Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dressing your characters

I find myself glossing over what my characters are wearing in scenes. There's an opportunity to give away subtle secrets about your characters here. You can let your readers know, not only what your characters are wearing, but how they are wearing them. A person can wear a pair of jeans, but are the jeans worn smartly, really, does anyone know what that term means--really. Perhaps, wealth, pride, good taste, gives a rip.

Or the jeans might have holes in the knees, think Allen Jackson. Also think sloppy, trendy, laid back.

There are some crime novels where the main character wears nothing but name brand, Italian, three-thousand dollar suits and yummy silk ties. Where their fellow detective are rumpled in their, off-the-rack from Sears, ill-fitting suits and wrinkled ties with red sauce stains.

That brings up ties. Are they red power ties, brightly colored ties that match the pocket scarf? Or are they, like above, wrinkled and spotted.

Shoes? Well, it's not something I'd mention unless the detective with the expensive, name-brand shoes will soon be walking through muck. If he thinks about his ruined shoes, or complains about entering, said muck, due to his shoes, that suggests a bit about his personality.

Women are fun to dress, well, smart professional suits, or just slacks and a button-down shirt. Seductive, or stiff, fancy dresses that plunge at the neckline and come up short in the hem. I'm thinking, racy, or slutty. What fun, yet how hard if you're not schooled in popular fashion trends yourself.

Don't forget accessories, for men as well as women. You can't miss with the man who wears an earring, a fist full of diamond rings and flashy bracelets, pimps or mobsters come to mind. The Rolex screams wealth, or thief.

For a woman, she either wears god-awful pendants, or hearts on delicate gold chains. Wears sneakers, or stelletos. And don't forget about piercings. Those speaks volumes about your character's, well, character.

Here's a list I got from Writing4Success Tipsheet, Tipsheet No. 145 March 2009 where you'll find another perspective and more ideas, and a pretty good source of information.

Some suggestions for lists:
Designers/Brands/Bargain Stores. (See below.)
  1. Clothing Catalogues from companies that specialize in hiking/camping/fishing/extreme sports/everyday sports/outdoor activities.

  2. Colours. (Be creative about the way you describe colours. Think like an artist: be accurate. Take a tip from the copywriters who look for ways to invoke a colour in the reader's mind. For example, not 'orange' - but 'pumpkin'. Not 'warm brown', but 'copper'. Not 'red', but 'ruby, or 'crimson', or 'scarlet'. Not 'blue', but 'cerulean'. You can come up with creative descriptions by relating colour to food: 'At first he thought her shirt was black, but then he saw it had a purple tint, like an eggplant'.)

  3. Fabrics. (To know what different fabrics are called, look for ads from craft stores/fabric stores. Note how clothes are described in catalogues. Look for reviews of fashion shows - how do they describe what the designers came up with?)

  4. Shoes. (So many of them! Joggers, sandals, flip-flops or thongs (depending on which country you're from), stilettos, polished leather shoes, loafers, boat shoes... again, look for catalogues from different stores.)

  5. Cut and style. (Do clothes flow, pull tightly, or stretch? Do they fit your character or not? Are they comfortable - or will your character wear anything to be fashionable or accepted, whether they feel comfortable or not?)

For a good resource, if you, like me, are a little short in the fashion sense, go here. Shop a World of Catalogs You'll also find catalogs for home decor as well as almost anything else your characters might need.

I hope this gives someone out there some help. I've learned a lot just talking about it, as usual. I never mean to come off as an expert. A lot of times, I'm writing about subjects that I need help with and I find writing about it and doing some research on subject, helps me as well.


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  1. I love this post!
    I adore picking out my character's outfits and style! It's one of my favorite parts! --and ur right about what they're wearing revealing who they are-it can even reveal their different moods!

  2. Great Post! Describing my characters' outfits is my least favourite part, but I will certainly consider this post for the future.

    Thank you,

  3. Interesting post. I had not considered how much information could be gleaned from a characters wardrobe.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great tips. My novel is in the Victorian era and yesterday I found a catalogue online for clothes in that time period!
    I know what I want to say about the character's clothing, but it is getting it down that is the hard bit for me. Thanks for the links, very useful.

  5. This is really something to think about - some of my characters I do dress, but others, they are in my minds eye rather than the readers - which is not much good. So thanks, a post and a site I'll be coming back to.

  6. Interesting post, considering that just yesterday I was doing a character sketch of a girl and in my mind she redesigned clothes from the 70s she found in her local thrift store.

    I just had no idea what the essence of it was. And then, on a whim, I googled a few phrases from my own writing, including "folk"

    Come to find out, Boho (for bohemian) is HUGE right now...and the images of the fashion styles I found were spot-on perfect for my character...

  7. I tend to do the same thing! I guess you want to define your character a little more!

  8. Nice post. I should really think about this. I hate dressing my characters! Why can't they just grow up and do it themselves? ;)

    Lynnette Labelle

  9. Great post. Love the association with food and color. Your tips make make color's come alive.