I moved into a new apartment a few months ago and as I boxed up everything I owned, I realized that books and clothes made up the vast majority of my belongings. Obviously I love books–I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t–but I also love fashion. Fashion gets a ditzy rep, especially for women, and I’m sure you’ve read your share of books where the main female character pointedly rejects fashion in the author’s attempt to distance herself from ‘other girls’, which is forever one of my least favorite tropes.
I’ve actually found that working fashion into fantasy not only adds another layer to the world building but also tells the reader a lot about your characters.
Fashion plays a big role in Ash Princess in particular and to find the right aesthetic I searched through a lot of runway collections. You can find these handily collected on Vogue for an array of designers sometimes dating as far back as 1991 and a lot of them look like something straight out of a fantasy novel. Don’t believe me?
Here’s a look from Comme des Garçon’s Spring 2017 collection. Doesn’t that look like it would be right at home in some strange Alice in Wonderland retelling? A completely different world than…
…this dress from Elie Saab’s Spring 2017 collection, which looks like something a princess would wear in a delicate high fantasy.
And if you’re ever low on inspiration, Alexander McQueen’s archives are a gold mine.
For Ash Princess, I used a few different designers and collections (below is Reem Acra and Zuhair Murad). In the book, one country conquers another and so there’s a melding of cultures happening. The Kalovaxians used to favor stiff velvets and full silhouettes, but since they’ve been in Astrea, they’ve coopted Astrean fashions, which are more Ancient Greek and Byzantine–lots of draping and intricate gold accents.
I think all writers are also painfully familiar with the note “show don’t tell”, and describing what your character wears can be a handy way to do that. Color, for instance, can show us a lot. A character who wears deep red will likely be associated with passion and daring, while a character who opts for a pale blue will probably be thought of as shy and quiet. The same goes for whether their clothes are tight or loose or long or short–every choice says something, even if your character doesn’t realize they’re saying it.
So next time you’re setting up a scene, try asking yourself what your character is wearing. Maybe find pictures of something similar if you’re stuck. I’m not suggesting you describe every detail, which can drastically slow down the pace and come across as boring, but pick the details that matter. A scarlet gown with gold epaulettes, for example, is enough of a description to tell you that the wearer is confident and ready for battle–even if it’s only a battle of wits. A grey tweed suit that doesn’t fit right is all a reader needs to hear to know that someone is uncomfortable in the spotlight.
In short, when we get dressed we are, consciously or not, deciding how we want the world to see us and giving the same decision to your characters can flesh them out as well as the world around them.