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.”
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
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
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
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
Sharla has published three historical romances and her fourth, How to Fell a Timberman, is impatiently waiting to be formatted for Kindle.
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.
You can find Sharla here at Writers In The Storm, on Twitter at @SharlaWrites or on Facebook.
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Love these, Sharla. I like how clothing can show mood, as well as personal style. A laced-up businesswoman in a pair of jeans and t-shirt really shows where her head is - without telling.
As always, thanks for sharing your wonderful lists!
I love playing with clothing in a scene.
Another great list, Sharla, thank you!!
These are great! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Glad you enjoyed it.
These are great. I have enough trouble just remembering what my characters are wearing over the course of the day.
Ha, Terry. Sometimes I've gotten to store and realized I still have my garden shoes on! Characters are easier. 🙂
Although I buy the majority of my clothing at thrift shops, I can still dress with the best of them! Thanks for doing my research for me, and hopefully, my next set of characters won't be dressed like an unmade bed!
Hey, I "am" an unmade bed. 🙂
Thank you! This article couldn't have come at a better time. I'm dressing my characters now. 🙂
Great Carol. I hope it helps. I sure is easier than getting them undressed for a love scene.
Great article! Thank you.
Terrific article! Love the lists.
Your welcome Tara
Thank you for stopping by today Diana.
Thank you so much for this list. The timing couldn't have been better, as I am writing my hero and heroine's first-meeting scene. Love it!
Hope it helps Donna.
Wonderful article, thank you-I also focused on 'unmade bed', love it.
I'm just about to start a story/novel set in the 40s and this post is so useful. Thank you!
Oh, I love the 40s. Women were really grabbing more freedoms during this time period and that includes fashion. Just looking at how much swim suits changed during that error proves the point. 🙂
Great article and list. Thank you so much Sharla.
Thanks so much for stopping by WITS!
I will never look at clothing the same! Perhaps, I'll actually pay attention now to what my hero and heroine are wearing. Because honestly, I usually don't, unless they're on the way to wearing nothing. Shame on me. 🙂
Well, nothing has it's place too. 🙂
For sure, but I'm missing an opportunity. The truth is I never think about my own clothing either and it's bleeding over, but I'm missing an opportunity here.
Fantastic! Do you have a master "tag" of all the list posts you've done here, Sharla? I love every one of them, but I'm afraid I'm missing some. 🙂
I should put these down in my blog of lists: I hope the links work here: Put Your Flabby Writing on a Diet
Place Descriptions: It’s About Atmosphere Not a Travel log ( Trees, forests, wetlands)
Place Descriptions – Part 2: Waterways
A Cauldron of Spooky Words for Your Halloween
Sexy Phrases For In And Out Of The Bedroom
What is an “Echo?” Tips To Axe These Repeat Offenders
Character Eye Descriptions: The Window to Your Story
Writing In Living Color And Two New Lists
Awesome! Thank you! 🙂
Jami, I think if you go to the research box and type in "lists" you will come up with the blogs. In the meantime I'll look them up later today and see if I can come up with a list. Jenny is our Techi person and she might be able to help more with this too. BTW, I love "your" blogs!
I'm so fashion challenged, it's not even funny. That's one of the reasons I write sports romance. The men wear white uniforms at home and gray on the road. The only designers I need to know are Nike and Under Armor. And maybe Victoria's Secret.
Well it isn't easy keeping up with the latest fashion terms and fads. Perhaps I should a part 2 to this blog listing all kinds of dress, hats, gloves etc. 🙂
"Tag" is right Jami! Sharla, these lists are the gold standard for writing descriptive fashion. This is awesome! I love this kind of stuff and will print this out for all those times when I suffer from brain fog. Great prompters. 🙂
Thanks Karen! That's what I use these for - brain freeze, when the right word won't come.
What a handy collection -- I'm amazed at what it must have taken to put all those terms together!
When I first started writing I started the lists Laurie and over time they grew.Who knew, years later, I'd put them to even better use by sharing them with fellow writers. 🙂
Great list of terms, Sharla! It's so easy to get 'stuck' for just the right description. I love the word 'floordrobe', lol. Never heard that one before! Màiri Norris
Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed the list.
This is so great, thank you!