The aesthetics of HEMA safety gear
Today I wanted to offer a brief set of recomendations for HEMA clothing and safety gear aesthetics. Safety gear should of course be protective, and this should be the prime concern, but we should also wear safety gear that looks professional, gives a good impression of HEMA, and also fits into the established HEMA aesthetic. We want people to take us seriously, whether they are students, potential training partners, or members of the public, we want to give HEMA a good image, and I think we should attempt to look good while doing HEMA to show respect for the discipline of HEMA itself.
Someone with a clean professional look will give off a much better impression on behalf of themselves, their club and HEMA generally. This means that we should try to present a look like this, rather than, for example, wear a mismash of badly maintained psuedo-historical gear and motocross gear. Even those wearing HEMA gear could often do something to improve their look, e.g. replacing a painted mask design with a more professional one, or replace some black items with something a little more distinctive.
Rule one: wear a professional mask
I’ve addressed this recently in my post On Painted Masks, but to go over this point briefly again, the mask of a HEMAist should be simple and use a professional design, especially if the HEMAist is an instructor or is involved at all in any outreach programmes, public displays etc. Any painted design should be chosen with caution.
My current mask is black, with three stripes: two blue and one white. This is a simple, memorable, but still recognisable design. The AHA used to be one of three divisions of Triquetra Services (Scotland), and I am one of the three senior instructors within the AHA, so I thought that using a design with the number 3 was fitting.
Rule two: wear three quarter length trousers and long socks
There is a pretty well established HEMA look of wearing three quarter length trousers and long socks, and I think any HEMAists not already making use of this look should start to, simply so they engage in a look already used by international competitors and instructors.
Using long socks is also an opportunity to wear those socks in club colours, to show club pride, and to make it easier for people to identify you and what club you come from. I would be careful about using especially brightly coloured socks though, especially if all the rest of your gear is black. Brightly coloured socks draw too much attention downwards to my liking and can create an off-balanced look, when generally I think focus should be drawn upwards instead, to a fencer’s face or mask. Alternatively, wearing socks in club colours can be redundant if you are also wearing a jacket or other clothing in club colours. I prefer to wear navy blue socks rather than the royal blue that many other fencers from the AHA wear for these reasons.
Rule three: don’t wear bulky protection when slimmer protection will work as well
Wearing overly bulky protection doesn’t help in terms of presenting a clean, and hopefully slim-line, look. If you choose to wear long socks in club colours, then bulky shin protection over the socks can be a problem. Generally, bulky protection can often be replaced with less bulky protection. Bulky shin guards can be replaced with slimmer hockey shin guards that can be worn underneath long socks for instance.
Rule four: don’t wear a black jacket
It used to be the case that everyone wore black jackets because that was all that was available, but now jackets can be bought easily from manufacturers such as SPES or Neyman fencing in a wide variety of colours. Jackets could be bought in club or national colours, although if that is not an option, I think white jackets are a good choice. So many people wear all black, and by wearing a jacket that’s not black you can easily make yourself look more distinctive while still fitting in to the established HEMA aesthetic.
Alternatively, if you do want to wear a black jacket, another option would be to wear non-black trousers, simply so you aren’t wearing all black.
Rule five: don’t wear historical gear unless it is truly historical and well made
I would not tell people to never wear historical clothing, but for the vast majority of people, I would encourage them to wear modern attire. Some people I have met who wear historical garb have clearly gone to a lot of effort to wear authentic garb, whereas others wear cheaper, inauthentic clothing. Investing in fully accurate clothing would be expensive and difficult, and unless you are willing to put in that effort, wearing pseudo-historical clothing or wearing a mishmash of historical and modern clothing often looks ridiculous. A clean, modern, athletic look will generally serve people better.
Rule six: wear gear that has been professional designed for HEMA
People shouldn’t wear re-enactment gear, or motocross gear, or home-made gear, or whatever else, if there is HEMA gear that already exists that fulfils the same purpose. You might be able to get by with gear that isn’t designed for HEMA, but your look will generally be les cohesive, and not buying gear designed for HEMA for your HEMA practice can make it look as if you taking HEMA less seriously.
These are a few simple rules, but I think people that follow them tend to have a much better aesthetic, and while it can be easy to dismiss aesthetics as unimportant, they do have an important effect on how we, and our sport, can be perceived.