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March 2013

Describing clothes and appearance (And if you should at all)

Hi Alex~ :) Do you have any tips about writing about the clothes and appearance of the characters? If not, could you please post some? Really need some help! Thanks for your hard work! :D - sugarless-milk-chocolate

Before anything, I shall give you some advice on whether you should describe the clothes of a character

  • Only describe when necessary and relevant. That is, when there’s something regarding their clothing that is relevant to the plot. When it comes to minor characters, you should just say they’re wearing uniforms or rags or whatever without delving too much into details, because you’ll distract your readers and make them believe those characters are more important than they actually are. When it comes to main characters, things such as lengths of skirts of sleeves, colors, fabrics, and accesories aren’t that necessary to describe… unless you have a good reason for it. If it’s related somehow to your character’s personality, if your character is in a different enviroment than where they usually are, or what we’re used to, like a desert or a formal party, you might describe what they’re wearing. Again, without too many details that are rather irrelevant. The details, if necessary, can be saved for later (see point: spread it through the scene)
  • Have a good reason to describe clothes. A few good reasons are: 1- To highlight an aspect of a different culture
    2- To show a character’s preparations for some future event
    3- To indicate or symbolize a major change in a character’s situation. Give me a good reason to know why your character is wearing a loose purple sweater, and I’ll be happy. Or give it a good use. Tell me it’s because they wanted to spend a lazy day close to the fireplace with their pet, or something. Or tell me it’s not what they usually wear, and tell me why they’re wearing it.
  • Be specificSaying a woman wore a dress isn’t as effective as saying she wore a riding habit, a nun’s habit, a ballgown with a bustle in the back or a clinging silver sheath that made her look as though she was wrapped in aluminium foil. This can often be quicker and easier than going into long descriptions; saying that a character wears a lab coat, for instance, gives me the same picture as saying that a character wears a long white coat over her clothes to protect them from stains and spills.
  • Importance. Making lists is not effective at all. E.g: she wore a blue coat, jeans, and white sneakers. Doesn’t have much of an impact because you’re giving equal relevance to all of them. If the coat is important for some reason, it should be described more than the others. 
  • Spread it through the scene. Don’t say it all in one go, except if the way they’re dressing is a focal point. Say he’s wearing the sweater, and describe the color if, for example, if it contrasts with the rest of the room he’s in, or the texture/fabric if someone is hugging him and is feeling it. 

Overall, have fun describing your character’s clothes, but make sure your readers enjoy reading about them, too. Here’s this huge list of clothing items, if you need it, and I encourage you to search more if you need it.



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