Everything You Need to Know About Fighting in a Ballgown

Dresses aren’t conducive to fighting—they’re tight and loose in all the wrong places, with constraining corsets and flowy skirts designed to trip you right onto your enemy’s blade… Right? Actually, that’s all a bit of a myth, as The Tethered Mage author Melissa Caruso lays out in a delightful Twitter thread punctuated by Disney princess GIFs. Because it turns out that not only can you swordfight in a dress, but some are actually really well-designed for it! You just need to know which ones.

Drawing on her own experience wielding foam weapons while dressed to the nines, Caruso talks about the mechanics of not only kicking while your legs are covered in flowy and/or crinkly and/or poofy layers, but also the more important defensive moves:

No surprise, a more modernized Disney princess dress like Rapunzel’s in Tangled hits the perfect length at the ankles—ideal for both stepping any which way you like, while still having great spin during a song-and-dance number.

Interestingly, Caruso follows a lot of the same thought process as Marie Brennan in her piece “How to Do Karate in a Victorian Dress”: Both quickly dispel the myth of skirts tripping one up, and move on to more pressing matters. Like the corset, that sartorial and strangely morbid cage (back when women casually wore actual whalebone), often tightened to grotesque extremes.

Thrusts aside, it sounds as if a corset may actually provide more protection than the oh-so-helpful “boob plate” armor that can actually wind up killing lady warriors.

Brennan, as a practicer of karate, builds on this same point by explaining how she anticipated lacking the momentum to put adequate power behind her punches:

I’ll be honest with you: I thought this, not the skirt, would be the main problem. Not because I need to bend through the waist to do my kata, or even because the boning might dig in uncomfortably; once again, I expected the problem to be subtler. I’ve been studying karate for eight years, and I’ve spent that time learning how to generate force with my entire body. When I punch, it isn’t just an arm movement; the power starts with my footwork, my knees, my hips, my opposite arm, using the torque of my whole body to drive my fist forward.

Now put a cage around the middle of that equation.

I thought it would be like trying to play piano with gloves on. Sure, I can still perform the motions… but the subtlety and the fine control would be gone, muffled up by the interference of clothing. And it’s possible that’s exactly what happened. But I can’t really tell you, because any difficulty I had with my corset was instantaneously drowned out by the real problem—the one that yanked me up short before I finished even the first movement of the first basic kata.

It was the sleeves.

Those damn sleeves.

Of course, villains follow a whole different set of rules:


Read the entire thread here! And if it doesn’t make you want to commission your own bespoke battle gown, then we don’t know what will.


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