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Info On Making A Historically Accurate Costume
A common question asked by Sesshomaru CosPlayers, is: "Is is possible to make this costume historically accurate?". While the common answer is a resounding "No!", I say otherwise. It can be done, if you have the time and the patience to make a careful study of Asian history.
Since I am making just such a costume, I must therefor look into such research, and so, I have made this lens to share my findings with those who wish to do the same. The point of this lens, is to look at what Rumiko Takahashi wrote (and drew) about Lord Sesshomaru in the manga and compare it with actual history. Not an easy feat actually, as her fantasy story strays greatly from actual history.
Originally part of my Lord Sesshomaru Costume lens, this topic is now a lens of it's own, because it expanded to long to remain as a part of another lens.
A Look At What Happens When Fantasy and History Collide.
Instructions for Making a Lord Sesshomaru Costume
Originally part of my Lord Sesshomaru Costume lens, this topic is now a lens of it's own, because it expanded to long to remain as a part of another lens.
What I Am DoingOr the Insanity of Using a Fictional Character For The SCA
In light of the onslaught of flaming and hate emails I have gotten because of this lens (due to several Shess fans being angry over my "changing" my costume and making it historically accurate as opposed to comic book accurate), I am now adding this "intro" to attempt to explain to his other fans what it is I am doing here. I hope that by adding this section, it'll clear up any confusion you had, and help you to understand that I am not changing the character himself.
For those who just saw the mention of the SCA here and did a double take, yes, you did read that correctly. The SCA. That historical society known for it's outspoken rigidness of sewing every stitch of garb by hand and using only historically accurate methods, with historically accurate fabrics and in the end recreating actual reproductions of garments worn through out history.
Yes, THAT SCA.
The SCA which holds costume contests and judges you not on your creativity, but on your ability to create the most historically accurate garment possible.
You have to create an entire fictional person, write up their history, register their name and birthplace, and the year from which they currently live (any year up to 1599) , and than you must learn to eat what they eat, talk the way they talked, wear what they wore, right down to historically accurate underwear... (now there's an interesting thought, I wonder what Sessho wears under his kimono?)... they construct tents accurate to the character's time and place, and they spend a whole weekend or week living in them. Sword fights and joisting tormaments are often done with real sword and lances... and yes, horses, chickens and other animals are usually wandering around the grounds. The knights you see walking around are wearing 100% authentic armor some weighing in at more than 200lbs! This is the SCA. The SCA is living history at it's most extreme, and it is for this, that I am making my Sessho Maru costume. Now granted most SCAndians don't go all out extreme, because, well, extreme accuracy is expensive, and the average SCAndian is just looking to meet with a group of fellow history loving CosPlayers. The extremes in accuracy are pretty much limited to SCAndians looking to enter contents.
My Lord Sesshomaru costume is being made historically accurate, because when it is finished, I plan to do the unthinkable and enter it into an SCA sewing contest. Why is that unthinkable? Because Lord Sesshomaru is a fictional character. He never existed. And in the SCA, THAT is a major crime that will send the accuracy police running for the hills.
It is possible to enter a fictional character's outfit, if said fiction character's outfit is historically accurate. While Sessho isn't 100% accurate to history, he's pretty darn close, close enough for me to think I can pull something like this off. Wither or not I actually win the competition isn't the issue here, as much as just getting it entered. Of course I'd love to win, sure, but, you gotta be approved to be entered into the contest first. And that is my goal: to enter a fictional character into an SCA sewing contest, just to prove I can. I have already received criticisms from a few of the SCA's most strict members. Okay, that's cool, I expected as much, it was bound to happen.
Okay, so my project goes against everything they stand for. I get that. But you know what's really funny? You are not allowed to register an actual historical figure from history! You must BASE you character on a real person, but you can't be that real person. You must base you cloths on real cloths that were really worn, but you can't make the actual outfits worn by famous peoples. WHAT! You can ONLY enter fictional characters! Ooooh the irony of it all! It is to laugh.
Well, it's no secret I love history, esp Medieval history, and it's no secret I'm obsessed with Sessho Maru, so, it's the perfect project me which I'll just plan have fun doing for the next year (or two). Wither or not I can enter it in the SCA once it is finished, actually isn't all that important really, it's more me just wanting to try taking a fictional character and creating a costume that I'll love and love wearing.
And a final note in closing: No I am not a member of the SCA or any other group or organization. And no this "costume" that I am making is not a costume. I dress like this 24/7 and have done so for more than 20 years now. I do not own a shared of "normal" cloths, nor would I even consider wearing "normal" cloths. This "costume", when finished, shall be worn as part of my daily wardrobe, just like all of the other "costumes" which make up my daily street wear. I hope that my adding this section, helps to clear up whatever confusion people had about this and will put an end once and for all to the hundreds of nasty emails I have gotten since the creation of this lens.
