Wardrobe Theory: The Powerful Fashion of Dishonored's Women

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Dishonored was a game that I wanted to like more than I actually did. The world building, from the ground up, was incredible. It told me enough about the world without sending me into an exposition dump, and everything I saw and heard was in service to that. I felt like people lived in that city—I felt like I knew its districts and neighborhoods as well as I knew my own. Of course, the game didn’t ever really do anything with that expansive and wonderful world, nor did it do much with the political struggle it set up for itself. I could see each twist and turn before it happened, and ultimately it was just slightly disappointing.

But I’m excited for Dishonored 2, and there’s two reasons why. One is Emily Kaldwin. Two is more of those gorgeous clothes. Girl, they are to die.

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What I really loved about Dishonored is that it set up a female-centric government without falling into sexist tropes. Jessamine Kaldwin wasn’t just a figurehead, but a political leader, and her murder, while still a fridging, was about politics and not sex. It was clear that the world of Dishonored wasn’t just a reimagining of European history—it was its own place, with its own history, one devoid of some of the same foibles that we have in our world. And the women get to wear pants.

It seems like nothing, but it was fascinating to me that Arkane Studios thought so much about the world they were creating that they even thought about the fashion. In a society where women are respected enough to rule the country, why not pants? Why not waistcoats and vests and cravats? Not only that, but they’re neither sexualized nor unfeminine. These aren’t just women in men’s clothing, or women in a sexy version of modern dress. I want to see the history of fashion in Dunwall. Where did they develop their own distinctly gendered, but unrestricted, sense of dress?

You see it in what Jessamine wears just before her murder—the high necked collar, the embellished buttons, the slightly masculine comb in her hair. She’s a woman, yes, but she’s in power here. And you can see it in the young Emily, who, frankly, looks like Little Lord Fauntleroy, but with only slightly more bows. She’s precious, she’s sweet, she’s innocent, but she is learning less about being seen and not heard and more about commanding respect as the future Empress of the Isles.

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What I like about how Jessamine dresses is that’s it’s understated, except where it counts. Essentially, the outfit is a pantsuit without being dowdy—it’s easy to recreate the basic shapes with a well fitted black blazer, slim fit slacks, and a nice, stiff white button up. But look to the detailing—the little notes of gold in her buttons, her ornate hair clip. While you probably won’t be able to find anything that mimics the near-Jacobian ruff that Jessamine sports, you can definitely up your accessory game. While flower crowns and pastels are trending during the summer festival season, hair combs aren’t in short supply either—this one from ASOS looks as regal and serious as Jessamine herself, and this one is slightly more understated, but no less glamorous. Pairing that with a statement necklace like either. of these and then these Pointed Ballet Flats make a look that’s severe, professional, but uniquely feminine.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to spend a lot of time with Jessamine before she dies—but we do get to know Emily. She’s similarly outfitted in familiar, practical, but feminine clothing, wearing pantaloons and a blouse covered in ruffles and ribbons and bows. It’s simply adorable, but I like to think that climbing trees and sparring aren’t things that her choice of dress inhibits.

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It’s also appropriate for a child, which makes writing a style guide for, presumably, adults a little difficult. My only frame of reference for adults wearing bloomers is Elegant Gothic Lolita, a Japanese street style that’s similarly focused on sweetness and girliness. Most, if not all, of the people that wear EGL are autonomous adults with control of their own image. And, well, I completely love the look myself.

Separates are less common in EGL than dresses, but they do exist. Brands like Baby the Stars Shine Bright even have their own US stores and ship to the United States. You could make your own little young Emily Kaldwin outfit from their catalogue alone. Pairing the Memory in the Rose Garden Blouse and the Long Drawers and the Annabel Tassel Shoes with some opaque white tights creates a fresh, pure look on an adult body. The older Emily we see briefly in the trailer for Dishonored 2 dresses a lot like her late mother, but eschews bold jewelry for a bold scarf.

Jessamine and Emily are both feminine characters without being weak, helpless, or resigned to wearing things that prevent them from being active. There’s no shame in wanting to wear dresses—in this hot, sticky summer, I’m wearing them all the time—but I loathe the idea that wearing pants suddenly masculinizes you. It all depends on how you wear it, it all depends on how it fits, and ultimately, it depends on how you want the world to see you. I’m so excited for Dishonored 2 and to see more of the world that lets these two women exist.

Gita Jackson has dedicated her entire adult life to wading through the marginalia of popular culture and finding gold.

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