Does it matter what your character wears? I think so.  Here’s why.

Does it Matter What Your Character Wears?

A Character’s Clothes Reveal Who They Are

The first time I wrote a short story (that others would read), I spent a lot of time describing the character’s clothes.

This choice received a lot of criticism.

It made my character seem shallow.  It made the woman seem cliché.  Blah, blah, blah.

My critics were probably right that I overdid it at the time, but I stand by my response, which was this:

I remember reading a scene where a woman was wearing an expensive dress, but the hem was pinned with a safety pin.  I thought that was interesting—was she a rich girl whose mother would be dismayed that she hadn’t had her dress fixed?  Or was she a girl with little means, who received the dress second hand?

It’s worth thinking about how certain details about your character’s clothing can be made interesting or revealing—just don’t overdo it like I did!

What Your Character Wears Matters IF It Matters to Your Character

You probably do not need to spend a ton of time describing your character’s clothing—unless your character spends a lot of time thinking about his clothing.

Was he trained to be meticulous in his presentation?  Is he a tailor or a fashion writer or otherwise have reason to pay attention to such details?  Is he about to meet his girlfriend’s mother or attend an event that is important to him?

If so, then he probably paid special attention to his clothes, and maybe you should too.

You are describing the world as the character sees it.  Therefore, if you dedicate a lot of space to something, the reader is going to assume it’s because it’s important to the character or the story.  If that’s true for what your character is wearing—then dive in!

Characters Wear More Than Just Clothes

Characters wear more than just clothes.  They also wear talismans, jewelry, and other objects.

I once wrote about imbuing everyday objects with meaning because talisman create great opportunities for symbolism!

Maybe a bracelet represents a character’s relationship to her mother.  Perhaps her ring is a symbol of strength, and thus you only discuss it during scenes of triumph.  The possibilities are endless!

What do you think? Do characters’ clothes matter in a story? Let me know what you think in the comments section.

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to write a scene focusing on something a person is wearing.  Share in the comments section!

Monica M. Clark
Monica M. Clark

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).