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Friday, January 22, 2016

Keeping it real

When writing contemporary or fantasy books, dress can pretty much be whatever the author wishes. This is not not the case with historicals. Both men and women had certain characteristic garb, which related to class as well as location. Wealthier women were more bound by the styles of their times, whereas, poorer women were lucky to have clothing that held together and looked clean. How much of the bust was shown also varied with period of time, community, and styles.

In an historical, the consideration of what class the woman is in (true for men to some degree also) as well as where she lives has to be a consideration in the descriptions of her garments. Some writers go into extensive descriptions of the gowns while others provide only a few notes. Readers also vary as to their preference for these kind of details.
 
Living as we do today where any length or style seems to go, it's hard to remember back even to my youth when a hem had to be a certain length or it was out of style. Being out of style didn't just matter to the wealthy back then but to the middle economic classes. I found this article useful in understanding how the bustle came to be and was modified through the years.


Covers are one of the main places where, if the heroine is on the cover, her garb better suit her time period and class. Put a country gal in an expensive looking satin gown and it misleads the reader. The more knowledgeable readers will also know if a certain style is wrong for say 1880 Kansas. I don't think there has ever been a time with more knowledgeable readers in terms of historic details. Historic romances are not intended to be non-fiction, but they do have to have the feel of the period in which they are set and dress is part of that.

When describing a character, I am always torn as to how much time to give her garments. Clothing can be revealing. Does she like dressing up? How complicated is it for her to put this dress on? Does she dress for herself or others? Her garb also defines where she fits into her community. She might delight in being scandalous. If she throws on what is convenient and clean but doesn't care much what it looks like, that reveals character as would it if her concern is matching shoes, dress, and hat. If she wears pants when it's totally not the 'thing' to do, it gives more clues to her character.

7 comments:

  1. I like to just give enough of the clothing to flavor the time period but not go into too much detail. Fun post!

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  2. Interesting post and photos. As you said, details about a heroine's clothing can tell a lot about her. I think that kind of information adds color to a story. You've found a good balance in describing your characters' clothing in your books.

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  3. Interesting post and photos. As you said, details about a heroine's clothing can tell a lot about her. I think that kind of information adds color to a story. You've found a good balance in describing your characters' clothing in your books.

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  4. Good post, Rain, and loved the photos. Writing historicals means being true to the era and locale. My heroine in my WIP just cut off her hems so they wouldn't trail in the dirt of a ranch.

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  5. Very interesting post. Writing historicals involves getting every detail right. The reader will spot a mistake in a minute.

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  6. Great post, Rain. And yes, there are sometimes terrible mistakes made when describing clothing, especially in relation to social class. Those silly historical covers with 21st century makeup and pseudo historical hairstyles (tumbling locks straight out of Dallas) are particularly absurd. What I dislike most in contemporaries, is when the author uses designer tags: writers have to be clever and inventive in their descriptions and avoid pushing ready-made products.

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  7. Enjoyed your post very much, Rain. I found the article on the bustle interesting though it didn't seem to draw any links to fashion, women's rights, etc. Mention of the bustle made me think of the scene in Tombstone when Doc Holliday says to his mistress, "No bustle? You vixen." Or something to that effect. I guess the inference being that ladies wore bustles and harlots didn't. Yet, the article on history of the bustle doesn't seem to make that point. I have a book on fashion through the ages. I'll have to go look it up again.

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