Dressing the Part




No, that is not my closet. I wish. It appeals to my anal-retentive, minor OCDish nature, but alas, it does not belong to me.

However, on the subject of clothes…

It occurred to me today as I was shopping for some shoes to wear for a wedding I’m standing up in next weekend, how much we may or may not focus on clothing and costuming as writers.

Recently, I’ve read many books that include a fair amount of clothing descriptions in the prose. Some of them were justly warranted, as the outfits were far beyond the norm. But, as a reader, these are parts that I tend to skip over. The parts where my eyes glaze with boredom and I read ahead to get back to the juicy stuff.

Personally, I think clothing descriptions should be kept to a minimum. Include a few here and there to keep us aware of the tastes of the character, but do we need a reminder every time they change clothes? No.

In my MG fantasy series, clothing is only mentioned when there is an aberration to the norm. And there are quite a few aberrations, but I only mention them when they’re introduced. I rarely return to them unless it requires it for the sake of the plot. And only if another major costume change is occurring. Otherwise, I leave them well enough alone.

For my own stories, I was inspired to a great degree by this lovely bit of man-flesh:


And yes, I was the typical teenage girl squealing over Orlando Bloom when the LOTR movies came out. I spent a few of my high school/early college years on the Orlando Bloom bandwagon. But I digress.

Many of the outfits in my MG fantasy world are similar to this, but with their own artistic and creative flair. The costume designers of the LOTR movies did a tremendous job, and they inspired me a great deal. I love old fashioned clothes. If I could wear clothing from the Victorian Era, or even what some of the lady elves wear in LOTR everyday, I’d be a much happier person.

Of course, then I’d probably be living in the psychiatry ward.

Maybe the inclusion of clothing and fashion depends on the genre one writes in? I can see it being more important in character-driven novels when we’re embedded in the protagonist’s mind, and they’re embedded in themselves. Or maybe in romance novels, where people seem unable to keep their clothes ON. And especially in historical fiction, since it is not what we’re used to, I can see more clothing descriptions so that we can become immersed in the era.

So, what is your opinion? Do you see too much or too little of clothing, costume, makeup, hairstyle descriptions in what you’ve read?  How do we balance what is necessary for the story and what’s just fluff that can be chucked into the garbage?

Happy writing!


“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'”
“The mood will pass, sir.”
― P.G. WodehouseThe Code of the Woosters

“People seem always actually to know, with a degree of pain that has required the comfort of fairy tales, that when you are dressed in any particular way at all, you are revealed rather than hidden.”
― Anne HollanderSeeing Through Clothes




10 thoughts on “Dressing the Part

  1. I find detailed clothing descriptions as a reader distracting. Give me some important details and move on. Allow the reader to use their imagination. As a writer, while I often have a detailed picture in my mind, I try to give a limited description, leading the reader to imagine what I hope they will see. Writers who fail to allow readers to use their imagination in my opinion are telling the reader they are incapable of imagining on their own. It’s demeaning.

    • Thank you! I’m so glad someone agrees! I think that falling back on descriptions of clothing and the physical details of their person is just lazy writing. It says that the writer can’t imagine or think of anything else to fill the space, or they don’t know their own characters very well. I love your take on it being demeaning. I never would have thought of that, but you’re absolutely right! I think people have a tendency to underestimate the reader and give them way too many details when they should be moving the plot along. Great thoughts.

  2. I was on the same band wagon with you! And I think you are right, unless it’s something abnormal I don’t see why it has to be brought up outside of the first introductions. When I read things that constantly talk about it I get bored and also annoyed, I think it can really take away from the writing. In my dystopian everyone wears basically the same thing so I talked about it in the beginning when I was trying to set the scene and I think I’ll only bring up when they wear something else since that will then be the abnormal (or abbey normal as I think in my head every time I write that).

    • HaHa! I’m glad I wasn’t the only Orlando Bloom fan. 🙂

      I’m in complete agreement with you. Your dystopian story sounds cool with the uniformity of dress. I’m already thinking up a million scenarios as to why they dress the same. I can’t to read it when it comes out!

      And Abbey Normal??? I love that!!! I now want to write about a character whose name is Abby Normal. Or some variation. But I won’t. 🙂

  3. First of all, I want that closet.

    About character clothing. In my first novel (womens’ commercial fiction), I gave lots of brief descriptions of the main character’s clothes. It was one of the things my crit partner liked the most about the story. When I edited out a few outfits, she noticed. But on the YA novel I just finished, she felt the clothing descriptions were too distracting. So maybe it depends on the book and the character?

    • I know! Isn’t that closet amazing?

      I suppose for women’s fiction it would make sense to include some fashion consciousness. You’re right that it’s subjective based on genre and character, I just personally get distracted by too much attention to clothing.

      And what a critique partner you have! I’m so envious! She noticed an outfit that was missing? That’s talent, right there.

      • She is awesome. She knows exactly what I’m going for and what’s missing. Actually, she’s not a partner because she doesn’t write. She just reads, but I don’t know what else to call her 😉 If I ever get a book published she’ll be at the top of the acknowledgement page.

      • That’s great! I had a family friend read my MG fantasy. She doesn’t read those kind of books, but she was a teacher and I wanted a teacher’s opinion. Sometimes I find that people outside of the genre give the best advice. I think they can be more objective. It was a great learning experience!

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