Costume Changes

We all have a personal style. A way of putting things together that makes us unique. We all have a closet containing items we love, the one’s that boost our confidence. Those articles  of clothing that make you stand a little taller or sit a little straighter. Then we have the casual stuff. Maybe even the quirky. The pieces we need to make up our work wardrobe. Because of course I’m sitting here all nicely showered and dressed to make the most of my day. Not planted in front of the computer wearing a monstrous, seen-better-days, black cardigan and wrinkled pajamas.

Because that closet also contains the not so great choices. The cast-offs. The clothes that somehow shrunk in the wash and are now a bit tight. That rockin’ outfit from the eighties you’re hanging on to for no good reason. We do always dress perfectly. We all succumb to stop-and-grab shopping. Stacey and Clinton aren’t on hand to be our personal shoppers whenever we need them. If they were I’d never waste another dollar on stuff that seemed like a good idea at the time. We have good days and bad days and -there’s-not-enough-time days.

Just like our characters.

Some of my favorite fashion quotes from TV characters.

 “I like my money right where I can see it…hanging in my closet.”  Carrie  Bradshaw, Sex and the City

“I get up at dawn to look this good!” Mimi Bobeck, The Drew Carey Show

“I say go with black. It makes you look all villainy.” Damon Salvatore, The Vampire Diaries

“Oh, no! Hipster. No. Do not think we are on the same team, we have nothing in common. I wear knit hats when it’s cold out, you wear knit hats because of Coldplay.” Max, 2 Broke Girls

When it comes to creating a character’s personal style it’s not only fun but necessary to emphasize personality. Every one of the characters quoted above can be considered over the top. Not only by what they say and how they act, but how they dress. Their style reinforces their personality. And a character’s style can change to enhance the advancement of the plot or the help showcase their character arc. Like us humans out in the real world, characters have their good days and their bad ones, often in extremes. How they dress or put themselves together can help reflect their state of mind.

Which takes me on a little detour into costume design? Besides the obvious fact of characters having to wear clothes and having those clothes be appropriate to the story and setting, I didn’t know  a lot about the process. I’m still a rank amateur. But I’ve picked up a few hints watching bonus reels.

Example: The 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice – The costume designer spoke about Mr. Darcy’s wardrobe and how uptight and buttoned up he was at the beginning of the movie. How they gradually loosened him up in terms of wardrobe choices and fabrics to reinforce the changes to his character.

Makes sense, right?

The following quote is taken from The Secret Lives of Costumes. It’s a great look into the world of costume design.

“I take my cues from the characters and their surroundings as written in the play, as well as from the stylistic choices of the production. In the same way that an actor builds upon the framework of traits and actions of his or her character in the story, I read what the character does and says for clues about what they might wear. I also need to think about how best to reflect a character’s evolution through the development of the story. Sometimes the character is best served by creating contrast between how a character behaves and what he or she looks like.”  Judith Bowden, Canadian Designer

It’s something to think about when creating characters. Or during the editing process when you’re busy adding in the interesting bits and quirks. We need to think about style in terms of character development, even if it’s not obvious or part of the plot. We all know Eliza Doolittle undergoes a transformation in My Fair Lady. Usually it’s not that obvious in terms of wardrobe. Using subtle changes can make an impact, too.

My current work-in-progress, Off the Grid, is a romantic suspense novella. It will probably end up around 25, 000 words. That’s not a lot of time. Every costume change counts. Dr. Sophie Monroe is a dedicated physician and activist. She doesn’t give a lot of thought to her fashion choices. Caleb Quinn has just been named one of Canada’s Top Lawyers Under Forty. He dresses with purpose and is impeccably groomed. it’s my job is to show how things fall apart and how they put them back together again. By reading up on costume design I’ve learned a few tips and techniques I can apply to the written word and how I can use it to emphasize these changes.

Do you love a certain TV character’s style? Have a favorite costume from a movie? Use wardrobe changes as a tool in your own writing?


10 thoughts on “Costume Changes

  1. Great post, Karyn. I actually rely on style for my writing. Not in every book the same way, but for my vintage historical, Home, my heroine is a gypsy in the 60’s. I had to combine her heritage style with the times because Poppy is a ‘modern’ gypsy. Very fun!

    • Thanks, Calisa! Very true, different stories demand different senses of style. Poppy sounds like a very interesting character. The idea of merging a more historical sense of style with the necessary modern day edges is very intriguing.

      Check out Pen of a Dreamer to learn more about Calisa’s story HOME.

  2. In my contemporary romances I definitely use wardrobe. The male villain’s clothes never fit quite right. The female villain over does her make-up and her clothes are over the top. The hero looks as hot in a suit as he does in snug jeans and T-shirts. The heroine shocks him in a gorgeous gown or melts his heart in a simple sundress. It’s a tool too fun not to use.

    • Hi, Sandra! I think sometimes as a writer of stories taking place in contemporary times I forget to think more about wardrobe than beyond the obvious fact that characters need clothes. Kudos to you for giving it so much thought and planning. Your stories are sure to benefit from it!

  3. Clothing plays a big role in historical novels – but you’re right in also pointing out that contemporary stories need to have their wardrobe, too. And they say the suit makes the man (do they or did I just make that up?) – so the choices we make for our characters have ring true to their personalities.

    Great post, Karyn! And I love the fact that in your follow-up to Backlash, your heroine is all about the clothes and even owns her own boutique!

    • Thanks, Janet! Once I’m finished with Off the Grid I’ll be back working on Killer Obsession. There’s definitely room to play there as the hero is as equally unconcerned about clothes as Kate is knowledgeable. I can’t wait to dress her down and dress him up!

  4. Character dresssing needs a delicate balance though, I think. Too many ‘costume’ details can detract from the story but even just a mention of something like ‘sneakers’ or ‘ornate fichu lace’ can immediately give a reader an image of in that first instance contemporary casual dress, and secondly a more elaborate costume style. I enjoyed your article very much!

    • Welcome, Ilona! I love reading stories of by-gone eras by authors, like you, who’ve done their research and are able to make that time period come alive. Here’s to research and dedication to detail!

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