Creating vivid descriptions for a story or character is a mark of a great writer. One specific form of descriptive writing that particularly affects setting and characterization is the portrayal of characters’ clothing.

Clothing descriptions work best when they appear organically in the course of the narrative. The story should never halt in place so that you can shoehorn in a bunch of sartorial descriptions. Here are some writing tips to help you use clothing descriptions in your creative writing:

Integrate clothing into your initial character description. The first time readers meet a character, they should get a sense of how they dress.

Study articles of clothing to make sure you know what they look like. This will help you choose the right words to describe them. For example, it would be appropriate to describe a chiffon dress as “sheer” or “thin,” but it would be clumsy to describe it as “threadbare” because chiffon is not cheap.

Pick outfits that fit the setting you’re writing about. If you’re describing an elegant ball, you might want to place a character in a form-fitting strapless evening gown, as this is a common piece for formal dances. Describing the clothing reinforces the setting you’ve chosen.

Blend clothing into job descriptions. If you’re describing a monk at work, you could note how the loose-fitting sleeves of his frock draped onto a table. If you’re describing a superhero in an action scene, describe the flow of their cape or the stiffness of their boots.

Let your characters change outfits. Show a character arc by marking how a character’s clothing changes over the course of your story. If a character in a YA novel starts out wearing ill-fitting khaki slacks with enormous pleats and ends that same novel wearing a denim jacket with an “anarchy” pin on the lapel, we know they’ve undergone some major changes.

Use clothing to set characters apart. Represent the difference between two characters by describing the differences in their clothing. Let’s say you’re describing two characters interviewing for the same job: One wears a sporty, ruched, A-line dress, and the other wears jeans and a sweatshirt. The reader can infer aspects of both characters’ personalities and make a comparison between two characters.

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