Fashion Police

Two Italian Policemen looking smart in their light blue shirts and white leather bags (with matching belts and constable-looking hats)

"Fashion Police" Photo by brianburk9 CC 3.0

Flavorwire runs down Literature’s 10 Best-Dressed Characters.

In addition to not describing how my characters look, I rarely mention what they wear. I haven’t scoured every page of Julia, but I think I mention that she wears a black dress to a memorial service…and that’s about it. Her sister wears PJs for a while, a neighbor wears a denim vest, and a mystery man wears an old, thinning shirt.

I just went on and on about how dialect and accent can tell the reader so much about a character. As they say, clothes make the man, so I wonder why I don’t bother with it.

OK, that’s not entirely true. Julia’s sister wears PJs all day because she’s depressed and doesn’t leave her room much, let alone the house. The neighbor’s denim jacket elicits a snarky comment from Julia, revealing that she’s not in Kansas anymore…or rather, she is back in the country. The mystery man’s thinning shirt is from a by-gone era, showing that he doesn’t have many occasions to dress up. And the black dress, well, that’s pretty conventional for memorials.

But the amount of time I spend on clothing my characters is minimal…just enough to get them through that specific scene and to get my point across. For all my descriptions of them, my characters could be running around the rest of the book naked. Although, I’m hoping my reader clothes them for me.

How much do you like reading about clothing? Does it enhance your experience? Do you even notice?


5 thoughts on “Fashion Police

  1. Jackie

    Interesting post, Cam! I love reading about clothing, but I think it can be overdone. If what you’re doing works for you, I see no need to change it. You’ve mentioned just enough establishing details to help readers understand your characters. Especially given the topic of your novel, I’m not sure clothing is all that important unless it’s out of the ordinary. Of course, if you were writing about a model’s first runway show in Milan, I would expect more on that front! But I don’t think clothing descriptions are absolutely necessary.

    • Note to self: in the rewrites, make sure NOT to turn Julia into a model! 😉

      I’m pretty comfortable with how much I am (not) writing about clothing. I just thought it was curious that I tend to ignore it.

  2. Joy

    Do you ever read Sophie Kinsella? I love her, but her books might be a bit too “fluffy” for you (I like them for a little light reading… serves the same purpose for me as a “chick flick” serves for others).

    She often spends a lot of time talking about the clothes her characters wear, especially in the Shopaholic books… but, she is very into fashion, and so that bubbles over into most of her characters. I imagine her characters choose and describe clothing much the same way Sophie chooses and describes clothing, and to her MAIN characters, what they’re wearing matters to them, and what other people are wearing matters to them, so it makes sense that they would talk about it.

    Otherwise though… nah, if I have a pretty good idea of the character otherwise, I clothe them in my own imagination. I don’t mind a little clothing description if it helps to set the scene or explain a character, but aside from that I don’t need a ton of description. Honestly, multiple pages of clothing description tends to get on my nerves. With the exception of Kinsella’s books. 😉

    • I did read “Confessions.” It was a fun read. One of my co-workers pressed the second Shopaholic book on me but I didn’t really enjoy that one.

      I don’t remember the clothes so much in that book, but I do remember the grey and blue scarf!

  3. bethfinke

    Agree with Joy,if I have a pretty good idea of the character I don’t need to know what they’re wearing. Some good exceptions: just finished “Her Fearful Symmetry” and the author often gives details of the identical clothing the 20-year-old twins wear, helps give readers the notion that they are childish. Later in the book the twins start wearing different clothing, a clue that things are changing.
    Also in “Plain Song” by Kent Haruf (might be totally off on both the first and last name there, sorry!) I recall one character always carrying a red purse, in his writing it somehow worked, identifying that character with a red purse all the time.
    So like Joy said above, if it helps to set the scene or explain a character, then yes, clothe your characters! But aside from that I don’t need a ton of fashion description.

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