How do you decide how to dress your characters?
The characters in my romances drive the plot. Besides unfolding how a couple falls or stays in love, I like to portray them doing it while holding down jobs or running businesses. While they may not be flat broke, they still have to get up and put in the work, and their clothes reflect their ambitious and entrepreneurial lifestyles.
Readers want impactful characters that make them laugh, cry, yell and swoon. The clothes they wear when doing one or more of those things can deepen the connection as readers turn the page. In Sweet Love, Bitter Fruit, I wanted the clothes Marcus and Toni wore to reflect their complex lives.
Marcus wears a lot of hats. His multiple roles as a community leader, husband and brother collapse on him, and the clothes he dons in many scenes reflect the shifts he has to make to maintain control. After running through the Harlem streets in his high-end sneakers and performance gear, he puts on a designer business suit and heads to the community center he directs. After work, he tugs on a pair of grey sweats, just elephant trunkin’ it in his apartment with Toni.
In Queen of the Castle, I switched clothing gears. The main characters, Tarika and Aqil, own businesses. Tarika is a curriculum developer and works from home. Aqil is a successful independent contractor. He earns plenty of money, but his laid back demeanor and work mean he usually slaps on a pair of jeans and tee-shirt. Tarika works from home, so she wears casual flowing skirts and blouses and opts to drape a long Jersey hijab over her hair.
I try to highlight how Muslim female characters cover in my Muslim romances. The hijab remains an important garment in Islamic culture and a staple in my romances featuring Muslim characters. Women don’t cover the same, and I take advantage of the opportunity to show the variety of hijab through my characters, reflecting their individual structures and arcs.
Dressing characters may challenge writers. It is easy to overlook the influence of what characters wear and either ignore describing dress or punctuating the story with bland depictions. Some of the best advice I got from my writing coach was to treat my characters’ clothes as part of their personalities and environment. What they wear can support or drive who they are to readers. Authors have the liberty to make wardrobe align with or diverge from social norms. It is great to have a billionaire in Armani, but one who prefers J.Crew can offer a deeper character that readers want to get to know.
Playing in characters’ closets gives authors options on how they want to present them and the plot to readers. Have at it!
Let’s keep those keyboards clicking.