Dressed for a Fight

When I was a kid, I liked to be ready for anything. So even if I wore a skirt, I liked to have a pair of shorts on underneath. You know, in case I wanted to turn a cartwheel or something. I had a tendency to bust a move like that at a moment’s notice. (Culottes also were an acceptable fashion statement.)

And being “ready for anything” sometimes meant “ready to engage in fisticuffs.” That was life on the south side of Chicago for a nerdy kid (and those who weren’t; bullies didn’t discriminate). The time 3:15 still sends chills down my spine. That was when school let out. That was when fights were scheduled. You had to be ready to throw down if someone picked a fight with you. (My older brother, whose birthday is today, taught me to fight.)

I’m reminded of how people readied for fights in my neighborhood. If girls started braiding their hair and taking off earrings, you knew a fight was about to happen. But nobody had a catsuit to don for a fight like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) from the Marvel movies or Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) from The Avengers, a British show from the 1960s. (Uh-huh. I’m totally dating myself. Oh well. You knew I was old.) I’m not dissing the catsuit. I’ve longed to be Black Widow or Emma Peel—easily dispatching villains. And if I could look as cool as they look in a catsuit, believe me, I would throw one on and pick fights with people, just to look cool.


Now that my introduction is out of the way, let me share something I’ve been thinking about: fight scenes. Maybe you’re not into fight scenes. I can’t say I live and die for them. But a compelling fight scene with high stakes can be very satisfying to watch. And since I’m revising some fight scenes in a young adult fantasy book, I pay attention to them in movies.

In the Vanity Fair video below, the director of Black Panther, Ryan Coogler, discusses a scene in the movie. What I love about this video is the fact that he discusses why the clothing of two women in the scene fit the theme of the fight. Though part of the scene can be seen in the trailer, it contains some spoilers, so be warned!

What I loved about this scene in the movie (and I get it if you don’t have the time or interest to watch the video; it’s over nine minutes long) is the fact that the characters (Okoye played by Danai Gurira and Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o) had to fight in fashionable attire. They were fierce and feminine. There was no time to change clothes. The fight came to them.

This is the action figure for Shuri, sister of T’Challa (the Black Panther). She’s not in the video, but she’s in the movie. This is how she dressed for a fight.

The reason why this video struck me is that I agonized over what one of my main characters would wear on the worst day of her life. She’s not a trained warrior, but she has to fight for her life, as many heroines have had to do. I had her in pants at first, because I was still of the “always be prepared for anything” mindset (shorts under a skirt, remember). But as I saw in the fight discussed in the video, and as I recalled my elementary school years, sometimes the fight comes, whether you’re ready or not. So, it’s nice to know that though my main character is wearing a dress (which felt more natural to the character), she can still look convincing in a fight.

Diana Rigg photo from somewhere on Pinterest. Culottes photo from thirdeyechicfashion.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Shuri action figure by Hasbro. Boxer Hello Kitty figure by Tokidoki.

32 thoughts on “Dressed for a Fight

  1. I always loved the fight scenes in Charmed, especially those involving Alyssa Milano, and it was partly because they looked so great in whatever they were wearing, and never made clothing concessions. There’s one episode where a rather bossy guardian angel decides to train them for a fight and she makes them wear ‘sensible’ clothes and shoes – it was a lovely little bit of the show making fun of itself. Factlet: apparently the woman who did the costumes for Charmed also did the ones for Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. It would be hard to think of two more different styles… 🙂

    • Oh my goodness, really? Now I’m picturing Angela Lansbury fighting off someone in her sensible suits. 😀 That show was a staple in our house. My parents never missed it.

  2. Since I was always doing cartwheels and handstands, I used to do the same, wearing shorts underneath skirts and dresses. LOL! I’m one of those who covers her eyes during fight scenes. 🙂 Have a great day, L. Marie!

  3. I do a lot of fight scenes, but I tend to have warriors and adventurers. So, the clothing matches the career, which tends to expect a fight. Then again, I had Sari with her skirts, which I fit into her fighting style. Her flipping and spinning turned the colorful skirts into a distraction that helped with her knife-throwing. Again, these are characters that tend to be ready for a fight unless they’re relaxing. A lot of the scenes where they were jumped involved working their moves around what they’re wearing too. For example, Luke Callindor would be a little less flashy and flexible in clothes made for a ball than his traveling attire.

    • I thought of Sari, Luke, and Nyx as I wrote the post. 😀 That’s why I mentioned that my character is not a warrior like them. They always have to be ready and dressed for the part. But someone is trying to murder my character. She has to act on the fly.

      • Have you considered the ‘fight and flight’ reflex when doing this? It’s something I think about with characters who aren’t experienced or trained in combat. This is a factor that seems to be overlooked because we always want our characters to be brave in the face of danger, but it’s fairly realistic.

      • Yes, I have. My character runs quite a bit in this book, until she reaches a point where she has no choice but to fight. I know what you mean though. In a day where strong warriors abound (like Wonder Woman), it’s hard to think of a character running from a fight, since Wonder Woman never would. But Wonder Woman has super strength, so of course she wouldn’t back down! My character is not like that at all.

      • It isn’t even just Wonder Woman. There’s been a big push for years to have female characters stand their ground. I’m remembering a Jodie Foster movie called ‘The Brave’ or something, which was kind of like ‘Death Wish’, but with a female vigilante.

