Ah, fashion…one of my favorite subjects! I’ve always loved clothing, shoes, and accessories. Now that I started writing full-time and working from home, I mainly live in my sweatpants and pajamas.
The longer I work at home—I think it’s been six years now—the lazier it seems I get about my appearance. With no one to see me every day, whatever clothes I wake up in are only seen by my family, and whatever neighbor catches a glimpse of me through the windows. (Please ignore the unmade bed and piles of books everywhere in my bedroom, er, I mean office.)
Since I’m divorced with two teenaged children, there’s really no one to get presentable for, unless I’m leaving the house. Even then, I just throw on jeans, a clean T-shirt, and sneakers. I style my hair in a ponytail and usually skip makeup. Yup…I’m super lazy.
Everything I knew about being a full-time writer (thank you, Carrie Bradshaw), was from watching movies and TV shows or reading books. Working from home means that sweatpants and PJs are my dress code, and now that I spend the majority of my time in comfy sweats, I don’t think I’ll ever want to go back to dressing up every day.
Maybe you even have a character like me, who works from home and lives in their pajamas…
This post is taken from a chapter of The Writer's Guide to Vivid Settings and Characters and will discuss clothing descriptions, but mainly focus on modern garments for both male and female characters.
Describing a character’s wardrobe might seem tedious or unneeded, but consider this, clothing reveals a lot about the characters just as it does actual people.
Even if you’re not writing about a fashionista, it’s still good to know your character’s personal style, which says a lot about who they are, such as social status, age, and especially their profession. Plus, our clothing choices are often an expression of our distinct individuality, so like real people, characters should dress to match their unique personalities, too.
When describing a character’s appearance, I would try not to put too much emphasis on the obvious features, such as eye color, height, or weight, but also describe the type of clothes he/she wears.
Below is an excerpt from one of my novels, Shattered Silence, to illustrate how to describe a character’s clothing…
He shrugged off a leather jacket and draped it over an armchair, displaying a long-sleeved black shirt. The guy was the epitome of hip. With artfully mussed hair, low-slung jeans, motorcycle boots, and model good looks, just a glimpse of Trent Donovan caused female hormones to rage, teenage girls to swoon, and mouths to drool.
Here’s an excerpt taken from All Lined Up by Cora Carmack that nicely conveys a character’s description…
Down in the yard, highlighted by one of the floodlights affixed to the outside of the house, is another gorgeous guy wearing dark, worn jeans, scuffed boots, and a smirk that oscillates between infuriating and adorable. He’s got dark hair and a delectable touch of scruff along his jaw, and he looks entirely entertained by my mental breakdown.
This condensed excerpt was taken from my book, Reckless Revenge to demonstrate how you can weave in action, emotion, and reactions to describe a character’s clothing and appearance…
Stalker Boy looked about eighteen or nineteen, but not much older. Maybe he was a transfer student repeating a grade. He had his arms crossed and one leg bent at the knee, his booted heel planted on the wall. His shoulder-length black hair made him look like an ancient warrior, and his long bangs fell forward to conceal one eye. When he turned his attention to the teachers standing awkwardly near the podium, I took the opportunity to study him. His skin appeared completely unmarred, with pronounced cheekbones and a strong jawline. He was tall, much taller than me, but I was only 5’6. While I stared at him, the air seemed to glow around his body in warm currents of incandescent sunbeams, almost like an aura.
How did this description of the character make you feel?
Did you get a very powerful image of him?
Did you get an inkling of his personality or background?
Here is a list that should help writers with clothing descriptions for their diverse cast of characters. In case writers aren’t up-to-date on fashion terms, this terminology should be used as a general reference.
Thesaurus of clothing styles and types:
Preppy: Plaid Skirts, Sweater Vests, Pearl Necklaces, Big White Sunglasses
Punk: Skinny Jeans, Leather, Studded belts, Ragged T-shirts or Jeans
Modest: Long Skirts, Sweaters, Long-sleeved Shirts
Sophisticated: Suits, Trousers, Pencil Skirts, Silk Blouses
Sporty: Sweats, T-Shirts, Tennis Shoes, Sneakers, and Board-Shorts
Edgy/Emo: Skinny pants, Black Boots, Damaged Jeans
Vintage: Retro, Florals, Cardigans, Classic, Bright Colors, Wild Prints
Western: Leather, Cowboy Boots, Bolo-Ties, Button-up Shirts, Wrangler Jeans
Nautical/Preppy: Blue, Red, and White colors, Bows, Flipped-up Collars, Polo Shirts
Summer Attire: Sandals, Sundress, Sandals, Flats, Floppy Hats, Shorts, Cut-offs, Flip-Flops
Futuristic: Metallic, High-Neck Collars, Mesh, Cyberpunk, Pullovers
Rocker: Band Logos, Skinny Jeans, Leather-Studded Belts, Scarfs, Leather Cuff Wristbands
Boho-Chic: Layered Clothing, Baggy Shirts, Big Purses, Long Necklaces, Ankle-Length Skirts
Flirty: Low-Cut Dress, Mini-Skirt, Stilettos, Fishnet Stockings, V-neck Shirt
Casual: Shorts, Pants, Tennis Shoes, Flip-Flops
Formal: Floor-Length Gowns, Tuxedo, High-Heels, Wingtip Shoes
Casual Chic: Designer Jeans, Khaki Pants, Capris, Clingy Dresses
Hippie: Baggy Clothes, Peace Signs, Long Skirts, Bell-Bottoms, Tie-Dye
Dressy: Button-Down Shirts, Strappy Heels, Big Bags, Vests, Shirt Dress, Straight Legged Pants
Hip-Hop: High-Tops, Baggy Jeans, Oversized Shirts, Gold necklaces
Beach/Boho: Big Shades, Headbands, Sundresses, Khaki Shorts, Tank-Tops
Those examples on clothing styles should help writers to portray characters as real people with distinct personalities.
Evocative settings are more effective and compelling when they’re visible, auditory, olfactory, and tactile. And character descriptions are much more visual and lifelike when they have unique physical attributes. This valuable reference and descriptive thesaurus offers writers a simplified way to depict vibrant settings and dynamic character descriptions flawlessly.
Writers will learn:
* The importance of using sensory details
* To expertly master showing vs. telling
* The impact setting can have on a story
* To effectively describe vivid characters
* How adding color will strengthen description
Each chapter provides specific, practical tools to help make writing descriptions and crafting three-dimensional characters simple and fun, with plenty of illustrations to highlight each point.