Fashion in Marai

Author's Note: This article discusses the clans of Marai only through the lens of fashion. For a fuller view of the Commonwealth's clan-based politics, see the full article: Political Geography of the Maraian Commonwealth.
  Having achieved an unprecedented level of peace thanks to its isolation from Khayyam after the Deluge and the creation of the Commonwealth, Marai has grown from a highly warlike culture into one of nuance and grandeur. Most emblematic of this change is fashion, which has grown into a sort of secondary language, using colours, cuts and accessories to communicate all manner of social subtleties.  


Within the noble class, and especially among the more subtle-minded clans, fashion is physical poetry, and each interaction between clans (even sometimes within them) is a poetry contest. The term for this in Maraian standard is gaikaku: a shortening of "gaikan no ku" meaning "appearance as verse". The balance of brightness and darkness, garishness and simplicity, originality and tradition, effortfulness and sloth: each must be read and interpreted cunningly, lest the courtier seem out of their depth. Those who cannot have much more difficulty succeeding in Maraian politics, thus even the more rugged or out-of-touch clans must rise to meet this challenge.  


The connection between Marai's warlike past and this fashion renaissance is closer than one might think. Even in ancient times, the idealized warrior was untalkative above all else, instead letting reputation, body language and if necessary action do most of their communicating. Though they enjoy frequent wargames and will still clash over territory, perceived insults and the like, the many clans of Marai have been forced to find less violent ways to express their sovereignty and individualism in peace time. Gaikaku encompasses all manner of art, from painting to poetry to carp breeding to kung fu, now fill this gap but chief among them is worn clothing. This method allows more nuanced communication without breaking the quiet stoicism of Maraian court culture.  

Fashion by Clan

Above all else and especially in politics, fashion is used to signal one's loyalty to their overarching clan. Even standard clan colours can be strategic: if an Izuka courtier is wearing black, for example, does this represent a dark disposition towards the talks, or merely a nod to their shadowy totem animal? Rival courtiers must know standard clan fashions to know how and when they deviate. These standards will be described in alphabetical order.  

The Ashina

Clan colours: Bright yellows, oranges and reds; popular patterns include fire, mountains, torii arches, wind and lightning; bronze armour

Traditionalist in the extreme, these antiquated mountain warriors and sorcerers are the most aloof to the last few centuries' change of social mores in the "lands below". Considered somewhat of a "living fossil" clan, the Ashina provide a glimpse into less subtle times, nearly always wearing ostentatious yellows, reds and golds except during times of mourning, when they wear funerary whites with red trim. The patterns and cuts of Ashina dress are considered highly old-fashioned by most clan standards. They're aware they're missing out on some subtleties of peacetime Maraian culture, but do not dignify this shallow modernity with response.  

The Dolaghan

Clan colours: Traditional white headscarves and desert-camo clothes, increasingly highlighted with Khayyamite patterns like paisley and kilim; bronze armour

Also rustic and remote, the Dolaghan of the far western badlands have also been slow to adopt what they see as a vain and preening new culture, though unlike the Ashina they have a newfound respectability to maintain as chief liaisons to the highly wealthy Khayyamite Trade Council. Their pragmatic brown desert camouflage and white headscarves are slowly giving way to new and exotic innovations influenced by Khayyamite aesthetics.  

The Erayo

Clan colours: Blue-grey primary with white & black highlights in traditional folk patterns, including depictions of evening stars, swallows, nighthawks and moths; silver armour

As befits them, Erayo fashion bears an old-fashioned innocuousness and simplicity of thought, but never to the point of showing rudeness. Yet despite their unsophisticated bearing, the Whip-Poor-Wils almost never seem to come out disadvantaged, suggesting the dance of gaikaku isn't as complex for them as it might initially seem. A typical Erayo courtier outfit is of a simple but elegant cut, favouring the clan colours of grey-blue and white. Silhouettes of their small, agile totem bird is a popular pattern.  

The Izuka

Clan colours: Black primary with red patterned highlights in various innovative patterns; dark iron armour

If any clan can be said to exemplify gaikaku, it is the cunning and somewhat preening Izuka. The nightstalkers were never fans of the untalkative stoicism of Maraian culture, so they were among the first to adopt the practice of "saying more with little": if they cannot warn away rivals with a roar or hiss—as their totem animal would—they looked to the poisonous tree frogs of their traditional jungle lands, using visual cues instead. This worked so well to add a depth of communication while maintaining an air of noble quietude that other clans felt obligated to follow suit. In modern times, the standard Izuka blacks and reds are cut in all manner of artistic, innovative and sometimes salacious ways.  

The Kyoketsu

Clan colours: Autumnal brown-reds, oranges and off-whites; traditional folk patterns with arborial themes like maple and oak leaves; leather armour

The straightforward and workmanlike Kyoketsu have taken to modern gaikaku with more than a little exasperation: they're not a clan strongly incentivized to make social niceties as their importance comes mainly from material things, such as their high-quality lumber and sought-after maple syrup. Nonetheless the red foxes already have tensions with other clans due to superstitious associations with the much-maligned kitsuneyōkai (a mischevious fae associated with foxes), and cannot afford to worsen their image with shows of shabbiness. Their fashions show not just their humble spirit but also fine weaves from skilled hands, usually in their autumnal clan colours. Maple leaves from their famous trees are a favourite pattern.  