Now, back to the lens. . .
Why I Wrote This:
Ah... like my Mokomoko lens, this lens has caused a minor outrage among Sessho fans. Oh well, such is life. Why have I written this lens? To inform others? Actually, no. I am making this costume right now. I am making this costume to SCA standards. In order to meet with the SCA approval certain guidelines must be followed. A character's date and place of birth must be known. Where they lived and when they lived there must be known. What they wore when they lived where they did, must be known. These things must be recorded and written down and submitted with the costume in question, when it is entered into a sewing compattiion. Why? Because the SCA does not judge you on creativity, like a CosPlay competition does. As I have said hundreds of times all across the internet now, what I am making is NOT a typical CosPlay costume. That fact can not be overstated. The SCA judges you on HISTORICAL ACCURACY.
In order for me to make sure that I am making my costume as historically accurate as possible, I must therefor trace Sessho Maru's history, what little we know of it, and cross reference it with ACTUAL HISTORY from REAL Medieval Japan. In other words I have to treat a fictional character as though he were a real historical figure, in order to make this costume.
In other words, if you get any benefit from this info, than good for you, but this is being written as a reference point for my own costume so, basically, this lens is like reading my fashion design notebook, as I take a fantasy outfit and compare it to what was worn by real men.
Also, this info is being written as I sew Sessho's pink court robes from the third movie, thus it is the third movie that has gone under much review here.
Why People Wore What They Wore: European Outfits vs Asian Outfits
In examining Sessho's outfit we must keep in mind that Sessho Maru lives in Medieval Japan. Medieval Japan had a very strict set of laws governing who could wear what and when they could wear it. Only certain people were allowed to wear certain styles and certain colors. Sumptuary laws were in effect for most regions at most times during Japan's history. They varied from year to year and place to place, but they basically were there all the time.
In Medieval Europe sumptuary laws were very different from Japan's sumptuary laws. In Europe sumptuary laws, said such things as only the rich could wear buttons, or shoes can't be any taller than this. They were simple and basic. In Japan however, everything from the cut of the cloth, to the length of the sleeves to the color of the dye to wither it was embroidered or not had significant meaning.
Think of cloths in Medieval Japan, as being like a European/American soldier's uniform. One star meant one rank, while a stripe and a star meant a different rank, and two stripes and no star was an even different rank, and so on. In America and Europe only soldiers wear rank on their sleeves. In Medieval Japan, every body wore their rank on their sleeves, in fact, it was the sleeves themselves that told you the most about a person: length, width, color, design, and design placement all had meaning. One look at a person's outfit told you their birthplace, family name, age, occupation, marital status, wither or not they were a virgin, what religion they belonged to, how much wealth they possessed, and anything else you could every want to know about them. It was not a case of, I think I feel like wear green today, it was, "Hello, nice to meet you, I'm wearing this shade of green because it tells you that I am . . ."
When Europeans/Americans look at a Medieval Japanese outfit, they rarely look at it and see it for what it is, because they are unaccustomed to wearing cloths that are anything other than a fashion statement. It is very difficult for them to grasp the concept of how these outfits were being worn, and as such it is easy to look at a character like Sessho Maru and not realize just what it is exactly that his cloths tell us about him. And actually, they tell us quite a bit.
This is a culture where everyone knew there place and no one wore anything unbefitting to their place on the social ladder. If we look at Sessho Maru and compare him to the real history of Medieval Japan, than we know in an instant that here is a man who if he is not on the top rung of the social ladder, than he's pretty darn close to it and is about to take over first place.
A Note About Historical Accuracy vs Lord Sesshomaru:
For those interested in making Lord Sesshomaru's outfit historically accurate, it should be noted that, if you attempt to do so, you will be taking an already difficult and advanced costume, and turning it in an extremely advanced, and very difficult project. You must keep in mind that as it is, Sesshomaru's outfits are NOT historically accurate and an attempt to make them so, means a complete redesign of the costume, and an end result that will look a bit different from what is seen in the books and on the show.
One of the problems with making Lord Sesshomaru's wardrobe historically accurate is his age, his history, and his lifestyle, all of which I shall look at and compare to real Medieval Japan.
Historical Accuracy VS Sesshomaru's Age
In other words, what we see Sesshomaru wearing by the time we see him in 1558, is a mish-mash of items he collected up over a period of many centuries and during his travels across Asia, and the result is a very out-moded, old fashioned, and eccentric outfit, that screams bohemian.
