Clothing Can Make the Hero and World

Black Cauldron

Black Cauldron

Clothing is very important to some authors and essential in various genres.  I’m really bad with clothing.  So, I’m probably not even close to an authority on this.  The picture above is what you normally think of for fantasy, which is what I depend on when describing normal clothes for characters.  I’ll go further with special event dresses, armors, and a piece that is unique.  For the most part, I don’t even really think about it as long as the character is wearing pants or a skirt.

The only advice I can give is that you can use clothing to give characters a distinct look, but you have to keep some kind of theme.  This can come from their culture, job, family tradition, or whatever you wish to use.  It is easier to do physical appearance as a definer for a character since these things can’t be easily removed.  A favorite shirt can be destroyed while a facial scar tends to be forever.  For example, Luke Callindor began with a green and brown color scheme, but it doesn’t come up as often as his hair color.  Nyx has her amethyst necklace and love of red, but her violet eyes rank higher on what I need to mention when describing her.  Timoran is scarred, Delvin has five o’clock shadow, Sari has blue hair, and Dariana has silver hair.  Out of all of the champions, Dariana certainly has the more unique look since it’s a martial artist set up instead of armor.

These clothes can help the author fine tune a personality for the character as well.  How they dress and how they act are connected.  The reader will think one way about a hero who wears a suit than one who wears full body leathers.  For the author, this can help flush out a personality, which is something that can always use help.  It’s even possible that the clothes are a key point of the character’s development or origin.  Going back to Nyx, her necklace is the only connection she has to her birth parents. (Spoiler Free: This does get touched on in Family of the Tri-Rune.)  She rubs this when she’s nervous too.  A necklace isn’t exactly an article of clothing, but it’s something you wear.  You can see how it adds a facet to the character too.

Again, I’m not big on clothes and have a very poor instinct when it comes to fashion.  Be happy to share what you know in the comments or even in your own post.  Pretty sure I’m not the only author who struggles in this arena.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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26 Responses to Clothing Can Make the Hero and World

  1. I’m not much into clothing either. I only describe it if necessary for the story or joke. I get annoyed with writers spending paragraphs on a character’s outfit only to do it again in the next chapter.


    • I try to only do clothing descriptions like that during introductions or essential changes. Most times I just name a color and skirt length. The hardest part is when you do a fancy banquet or party. That always seems to be when you need to give a little more for the clothing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it depends on the character. A guy who grabs a sweatshirt off the floor before heading out gives a different vibe than, well Lisa Burton who may dedicate serious time to her outfit. It’s more about them than the outfit they wear.


  3. twixie13 says:

    Having designed wardrobes for many of my characters, this is one of those things I’ve definitely thought about, myself. Though in at least one case, I may have to create a 3rd set for him. Travis seems especially prone to clothing damage. Though he’s also the most likely to go around shirtless for the hell of it…


    • I always forget about clothing damage, but it’s one reason why I’m kind of happy I don’t go into details. Nyx could have several red shirts for all anybody knows, so the damaged ones are simply tossed aside. I think fantasy allows for more repetition of clothes. Modern people seem to have too much variety in their closets.


      • twixie13 says:

        I have a couple of different characters who don’t have too many outfits at a time, but these two are also centuries old and experts in magic usage. So, they’d be able to keep their stuff clean through some kind of spell. Thinking I’ll probably have a post of my own involving characters and how their wardrobes tie into who/what they are a bit later this week, as well as a 3rd outfit page for a certain half-monkey of mine.


      • One thing I mentioned in my books is similar to the magic thing. Casters subconsciously coat themselves in a thin layer of defensive magic when in combat. Helps since they tend to hurl fire and lightning around.


  4. L. Marie says:

    Great post! Clothing is difficult. But I love the notion of showing character and even social status through clothing. I know what you mean about the Black Cauldron still being the “image” of fantasy. Everyone expects princesses like Eilonwy and other noble ladies to wear long gowns while running around in the forest. Not everyone could afford the heavy brocade fabrics or silk, which had to be imported from the East. I tend to use those sparingly. Homespun cloth is my go-to. I keep colors dark, unless a character is good at making fabric dyes.

    I try to explain what a character is wearing, but only if the clothing affects the action. For example, I had a character who was angry and left his own birthday party. He’s very physical, so he decided to climb a tower to work off his stress. (He’s a little odd that way.) I only mentioned his expensive tunic (his family is well-to-do), because he wound up ripping it in the climb.


    • The funny thing is that many fantasy worlds don’t really have an ‘East’. We still treat all of them like medieval Europe, but what if such materials were local and more common? For example, I like having silk appear more often. It’s still fancy, but not as much as in other stories. Kind of strange how we can create all of these worlds, but resources are divided the same as they are here.

      Did you mention the tunic before or after the tearing?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think a lot of writers put some thought into clothes. The best stories are where a mention of clothes means something. Good post, Charles.


  6. nairama says:

    I’m the opposite I think.. I put quite a lot of attention to clothing, including damage. First off, it’s a good mirror of cultures as well as personality, and second, I like my stuff to be as visual as possible. I like to watch the story play out like a movie inside my head and want the readers to be able to do that too, that includes being able to picture the characters from head to toe. 😀


    • I have the same thing with my stories being visual and playing out like a movie. Just have a lot of trouble with clothing. I’m never sure if something matches or an outfit makes sense. Probably stems from me having no fashion sense. Shirt and jeans are the extent of my wardrobe outside of special event clothes.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Good points. Clothing isn’t mentioned in many books very much. One thing I’d like to mention though, an old comic book, The Justice Machine, was interesting because it was basically about a group of superheroes, they wore normal costumes, except for one guy who wore a suit instead. It was always easy to know who he was because of his suit. So I guess clothing in a book could be used the same way, say for a thief or assassin, you could just mention a flash of a certain piece of clothing instead of describing the whole character.


  8. I do think you can put in a lot of fun subtext with apparel, whether that includes jewelry or not. The general manner of dress can indicate a character’s social status, or their trade. Heavy boots, for instance, might indicate a workman or farmer. Fine silk and velvet tell your readers they’re looking at a nobleman. Simple robes can suggest a cleric or mage.

    For that matter, symbols and decoration can express what god a cleric follows or which noble house they belong to. My favorite as GM is to show some unknown symbol and let the players chase down what it means.

    I think you just have to choose carefully, so you don’t end up telling your readers about every button or stitch.


  9. Pingback: Character Wardrobes Part 1 | Welcome to Hell Bent

  10. Pingback: Worldbuilding Through Keen Fashion Sense :-) | North of Andover

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