I recently reviewed Carrie Ryan’s YA Mystery Daughter of Deep Silence, which I gave 3/5 due to its lacklustre characters and plot. However, one thing I didn’t like about the novel that I didn’t actually mention was the style of one of the characters. Sounds petty, I know, but as soon as Greyson Wells, the love-interest, was described as wearing ‘pressed khakis and a light pink button-down shirt’ to a posh fundraiser, I knew I would never grow to ‘swoon’ over this supposedly handsome love interest. Not a chance.
Who wears khakis to a respectable event? What are you do wearing those monstrosities? I immediately imagined the short khakis, not the long trousers, which I’m presuming he’s wearing because it’s summer and they’re by the beach, but still. Unacceptable. And khaki with pink? Don’t even go there.
Yes, I am well aware that I sound like the fashion police right now, but of course I’m exaggerating (just a little). I’m pretty sure ‘pressed khakis’ are much more popular in the USA (where the novel is set) than the UK, so khakis might sound extremely normal to any American reader. In fact, when I google ‘pressed khakis’, there are only results for American retailers, no British ones. But for me, it just sounds like a fashion disaster. Invest in some nice suit trousers, Greyson Wells, not khakis. I think of khakis and I see Donald Trump, and I really don’t want to imagine the love-interests in novels as young Donald Trump’s.
So, this got me thinking; how important are the clothes characters wear? Clearly Greyson Wells’ fashion sense was enough to put me off him a little, but his personality wasn’t great either. Sure, if he’d had a great personality, I’d have forgiven the khakis, because I read novels to learn about and enjoy these fictional people, not lament over their dress sense. But still, it clearly affected my overall attraction to him as a character.
Of course, in Fantasy or Sci-Fi novels, clothes are often used to convey status, such as the use of flashy armour, family insignia’s, jewellery. Even today, clothes still convey status. A man wearing an Armani suit? Must be rich. Maybe a businessman. Or a celebrity.
Let’s use a TV programme as an example here. Arya Stark in Season 1 of Game of Thrones wears a thick cloak, a fresh dress, her hair clean and plaited. Arya Stark in the most recent Season is wearing rags, her hair limp and greasy, her skin dirty. You don’t need to watch Game of Thrones to understand that something bad has happened to Arya between these two stills. Clothes show status, but I don’t like Arya any less for being dirty and in rags. So why did Greyson Wells’ outfit put me off him?
Maybe I expected him to dress well because his father is a rich senator, but wealth doesn’t equate fashion sense (yes, Donald Trump, I mean you). Or maybe, because he’s the love-interest, I expect him to dress in a style that I like on men. Just a normal suit would have sufficed. But I can’t expect every girl in every book to dress how I do, or every boy to dress how my boyfriend does.
However, you do expect a love-interest to be one thing: handsome, in some way or another. I don’t expect every man in every novel to look like Tom Hardy, although I can dream, but they do need to have something that’s attractive about them. Whether that be their face, their personality, their physique or style, you want to be attracted to them, you want to root for them to end up with the other main character, be they man or woman, if there’s a romance.
Let’s take another example from a TV series, Peaky Blinders:
Now, let’s ignore the fact that Cillian Murphy is very pretty and focus on the clothes. Clean, sharp (I’m not talking about the razor blades in their caps here), layered. You know they’re organised, that they care about looking good, that they have money. Their suits say power and confidence. Clothes tell us immediately what someone is like before they’ve even opened their mouth. John, on the left, hat slightly askew – what does that imply? That he breaks the rules? You’d be right about that, but then again they all do. Tommy, in the middle, hat straight, arguably a nicer waistcoat than John’s – he’s the leader. Arthur, right, coat buttoned-up – things he wants to hide? Yes, but I do watch the show, so I’m probably just reading into it. But still, you see what I mean, their clothes can tell us what they’re like. And also, those suits are way more attractive than khakis and a pink shirt. I’d make my boyfriend dress like the Peaky Blinders if I could (yes I would, Mark).
So how important are the clothes that characters wear? In my opinion, quite important. They tell you something about the character. Even if it’s a knight in armour, you know they’re strong and respected. Clothes will tell you if someone conforms or rebels, what their personality may be like, how much they value their appearance.
On the other hand, some authors never tell us what their characters are wearing. Do I mind? No, I just imagine them how I like, or how I think best fits their personality. Yet this still proves the importance of clothes; not just as something to cover people up with, so characters aren’t running about naked in our heads as we read a book, but so that we can project what clothes we like and want onto them. It gives us a sense of ownership, makes us like them more. In the end, clothes, to me, are an important factor of characterisation. But does it matter a lot? No, unless your character is personality-less and dresses like Donald Trump, in which case, yes, it matters a lot.
So, over to you; how important are the clothes characters wear? Let me know in the comments below, whether you agree or disagree with me, I’d love to hear some other opinions!