Dressing Characters 4/2/2021

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by Staci Stallings

Dressing CharactersWhen readers think about the joy an author must feel when creating characters —the sheer exhilaration that here is a person under your complete control, that you can mold and form and make them do whatever you want (HAHA right!), I’m quite sure very few of them ever think about the issue of dressing characters.

Okay, maybe you do if you are a reader of historical fiction or if clothing is somehow synonymous with a character’s career choice or personality. But how many really give any real time to considering the clothing choices of characters?

I will tell you, from an author’s standpoint and as someone who is not a fashionista in any way, shape or form, clothing characters is one of the most challenging parts of creating them for me.

First, I have my own “style,” which isn’t, overall, what anyone would think of as super stylish. At home, I’m mostly in sweatpants and a STAR Laboratories sweatshirt (navy blue or gray—take your pick) and of course my green cabin socks. In the real world, I’m a little more dressy, but mostly I’m an I-have-three-pairs- of-shoes—tennis shoes, sandals, and boots kind of girl. I’m also not much of a hair person, having worn the same hairstyle of varying lengths for going on four decades now.

So, when a story calls for a character who thinks critically, or self-consciously, about clothing choices, I get out of my depth rather quickly.  Worse, when I write about a character’s clothing, I often harken back to the days of my youth when the local paper would come out on Thursdays with the write-ups about the local weddings. There was always a section in the article about “the flowing gown made of shimmering satin had an empire waist and a mother-of-pearl detailed full cathedral length train.”

I mean, how much detail is too much?  And how much is just not enough?

The reason I was thinking about this today was that I happened to see an ad on a website I frequent, and my thought when I saw the dress in the ad was, “Oh, that would look good on Taylor.” My next thought was, “Wait. Doesn’t she already have a dress kind of like that?” To which I replied, “Well, kind of but that’s her style, and this one is a little different than the other one because the top has navy and not just dusty pink…”

I’m not kidding you, I had that full conversation in my head before I realized that the person I was debating about over this dress was, in fact, a fictional character who only lives in my head. I couldn’t get this dress for her for Christmas or her birthday. I couldn’t even ask her opinion about it as to whether or not she would actually like it. I will never see it on her, and yet, here I am debating about how it would look on her and if she would even like it or not!

The funny thing about this is that Taylor really is far more into clothes than most of my characters usually are. Clothes are important to her. So important that I’ve actually noticed that she’s got a couple of clothing personalities—or her clothing fits the personality she happens to think she needs to put on and wear at any given time.

She has her church look, which is quite conservative and understated. Then she has her “art” style, which she is at present growing into. It’s kind of flowy with less “fit” and far more fabric. Then there’s her “every girl” look that’s either jeans and some type of sweater or cute top, or her dressier fitted mini with a cute top and jacket. And the shoes!  Oh, the shoes! There’s no end to trying to find the perfect shoe for each and every outfit.

The thing is, when you’re not a clothes person, but you’re writing about a clothes person, it can be as intimidating as being a non-dancer writing about a dancer. You just feel like everyone is going to know you’re a complete fraud!

So, dear readers, what do you think about characters and their clothing? Have you ever read any clothing descriptions that you thought were over-the-top and trying too hard? Do you even notice the clothing descriptions or am I overthinking this thing completely? (Which is honestly a good possibility!)

Feel free to sound off!

Always

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