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Fashion in Fiction February 5, 2012

Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
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3 comments

A standard piece of advice for YA writers is to avoid using slang. What’s current slang when you’re writing a novel may be outdated by the time your novel hits print. But what about fashion? How should your characters dress?

If you’re a historical novelist, no problem–do your homework for the time period and have your characters dress accordingly. But, if you’re writing for modern-day audiences, should your characters be wearing “hoodies” and “skinny jeans”? Probably not. Fashions go out as quickly as they come in, and you want as many generations of readers (and accompanying sales) as you can get for a book.

While in high school, I read a YA novel in which the main character wore orange, high-top, canvas tennis shoes. These had been somewhat popular when I was in elementary school, although the preferred color was black. The fact that this character kept wearing these tennis shoes and felt really connected to them suggested to me that the book might be dated. A peek at the copyright date confirmed it was.

Now, I was an avid reader and just because a character dressed behind the times didn’t spell the death of a book for me. (I would have never gotten through all those Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books while I was in elementary school, if that was the case. Only years later did I learn what “pumps,” “saddle shoes,” and “pedal pushers” were.) Still, when I write a book–or even a short story–I try to make my characters as timeless as possible. One way of doing this is keeping descriptions of their clothing basic.

Some clothes never go out. Blue jeans are perpetually popular with teens; it’s just the styles and names for them that change. What were “bell bottoms” in the 1970s resurged as “flares” recently. “Pedal pushers” of the 1950s became today’s “capris.” I will describe a character as wearing blue jeans and allow readers to imagine the current style.

I find the following clothing items most timeless:

tennis shoes

T-shirts

blue jeans

leather jackets

sweatshirts

turtlenecks

peasant blouses and skirts

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