He Wore, She Wore…How to Use Clothing Choices to Intrigue Your Readers

I am not now, nor will ever be, one of those people who would watch the Academy Awards  just to see what the stars are wearing.  Nor would I flip to an article written by the “fashion police” entitled Best and Worst Dressed.  So it shouldn’t be too surprising that when reading a novel and I come across either variation of “he wore” or “she wore,” the  prepare to  skim function of my brain kicks into overdrive.  However, there are other times when I will actually be intrigued by clothing choices.  This occurs when the way a person is dressed informs either the character ‘s predicament or their personality.  In other words, their appearance is relevant to the plot or contributes to character development. 

In the excerpt below from my young adult novel, BETWEEN SHADOW’S EYES, I intentionally used clothing and description to create an impression that there is something a bit odd about the character. (You will note I did not use the passive words such as “he wore” or “she wore).”

A flowing black-and-tan sari had replaced her “Save the Redwoods!” T-shirt and khaki pants.  She, well, she floated toward me.  That was the best description I could come up with for her smooth gait.  Her chin swept side to side as she approached my car as if her head was loose about her neck.  Something about the combination of her mannerisms and her physical appearance set my nerves on edge.  With that pale skin and wispy blonde hair, she could have been a ghost herself. 

Here are a few other examples where clothing descriptions would speak volumes about the plot or character:

A young girl awakes with sharp objects poking into her scalp.  She has slept all night in her dad’s old fishing hat that is littered with destination pins…clues to her father’s past.  (Intrigued?)

A young sergeant shows up to a military hearing in a tank top and holey jeans.  (Is this guy in trouble or what?)

A prom queen has discovered what the girl she beat out in the contest is wearing to the big event and has selected the exact same outfit to wear.  (Don’t you hate her already?)

The clothing choices in the above scenarios are not description for the sake of painting a picture.  These examples provide insight into the storyline and the character’s mental state.  The girl who wears an uncomfortable hat to bed is probably distraught if she is willing to inflict pain to keep his belongings close to her.  Why?  Has her mother just informed her that the man she presumed to be her father was actually her step-dad when her mother presented her with this hat now deceased biological father ?  If you are in trouble in the military, do you really want to piss off your commanding officers by thwarting a time-honored dress code?  What kind of person who’s already won an honorary position thumbs her nose at her competition in such a vindictive manner?  I want to read on and find out.  Do you?



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