It is very clear to me that appearance says a lot about a person, and by extension, a character.
Before I begin I should warn you that this is not by any means professional advice. I’ve never had a work of fiction published anywhere other than on this blog. So be warned. The following tips may be horribly wrong.
Moving right along…
When I’m writing a character, I want their outward appearance to be something of a reflection of their inner personalities. For example, if a character is sweet and likeable, I would illustrate that by putting her in a nice blouse or even a sundress. That way, if I’m experiencing that person from another person’s POV, the reader can infer something about the sweet character before she even speaks.
The simple, girly clothing highlights the character's innocence.
A person who is outdoorsy and adventurous would reflect that in their wardrobe: sporty-type or khaki shorts and a t-shirt with a fleece jacket. For a guy, perhaps some boots would be added.
This couple's attire clearly spells out the fact that they're ready for a day under the sun.
On the other hand, if my character is a hard person to get to know, or if they appear to be mysterious and distant, I would put them in very plain, nondescript clothing that gives away none of their true personality. That way, no one can begin to guess what their true feelings are.
With no markings of any kind, one can't even know where this man shops.
Of course, if you really want to illustrate the complexity in your character, you could make them have a wacky wardrobe that holds all manner of items. Or, if they are liars or betrayers, make them seem more innocent than they really are. All that really counts is that you make sure these people are true to life. If it were a real person, where would they shop? What would feel comfortable on them? These are the kinds of questions I like to ask myself when fleshing out my characters.
It doesn’t have to stop with clothing, either. A character’s physical appearance can be affected just as much. Is your character crisp and business minded? Then don’t let his hair go shaggy. If your girl is the outdoors type mentioned above, she might always have her hair up in a ponytail.
Searching my brain for an example of good descriptions, the one that sticks out most in my mind is J.K. Rowling’s Remus Lupin. One of the first descriptions we have of Lupin in the book is that his clothes are “shabby” and patched up. Later, this is shown to make complete sense given the fact that Lupin is a werewolf. Being what he is, it’s difficult for him to get a job, so naturally his clothing would reflect the lack of income.
Why, Lupin? WHY??? *sob*
I’m not saying it’s necessary to tell all the details in your manuscript. That would just be boring after a while, and even if it weren’t it’s impossible to fit everything into one book or short story. But you as the author should definitely have an idea about what the character wears and looks like. Not only is it handy for the descriptions you do use, but it’s also a safeguard against writing anything that’s out of character. You don’t want to accidentally put a character in an outfit that doesn’t fit their personality, unless of course you meant to for plot reasons.
Well, that’s all I have to say on the subject. My next post might be another Hunger Games one. We’ll see.