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.
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.
|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?