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I have noticed through several science fiction series that there are those who travel on spaceships with advanced technology yet their clothes are anachronistic

Example:

image from Babylon 5, Londo Mollari wearing an admiral's uniform

The questions

Is it reasonable for spacefaring humans to wear clothing similar to that of the 1700s - or even older apparel (such as a toga)?

What could be a reason for people wearing old clothing styles in such a futuristic setting?

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    $\begingroup$ They do it so that the wardrobe people have an interesting job :-). Seriously, in a visual medium like television, clothing serves as an indicator to the viewer as to species//culture/race/history - "Oh yeah, the guys in the frilly jackets are the ones who are at war with the guys in the striped jumpsuits" $\endgroup$ – John Feltz Oct 13 '16 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ What comes to mind when you see the individual above? You likely think of adjectives like "dignified", "traditional", "organized", or "authoritative". There is no reason to believe a future culture could not have similar impressions. $\endgroup$ – Kys Oct 13 '16 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ The picture you used shows an alien, not a human :) $\endgroup$ – drewbenn Oct 13 '16 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to point out that most likely you are also wearing denim jeans (wild guess) from 1871 so not even you are wearing what technology allows. Same in essence can be said about the suit etc. $\endgroup$ – joojaa Oct 14 '16 at 11:57
  • $\begingroup$ @joojaa: Yeah, we could all be wearing polyester :-) Sometimes synthetics do a better job - GoreTex, ripstop nylon, &c - but mostly they don't. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Oct 14 '16 at 16:30
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When graduating college with her fashion design degree, my sister told me she had found one constant in fashion: across every culture, every time, fashion is painful. The nature of the pain varies. Sometimes physical pain: bare legs in Russian winters, corseted busts (men and women at different times/places), tiny shoes, tight jeans, tattoos, piercings, etc. Sometimes it is social exposure: the woman who dares the hip-cut dress or the man in a kilt or the person who wears a color everyone else would be mortified to wear. Sometimes it is financial pain: the money thrown away on a diamond iPhone case that serves no function except to say, "I can afford this waste." On that last one, notice that we tend to respond to jewels as "gaudy" when we think the person can easily afford it but as "amazing" when we think the person really invested in that bling.

It's all about displaying how confident you are that whatever comes, you can take it. You're that damn good.

So, plain cloth in space instead of the safe space suit everyone else wears in case of hull breach? Oh, you bet that's fashionable!

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    $\begingroup$ I think the line "I can afford this waste" is very important here. In a lot of sci-fi worlds, resource efficiency is an important societal issue seeing as we are looking at crazy-high populations, etc. It could simply be due to seeing complicated clothes as 'wasteful'. $\endgroup$ – Ethan The Brave Oct 13 '16 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ That hypothesis is called the Handicap Principle in evolution theory en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handicap_principle $\endgroup$ – Hermit Oct 13 '16 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ As a man occasionally in a kilt, I can say that I've never had anything I'd consider social pain come out of it. Most social consequences are in one of two categories: compliments and "you don't see that every day". I've never experienced anything like insults or mockery because of it, and it is often a good conversation piece. $\endgroup$ – Joel Harmon Oct 14 '16 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ Joel: yeah, but how many of your friends don't wear kilts because they expect public shame? You're showing confidence in your fashion choice. $\endgroup$ – SRM Oct 14 '16 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Joel Harmon: Though I imagine it helps if you have a bagpipe with you :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Oct 14 '16 at 16:31
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Fashion doesn't really have anything to do with technological progress, or even practicality. While a nomad or peasant farmer is going to wear what is cheap and keeps him warm and dry, once you have enough money, literally anything is possible to wear.

I present to you bell bottoms, Mexican pointy boots, Medieval pointy boots, the facekini, grills, dressing like this in the hottest places on Earth, cummerbunds, sleeveless hoodies, etc. etc.

Given the crimes against fashion that have already happened, it is plausible for pretty much any style of clothing to come back into style.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your list of examples is rather strange. Cummerbund is more practical alternative to a waistcoat, those krakows are just poorly drawn, sleeveless hoodies allow one to show off his guns while also having a hood. Burqas are required for compliance with local religious laws and facekinis are basically hazmat suits for UV-rich and jellyfish-rich environments. They are no more impractical than spacesuits in space or hard hats on construction sites. Mexican pointy boots when worn not for ironic purposes are quite impractical, I'll give you that. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Oct 15 '16 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Daerdemandt: While a cummerbund may indeed be a more practical alternative to a waistcoat, neither one rates that high on a practicality scale. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Oct 16 '16 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf In a colder climate (as opposed to where cummerbund became popular) on a fatter person waistcoat would be pretty practical - it allows one to use suspenders instead of a belt (more comfortable) while still not violating principles of proper dress. Proper dressing was a working mechanism to signal not only one's wealth, but also upbringing. That's very important when "having a pure blood" and "being rich" started to diverge and people of former category didn't want to admit to their circles people of the latter one. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Oct 16 '16 at 19:04
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I think fashion (other than clothing containing advanced technology or materials) is not specifically a matter of advancement so much as the current social preferences. It's really just an aesthetic choice in most science fiction where clothing isn't serving a purpose beyond what it currently does, looking good.

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It's all about the function such clothing serves in the context of the show. Your image is a perfect example: that fine gentleman is a member of the great Centauri Republic, a grand old empire where it's not just the clothes that are reminiscent of a proud empire at its peak (and approaching its decline) - their jewelry, customs, buildings, spacecraft, and entire social and political structures follow the same design principles. But even if I didn't know any of this beforehand, that's the impression I'd get just from looking at this image in any event.

The reason for this, in fantasy and science fiction, is visual shorthand: in other words, the audience can very quickly pick up a lot of visual cues about the type of alien society being shown, without the writers spending ages having to explicitly outline it all.