Inu No Taishou
Historical Accuracy VS Sesshomaru's Past History
While age posses a problem with Sesshomaru's costume being historically accurate, his lifestyle posses an even bigger problem. In looking at his wardrobe, we can come to only one conclusion: Sesshomaru is an anachronist. He wears cloths out of time and out of culture.
The biggest problem for the costumer, is that they head into this project assuming that because Sesshomaru comes from a Japanese series, that he must therefore be wearing Japanese cloths. This is the farthest things from the truth, however. Sesshomaru wears a Japanese kimono or kosode, and pretty much nothing else of his wardrobe is Japanese. To find the reason for this we must look into his life.
Another thing to note, is that in real mythology, the tales of dog demons come from Chinese mythology, not Japanese mythology, thus making it even more logical (and historically accurate) to assume that Sesshomaru is Chinese rather than Japanese.
We now have an answer as to why Lord Sesshhomaru's outfits look so very Chinese. Now we must ask, how did he come to live in Japan, by the time of the InuYasha series?
Of course, there is the fact that while living in the Chinese looking palace, Sesshomaru was already wearing Japanese items with his Chinese items, so we question here, are the Dog Demons than Japanese, but for some reason left Japan to rule over China and than returned to Japan by the time of the manga time line?
Another thing we have to question is why does Sesshomaru have a pet dragon? Why does he seem to spend much of his time hunting down dragons. (He does this 5 times in the anime and even more in the manga). Why is this an issue? Well, Japanese are famous through out history for their shunning the Chinese belief in dragons. At no point in Japanese history, did the Japanese believe in dragons. At no point in Japanese history is there any mention of dragons. In China on the other hand, dragon legends run rampant. In the InuYasha series it is only Sesshomaru who has a pet dragon, only Sesshomaru who spends his time hunting dragons, and only in China and not Japan do we find dragons, so again, yet one more finger pointing to China.
It would all be so much easier if Rumiko had been clearer on what she meant by Western Lands. Oh well.
Historical Accuracy VS Sesshomaru's Lifestyle
After InuYasha's birth, his father's death, and the destruction of the family palace, Sesshomaru took his pet dragon and set out on foot on a personal spiritual quest to become a more powerful demon than his father was. (His father have been the most powerful demon to ever exist.) Though Sesshomaru is said to be the most powerful demon alive, now that his father is dead, he is not satisfied with this and now seeks to make himself more powerful than his father was in order to gain the title of the most powerful demon ever. Oddly this quest seems to have effected what Sesshomaru wears.
By the time we see him in the InuYasha series, Lord Sesshomaru has been on his spirit quest for some 250 years, and in that time has picked up Portuguese and Mongolian influences into his mode of dress. We must assume that this is a result of his having spent time in Portugal and Mongolia at some point prior to his coming to Japan.
And thus brings us to the problem of creating an historically accurate version of Lord Sesshomaru's outfits.
To be historically accurate, we would have to assume we are dealing with a human not a demon, thus effecting the time span. We must also assume that we are dealing with a rather eccentric Chinese Lord, who has abandoned his empire to go on a quest, which lead him to live for some time in Portugal, and for another space of time in Mongolia, before finally arriving to settle down in Japan, where he now seeks to build himself a new empire.
Is this doable? Yes, but it requires a massive study of four separate cultures in order to pull it off. Historically, one would not have worn the mixed and matched pieces from such a wide range of cultures.
A final and rather interesting thing to note here, is that to make Lord Sesshomaru's outfits, just a bit more outlandish, we must also take into consideration the fact that he is wearing women's cloths and not mens cloths, and therefore to be historically accurate, you would have to study the women's clothing styles from history and NOT the men's clothing styles. This leads us to believe that Lord Sesshomaru is for some unknown reason a cross-dresser, which historically we have very little info on, as this was not a common thing. Because this is such a different topic, I have written yet another essay, devoted entirely to looking at the way Sesshomaru dresses, and why the evidence suggests that he is a cross dresser. You can that article that here:
From Cross Dressing To a Fan Girls Worst NightmareThe Implications of The Untouchable Demon Who Wears a Kato-suso Furisode and a Crescent Moon
Well, a while back, I had mentioned this in passing elsewhere, an off handed comment, not even a full sentence and the result was ... uhm ... interesting? YIKES! Rabid Sessho lovers watch out, you are so not going to like this. I will write this and than I will go hide.
