Clothes and character : does fashion matter?

Blogging Inspiration and Regency clothes

AI generated picture of three cats dressed in historical costume.

AI generated image by GrumpyBeere at Pixabay

Joanna recently blogged about blogging, and where we could find inspiration. All very helpful but I envy the fact that, as an historical novelist, she has photographs to share from costume exhibits at the museums she has visited.

Lovely dresses, shoes, uniforms as well as what her characters wore beneath them. So much fascinating detail to write about.

Regency fashion is such an important part of the pleasure in reading books set in an era when clothes and character are inextricably linked.

As someone who has always written contemporary novels – and with a very low personal fashion threshold – I tend to find dressing my characters a bit of a challenge.

Fashion challenged

Girl in winter clothes wearing a mini skirt,

Pixabay Vika_Glitter

I have to force myself to think about what they’re wearing. The clothes don’t get much more than a passing mention unless it is an issue, or pertinent to the plot.

Once I was past the Mary Quant mini dress stage and a brief moment when I had the figure for hot pants, I stuck more or less to the “classics”. Boring.

I just didn’t have the love for fashion and clothes that seems to flow seamlessly – see what I did there? – through some of my colleagues’ lovely books.

But clothes and character are inextricably linked. What a hero or heroine is wearing will show you who they are.

If you’ve seen Ben Miller in Death in Paradise you’ll know what I mean. Even suffering in the heat of the Caribbean, his character could not wear anything but a suit and tie.

Clothes as comedy

woman wearing sunglasses and sunblock clothes

chezbeate at Pixabay

It’s possible that my fictional clothes problem started with my very first book, An Image of You, in which the rather lovely heroine is forced to work with a man she has a very good reason to avoid.

Their meeting had happened several years earlier and is not something that my heroine remembers with any pleasure. It’s at this point that plot, clothes and character collide. She  works very hard to disguise herself, adopting ghastly clothes and covering her face in green sunblock (the book is set in Kenya).

I went for comedy – rare in romance back then – and that’s what sold the book to my editor and set me on my writing journey.

Clothes as plot devices

Quote from A Stranger's Kiss. A tiny bodice that hugged her figure, skimming lightly over her breasts and emphasizing her narrow waist. The skirt, full, soft, brilliant, scarlet, like the petals of an oriental poppy, hung to her ankles.Clothes, when I do get beyond a pair of jeans and t-shirt, are not there to provide wonderful tactile descriptions of silk or velvet, or specifically to make the heroine look good.

Anything important enough to actually get a mention is always there to play a part in the story.

I once included a stunning poppy red silk dress that I’d seen in a shop window in A Stranger’s Kiss, but only because it was completely out of character for the heroine. She bought it when she was in the mood to do something reckless and yes, of course, it got her into trouble. Someone ended up in a fountain…

I did go to town in The Bride’s Baby which was set around a bridal fair raising funds for a charity started by her mother. My heroine, a wedding planner, was strong-armed into setting up her own fantasy wedding for a magazine shoot.

It was her worst nightmare (along with the reappearance of the man with whom she’d had a one-night stand). Then she saw a pair of silk purple shoes and we were both swept away in a whirl of satin and lace, every stitch of which was loaded with unspoken tension.

And yet more footwear…

Quotation from Redeemed by Her Midsummer Kiss Wearing-dungarees-that-had-seen-better-days-her-white-blonde-hair-escaping-from-a-knotted-scarf-and-with-pink-overheated-cheeks-she-looked-like-someone-from-a-Dig-for-Victory-poster-circa-1942

Quotation from Redeemed by Her Midsummer Kiss

I do seem to spend more time on the shoes. There was a pair of pink polka-dotted sandals in one book that I was particularly fond of. But they are not always glamorous.

In Redeemed By Her Midsummer Kiss there was the pair of old gardening boots that another of my heroines stuck in the door when the hero was going to close it in her face.

Between that and the dungarees and the headscarf, she certainly left an impression. (Me, going for the comedy again.)

But fashion? No… When it comes to clothes it’s mostly jeans, shorts (if I want my hero to be confronted by a great pair of legs) or the occasional sundress (if I’ve taken them somewhere warm).

Sometimes I even remember to mention the colour.

Clothes maketh the man.…

Leather bomber jacket, clothesHeroes do better in the clothes department, but then they are so much easier – unlike the Regency, where the man is the peacock.

Always a beautifully cut suit, DJ or faded jeans and t-shirt, or cut-offs – again to show off a great pair of legs.

Although I am very partial to a soft, well-worn leather bomber jacket – the one clothes item which has probably appeared more than any other.

But some books do affect what I wear

Dora the dachshund, in The Billionaire’s Convenient Bride has a lot to answer for. I fell in love with that dog. I even commissioned a picture of her which sits on the shelf above my desk.

