Character Clothing, Part 2

Welcome back, everyone – this is part two in my series on clothing. As promised, today I’ll talk a bit about symbolism, fashion trends, and tradition.


I’ll begin with symbolism and the importance of color.

When it comes to clothes, the easiest way to symbolize something is by using color meanings. Different cultures assign different meanings to different colors; I’m going to focus on western symbolism today. Here’s a quick run-through of the basic color meanings:


Red – passion, love, anger, danger

Yellow – blindness or illumination, sometimes at the same time

Green – birth, rebirth

color wheelPurple – royalty

Pink – femininity

White – purity, life

Black – death

Gray – life and death at the same time

Gold – wealth

Brown – of the earth


Of course, you’re welcome to use another culture’s symbolism, but keep in mind that your readers will assume you’re using what they know. If you want to use something else, make sure you at least hint at its meaning.

(For a more in-depth look at cultural color symbolism, check out this page.)

In the same way, you’re welcome to make up your own color meanings – just make sure you explain them. (This is where a foreign character is helpful; his ignorance of the culture opens the door for natural explanations and helps you avoid exposition.)

Another thing to take into consideration when choosing what color someone is wearing is the cost. Some colors are harder to manufacture, and therefore carry a higher price. For example, greens, yellows, and browns come from plants and are fairly cheap to make. Blues and purples, on the other hand, come from materials that are difficult to gather, like snail shells and lapis lazuli. There’s a reason purple is the color of royalty – it’s a cheaper version of blue, the most expensive color.


ribbonsNext, a word on fashion trends.

Now, some of you will have no problem understanding what drives trends and have a great time deciding what’s in style in your world. For those of you like me, who have no idea, don’t panic. Unless you’re writing a novel about a dressmaker or high-society lady, you’re not going to need to go in-depth.

Basically, just be aware that trends exist. Certain classes will follow them almost religiously: the nobility, for the status and show of wealth, and the middle class, in an attempt to copy the nobility and appear high class.

For a writer’s purposes, trends can be as simple as “beaded trim is the latest thing” or “bright colors are in right now.” The level of detail is entirely up to you.


Finally, we’ll end with tradition.

This can be as basic as peasants wearing simple clothing because it’s practical, or as complicated as avoiding a certain style due to a social stigma. You’ll want to think beyond “we’ve always worn our sleeves like this” to what’s considered modest, inappropriate, or forbidden.

kimonoIs a certain color only for the nobility?

Is black thought to cause bad luck?

Are there any punishments for dressing above your station?

Is it socially acceptable for girls to wear pants?

Where is the line between modest and risqué?

Does style or color signify profession?

Tradition, if used correctly, can add a wealth of depth to a setting.


Hopefully this has given you something interesting to think about – as always, thanks for reading!

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