Clothes Maketh The Character

Clothes Maketh The Character


Clothes maketh the man, therefore clothes maketh the character. Let’s explore this in more detail in this post.

A well-known saying is ‘manners maketh the man’, but there are many things that make up a character, including clothing. Clothes are a huge part of who we are. Clothing is one of the easiest ways we can express ourselves.

A question I often ask my students when they share their wild and wonderful ideas about their characters with me is: how are you going to ‘show’ that? (Not that everything should be shown, but often we have great ideas for characters, but we haven’t quite thought through how that will translate to a page.)

Clothes Maketh The Character

Your character’s clothing can help you show who they are and what changes they are going through. It is a simple and effective way to show who your character is.

Think about different types of clothing:

  1. Uniforms can show rank, occupation, religion, or school.
  2. Cultural dress shows the history and ties your character to their country and heritage.
  3. Activity-related clothing shows us if they are playing basketball or prepping for surgery.
  4. Certain clothes can show status and economic circumstances. Rags or Riches?

Examples Of Clothing In Fiction

Think about the symbolic use of clothing in:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale The women who wear red fulfil a specific role in society. They are easily identified. This limits their movements and behaviour. This is beautifully shown in the tv series. (Source for image: Hulu via The Handmaid’s Tale Facebook Page)
  2. The Hunger Games When Katniss travels to the Capitol she meets Cinna who dresses her for the games. This shows her change in status and draws attention to her. (Insert fire emoji here.)
  3. The Matrix Neo trades in his suit and tie for swanky leathers after he pops the red pill.
  4. Cinderella You can’t go to the ball dressed in rags, can you? By donning a ballgown Cinderella can dance with the Prince.
  5. Unorthodox In a community where clothing guidelines are very conservative, the removal of a scarf, hairpiece, and stockings all become symbolic.

Why Should Your Character Change Their Clothes?

A change of clothes can signify a change in the circumstances of the character. The symbolism will help you show your story.

A character may need:

  1. To hide their identity: new hair colour, change clothes that would be recognisable.
  2. To assume a new rank: promotion or demotion, the ascension of a King or Queen.
  3. To signify a change in religion: joining or leaving a religion. Think of a nun’s habit, a hijab.
  4. To show personal change or growth: newfound confidence.
  5. To stay alive: falling into a frozen lake.
  6. To fit in: social expectations and pressures.

The Last Word

So, you can see that clothes maketh the character. These are only a few examples, but I hope this will help you to create, and use, these simple techniques to enrich your story.

Source for image: Hulu via The Handmaid’s Tale Facebook Page

Top Tip: Use our Character Creation Kit to create great characters for your stories.

Mia Botha by Mia Botha

Buy Mia’s book on how to write short stories: Write the crap out of it and other short story writing advice

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This article has 3 comments

  1. Maja

    Hi,
    Can you go into more detail ( point 5 :To stay alive: falling into a frozen lake.) Or can I take it literally?

    • Mia Botha

      Hi Maja, yes. It’s literal. The character would have to change clothes or risk death or illness.

  2. Reuben Shupp

    I enjoyed this article. It was very informative. As a reader, it bothers me when the mc spend too much time talking about what they’re wearing. Is it needed? Does it move the plot forward.

    Reuben Shupp

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