  4. I was the ultimate nerd of the 50’s (yea, I’m that old). We weren’t allowed to wear pants or shorts to school, except on very cold days, and they had to be removed along with our coats. Yep. The perfect set-up for teasing and bullying.
    The other day, daytime television on with Tom, who had put some old-time station on. (In his defense, he was recovering from a painful eye injection). We sat there watching . . . wait for it . . . Roy Rogers. I remarked that I always wanted to have culottes like Dale Evans who was running after a villain.
    Oh, L. Marie, your posts always take me on a tangent, telling such silly stories. 😦

    • I LOVE your tangents, Penny! I remember that show. Culottes always seemed like a sensible choice when chasing down a villain. 😀
      When I was a kid, my mom loved for me to wear dresses and skirts. I had a supply of tights though, which helped whenever I needed to make a snow angel. 😀

      I hope Tom’s eye will mend quickly.

  5. I just finished revising a fight scene. It was very one-sided, and of course the bully won. But it was from the point of view of the bully, and I had to add his emotion in the scene, what motivated him to attack the other boy despite the fact that he’d promised he wouldn’t, what it felt like at the time, and then afterward.

  6. OMG – is that you as a little one, L. Marie in the first photo? (no, Kitty, the first human photo, not yours!) What a sweetie…

    I, too remember walking to and from school with pants/shorts/tights under my skirts/dresses…especially during Chicago-land winters!
    Once I started jr.high, it worked in my favor to disguise the nylons and rolled up skirts I’d walk out of the house in (knee socks over the nylons, and a longish skirt that easily rolled up well in the waist to become my mini-skirt! It also worked well to quickly change the length when asked to kneel for skirt length measurements by the principal!)

    My biggest ‘enemy’ encounters were actually during 6th-8th grade – I still have the scars on my wrists from a hate-club girl who stabbed me with a pointy stick ripping my skin wide open – ouch!

    I was a fighter more in line with defending others rather than myself – weird, but true.
    How about you?

    • Nope! Not me. The little girl is adorable, isn’t she?

      Yes, the winters made layers necessary.

      I often had to defend myself from those who picked fights, thinking I was small and weak. I was, but I also had an older brother who insisted on teaching me to box. I know what you mean about the mean girls of sixth to eighth grade, Laura. The worst years for me! I also had to contend with mean boys. I don’t look back on those years very fondly. But ouch! How awful that someone stabbed you with a pencil! I hope you were okay!

  7. I wanted to be Emma Peel 😉 I love the idea of shorts under skirts. We had culottes, but today they might be called “skorts.” Whatever. It’s what the active girl/woman wears! I’ve never been trained to fight although I’ve seen enough of them at school. Back in the day. I was too easily intimidated. In fact, I would not go to the girl’s lavatory all day if I could help it, just to avoid the ones who always looked like they wanted to stick my head in the toilet.

  8. This recalls me the primary school during r)the war THERE always were fights after sChool on the oad to go home at feet;;BUT AT THIS TIME THE YOUNG GIRLS DID NOT WEAR PANTS
    Old memories ,Linda
    Love ❤

  9. I don’t enjoy reading or watching most fight scenes . . .
    Especially ones that go ON and ON and ON and ON and ON . . .

    Worse still is when the knock-down-drag-out fighters walk away from the fight with nary a bruise or bump . . . or even a hair out of place.
    It defies logic.

    Lack of internal consistency in storytelling causes me to lose patience with the storyteller.

    • I know what you mean, Nancy. I find many fight scenes between men and women hard to believe. You see people throwing punches without once wincing at the impact. Punching someone can hurt!

  10. From my sheltered Mennonite girlhood, I’m getting a glimpse of another slice of life. Who knew that ‘If girls started braiding their hair and taking off earrings, you knew a fight was about to happen.”

    Indeed, some videos do evoke “dressing” a character. Writing memoir, I looked at dozens of photos to snatch out a memory, even describing outfits based on the images.

    About fight scenes: I don’t go to action movies for that very reason. My husband eats it up. I guess watching all that blood and gore get the aggression out of his system vicariously. Who knows! Great post, Marie!

    • Hi, Marian! I know what you mean about dressing characters. For instance, I love looking at medieval clothing. I dress my characters based on styles I find. I have a book of medieval clothing that is fun to look through for ideas.

  11. Wow! Fights after school. I didn’t know that about you. I’ve always been kind of non-violent. I just couldn’t imagine hitting someone. I sometimes wonder if I needed to fight to protect myself or others, would I be able to?

    I’m not squeamish about what I watch or read, although I was kind of taken aback when my husband first introduced me to kung fu movies. They can be pretty violent. It wasn’t long before I learned to love them, though.

    Costumes are always fun. Skirts are fine as long as they allow for a good high kick. My 9-year-old grandson is getting good at tae kwon do. He kicked his opponent (a little girl) in the cheek last week, which shows how high he can kick, and, he said, that she turned her head wrong. Not much sympathy there.

    • Hi, Nicki! Yes, fights happened sometimes uninvited. If you were viewed as smart, you were a target.

      I grew up watching kung-fu movies. 😀 My brothers and I watched them on Saturdays.

      Hope the little girl was okay! I know some girls who are into martial arts.

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