Costume allows the wearer to don the persona of another. Alexander McQueen an avid lover of the exotic channels an earlier pre-occupation with costuming seen in the era of the Romantics [1]. Lord Byron enjoyed dressing up as a Greek [1], while the Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix, as a dandy, was chuffed to join the French National Guard mostly for the opportunity to wear a smart uniform [2].

Lord Byron in Greek Dress. Unknown painter, circa 1830.

Lord Byron in Greek Dress. Unknown painter, circa 1830.

This obsession with costuming often draws influence from the perceived Other [1]. In the case of the Romantics they looked to the Orient for inspiration [3]. The Orient is an ideal of course not an actual location. It is a fantasy space created in the mind. The lived reality of a particular time or place is ignored in favour of a romanticised impression. An example of this lies in the work of the Pre-Raphaelites who sought to represent only the aesthetically beautiful elements of their imagined medieval world [3].

McQueen horsehair and leather dress. Spring/Summer 2005. It's Only a Game.

McQueen horsehair and leather dress. Spring/Summer 2005. It’s Only a Game.

Alexander McQueen, a self-declared Romantic poignantly bought to life exotic fantasy through costume. His Spring/Summer 2005 collection It’s Only a Game saw costume and fashion dual it out on a giant chessboard. His models reflected visual cues from their assigned chess pieces. “The Knight” wore a moulded leather corset, reminiscent of a body cast, her neck and head held rigidly in place, capped on top and trimmed below in cream coloured horsehair. The finishing touch, a silver horse’s bit [4]. Touching on the designer’s interest in Asian military dress, this outfit with its use of horse hair is linked to the idea of the Mongolian warrior [4].

McQueen’s highly conceptual approach to representing a purpose through garb bought to mind the importance of costuming within the Final Fantasy video game series.

Final Fantasy games consistently link outfits with role and abilities. In the final installment of the Final Fantasy XIII saga Lightning Returns the protagonist Lightning switches between outfits, known as garb, to perform different roles in battle. These roles range from healer to mage, warrior and thief. As McQueen did, the Final Fantasy design staff too have incorporated visual cues as to the purpose of a particular garb.

Medieval fantasy meets dominatrix in the Equilibrium garb (shown right). Lightning delivers physical attacks while wearing this garb. Her moulded leather corset, reminiscent of McQueen’s fetishized leather wear, connotes ideas of punishment and power.

The Heartstealer garb (shown middle) equips Lightning with the ability to steal items from her enemies. This garb plays on cultural stereotypes, a key element of Orientalism, Lightning is cast as a gypsy-like bohemian. The design is itself a reiteration of famed character designer Yoshitaka Amano’s drawing of Locke, a thief starring in Final Fantasy VI (shown left) [5].  It would seem thief garb came to be equated with Orientalist fantasy early on. Locke appears to have freshly stepped out of the pages of One Thousand and One Nights.

Micro transactions offer Square Enix, the makers of Lightning Returns, an opportunity to capitalise on virtual “fashion victims”. A steady stream of new novelty outfits have been released since the game’s debut. These are available, for a fee, as downloadable content.

It would seem fashion consumption in the video game realm too is insatiable.


Bolton, Andrew, 1966, Susannah Frankel, Tim Blanks, Sølve Sundsbø, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York,N.Y.), and Yale University Press. 2011. Alexander McQueen: Savage beauty. New York; New Haven, Conn: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Wilson-Smith, Timothy. 1992. Delacroix: A life. London: Constable

Elizabeth Wilson, 2007. Fashion Theory. A Note on Glamour Vol. 11, Iss. 1, 2007.

Knox, Kristin, Inc ebrary, and Inc Getty Images. 2010. Alexander McQueen: Genius of a generation. 1st ed. London: A&C Black. Accessed: 24 August 2015.

Siliconera. 2013. “Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Has A Costume Based On Final Fantasy VI”. Last modified: 2013. Accessed: 24 August 2015. URL: