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NaNo Prep: Dressing Up your Story Bible

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Yep. We’ve finally gotten here. Today, it’s time to talk about . . .


Whether you’re writing ancient Rome, Regency England, Mars Colony circa 2445, or a world of your own making, your characters will, in most cases, need some kind of garments to wear. (The ones who don’t . . . well, that’s a whole other post.)

And even if you’re writing contemporary, you still need to figure out what is in your characters’ wardrobes. Because what they wear says a lot about them. No, you’re not going to describe every single outfit. But YOU need to know what they wear because what a person chooses to wear not only says a lot about who she/he is, but it also can determine/influence how others react toward him/her.

In preparing for NaNoWriMo, here are some things to consider when it comes to costuming:

What is the appropriate style, fabric, cut, color, etc., of clothing for the time, location, and season in which your story is set? Don’t forget, this is as important for men as it is for women.

Are there any colors, fabrics, styles, cuts (hemlines, necklines, sleeves, etc.) that are inappropriate or even taboo in your storyworld’s culture? In Victorian times, for a gentleman to be seen by a lady in his waistcoat and shirtsleeves (i.e., without his coat on) was considered as shocking as seeing a man in public in his underwear now would be. Throughout the ages, a woman dressed in a certain color signaled certain things about her—for example, in 19th Century British–American culture: black for full mourning, gray/lavender for half-mourning, red for…well, you know what red signals! 😉

What does the clothing say about the character’s culture and socio-economic status? This can be the difference the American cousin’s showing up in a cotton dress when her wealthy, aristocratic British cousins are all wearing silk. No matter if her cotton gown was created by the best seamstress in Philadelphia, it’s never going to stand up to the silk creations. Even small differences can create a vast culture gap between characters.

Are there different articles of clothing/outfits that must be worn for certain ceremonies, events, or even times of day? Let’s not forget the succession of clothing upper-class Victorian women went through in the course of a day: morning gown, day dress, visiting/afternoon dress, tea gown, dinner gown, ballgown, peignoir. You can use whatever of these types of customs that exist in your storyworld to play with your characters—they show up wearing the wrong outfit for the occasion. Is it on purpose to make a statement or by accident because they don’t actually fit in and now everyone else knows?

Where do the clothes in your storyworld come from? Are the fabrics homespun and then cut and sewn by hand in the same home? Does your hero go to a tailor and have his suits and cravats “tailor-made” just for him? Does your upperclass Victorian woman sneak into a department store and buy a ready-made dress because her family is in financial straits but she still wants to look like they have money? Does your explorer have to make-do with only the one outfit he had on when his spaceship crashed on the unknown planet?


They say clothes make the man. There’s a reason for that. What your characters wear, what fashion means, and where it comes from say a lot not just about your characters but about the world/cultures they come from.

Now, need I say . . .

Images, images, images!

Again, consider Pinterest for this. It’s wonderful for researching historical eras or fantasy ideas or even for collecting specific images of clothing that would be perfect for one of your characters.

Early Victorian fashion board for FOLLOW THE HEART and AN HONEST HEART

Early Victorian fashion board for FOLLOW THE HEART and AN HONEST HEART


A "Fantasy" board just in case I ever write that genre.

A “Fantasy” board just in case I ever write that genre.

For Discussion:
What do your characters’ choices of clothing say about them?

How do you research/track what costumes you use in your story?

  1. Lady DragonKeeper permalink
    Tuesday, October 15, 2013 6:24 pm

    Love the fantasy board! If you do ever decide to give fantasy a try, I’d be one of the first to preorder it! I haven’t seen much inspy fantasy aimed at adults … 🙂


    • Tuesday, October 15, 2013 9:58 pm

      Have you read Patrick Carr’s books?


      • Lady DragonKeeper permalink
        Thursday, October 17, 2013 7:58 pm

        No, I haven’t. They sound good though! I’ll have to put it on my book wish list. Thanks for the suggestion!


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