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I'm in the early stages of a fantasy late medieval world where only women can perform magic. The society is run by witches (all witches are part of the nobility and all of the nobility are witches). Once you show signs of magic you are adopted into one of the clans and apprenticed to one of the lower ranks.

The actual magic is a variant of the cast from calories trope where the body fat is consumed as a catalyst, not as actual fuel, this leads to the bottom tiers of witches to be rather pudgy from the need to retain a magic buffer.

At some point during the training they learn the Flesh Rune and can resculpt their bodies to make the fat-to-magic-reaction more efficient. Witches use the Flesh Rune to make themselves as beautiful as possible while still retaining their fighting power (the nobility regularly fight for supremacy) in order to demonstrate their magical prowess. This has manifested in that the clothing of a witch correlates with her rank. A low tier witch will be dressed rather conservatively while the highest ranking will be naked.

My question is: if a state of undress in public is a sign of rank, and dressing skimpily without the rank to back it up is punishable by death, how would prostitutes dress to attract customers?

My initial thought was, since prostitutes in medieval times were low on the social ladder, to dress them in burqas but that would pose some severe marketing issues.

The culture is matriarchal, but unless you are a noble or a slave you will not notice much. Work hard and keep your head down is the way of life for commoners.

I should also add that the Runes that allow magic appears on the skin like a tattoo, right above the soul nexus point chosen. Initially this was why I wanted powerful witches to wear less clothing, to show off their runes as a warning to other witches.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by sphennings, Azuaron, Mindwin, Separatrix, pjc50 Jul 18 '17 at 14:38

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ The medieval times really had a fat problem, but the other way around. A double chin was a sign of beauty. It sounds a bit like you do not know that - this is why I had to comment. Also please consider that beauty isn't just your body fat percentage. There are several other factors which lead to being beautiful, especially in the middle ages. Also - there are other ways to be slim than magic. It sounds as if it's pretty easy to pretend in your world that you are a great witch. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jul 18 '17 at 9:21
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    $\begingroup$ Gout was the disease of kings, because only the wealthy could afford to be fat. Now it's a disease of the poor and rich people are slim. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jul 18 '17 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ You also need to tell us more about your culture, at this point it seems to be a matriarchy. Courtesans were a perk of powerful men, but you haven't indicated that the men in your culture have any access to power to wealth to be able to afford them. Everything will be dependent on that factor, unless all your prostitutes are men. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jul 18 '17 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ Agree with @Separatrix It sounds like your prostitutes would be scantily clad men. $\endgroup$ – David K Jul 18 '17 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ I accidentally created two accounts; how do I merge them? in the help center should get you started on merging the two accounts. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jul 18 '17 at 12:52
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Prostitutes have dressed in many different fashions throughout history and locations. They have never had any problems in attracting punters no matter how dressed.

On the other side, I doubt the higher class of a society would go nudist. Even in non-prudish cultures where nudity is not a concern, clothes still have a purpose: they are beautiful, they protect us from the weather, they reflect our tastes, personality, style and status. Even if your witches are magically beautiful and young, there's still only one way to be nude while there are unlimited ways of being dressed. I'd expect your high-level witches to dress in tight suits, to reveal how thin they are - or to pretend, as that's another advantage of clothing: the right dress will make you appear thinner or fatter than you really are. Deception is a powerful tool in war and politics.

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Think more broadly on the possibilities of a Flesh Rune which allows the witches to "resculpt their bodies". In the real world, we have practitioners of body modification who create art using their flesh as a canvas for tattoos, piercings, scarification, etc., but the Flesh Rune would allow that to be taken to levels far beyond what we have in reality.

Given this, the sign of a high-ranking witch would not be the mere display of flesh, but rather the display of artfully molded flesh, sculpted into forms which paltry plebeian arts cannot replicate. Such forms would likely tend to be exaggerated, much as they have been in our past (have a "wasp waist" figure with no corset - or clothing - required!), and may be prone to frequent changes (when the mundanes figure out how to mimic the witches' fashion, then it's time for the witches to resculpt themselves).

So the prostitutes could still display their wares much as they do in reality, and it would be no threat to the witches. Their crude, natural bodies could never be confused for the effects of a proper Flesh Rune.

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Covering them a bit more isn't strange. Ancient Roman prostitutes wore togas (like senators), which had more clothing than the pallae that normal women wore.

You could make the prostitutes in your world wear wigs (for example, like the English red haired ones in Medieval England) or a special hairdo (again, in the Middle Ages, prostitutes would be the only women older than 12 that wore unbraided hair).

If you don't like, they could use a special complement, like a necklace or little bells in the ankles.

Or they could have adopted a masculine piece of clothing, like high heeled boots (which were created for men raiding horses).

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think it really matters what they wear. Whatever they wear will become fetishized and eventually be considered sexy, simply because it is what prostitutes wear. Supposedly this is one reason why the Japanese fetishized panties. Also, didn't Italian Renaissance prostitutes simply carry a dick shaped baguette? That type of subtly is hard to miss. $\endgroup$ – user2259716 Jul 18 '17 at 15:23
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I live in a city where prostitution is legal and street prostitution is a common sight in some districts. Street prostitutes do usually not dress particularly revealing. But you can tell that they are working girls, because:

  • They are standing around in places officially or unofficially designated for prostitution
  • They are wearing fanny packs (harder to steal or pickpocket from than a purse, I presume)
  • When you just give the slightest impression that you could be a potential customer, they will approach you

Bottom line is, a prostitute doesn't need to dress skimpy in order to be recognizable as one.

But even then prostitutes are unlikely to wear burqas:

  1. Prostitutes have an incentive to dress above their social class, because it makes them look more reputable which allows them to charge more.
  2. In most societies, prostitutes aren't actually poor. The reason why people are and always were willing to do this job is because it pays exceptionally well for a job which requires very little training or education. So when social standing is a matter of income in your society, then prostitutes aren't actually that low, at least compared to those who prefer to beg instead.
  3. If social standing is less a matter of income and more a matter of moral reputation, then prostitutes might indeed be the lowest rung on the ladder of society. But keep in mind that prostitutes are already people who defy social norms. So unless the dresscode rules in your society are very strictly enforced (even on the lower ranks), they won't adhere to them just for conformity.
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So your prostitutes want to look sexy without showing any skin? Simple. Have them wear catsuits, or some other extremely form-fitting clothing that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. I don't know how whether medieval leather would be suitable for making catsuits, but if it is, then that would work very well.

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