Okay, looking at Sessho's kimono, unraveled some interesting results. Sessho's kasode (kimono) is of the early Momoyama style called kato-suso. Unlike decorations of the earlier periods, which were painted on or dyed, the designs on a kato-suso are completely and 100% hand embroidered. What this means is that Sessho's kimono is made out of a delicate hand woven white silk, and the red bands (or purple or blue or pink depending on which one you are looking at) are completely filled in with embroidery.
The reason for this info being added here is that it helps us to farther date this character. In fact, it narrows are time line window by a bunch, because kato-suso like Sessho's were only worn for a very short time: specifically from about 1568 to about 1615, with there height of fashion being during the 1570's.
It is interesting to note here that while kato-suso were worn by many people, the white and red coloring worn by Sessho Maru was quite rare. Remember what I said earlier about garment styles and colors having meaning? Well here is where that meaning comes into full view and we learn why we address our beloved Sessho Maru as "Lord".
What we are looking at specifically is a Beni Kato-suso. Beni is short for benibana, the flower used to create the red dye, with was used to dye the threads used to embroider the red bands on the kimono. Beni was very expensive and very rare, only the very wealthiest could afford to wear something made out of beni and as such, very few wore this lavish color. A beni kato-suso made out white silk (as opposed to dyed silk) is even more rare. Most nobles had theirs made out of pale blue or gold silk. Sessho Maru's is pure white.
Sessho's kimono tells us that he is not only a very wealthy daimyo (feudal lord) but that he is very likely to be an astoundingly wealthy daimyo carrying a shogun title (lord of lords), otherwise he would not be wearing this kimono.
One odd thing to note here however. While the pattern and color of his kimono are accurate to the Momoyama time line, the cut of the sleeves are that of an Edo period Furisode. We have a time line discrepancy here. Normally a time line discrepancy would be an issue, but there is an even bigger issue at hand now and that is: Why is Sessho Maru wearing a furisode?
What is a furisode? It is any kimono/kosode that has a certain type of sleeve, namely the big long billowing sleeves that Sessho Maru wears. Furisode is the name for the type of sleeve, the sleeves being the part of the kimono that tells us the most about the person wearing the kimono and the odd thing here is that men do not wear furisode. Furisode are only worn by unmarried/virgin women. It's the thing that they wear to tell the world: "Hello, I'm as pure as driven snow, no one has ever touched me and you can't touch me either."
Don't start screaming yet, I've only just started. There's more.
Once we get past the fact that he's cross dressing and he's doing it by wearing cloths that scream "virgin", than we got to look at that troublesome tattoo or war paint or whatever that thing is he's got branded across his forehead. That blue crescent moon. A symbol of chastity, womanhood, and worn to tell the world that you've taken a vow of celibacy. This is a strange symbol in that it's meaning is almost universal, seen in nearly all cultures, can be traced back several thousand years, and nearly always means that the person wearing it has taking a vow to devote themselves to religion/power and is doing so by living a life devoid of sex, because such a life is said to make one stronger bother physically and spiritually. BIG YIKES! Sessho is very likely to do just that, given his obsession with becoming the most powerful demon ever.
An interesting thing about the crescent moon is it is probably the most historically accurate part of his entire outfit! Again though, for China, not Japan... how odd.
Lord Sesshomaru's make up, while it may seem a bit outlandish today, was at one time rather fashionable and a very real style worn by women every day. Note here, that men did not wear this style make-up, only women did, again with the cross dresser bit.
Lord Sesshomaru's make-up comes from the Tang Dynasty of China (circa 627 - 907). Women of the Tang Dynasty wore elaborate facial make up. They started out by powdering their faces white.
On their foreheads were painted crescent moons or flower petals or shapes. These crescents were made out of feathers, seashells, fish bones, pure gold, or painted on dye. This was called Shouyang or Plum Blossom Make-Up. Everything had different meanings so you as usual, could look at a person and say" "I know you are a ___ because you are wearing a ___".
At the sides of their eyes were painted red stripes, extending to the cheeks. This was called Morning Sun Make Up because the stripes were the color of a rose sunrise. This type of make up was done by women who sought to mimic the look of Xue Yelai, Emperor Coa Pi's favorite imperial concubine, who had a red scar on her face.
It has already be determined that Sesshomaru lived in China during the 800's putting him in the Tang Dynasty at the height of this fashion.
I can take this one step farther, too. White is the color traditionally worn by eunuchs. *Ouch!* Persian eunuchs wear... get this: weird white parachute pants. Niiice. Oh, I can just see the lynch mobs now. See, I told this was not good news for Sessho's fangirls (myself include.) But than again, who am I to argue with history? Yeah, right! It's my Sesshy we're talking about here, I can ignore history, and besides, Sesshy's not Persian.