Also note that in this case, such clothing can't be considered "anachronistic", as it's entirely correct for its context.

However, to directly address your questions:

Is it reasonable for spacefaring humans to wear clothing similar to that of the 1700s - or even older apparel (such as a toga)?

You're in a starship, or on a space station. Who cares what you wear? Would a Starfleet jumpsuit or Jedi robes give you more protection from hard vacuum than Centauri court dress? Of course not. It's an indicator - both in and out of universe - of class, position, status, and possibly character.

Note that in Babylon 5, the show this image comes from, the Starfury fighter pilots do wear spacesuits while flying. Appropriateness in context.

What could be a reason for people wearing old clothing styles in such a futuristic setting?

Coming back to the discussion about what's retro and what's just old, it's not necessarily either of these things. It's symbolic, and it's evocative. Out of universe, it gives the viewer a summarised version of what to expect of the wearer. In-universe, it's a symbol of society or beliefs.

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  • $\begingroup$ This reminds me of a scene in ST:VOY (forgot which episode, but likely one of the early ones) with a low-ranking crew member (ensign?) being invited to dinner with the captain, and showing up for it. Captain: "Formal dress wasn't required." Crew member: "But I thought, dinner with the captain..." Captain (cuts off): "I would hardly call this 'dinner'." $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 14 '16 at 14:33
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The people of the Renaissance, and later the Enlightenment, were fascinated with the Romans, and emulated them. Nowadays, we get subcultures who dress like Victorians (with gears glued on) or pagans. Maybe space is just full of hipsters.

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If I remember my star wars correctly, 'space is cold'. It's also very empty, dark and uniform (except when it isn't of course). Interplanetary and intergalactic space travel is normally in ships that are utilitarian and streamlined. Normally in tones of grey or blue.

Clothing could be an unconscious human defensive tactic against this cold oneness, Besides needing the extra layers to save on internal spaceship heating costs. To bring colour and dimension to their otherwise grey world. Frills, lace and braiding to break up the smoothness of machine manufactured walling.

Also, with the exploration of space, there is bound to be some sort of associated income boom. (or why else are they spending vast amounts of money and time doing it). People will no longer be limited to cheap, easy to make clothes of today but can return to individually crafted and tailored clothing to suit the personality.

There will of course still be the overalls and machine made bland clothing. But to show you are above all that, to advertise your status as above the lowest of the low, people may return to very frilly frivolous clothing.

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    $\begingroup$ Note that heat in spacecraft is not easily transferred to the near vacuum outside. In fact, spacesuits have special heat exchange systems to help keep astronauts cool. $\endgroup$ – Kys Oct 13 '16 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ Nice! Well there goes the need for warmth. And what on earth was star wars going on about then. But getting rid of the monotony will still exist. And to show status. Man is all about the status! $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Oct 13 '16 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Kys, just looking at that cooling garment. They may find it very ugly. They may be wearing all those other clothes to hide their 'undergarments' $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Oct 13 '16 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ Very true, though it might also become high fashion to tantalizingly reveal parts of one's cooling garment. Who can say? Fashion is a strange thing. $\endgroup$ – Kys Oct 13 '16 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ What Kys said; in space, it's actually generally getting rid of heat that is the problem. Apollo 13 is a good example: The Apollo spacecraft had large radiators to get rid of all the waste heat of the equipment onboard. Only when they turned off all that equipment (in order to save electrical power, which was extremely precious after the midcourse oxygen tank explosion and fuel cells failure) did temperatures drop, because they were then still radiating away a lot of heat but had nothing to warm the air inside the pressure vessels back to the temperature it was expected to normally be at. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 14 '16 at 14:38
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What could be a reason for people wearing old clothing styles in such a futuristic setting?

The reason why you see with it here and now, mixed with answering the question:
TV shows (like Babylon 5, which the picture originates from) have to face with popularity factors if want to be succesful. Collectively people find something appealing in TV if easy and fast to understand. Let's say it is a challenge for specifically sci-fi category. For sci-fi races it is important to describe main features, even if that is tradition keeping. Clothing will be fulfilling an important role in communicating attitude or values of a race. Specifically Babylon 5 station was acting as a kind of intergalactic multi-embassy, so there interspecies communication had an undoubtedly major role, and military/survival was relatively less important, however weigh of these roles this was fluctuating a lot.

On the other hand, the trick, how to make a studio and get in production a sci-fi show like this, with lowest cost possible, will involve the smart (meaning cost-effective here) designing the costumes. People in 1994-1998 (the years of this show) did not really imagined intergalactic embassies as spacesuit festival, but rather more a well-developed biodome in a spacestation. Free hand in clothing also gives more atmosphere representing culture, diplomacy, and affairs.

Is it reasonable for spacefaring humans to wear clothing similar to that of the 1700s - or even older apparel (such as a toga)? As above, in a similar, not movie production depending setup, where need to represent our race at intergalactic diplomacy center, YES, it is reasonable, but it will be always an important factor, what the other party of the communication percieves - if we want to take that into consideration for success.

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Depends on the role/profession. In a sense, Londo's pretty much always dressed 'formally' and the majority of centauri you see are nobles and other folk who think rather highly of themselves. Considering many modern military ceremonial uniforms are based off or evolved from traditional outfits, its entirely plausible.

Outside of that, its also trying to set a very important cultural example - that I am dressed in the manner of my people.

Londo's the centauri republic. Its no different from when a female Indian dignitary wears a saree, or an Indonesian ambassador wears a batik shirt.

Londo is not just Londo Molari. He represents the might and glory of the centauri republic (not to mention, nearly ever Centuri you see is a noble or at least wealthy).

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