The Matsunagayama

Clan colours: Dark browns and oranges, furs of bison and coyote; popular patterns include mountains, pine trees, stylized boars; leather armour

Famed bards and storytellers, the Dire Boars prefer fashions that command attention in ways that don't require lining Lowlander pockets with money spent on colourful dyes. Most iconic are Matsunagayama capes with their large pointed shoulders, giving them an intimidating and unmistakable silhouette. Boar nobles line their clothes with the finest bison fur, usually complimenting the dark browns with rustic whites and oranges. As they believe in strength above all else, they're little interested in the subtleties of gaikaku, more interested in brow-beating other clans into sending more sword-hands to Asura's Wall.  

The Nikata

Clan colours: Mottled browns, greens and off-whites of forest camouflage; popular patterns include hot springs, waterfalls and stone lanterns; leather armour

As per their overall attitude on Empyreal politics, the Tanuki do only the bare minimum in keeping with court standards of cleanliness and class. Nikata diplomats almost seem to take pride in wearing clothes that are just slightly travel-worn or hair that is just slightly unkempt, as if they're challenging the Empyreal courts to formally censure them. This has not happened so far as too many high-ranking courtiers enjoy the hospitality of Nikata onsen hot springs and massage parlours.  

The O-Nao-En-Zan

Earthly agents of the Seventy Two Analects of Fallingleaf, the ascetics of the O-Nao-En-Zan are universally opposed to the subterfuge and vanity of gaikaku. They themselves dress only in robes of off-white or beige with basic, patternless black and red trim, which often draws comparisons to the Red-crowned crane.  

The Oronaga

Clan colours: Black primary with gem-like greens and rich purples; popular patterns include various jungle flowers, snakes and traditional drow designs; dark iron armour

Partly rooted in the various drow cultures of the subterranean Emerald Expanse, the Oronaga are no strangers to elegance, vanity and subterfuge; as such the Lowlanders are enthusiastic students of gaikaku. The Anacondas' opulent wealth ensures they can commission robes of the finest Zazen silk, armour of the most intricate Okara craftsmanship. Like the Yoisura, the Oronaga themselves are esteemed jewelers, with access to all manner of little-known minerals from their underground drow cities.  

The Setsu

Clan colours: Brown primary with white trim in spring and summer, white primary with brown trim during fall and winter; traditional folk patterns restylized, snowflakes are a popular motif; leather armour

The remote but savvy Setsu have taken to gaikaku less reluctantly than their Highland neighbours, who mostly see it as Heartlander ego in motion. They have adapted their traditional folk fashions, with its warming furs and thick weaves, into more elegant silhouettes and have introduced their own symbolism into the language. Like their Totem the ermine, the Setsu wear browns primary in the spring & summer months, then switch to whites in fall & winter. As they currently sit the Plain Pillow, their efforts to learn Heartlander culture have clearly paid off.  

The Sokenzan

Clan colours: Purples and whites primary with gold trim; motifs include stylized dragons, clouds and wind; silver or bronze armour

Though Sokenzan lands remain wealthy and resource-laden enough to afford expensive silks and expert clothiers, the Dragons—or perhaps more aptly the Librarians—tend to find gaikaku bewildering. But let it never be said there is anything a Sokenzan cannot learn, and so the courtiers have made up with research what they lack in intuition, albeit with mixed results. Thanks largely to the new dances of art and fashion, Marai's old rulers are now increasingly seen as eccentric and guileless. What subtle powers can topple emperors!  

The Yoisura

Clan colours: Wide array of colours from peacock blue to flamingo pink to gem-like greens; motifs are numerous, from fishlike scales to ocean waves to inventive geometric patterns; silver armour

Savvy and ostentatious, the Yoisura have taken to gaikaku like their totem carp to water, and were one of the earliest clans to adopt the practice alongside the Izuka. Excellent with their hands, they're decently-skilled clothiers, but more importantly count many of the finest jewellers among their clan, and are often the ones to break ground on new styles of accessory. The former pirates have slowly turned the practice of piercing around: what was once seen as a style only for "lowlifes" is now seeing a warmer response from more modernist courtiers. Yoisura style is garish and colourful, often preferring geometric patterns over natural ones: a nod to the patterns found on their prized jeweled carp. Scale-like half-circles are especially popular.  

The Zazen

Clan colours: Black primary with gold & yellow highlights; traditional lowlander patterns with modern adaptations, sometimes with motifs of meadowlark birds, barley or wheat stalks; dark iron armour

Perhaps the clan that has benefitted most from gaikaku, at least financially, is the Meadowlarks: they oversee the largest natural territory of Moonfey Moth, whose silkworm larvae create the finest silk threads on the continent. Now one of the leading clothiers on the continent, aove even the Okara and Yoisura, the Zazen are highly sought-after by nobles around the continent for their intricate but smartly professional designs. They themselves wear elegant gold-trimmed blacks that obscure their background as simple farmers and brewers, though they sometimes use wheat or barley patterns on their fabrics.

Banner: (Left to Right) 1. An Izuka palace guard wearing characteristic blacks with red & gold trim. 2. A Setsu palace guard dressed in whites with brown pattern trim, as is customary during winter months to reflect their totem ermine's seasonal changes. 3. A Zazen samurai in characteristic black with gold trim. 4. Yoisura Chief Kannushi Yoisura Yoshitsune; like the Ermines, the Koi shift colours seasonally, in this case he wears the pinks and blues of spring.

Banner art credit: Created by The Author with thanks to Dall-E 3.

Cover image: by The Author, with thanks to DALLE3


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