Right now I’m wearing a pair of socks decorated with dachshunds. I have several pairs. When I spotted a spectacle case and sponge bag with dachshunds, I couldn’t leave them on the shelf.  I bought a  “Dachshund Thru the Snow” Christmas jumper. I became a bit obsessed to the point that I came within a gnat’s whisker of buying a dachshund and I’m a cat person.

Clothes and crime

Recently I started writing the Maybridge Murder Mysteries – a crime series. Again the clothes my characters wore were standard, casual, not a designer label in sight. Well, one woman did toss her Louboutins into the shrubbery in a fit of pique. Plot, clothes and character…

The author wears earrings

Mistletoe earrings, clothesIn my new persona as “crime writer” I bought some accessories. A magnifying glass that has been endlessly useful when looking at packages with minute writing. But then came the earrings.

A pair of dangling  magnifying glasses – and yes, they actually do magnify. And I was given this pair of gold mistletoe earrings for Christmas by my daughter to celebrate the publication of Murder Under the Mistletoe.

I’m currently looking for a pair with roses. In this instance, clothes and character could run and run!

And finally Abby Finch’s hat

Red Borsalino Fedora, clothesThe one thing I haven’t got, is my heroine’s sleuth hat.

It’s a stunningly beautiful dark red Borsalino fedora and it will have cost my hero – who bought it for her when he was on business in Rome – whatever £400 is in Euros.

I once stood outside their shop near the Piazza del Popolo, admiring the beautiful hats. And I had that picture in my mind while I was writing.

I would absolutely love one, but it’s never going to happen.

It’s not just the fact that I’d have to sell an awful lot of books to pay for it. The sad truth is that, unlike my lovely Abby who is nearly 6 feet tall, I’m the proverbial teapot – short and stout – and I know my limitations. This is one occasion when clothes and character do not compute!

But, oh for a few more inches…


11 thoughts on “Clothes and character : does fashion matter?

  1. Nancy

    Thanks for the visuals. I’m reading your mysteries now and am enjoying them very much. I missed that Abby is so tall, I’ll rethink my images.

    1. Liz Fielding

      Thank you, Nancy, that’s always good to hear. I think I mentioned Abby’s height once in the first book – it was why the ghastly Howard chose her as his prom date (along with her other attributes!) It has just come up in the third MMM which I’m writing now so was on my mind.

  2. Lesley2cats

    This actually made me realise that I pay little attention to clothes, too, Liz. I know in my first Libby book I mentioned her predilection for floaty scarves, and I have occasionally had her fashion sense described as “by Oxfam”, and for years her outdoor wear was an old cape, but that was it. I don’t think I ever describe what people are wearing. And I think dungarees and a headscarf would have had me closely identifying with that heroine!

  3. Liz Fielding

    I noticed that Libby had abandoned her cape in one of your recent books, Lesley. Not sure if it was Murder in Autumn or Murder by Christmas. But I love her “Oxfam” fashion sense.

  4. Joanna

    I’m no fashionista, Liz. For me, it’s stretch fleece trousers, an old shirt with a rather bobbly sweater on top at this time of year. But sometimes characters and fashion do go together. In my Regencies, of course — and one of the fun things there is how easy, or not, they are to remove 😉 But in my current wip, with my vampire hero, Theo, clothes became important all by themselves, partly because Lucinda wears haute couture gear. In book #2 of my planned Theo and Lucinda series, which I’m currently writing, clothes turn out to be vital to the plot.

  5. Yve Setters

    Loved this blog. Like you say “Oh for a few more inches” I am gradually shrinking with age and would love to wear spectacular hats but would end up like a mushroom. Clothes do reflect ones mood. If I feel full of life – not too often – I wear my dangley earrings. If I feel subdued I wear studs. Mad isn’t it. Carry on with the blogs, I love them.

    1. Liz Fielding

      Thanks so much, Yve. Yes, the mushroom effect and the need for simple clothes to, hopefully, disguise the lack of height. I tend to forget my earrings if I’m wearing studs. The dangling ones help remind me to keep my head up but are too distracting when I’m working.

  6. anne

    I’m a writer of historicals and I always have trouble with the clothes descriptions, because I am not a person who takes much notice of fashion or clothes. I end up looking up the period fashion magazines and lifting a few phrases from them. Even so, it’s generally just a colour and maybe something about the trim. And the men, so much easier — buckskins and boots.

    1. Joanna

      Lovely to see you here, Anne. I will admit that, in my historicals, I do make a point of describing clothes because I find them interesting (even though I don’t do fashion in real life). Partly, it’s because I find Regency female fashion elegant by comparison with some of the ugly stuff that came later. Like you I tend to say much less about the male fashions. Other than perhaps how nicely those buckskins cling in all the right places? 😉

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