U: Undressing History, or, fashion research and invention

I had to do a lot of fashion research for my debut novel. My protagonist is very concerned with appearances and is always studying people to see how they hold up against the current trends. That meant that I had to know what those trends were, in enough detail that Christopher Buckley could fixate on it.

Some authors are just immensely talented at writing descriptions of clothing. Gail Carriger is one of them. When I read her words, the gowns and coats she’s painting just come alive. I admire the incredibe detail that goes into her work. I just can’t do that! I have to be a little more subtle in my descriptions to give them that sort of life, and let my reader fill in some details.

That’s why I find it actually really hard to just describe clothing in photographs! What I write never comes out looking how I want it to. And that’s why I like to mix a little bit of invention in with my research.

My novel may have the aesthetic of Edwardian England, but it doesn’t actually take place there. So I’ve been able to have some fun. I add and take away bits from the fashions of the time, mixing things that were in fashion years before, years later, or never in fashion at all.

M-4316I’ll start with something like this beautiful plate, and then just… tweak it a bit. Sometimes for ease of writing, where I might obscure the exact cut of the overgarment. And sometimes to conform to my little world-building details, where I’d give her lace gloves because I wrote those as a current fashion trend in Darrington. And then I might tweak a little or a lot more depending on the character. Fashion isn’t universal, after all! While my narrator, Chris, always is dressed to the very letter of the stylebook, his boss, Olivia Faraday, likes to experiment and shock with her choices. I might drop the underdress entirely above the waist for her to give a plunging neckline, or have her throw leather belt to cinch the waist up.

I admire the hell out of people who can write actual historicals, but one of the reasons I don’t is because I’m not interested in mimicking a time or place, but in creating one. Allowing myself a bit of flexibility while still remaining true to an overall aesthetic leaves things a little loose and strange.

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One thought on “U: Undressing History, or, fashion research and invention

  1. Sonia Lal April 29, 2015 / 6:22 pm

    Fashion forward characters are hard to write. πŸ˜›

    Like

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