Elves and Eldar are popular cultures in many a fantasy world—be it in novels, movies, videogames, or LARPing.

Even though the appearances of elves and Eldars visually differ in their respective universes, most elvish cultures share certain distinct, common characteristics. These include the typical pointy ears (‘elf ears’), a slender figure, and usually—notwithstanding the long scalp hair—the absence of body hair. Furthermore, elves are presumed to be long-lived, wise, elegant, and yet bellicose, making them one of the most intriguing fantasy cultures.

The elvish people’s clothing expresses the artisanal elegance of such a magnificent culture through stylistic elements that are often very similar: long raiment, often with leaf-shaped or tapered hemlines, playful, multilayered coats or tunics, as well as filigree adornments and accessories.

Elves and Eldar—what’s the difference?

Distinguishing elves and Eldar visually is not always that simple. Both words may well have the same origin, but the term ‘Eldar’ marks a particular style within the overarching ‘elvish culture’ theme.

Old sagas and mythologically inspired tales usually describe elves as hand-sized creatures possessing a delicate, fairy-like stature, often even with dragonfly wings and colorful skin. In the most renowned pen-and-paper role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, however, elves almost resemble humans, even though they are supposed to be somewhat smaller and much more slender. The lore of other fictitious worlds, however, describes them as taller than humans and, once again, more delicate. Sometimes they have long ears, sometimes short, and a number of elvish cultures are even depicted with extravagant skin color, such as purple or green. It seems that mythology and modern fantasy alike visualize elves in varying shapes and sizes.

Eldar, on the other hand, are exclusive to the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and the visually distinct The Lord of the Rings movies directed by Peter Jackson. In these, Eldar are tall, slender, and, except for one instance, always beardless. The movie costumes combine a unique mix of jugendstil, art nouveau, and flowy, antique raiment in harmonizing colors. Therefore, the term ‘Eldar’ should be reserved for concepts based upon the background of Middle Earth.

What makes a great elvish costume?

Since elves and Eldar are cultures whose depiction is supposed to appear “superhuman,” a costume for either should look unique and alien. Unusual cuts and exquisite accessories, along with filigree adornments, are popular elements. Harmonizing color combinations attest to a fine sense of style and elegance, but clashing contrasts such as blue-silver or red-gold highlight the majesty of any elvish culture just as nicely. Tapered hemlines and flowing lines within a costume elongate the wearer’s silhouette in order to create a taller, more slender appearance—with quite a striking effect on the beholder! Belts or bodices, ideally Y-shaped and worn on the waist, help to visually lengthen the legs. When you combine these with long, loose hair—or a wig—and the typical elf ears, you’ll set yourself apart from the human characters. The flowing hair works nicely with similarly flowing coats and delicate tiaras, while pearls and gemstones, embroidery made from fine silk yarn, or graceful leather appliqués complete and define the distinct elvish style.

Well coordinated individual pieces are key to a coherent depiction—because a costume for elves or Eldar is felicitous only when the wearer is recognizable as an elf even without wearing pointy ears.