In any story, characters are probably the most important aspect. But just how important are the clothes they wear? The answer is simple: extremely important. Most authors don’t realize just how important fashion is in fiction. So today, I’m going to be talking about just that: character fashion, its importance in stories, and some tips and tricks to choosing fashion for your novel.
Understand that clothing reflects a character
Kahlil Gibran (third best-selling poet in the world) once said, “Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.”
In a sense, clothing is so much deeper than just the fabric we drape over us. It reflects us in both the good and the back whether or not we realize it. In order to create truly unique characters, we must dress them appropriately to reflect who they are as a person.
A highly methodical, idealist would not wear frumpy clothing just as much as a five-year-old boy who sought adventure would find himself ever so confined if he was forced into a prim suit. Whether your character is a knight, a samurai, or a modern teen, their clothing reflects who they are to the deepest level, which they themselves probably don’t even notice.
Do not have all the characters dress alike (unless they’re clones). Even if your book in set in Victorian Era England in the household of a wealthy lord, detailed fashion choices and varieties can help the reader differentiate characters. For example, one man might have a rumpled suit two years out of fashion, whereas another man might only wear red and keep himself immaculately clean.
This goes back to my previous point about understanding that clothing reflects a character. But let’s say you have two characters who are very similar in personality and even fashion choice. But think of how even similar people in the real world have little differences when you get to know them. Understand the depth of human choice when it comes to clothing—what they can afford, what they are influenced to wear, what they are forced to wear by people in authority (like at a uniformed school or by their parents).
This goes without saying, especially if you are setting your story in a foreign or historical place. If your story is set in Africa, research traditional clothing as well as modern clothing. Thanks to the amazing resource of the web, research is so accessible. You don’t have to go to the library and rummage through old books. You just use Google.
Look at photography of real people to get inspirations. Read other books set in a similar setting to see how other authors described the fashion you will be researching.
If your story is set in the modern age, research is even simpler. Just look around. Look at what other people wear. Some people like black, some people wear only designer clothing, and some people think it’s appropriate to go around naked with little kids in sight—what is our world coming to.
So, you’ve got the clothing, but don’t forget the importance of accessorizing your character’s fashion. What kind of hats, shoes, purses, etc. would they wear? Do they have a watch or pocket-watch? Do they have their Iphone in their hand at all times? Do they hate certain colors? Do they only wear high heels? Or converse? Do they have a lucky charm they cannot leave home without? Do they have earrings?
Whereas clothing may be simple—jeans and a T-shirt—accessorizing can make the character stand out.
Think like Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes could take one look at a person and know them just by them clothes, accessories, mannerisms, and personal hygiene. You are the opposite of Sherlock Holmes, instead of deciphering a person, you are creating one. Everything makes a difference, even small things.
Just remember, unlike Sherlock Holmes, most readers won’t pick up on the little details that tell the life story of your character. But even if only ten percent of readers pick up a hint consciously, it’s important to understand they most readers pick of details about clothing and accessories subconsciously. Many books that you would say are amazing are sometimes difficult to describe why they are amazing.
Your job as a writer is to understand the importance of including details that subconsciously make the story ten times better.
What are your best tips to dressing your characters? Did I miss anything? Let me know down in the comments and, as always,
Best wishes on your life filled with adventure,