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Describing Clothes

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Xitra_Blud, Jan 2, 2014.

  1. Xitra_Blud

    Xitra_Blud Sage

    Do you guys describe the clothes that each or any of your characters are wearing? Do you think it's important to?
  2. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

    Yes. Sometimes I go into detail about what kind of fabric they're made out of too, if I feel it gives pseudo-historical accuracy to the world building. I've sewn some stuff, but I've explored the fabric selection at the store often enough to get a good idea of what is stiff vs. fluid, what rips easily, what would be easily repaired vs. not, etc.

    I think about climate first, then functionality/occupation, then social status, then man/woman/child. I find that clothing is a good indicator of so much information, that not describing it means if you want a lushly detailed world you have to spend that time elsewhere. (And I want to read more about clothing than I do about how much snow they get in a winter.)
  3. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I'm a costumer by trade and LOVE clothing more than is probably healthy... and MY answer is "no".

    This thread has been discussed many times. You might consider searching it and seeing what has been said before, because they were pretty good advice.

    If the clothing is important to the scene, I do describe it. Say, a character is dressed in evening attire... well they aren't wearing their normal get-up. So I describe it, vaguely. "He moved closer until his thigh pressed into her voluminous skirt..." "Looking dashing in his dark doublet and perfectly tied cravat, with his hair slicked back..."

    For me, that brief description is enough. it paints an image of the rest of what a character is wearing.

    On that same note, sometimes hinting at clothing is better. It allows the reader to determine what THEY want to see. For instance, I had a scene where a character was convalescing from an injury. I mentioned she wore an over-sized linen shirt and men's knickers. It doesn't matter to me how the reader pictures those clothes, whether they see knickers as long pants, buttoning at the knee, or boxer shorts. The point was only to get across that she was in her underwear, healing.

    Sometimes I do explore clothing. In one chapter in my WiP, my MC receives a visit from her mother-in-law and a tailor. They strip her down, measure her, fit gowns all day and eventually pick four beautiful dresses. For a character who never had a first-hand dress in her life, it's a pretty important experience. That's why I showed it.

    So, just determining how much impace is made by said clothing is a good place to start. Like, if you met somoene and they were dressed plainly, or like you, how much would you notice? Now if you went to the supermarket and saw someone dressed very differently... you'd notice more. It's just human nature. Remember to keep it true to your POV and it'll work out best.
    Ruby, PaulineMRoss, JRFLynn and 2 others like this.
  4. Generally I try to give a basic description (otherwise as a reader I often wonder, as I'm putting together an image of them). I do try to keep it relevant though, both to what the reader should notice and what the protagonist would notice. I do kind of enjoy clothing descriptions to an extent though, I think they can say a lot about the character and their society. Sometimes I'll just write something like "the young man was dressed in rough worker's clothes", and leave it at that. Other times I'll write "he was dressed flamboyantly in a patterned cloak of brown and gold, over a dark orange robe". Go with what you feel fits the character, though if I read your book without ever learning what the characters were wearing I'd be scratching my head a bit.
  5. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    I treat clothing just like I treat physical descriptions - I'll briefly describe clothing if it functions to say something about the character, but if it doesn't I won't bother. For example, one of our FMC's wears old-fashioned dresses and cardigan sweaters and only owns one pair of jeans for working in the garden on muddy days. Her mother disappeared when she was small and her father abandoned her to his own emotional issues, so she was raised by elderly relatives and vampires - her sense of fashion is a little out of sync.
  6. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

    Tell me what the clothing says about the character... not so much the details of dress.
    If you describe the clothing in detail, chances are, I might not think of that style in the same way as you (or the people in the story)

    If a certain piece of clothing will be mentioned later on the story though, or its color etc. ... make sure to note that detail early on. (This is the same advice as for physical description... if you are going to metion her green eyes at the end of the story, make sure my mental image of her had green eyes from the start, or I'll be confused.)
  7. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Agree with these points, always filter the amount of detail that gets in by how much it affects the scene.

    Still, there's almost always room for a basic sense of clothes to be relevant: unlike face and size and so on, clothes are something the MC's chosen to wear that day (or if not, there'll be a reason his options were limited), and they're liable to have some effect on how well things go for him. So it's easy to make at least a basic nod to what he's wearing in the form of "Of all the days to try out my new suit" and/or "Good thing I'm blending in." Cause and effect can be all you need to work something into things.
  8. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    Take a look at the works of some of the authors you enjoy. Note how much they do/don't describe, the amount of detail used and when. In the context, see why it works and then apply what you learned to your own story and writing style.
  9. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    I like descriptions of clothes. Especially if it can be kept to a few key details because, let's face it, to at least some extent the clothes DO make the man. We tend to dress in ways that reflect our personalities. We often have articles, such as jewelry or favorite pieces of attire, that are special and meaningful to us. And signature details in appearance can help make a character memorable.

