How to create Realistic Costume Design for Fiction Stories?

Start with the costume storytelling for your sci-fi story

Reading time
4 min
Published on

December 21, 2023

Blauw Films

2001 a space odyssey on set with stanley kubrick. spacesuit costume design for science-fiction film.
Stanley Kubric on set for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Genre plays a huge role when designing the costumes for a project

Science Fiction allows for in-depth world building, which can cause unfocussed design thinking if not approached correctly.

Costume design is a visual storytelling technique that tells the viewer a lot about what type of story they’re looking at. When the designs are incoherent with the story, the viewer will fail to believe or engage with your world.

So what is the best approach?

Break Down the Worldbuilding

So you’ve written an overwhelming amount of world building and now want to work out specific designs for your characters and their clothes.
Where do you even start? Go back to the beginning.

What type of Science Fiction world is your story?

  • Hard Science Fiction
  • Soft Science Fiction
  • Science Fantasy

With the exact flavour of Science-Fiction determined, you can go into the details of worldbuilding.

For the costumes, there generally are four main areas you should pay attention to:


  • Does the climate have a visible influence on the way people dress?
  • How much does fashion differ from climate to climate?
  • How does the climate relate to the culture of dress?


  • Are there any laws that dictate who can wear what?
  • If so, how are these laws enforced, for how long have they existed and when will they be rewritten?
  • How are ranks, status or royalty visible in dress? 


  • What type of materials are the people of this world able to create?
  • How are weapons, gadgets or other tools worn? 
  • Is there a difference in technology from culture to culture?


  • What is considered fashionable or tasteful? What do outdated or unfashionable clothes look like?
  • How much does taste and fashion differ between people, ranks, races, cultures, etc? 
  • What type of dress are considered good manners, and what is vulgar?

I hope you can now see why determining your genre is so important.

When dealing with Science Fantasy and various un-human races, you could ask yourself whether dragons wear hats and if warm-bodied creatures can be naked in the snow. On the other hand, questions about technology are much more relevant for Hard Science Fiction.

By knowing the parameters of your genre, you know better which story elements of the world carry more weight.

Moebius concept character design illustrations for Jodorowsky's Dune. Science-Fiction with Fantasy elements. Colorful pencil drawing gouache painting.
Costume Concepts for Jodorowsky's Dune by Moebius

Reference Reality

I always take “there is nothing new under the sun” with a big grain of salt.
Because first there wasn’t Star Wars, and then there was.

However, it is true that everything references something.
And that reference probably referenced something else as well.

Star Wars as a movie might be referencing Samurai movies, but Costume Designer John Mollo was an expert in the field of military design, and those two elements pieced together in a fantasy setting, created something new that still feels very novel. 

Authentic designs are created when carefully chosen design-references meet intriguing worldbuilding.

You need to give your audience something to grip onto in order to understand your world visually. A medieval aesthetic signals a lack of technological advancement, and references to the 70’s Mod styles feel optimistic, modern and futuristic.

Understand these visual languages, and you’ll be able to immerse your audiences without drowning them in exposition. 

Science-Fiction film Blade Runner 1982, Directed by Ridley Scott. Harrison Ford as Deckard. Costume Design by Micheal Kaplan.
Harrison Ford on the set of Blade Runner (1982)

More on Worldbuilding

Want to continue exploring storytelling and worldbuilding?


World Building questions for Costume Designers to ask — Costume Design Storytelling for Science Fiction.

How The World Building Experts Create Balanced Magic Systems — What the most important elements?

First time World Building? — Welcome to Macro-Storytelling.


This printable workshop will help to set stories up for successful world building — Building Worlds Intro

This in-depth document covers all essential elements of worldbuilding and storytelling — Building Worlds Document

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