“Less is more,” is a common aphorism you hear about fashion. While it’s not always true, in Breath of the Wild, the simplest outfits are the most stylish.
My favorite outfits in Breath of the Wild aren’t the “coolest” ones. That trophy can handily be given to the Guardian Armor, with its glowing Tron lines. Sure, it’s “cool,” but what does it say about the wearer other than, “We made a cool robot that shoots lasers and boy howdy did we think you’d wanna dress like one”?
The outfits I really like from this game are the ones that tell me their purpose while also looking like wearable clothes. They communicate who the wearer is, why they’re here, and what they intend to do. I’m not going to pretend that “wearable clothes,” are the final goal of fashion, but I do like it when games take things that are fantastical and make them practical. The following outfits do just that.
It’s easy to confuse “classic” for “boring.” Even though this outfit is a fairly simple spin on high fantasy adventuring gear, it’s actually got a lot going on. It’s a red tunic over chainmail, with a leather belt, gloves, boots and pauldron. If you’ve ever made a melee focused character in Dungeons and Dragons, you probably imagined them wearing this. But the devil is in the details.
The outfit is packed with little details, but not so much that it feels over designed. The triangles lining the hem of Link’s tunic and gloves evoke the Triforce without literally being the Triforce. The leather pauldron creates diagonal motion through his top.
The Hylian outfit breaks up Link’s body into sturdy shapes without call attention to itself—without the pauldron, Link is essentially a rectangle on top of two slimmer rectangles. By making him into a couple of smaller, asymmetrical triangles, he looks less blocky and more active. As your eyes trace across the multiple belts and straps, you feel like he’s already in motion.
The outfit is also rendered in muted tones—red, green and blue make up the major colors. These tones are also used to create movement and flow. The green sash around his waist creates further definition in Link’s body, and his flowing blue hood sways in the breeze. Fashion is about playing with the body, transforming it through shapes, colors and materials. The Hylian outfit uses those things to create a sense of agility, sturdiness, and especially forward motion.
Kakariko Village, where the Sheikah live, looks inspired by Edo period Japanese villages. The Sheikah themselves seem to be based off of fantastical ideas that people had about ninja during that period, when art and literature about them gave them superhuman abilities. It follows then that the outfit on offer there is a ninja outfit by way of Zelda.
The mythology of the ninja is so codified that it’s sometimes hard to balance these kinds of outfits. If you go too traditional, they come off as boring. If you go too far outside the lines, they look out of place for sneaking and stealth.
The Sheikah outfit in Breath of the Wild finds a good middle ground. The outfit is very similar to what Zelda wore in Ocarina of Time, except in tones of midnight blue and periwinkle instead of blue and white. This slight color change means that Link’s body still gets some definition while being wrapped up in dark tones. The difference between midnight blue and periwinkle is still noticeable, but it isn’t distracting.
My favorite bit is the head piece, which changes Link’s hair into a topknot. Again, this incredibly minor change invokes a particular tone for the outfit. The chopsticks in Link’s hair get his luscious blond locks out of the way, making it easier for him to sneak around. By putting a mask over his face, all you see are Link’s expressive eyes. This shock of blond hair and blue eyes draws attention to the top of Link’s head, making him look longer and slimmer. It gives the outfit a sense of cohesion. Once all the pieces are together, the lines of Link’s body are all tall and lean, like he’s ready to disappear into the shadows.
Let’s just get this out of the way: he looks like David Foster Wallace in that bandana. That’s not necessarily good or bad, but it is noticeable.
Otherwise, the climbing outfit, which you find in shrines across the map, is a good enough approximation of what climbers wear, but with a Breath of the Wild twist. There are denim pants rolled up to the knee, a t-shirt and a bandana, all adorned with symbols and images from the rest of the game. His pale blue t-shirt is the same blue as the Champion’s Tunic, and the design on the front looks like an abstracted version of the Hylian arms from this game.
Link also also wears a pretty modern-looking climbing harness—those are the straps around his legs. His Sheikah Slate is even attached with a carabiner! While these touches are modern, they don’t feel out of place. If the ancient Sheikahs invented robots that shoot lasers, carabiners probably aren’t out of their wheelhouse.
Part of the reason why this outfit works is because it doesn’t try too hard to emulate the high fantasy world that Link inhabits. In fact, you could probably find a dude wearing exactly this on any liberal arts college campus in the United States. The signifiers here—the carabiner, the rolled up pants, the loosely tucked t-shirt—all say to our modern eyes that this dude is out here to climb, and only climb. It’s a look that satisfies a particular action. (This look also says that Link is totally down to smoke under this tree and talk about Nietzsche, but that’s not something you can do in Breath of the Wild.)
Fashion is all about transformation. Even the simple details of an outfit can communicate an entire mood. Whether you’re on a long trek to save a kingdom, slinking around enemy bases, or climbing every mountain just because you can, there’s an outfit that’ll show people who you are and what you’re all about. You don’t have to sacrifice cuteness or practicality if you want to get the job done—in fact, sometimes dressing for the occasion is the most stylish thing you can do.