    For instance, once many years ago I remembering reading a fantasy forum RP with one character in particular that stuck out to me as interesting. I don't remember much about him except that he went by the name Wandering and he wore a blue cloak all the time. All these years later I can't remember anything about the story, but I remember Wandering and his blue cloak.
    Aidan of the tavern likes this.
  10. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    For me, at least brief mentions of clothing can help create an image of the cultures populating my world. For example, if I were to describe one character as having a colorful kente robe, that would suggest a West African basis for his culture. Likewise a linen loincloth connotes ancient Egypt or Nubia, a kanga connotes the Rift Valley Lakes region, and so on. If my character on the other hand is wearing animal hides, that would suggest a prehistoric cultural background.
    Guru Coyote likes this.
  11. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

    The key being "key elements of clothing."
  12. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Would you say that it matters when in the story the character/clothing is introduced?

    Early on you're still introducing the setting, and the way characters are dressed is part of this. Later on the reader will have formed their image of the setting and it's not as important to describe the clothes in detail. The word "dress" carries a lot more information at the end of the story than it does at the beginning.

    ...at least I hope so.
    I noticed when I read through my WIP that I'm describing the appearance of a plot-irrelevant side-character in a lot more detail than anyone else that's appeared in the story - before or after. I don't know why I did it like that when I wrote it. It felt right at the time.
    Later, when I discovered it I decided I'd change it in the second draft so the character's description doesn't take up an unfair amount of space. After all, I reasoned, they're just a minor character and it's not important how they're dressed.
    Since then I've changed my mind again. The character appears at a time when the MC has a change of scenery and I feel the description of character supports the introduction of the new surroundings. The described character is the first local they meet and describing them gives the reader a first impression of the people in the area.
  13. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

    Right, clothing can be important for the setting. And I agree that more detail might be good early on.
    Later in the story - setting and characters established - what matters is what is *different*. So detail is important if it sets things apart.
  14. MVV

    MVV Scribe

    I don't really like it. When it's important for the story or for the atmosphere, then come on and describe it. But why to bother the reader with all the details like what material is this or that made of? I don't think this gives the story more authenticity - it turns it into a 18th century-like book in which you have to skip whole paragraphs and pages to follow what really matters. Of course, it's important to note that the character is, for example, wearing a red shirt or something as the reader might want to have a basic idea about their appearance but it should be a part of the flow. For example, when this characters enters an inn, have local patrons look at him suspiciously and mention they are looking at his shirt because, in the context, it may be a sign of him coming from far away and/or from a different social class.

    So, shortly, big NO when it doesn't have another purpose.
  15. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    I'd figure out the message the clothes are supposed to communicate, which helps describe them.

    Take any movie, there's a reason the characters wear the clothes they do and a reason why they change into new ones. So yes, I think it's important.
  16. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

    The difference to a movie being that in film you have several channels to draw a picture (here mainly visual)... while in story you only have the prose. You can't do setting 'in parallel' like in film.
  17. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    For my writing, I approach description of anything in two ways:

    1) The level of description correlates to the object's importance.

    2) Details are a framework.

    The first of those is self-explanatory, so I won't go further there. The second, "Details are a Framework" deserves elaboration.

    My goal is to always have readers feel like active participants in the story. There are several says to accomplish this & one of the most effective lies in the use of description.

    All of us have experiences and memories which are unique. If I, as the writer, can draw upon those individual experiences to fill in details of a framework that I provide, the images rendered by the reader should (in theory) seem more real.

    For example, think of a bully from your past. We all know one. If I were writing a scene on a school playground and described detail upon detail of the bully's clothes, hair, complexion, etc. it will be less likely to match the idea of a schoolyard bully that you, the reader, knows. If however, I can offer a few powerful details, leaving the rest up to you to fill in, the image you create in "the movie playing in your head" will be shared. It's your bully, molded into my story. I think that makes it more powerful.

    I also believe it's more immersive because it actively engages the reader by calling upon their memories & experiences, assimilating them into the characters & setting instead of the writer providing it all in a spoon fed manner.

    So, when it comes to something like clothing, I'd first ask myself "Is the clothing important? Does it warrant greater detail or is the clothing relevant to story or character?" If yes, I may use elaborate description. If no, I will give a couple key details, then let the reader do the rest of the work.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2014
    A. E. Lowan and Guru Coyote like this.
  18. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

    if ever I write a book on writing, I will want to ask to quote you. Very nicely said! "It is your bully, in my story." Yes.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 3, 2014
  19. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    Another interesting function clothing can serve within the story, as I am currently discovering, is as a record of events. For example, the FMC I referred to before has gone through three coats in the space of a few days - 2 were bled on, and this last one was a victim of a drug overdose.

    The state of her clothing, how it came to be in such a condition, and her reaction to it's care all makes a statement about her character and the world she lives in.

    In my crit partner's WIP he's having a similar experience. One of his MMC's has been wounded on more than one occasion, and as he nears the end of the book the character's clothing has become quite disreputable. In his fantasy environment where the character has lost his packs and extra clothing, this is something he has to figure out a way to deal with.
    Guru Coyote and buyjupiter like this.
  20. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    No question, the real standard is how important detail is for the moment-- and being consistent with your own style. If you like giving some details for everyone, and learn how to make them contribute to the tale and not run amuck, that may be your standard. Or if you like using one detail to imply the rest, do it.

    I like "Your bully, in my story" too. Still, for anyone but the most detailed writers, this is going to be a matter of degree; you just decide how much nudging you're going to give the readers before they fill in the rest.

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