Every now and again I end up writing a Reddit post that can pretty much be used as a blog post as-is. Today is one of those days. This particular post was written in response to someone asking what the best way to encourage PCs to wear normal clothes around town was. The question is wrong. There’s typically no need to encourage PCs to wear normal clothes around town to begin with.
I have an army jacket with lots of pockets that I wear basically all the time. It contains all of the stuff I want to have on me wherever I go, which means it’s never far from me even when it is, for example, the middle of July. I am semi-regularly asked if I’m hot in it, and I don’t care, because I want my stuff close at hand. My jacket is obviously much lighter than any armor except maybe padded, but I’m also not any kind of trained soldier (the jacket comes from my uncle, who was in the army – I am not).
Going to the bazaar in your hauberk will be significantly less tiring than walking across the wilderness with it. Wearing armor around town is very rarely going to make people assume that you’re personally going to murder someone right that minute. Wear a bulletproof vest around town and strike up conversations with random strangers, see how many of them react with open antagonism or flee in terror. You’ll definitely get asked why you’re wearing it, but unless your answer is something like “because I am going to go and murder someone in this city right now” the vast majority of people will be, at worst, slightly nervous about it. If you do end up getting the police called on you, it’ll be by the same kind of busybody who calls the police when they overhear a horror movie in their neighbor’s house. In Texas, you can legit walk around with a literal assault rifle and it’s taken as about as extreme a political statement as a particularly angry t-shirt. Bear in mind, Texas is not a society where you can have open street warfare with the Capulets three times before the government takes action, and even then it’s just promising that next time heads will roll. The first time that happens, everyone involved is going to jail. Texas as a society is significantly less tolerant of violence than fair Verona where we lay our scene, but you can still carry military grade small arms around and it’s fine. Peace ties were invented by Renaissance fairs to meet modern health and safety codes, actual medieval warriors didn’t use them.
Fancy suits giving some kind of social bonus is reasonable. Heavy armor granting a very small social penalty could even be reasonable. No one is going to hate you because you’re wearing war gear during peace time, but they might be nervous or suspicious of you, and if you’re gruff and stand-offish as a person (i.e. your Charisma was bad even before you stacked a penalty on it) that could be a problem. It’s not going to be really respectable, though. It would be super weird to go to a noble ball or other high class event dressed like that. A sultan actually did refuse to hear out a Mongol diplomat’s trade offer because he was dressed for travel and skirmishing during the audience (and subsequently the Mongols conquered and razed the sultanate). It makes perfect sense for player characters to get dressed up for special occasions. When they’re just walking around town, though? Sure, it’s weird that their day clothes are body armor and a murder weapon, but that’s because it’s weird that their day job is in fact murder. It makes perfect sense that, unless they’re staying for several days, an adventurer would not bother to change out of their armor in town. They come into town from dangerous wilderness wearing armor, don’t bother to take it off until they go to sleep that night, and since they’re leaving the next day, they put the armor back on when they get up so they won’t have to do it in the middle of the street right before leaving through the gate. It’s only slightly unusual if an adventurer is paranoid enough to armor up in the morning even if they don’t plan on leaving the safety of the city for the entire day, and adventurers tend to be really weird in the first place (think about the kind of person who decides that breaking into dungeons to kill their heavily armed inhabitants and take their stuff is a good career).