Style Tells A Story

Costume(morgueFile)

Don’t freak out. I’m not going to talk about fashion, except that which belongs in my book.

In this case, my reference to style means the clothing of my characters. While others may disagree, I believe clothing is a crucial element in any writing, but most especially genre writing.

Would you dress an undertaker in bright pastels and clown shoes? Unless you’re writing about an undertaker with an identity crisis or some kind of comedy, the answer is no.

Clothing needs to match the essence of the story, as well as the setting, dialogue, and character background.

For example, my MC starts out incredibly poor, so, of course, she’s clothed in ratty jeans and hole-y sweaters. Even when she’s plunged into a different world of fancy clothes followed by clothes required for boot camp, she maintains the persona of one who came from poverty. Just because the clothes change, doesn’t mean the person will.

While at boot camp, the kids have to wear a uniform every day that consists of pliable leathers and cotton – formed in ways to make it easy to move, run, jump, and hide when its required. They’re even given specially crafted boots. If you’re new to my blog or don’t remember, I’m a physical therapist. Therefore, I just had to give my characters well-fitting and tailored shoes. Our feet are probably one of the most important parts of our body concerning mobility and healthy movement, but we so often neglect them with crap shoes that don’t fit, all in the name of fashion. I couldn’t do that to my poor characters.

Let’s think of other books and the style that accompanies them.

Lord of the Rings, written by my all-time favorite author, consists of clothing and style consistent with ancient tales and epic stories. If Tolkien had had his characters wearing jeans and sweatshirts, his book would have gone nowhere.

The Lunar Chronicles, including the books Cinder, Cress, and Scarlet, have a large variety of styles, but it’s consistent with the futuristic premise. There are mechanical and geometrical aspects to their clothing that fits with the time. Again, if Marissa Meyer had put her characters in jeans and a sweatshirt, we’d have known right away they didn’t fit the futuristic setting.

This seems like such a basic concept, but it’s amazing to me how many authors miss the all-important clothing concern. Just a word here or there about clothing in a book is enough to get an idea of style. I’ve read dozens of books that had me shaking my head with their lack of continuity with era, setting, and class. The way a person dresses tells us so much about their personality and life perception, but it’s so often disregarded. That should never be the case. No matter the genre.

A little imagination and a bit of research, and all this could be avoided.

And not only should it be accurate, but it can convey emotion. The colors associated with fashion tell a story. Some people wear blue to stay calm. Others wear red to feel powerful and in passionate. Black renders formality and importance. Gray is somber and bland. Green makes us think of health and wealth. Brown is earthy and casual. Each color evokes emotion and, when paired with certain items of clothing, can convey a great deal. Be astute to what you use to tell your story.

What about you? When did you consider clothing or style when writing? When you started the story? Finished?

Clothing and colors count, people! Keep it real. Literally. ๐Ÿ™‚

Happy writing!

โ€œAs she always did on any really important day, Penelope Hayes wore red.โ€
โ€•ย Anna Godbersen,ย The Luxe

โ€œFashion is a language that creates itself in clothes to interpret reality.โ€
โ€•ย Karl Lagerfeld

โ€œWhat I really love about them… is the fact that they contain someone’s personal history…I find myself wondering about their lives. I can never look at a garment… without thinking about the woman who owned it. How old was she? Did she work? Was she married? Was she happy?… I look at these exquisite shoes, and I imagine the woman who owned them rising out of them or kissing someone…I look at a little hat like this, I lift up the veil, and I try to imagine the face beneath it… When you buy a piece of vintage clothing you’re not just buying the fabric and thread – you’re buying a piece of someone’s past.โ€
โ€•ย Isabel Wolff,ย A Vintage Affair

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8 thoughts on “Style Tells A Story

  1. Yes! I’m usually pretty careful about setting up the clothing up front, but I somehow managed to get absurdly far in the sequel to Demon’s Heart without even thinking about the clothing for a certain group of people. So now I’ve got to figure that out. Unless, you know, I decide to turn them into a nudist colony.

    Kidding, kidding!

    I like that you mentioned colors, too. The color thing can be overdone (like anything), but used subtly, clothing colors add a great element of depth to the story.

    • I agree. Colors are powerful, and when mentioned too often, can lead to persuade the reader into thinking something about a character’s character that shouldn’t be thought. Does that make a bit of sense?? ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I wanna see this undertaker with an identity crisis. That just made me want to read about it.
    Clothing, actually, is what created a character, go figure. I had a nebulous idea about a story I wanted to write, but it wasn’t until I was going through a Sundance catalog that suddenly I had the character and the clothes and style she wore. I totally agree that style of clothing has to match the story and the time period.
    This one of the things that has made the author Georgette Heyer so celebrated. She researched her regency era clothing for her books and made sure it was the style for the time. Research is crucial for that.
    Not having the right clothing would be like watching Downton Abbey in the sweatshirt and jeans, like you say. No one would watch it. And personally, I hate it when there isn’t a description of clothes or what style the character wears. I read a book on writing a novel, and one chapter was on dressing your characters and what they had in their closet. I have never gone back.
    But I still want to read about this undertaker…..

  3. I completely agree with this! I think fashion is a major part of world building. Look at the Legend series, I think Lu did such a great job highlighting the differences between characters with their clothing, as well as giving you a taste of what this new world is like. Half of my pinterest board for my book inspiration is clothes!
    And please open a custom shoe store that makes cute shoes good for your feet. My high arches can’t handle my need for adorable footwear much longer.

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