Friday, December 18, 2015

Outfitting Characters

Outfitting characters is kind of like playing with paper dolls, but with a lot more thought going into the selections.
Old-fashioned Paper Doll

I must admit I don’t give this a lot of thought initially, but as I learn more about my characters, how they dress does become important. Since most of the characters in my current series (Gulf Coast Rescue) are in the Coast Guard, they’re usually wearing flight suits. However, what they wear when out of uniform must match their personality—or contrast for a specific reason (and will usually make them uncomfortable in the process!)

A character’s clothing choice can be used to make him or her distinctive from other characters; it can hint at hidden personality traits, and deepen your characterization. Put serious thought into your choices. Why would this character make that choice? It matters because it conveys more information about that character.

So where do I go to begin outfitting my characters? My closet isn’t going to help me at all…

My Boring Wardrobe
Contemporary sources include print and online catalogs, Pinterest, Instagram, and stock photo sites. 

Sample Catalogs
If you’re writing a historical, you’ll need to get a little more creative in tracking down accurate images and descriptions of period dress. Internet searches, fashion books, images from museums (books and the Internet), and period catalogs can provide images as well as information on types of materials and colors that were popular in the time frame you are writing in.

Sample Books on Victorian Dress
My Steampunk characters are the most fun to “shop” for. I can combine elements from a specific time period (mine is 1885 London) with typical Steampunk elements (goggles, leather, brass, and bits and pieces of cogs and wheels) and pure imagination.
Simple Goggles

Goggles and Bowler
I would imagine the same applies to futuristic stories. You have more freedom, but it may take you longer to establish the look, colors, and materials used in your world.

What season does your story take place in? Will it span more than one? You’ll need to remember to include coats or jackets. And speaking of weather, you have to think about accessories like sunglasses, hats, gloves, scarves, and umbrellas. 

What about purses, backpacks, and briefcases? And don’t get me started on shoes (sorry, I really don’t get the shoe thing—now socks, that’s an obsession I can understand). Then there is jewelry—earrings, rings, necklaces, and watches (metal, rubber, or leather bands? Does it glow in the dark or have a different colored face?)

Which Style Would Your Character Wear?

Does all this really matter? It depends on your character, the kind of story you are writing, and reader expectations. If I wrote a Regency historical romance, the clothes not only need to be described in detail, they must be accurate because that’s part of the reader’s enjoyment in reading that genre. 

So, as a reader, do you notice how characters are dressed? Does it matter to you?

7 comments:

Anne Marie Becker said...

Interesting topic! I've never been one to be interested in fashion. (At 6'2", it's hard to find things that fit me anyway!) I struggle when it comes to dressing my characters, and probably do more research there than on police procedures and whatnot. LOL

Sharon Calvin said...

I agree with the lack of personal interest, but I'm afraid some of my characters insist!

Marcelle Dubé said...

Interesting post, Sharon. I never really notice what a character is wearing--unless it clashes with the image the writer has planted in my head. Then it jars me out of the story. So, yes, clothing and accessories are vitally important to the story.

But man, I hate having to come up with them.

Rita said...

It matters to me!I have no problem with a lack of wardrobe description. I do love it when it’s woven into the story. It can be such a part of the character it’s necessary to explain what they are wearing for that day. I like it when a female operative has to go out and buy a dress for a job because she doesn’t own one. Or is stunned when she sees the price tag on undies and shoes.
It’s when it just wrong for the character or the ‘experienced’ female special agent to go interview a witness in the everglades wearing Louboutins and a Versace suit. Or the female CIA operative in the jungle has Victoria’s Secret undies. Male authors can be nuts sometimes.
Clothing can also a useful prop to show a character arc.
Great post Sharon. Thanks for the reminder.

jean harrington said...

I loved this post, Sharon. You struck on a little remarked about, but very important part of creating character. Of course, clothes are important. Funny, in my current WIP, I use my protag's lack of dressing skill as a clue that while she's clueless about being a sharp dresser, her awareness of that lack is a glimpse into how sharp she is in every other way.

Sandy Parks said...

Great topic and one I actually think about. Sometimes a character doesn't plan on ending up in a situation, so isn't dressed properly. That can be fun or deadly. Great topic for a blog.

Mia Kay said...

Sharon - what a great post! I probably spend way too much time thinking about how my characters dress, even if it never makes it on the page. That visual helps with actions, movement, tension, attraction ... And I have to ask - have you seen Polyvore.com? It's like virtual paper dolls.

~Mia