Any ways, what this information tells us is that one way or another this guy refuses to have sex with anyone. At best he's just ignoring you, the mid-line point suggests he's a transvestite and the worst case scenario is ... uhm ... well ... he is a dog.
Though, this certainly goes towards answering the common questions asked about Sessho's weird attitude towards (or rather his lack of interest in) women, in a series where every other male character seems to be fighting over women. It also goes to explain his actions in 167. Which was: naked woman falls from the sky, lands at his feet, basically has thrown herself at him and he's calmly staring up at the clouds or the sun or trees or whatever it is he's looking at, that is in the opposite direction from Kagura on the ground, and than walks off like he never saw her. I'd like to see Miroku do that! Fangirls everywhere were all going:
"Yes! Sessho and Kagura! Finally!" and than they get nothing.
Sessho: "Come on Rin!"
Rin: "Coming Lord Sesshomaru."
Jaken: "Put some cloths on."
Yep. There's the Sesshomaru we all know and love. Sees a naked woman, keeps on walking, doesn't bat an eye. Leaving behind millions of broken hearted fangirls who went off screaming and pulling their hair out after seeing episode 167. LOL! And yet, would we REALLY want him any other way?
Is The Mokomoko Historically Accurate?
Yes, for a Mongolian it would be, uhm... China again.
Of course humans do not have tails, so if you consider the Mokomoko to be a tail, than no it can't possibly historically accurate.
However, not everyone considers it a tail, and if you follow this line of thinking, than yes, it is very very accurate. However, once again we must leave Japan to find the Mokomoko and what it is. For this we must travel to one of three places: Mongolia, Tibet, or Hungary (Romania and Turkey are have seen them as well). These big furry thigs are actually pretty common. Called different names by different cultures, to Europeans and Americans they are usually known as Suba.
What is a suba? In it's simpelest form it is the skin of a long haired sheep which is thrown over your shoulder. Some more elaborate versions are made of several skins sewn together to form a vest, coat, shawl, or cape.
What they are made of, how they are worn, and what they look like varies from tribe to tribe, depending on what the local fur bearing animals there are to hunt, and how cold the region's winters are.
For the SCA, you'd have to call it a suba and not a tail.
Personally, I consider it a tail.
This section got too long and has been moved to here:
What Will I Do?
Well, for my own costume, I'm keeping the overall look from the anime, but being more accurate to the manga, while making changes to make it historically accurate for what would have been worn by a Japanese Lord of the Momoyama Period.
The biggest reason for the change is not so much to be historically accurate, but rather, to be able to wear the costume. If you've read my costume lenses, than you know this is a costume made to the SCA's historical reenactment standards. Meaning that that it's not a costume made of foam and cardboard, but rather leather and metal. Well, let's face it, Sessho's Chinese style armor is made of cast iron and if made anime/manga accurate would weigh a minimum of 75lbs.
Since I don't plan on wearing 75lbs of cast iron, I'm changing Sessho's armor from it's Chinese metal styling to an much lighter and easier to wear Japanese style made of leather. It'll still weigh about 30lbs, but that's a big difference from 75lbs!
His Chinese sash, I'm not changing at all, however, him being Japanese (and yes, I believe him to be Japanese btw, in spite of the references pointing to him living in China), I am calling the Chinese long sash by the equivalent Japanese name "Heko-Obi", even though it is not exactly a Heko-Obi. If he's Japanese, I think he would have called it a Heko-obi regardless of what it's Chinese name is.
Those weird Chinese binding shoes of his are not coming anywhere's near my costume! OUCH! Winkle Pickers look like binding shoes without the pain, so I'm using those instead.
The weird pouffy Mongolian/Portugese pants of his, are being changed to Japanese hakama instead.
As for the Mongolian/Tibetan/Hungarian Suba, well, in my opinion it is actually a tail, so I'm making it with that thought in mind.
The only part of his outfit which started out Japanese in the manga/anime was his kosode (kimono) and it's of a style not seen until the 1800's! Since Rumiko said the story took place in 1558, that is a bit of a problem. I'm improvising. I'm using a pattern taken from an actual kosode from the late 1500's and have cut my fabric using it. Since 1558 was right at the beginning of the Momoyama Period's "bling era" when lords were embroidered head to toe, I'm embroidering by hand every inch of his kosode.
Well, one thing's for certain: this costume is going to keep me busy for the next year or so.
What are the Individual Parts of His OutFit?
Each individual piece is shown here:
An Added Footnote:
Do to the onslaught of hate emails and flame comments (now deleted) that the article has inspired, I am now adding this (R rated) link to this lens.