Friday, July 10, 2009

What Does Your Character Wear?

My current heroine exudes femininity. She wears pastel sundresses, cute--never ripped--shorts, t-shirts, and toe-baring sandals. Her long hair bounces, and she keeps her makeup light and tasteful.

Do you have an idea of her personality? Just by reading what she wears?

We instantly judge someone based on our visual impression of them. We take in the mohawk, piercings, and jet-black clothing and decide who the person is, or at least who we think the person is.

Clothes reflect our character's personalities. But we all know too much clothing description can bog the story down. So how do we use clothing in an effective way?

As with all physical details, whether the character's surroundings or clothes, it's a good idea to make them do double duty. I shouldn't only learn that the hero is wearing blue jeans, I should also learn what impression it makes on the viewpoint character.

Let's take an example.


Sheila walked to Jake. He wore cargo shorts with a faded gray t-shirt.


Sheila walked to Jake. Leave it to him to wear cargo shorts and a faded gray t-shirt.

Both examples tell what Jake is wearing, but the second shows Sheila's reaction and gives insight into both their characters. Sheila isn't pleased--or maybe she's amused?--by his attire. And Jake obviously has worn the wrong thing, because he's clueless or doesn't care. Double duty! Plus, the reader takes an impression away too. His attire points to laid-back and rugged instead of formal and rigid.

Of course, I'd expand on the above to include the setting and why his outfit is inappropriate. And I'd show Jake's response to her reaction or lack thereof. Maybe Sheila doesn't mention his clothes, but he expects her to? Maybe she makes a snide remark to him? Maybe she's hidden an appropriate change of clothes behind her back because she knew he'd wear the wrong thing?

How do you use your character's clothing to reveal their personality? I'd love to hear from you!

Enjoy your weekend!


  1. This is the first book I've written where my character really cares about her clothes/style. With her stiletto heels and stylish clothes she's attracting a pastor who doesn't really give two hoots about style as long as he doesn't scare people away.

    It's so much fun to write!

  2. Good example- You showed more about POV too there and how we could really see her thinking.
    My MC wears lots of baggy T-shirts--she lacks confidence and hides her body.

  3. I like your example, Jill. I recently read (or should I say started to read but couldn't finish) a book in which the author did a clothing dump. As I read further I just waited for her to dive into why she explained the clothing in so much detail, like she spills something on it, or dressed inappropriately for the occassion or SOMETHING! But nothin'. She dumped the info. and so, it was one of the reasons I stopped reading the book!

    I agree that we must weave those clothing details into our story and action and we must have a reason for mentioning them in the first place.

  4. The character in my current WIP is always wearing tailored, designer clothes. Comes from poverty, made it big - now refuses to look anything but posh.

  5. Excellent post Jill! I love your examples. They're great. :-)

  6. This is a great point. Whenever a character is feeling slumpy I make sure it shows in their clothes (look at me, I'm still rhyming! days later.)

    Have a wonderful (dr. free weekend :D)
    ~ Wendy

  7. Eileen: I love how you've made clothing a big part of your book! Smart! Let's face it, shopping is a huge industry and clothes do affect our state of mind. Your book sounds fun, fun, fun!

    Terri: Your MC is relatable! Who doesn't want to hide it all under baggy tees somedays?

    Jody: Oh, I'm laughing. I've been guilty of that too! But I was guilty of every writing gaffe at some point!

    Katie: The book I'm going to rewrite in another month has a similar character. Status is everything to him. Now you make me want to read yours. I love those characters!

    Jessica: Thanks. I'm sure I could have come up with better examples, but I figured short and sweet was best for a Friday!

    Wendy: I know it's Friday if you're rhyming this early in the morning! Hey, you're off the hook from all those pesky Dr.s for a year now. Celebrate!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  8. Wow, you are so wise! Since I write non fiction, it never occurred to me to describe clothing. But it would add to the setting and tone so much, wouldn't it? YES!!!

    Thanks for this great idea!

    Blessings on your bodacious brain,

  9. It's a big thing for my WIP, what the MC wears. Her personality and how she presents herself (and how it changes) play a crucial role the story. Awesome post! Important stuff to think about.

  10. Nice post, Jill. Clothes can be a big deal or not. They were pretty big in my first novel... especially with the colors being symbolic. But in Monarch there's not much significance to the clothes at all. Just depends on the story and the characters, I think.

  11. Jeanette: I read tons of non-fiction. What are you working on?

    Janna: Yes! Some character's identities are tied up in what they wear. It can be vital to the story.

    Lady Glamis: Clothes play very little into my current book. My heroes make zero appearance, although I might change that, while my heroine's come through here and there. I agree, it really depends on the book.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  12. The description hit the mark and that style is one of my favorites. I love the brevity of your boy-girl interaction. Amazing how such a small change can do so much work.
    I love clothes, so putting some on my characters is always fun. I want to remember this lesson and try it in my next story.

  13. Nancy: Clothes are fun, aren't they! I even utilized a glamorous walk-in closet in my last book. Fun stuff!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  14. my MC also wears baggy clothes to hide her body due to trauma in her background. very fun to "heal" her AND her clothes! :)

  15. Jill:
    How sweet of you to ask! I am working on two books: A devotional about hope and a humor book about being a pastor's wife. And a ton of articles and columns.
    If it weren't for my paying job, I'd do a lot more than a ton...

  16. My hero is wearing a chambray shirt, cowboy hat, etc. But I realized that I haven't really described my heroine's apparel too well. Hmm...maybe because I'm not sure myself. Thanks for the reminder to go back in and put that layer in.

  17. Jeannie: Kind of like therapeutic What Not to Wear? Ha! Sounds fun!

    Jen: Well, I'm certain both books will be phenomenal! Thanks for filling me in. And those pesky day jobs do get in the way, don't they!

    Erica: Oooo, I love a good cowboy! And I realize in the book I'm revising, I've neglected my hero's clothes too. Shame on me!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  18. Jill, that's a good example. I read somewhere once that you shouldn't tell what a character's eye color is or what they're wearing unless it has a point. Unless it tells something about the character.

    I admit, I still do that sometimes, but I am learning to show something by it.

  19. Cindy: I know! But I think different genres have different needs. Romance needs more physical descriptors because readers eat it up! I want to know how hunky the hero is and that his eyes are green as an Ireland meadow. Oh, no. I'm getting all excited for a fictitious hero again!

    Thanks for stopping by! And have a great weekend!


I love to hear from you!