I admit to having several pet peeves that have the ability to shake me out of a good book. I’m sure we all do. One annoyance in particular, is when a character’s clothing is described, and I’m left scratching my head at either the characters horrible fashion sense or the author’s lack of research. So today we talk about character fashion! Those “Plain Janes” dressed like fashion models…errr? Billionaire moguls dressed in J-Crew…uh no. And doctors wearing open toed shoes in hospitals…ugh!
What is Character Fashion?
Character fashion is incorporated into the description of characters. When an author introduces a character, there is almost inevitably, a line or two dedicated to what the character is wearing. It is a good way to imply certain personality or character traits without taking a lot of time away from the story itself. A character that is tight on cash, may be described as being dressed in a clean suit, but with frayed seams. Whereas as a wealthy character could be described as a wearing a crisp, well tailored suit.
Research, Research, Research!
So why do fashion flubs bother me so much? Because a poorly done description of clothing can undo all of the hard work an author accomplished with character setup. One I see often, is doctors or scientists wearing open toed shoes in either a hospital or laboratory. As someone who has worked in both settings, I know that is a big no-no and a person in those settings choosing to wear said shoes, has automatically been deducted major IQ points. Just think, vomiting patients, and chemical spills…Ugh!
Is it necessary to be super specific when describing clothing or fashion sense? Nope. However, it is necessary to know the difference between a suit and a tuxedo. If a character is a police officer, take some time to learn the difference in uniform colors given to sheriffs versus police officers for the city or state the story takes place in. To some this may be minor, but it is enough to pull readers away from a story. And for all that is holy in this world, if you plan on making any character a soldier, please research the different branches of the army and learn what the different uniforms are associated with the them.
Also it’s always important to be cognizant of the time-frame a story has been placed in. I recently read a story that took place in New York City. It began in October, and at on-point there is a time transition of “two months later”, which takes you to December. Guess what? In this time frame there is a scene in Central Park where the hero is described as wearing shorts…I spent the entire length of the scene wondering if the man was going to drop to the ground from frostbite, because it was WINTER IN NEW YORK, and he was wearing butt hugging (apparently) shorts.
The same logic pertains to historical novels. The House of Chanel has been around since 1909, but the classic Chanel suit, wasn’t designed till 1920. Most people don’t know or care, but I can tell you that historical readers WILL notice.
Like I mentioned above, it’s not necessary to be super specific. I don’t need to know the make and style of a suit, but a little research really does go a long way. As a writer I tend to make Pinterest boards for my characters and include their sense of style in them as well. I also read fashion blogs and sites so that I know what is current.
So there you have it. Character fashion in a somewhat rambling nutshell. What are your thoughts? Readers, is this a pet peeve of yours as well? Writers, what techniques do you use for clothing/fashion description?
Laurel Cremant is an opinionated author and reader of romance with a wicked sense of humor. RNIC was smart (or crazy) to bring her on as a blogger. Come back on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month to get her romance industry news…with a colorful twist.