Describing clothes on characters isn’t nearly as fun writing an action scene. But let’s face it, clothes and their condition say as much about our characters as they do on real people.
Thankfully there are ways to sneak clothing descriptions into a scene without sounding like a fashion magazine.
When ever possible, let clothing and the character’s appearance leak into the scene as a bystander.
Clothing descriptions as a bystander to body language is used a lot.
Example: She sat, smiled and nodded her head. Beneath the table, her damp fists crushed the delicate silk of her evening gown while her kid boots tapped a rapid rhythm. This doesn’t sound like a description of clothing at all and yet the sentence shows the reader what the woman is wearing.
Clothing descriptions as a bystander in an action scene is not the norm. Usually they just slow down the action and are better avoided. UNLESS, the type of clothing is important to the action.
Example: Set up: In my book Love and Fortune the heroine is a distraction while a group of Yankees soldiers surround a band of weary Rebels. Her attire is important to this scene.
The dancer was one with the music … She raised softly curved arms, and a myriad of gold bangles jangled to the rhythm of the mounting beat. Only her green feline eyes were visible above the diaphanous red silk draped loosely about her head and across the lower half of her face. A red peasant blouse slipped down one shoulder, sparking the imaginations of her hushed, gray-uniformed audience. Inky tresses swirled about her undulating hips, hips that invited a man’s caress. … She pivoted abruptly and dashed into the oblivion of the night. Gradey started to rise, but the clicking of rifles being cocked and aimed froze him in place.
Then of course, there’s times when a character arrives on stage, requiring a quick description of their appearance and little more. For those times, the word lists below come in handy. Knowing the exact name of a fashion also saves words and gives the reader an instant picture: Hobble-skirt, mini skirt, peasant blouse, cravat, kid gloves, pea coat, dickey etc. [That list of coats, shirts, skirts, neckwear, hats, shoes etc with their definitions will have to wait for another blog.]
Note: Don’t waste time and words describing an unimportant character who makes only one appearance in the book. Lengthy descriptions imply the character is important to the story.
Below is a list of my fashion terms for women and men. Keep in mind that descriptions of men’s attire should lend themselves to masculinity and durability with a bit of suave thrown into the mix.
By themselves these terms sound like they were taken right out of a fashion magazine. Their beauty is more evident when they're used to trim a wordy description to a concise expression.
Following the men’s list are words and phrases for the “Less Than Presentable,” “Getting Dressed” and “General Synonyms for Clothing.”
General Fashion Terms for Women
Delicate and lacy
Displayed her assets
Fitted, tailored to fit
Flair for the spectacular
Floaty and sheer
Frame the face
French cut panties
Fresh, spring colors
Great daring and originality
Height of propriety
Hot little off-the-shoulder number
Indulge herself with
Latest crazeLavished with ruffles/lace etc.
Made a statement
Masterfully rendered in
Mode of dress
Modified the hemline
Motif of *** swirled around the hem
Outlined – figure, hem, sleeves
Piping detailed the
Portray the rich variety in design
Prestige of the label
Sashed at the waist
Thin as a Vail of tears
General Fashion Terms for Men
All about comfort
Black, a logical choice for a man of noir
Cushioned inner soles
Dapper old gentleman
Decadent open collar
Expensive leather had some miles on it
Geared to a man’s needs
Long range wear
Moves from boardroom to elegance ease
Sharp and dynamic
Sharp front pleats
Step out on the town shoes
SturdyTie upstaged his silk shirt
Less Than Presentable
All flash and no dash
Boots with newspaper stuffed inside to cover the holes in the soles
Clothes painted on her
Donned grubbies for yard work
Dress gone limp in the heat
Dressed like an unmade bed
Dressed like he’s fleeing a fire/the devil
Flamboyant colors clashed
Gowns cut to see level
High water pants, flood pants
House dress that looked like a slipcover
Huge hat with a hectic array of
If she’s class, it doesn’t show on her back
It’s called the tacky cut
Jeans deliberately torn and frayed
Miserably shod feet
Misshapen straw hat perched at a jaunty angle
Motley hat tilted over one eye
Old mossback cares nothing for fashion
Poured into her jeans
Resembles Rummage Sal
Shabby as a
Shows more of her self than she does style
Teen uniform: jeans, scruffy T-shirt, dirty sneakers and no socks
Vermin ridden/lice fleas/bedbugs
Whites that looked gray
Dress fit to kiss
Dress to the nines
Slip on or into
General Synonyms for Clothing
Best bib and tucker
Bling Bling – jewelry or sparkle added to clothing
Evening dress, wear
Floordrobe – clothes left on the floor
Number – as in wearing a sexy number
Suit of clothes
Swag – accessories sometimes jewelry or gifts
When she’s not writing and researching ways to bedevil her book characters, Sharla enjoys collecting authentically costumed dolls from all over the world, traveling (to seek more dolls!), and reading tons of books.