organic, so they will transform. Metal is inorganic, so coins, keys, most weapons, jewelry, etc. will not transform. Simple.

As you said, it came out as an evolution for decency. But the transforming of clothes requires some mental effort which is quite exhausting. Magic theoreticians developed a technique which makes the transformation doable, without pushing too much the barriers of the mental exhaustion:

Anything that is in direct contact with the skin of the person will be kept.

So if the user wants to have a purse in his hands, the leather pouch will get transformed, but not the coins inside it. You may add in some limitation to avoid abuses: at least 30% of the total surface of the element has to be in contact.

Note that if you have different layers of clothes, better make sure the undergarment are smaller than the outer part (similar to the custom today), otherwise you'll appear in your underwears after transforming back.

Morphic Fields

Anything in proximity to the body for x amount of time would be imprinted on the aura/quantum/morphic/holographic field, which contains the full 3D-print instructions of the "super-organism's" multiple states. So wearing or carrying something long enough could enable it to be remembered/retained when the shape is modulated. But perhaps it would take months or years even, as the field would be slow to update... So it might be possible to have an item like a necklace or something you've worn/carried for a very long time be transmitted with you, but nothing else not carried or worn for a long period...