You Are a Writer: Dress the Part

Some say you are what you eat, while for others it’s all about what you wear.  We can achieve a lot in our fiction by how we dress our characters: clothes can indicate setting, either geographical or historical; can reflect a personality; and a distinctive outfit, or even an accessory, can serve as an aide to help the reader distinguish our characters from each other.  As long as you remember your novel isn’t in the same market as Vogue, if you like clothes, you can have great fun with fiction.

Yet how many of us consider it from the other side, that what we wear when we sit down at our desks might impact our writing?  New age twaddle?  After all, our characters can’t see us.  Yet we know intuitively that how we dress has a strong impact on how we think and feel.  We don’t only dress to impress at that interview, but also to be comfortable enough in ourselves to field those dreadful questions.

It may be a reaction to that other work, or the memory of it, that makes so many writers relish the freedom to turn up at our desks in clothes we wouldn’t leave the house in.  Why waste precious writing time getting dressed when you can sit at your computer in your pajamas?  Your brain cells have an important job to do: sorting out your plot problems. Why bother them with the trivial task of selecting an outfit?

Yet clothes can make a measurable difference to our performance in some situations.  Psychologists had one group carry out an attention task wearing a lab coat while another group did the same task wearing their own clothes.  There were no other known differences between the two groups, yet the people in the lab coat performed significantly better.  Now, that’s not to say we should all turn up at our computers in lab coats, or even that the fiction muscle could be enhanced by some kind of writer’s uniform in a similar way.  But it’s interesting to surmise that you or I might write differently, depending on what we are wearing.

Jenna Blum dressed like her character Anna when writing Those Who Save Us, a woman different to the author in both outlook and age. When she was writing Small Island, Andrea Levy apparently wore different clothes to help her occupy the different voices.  Just as an actor dresses up to step into role, so did these novelists.  I imagine it would work the other way round too, a way of peeling off your narrative voice at the end of the day to go back to your real life.

It makes a lot of sense to me yet I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t tried it.  It may be that I’m too lazy to get dressed in the morning, or that my characters are all thinly veiled versions of me.  But I’d love to hear what others think of the idea.


Anne Goodwin pontificates about reading and writing with a peppering of psychology on her blog, Annecdotal.  She also writes short fiction, accessible via her website, including one about sartorial anxiety, A Dress for the Address.

8 comments to You Are a Writer: Dress the Part

  • John Timm

    There are two ways you could put this into practice. The first is to dress like your characters, as suggested. Sort of like method acting techniques adapted to writing. Or, you could simply choose to have all your characters go about in their pajamas or underwear.

  • This is an interesting post and I think it is worth considering whether wearing a costume may help one move inside the character one is creating. As I was reading the suggestion I thought that it might though, like you, I haven’t tried it. I certainly imagine myself as that character, which I assume most writers do, but haven’t actually done the dressing up. One of my more recent characters was a dragon – now that may have been fun! I may have got my fingers/paper/keyboard burnt!

  • I just might start writing in a lab coat! Comfort is important to me when I write because I don’t want binding jeans or bunching socks to distract me. But oddly enough, color is important, too. I write best feeling colorful, but I think to the observer I’d look goofy.

  • I’ve never tried dressing like one of my characters, but I do get dressed for work before entering my office (the spare bedroom). No business suits, but something clean and presentable. It’s OK to jot down some notes if the muse strikes while I’m still in my nightwear but getting dressed helps me to switch into ‘serious work’ mode. Mind you, I do have my slippers on under the desk – such a relief to be able to ditch those smart shoes!

  • Fascinating, thought provoking stuff.

    I’m actually a big fan of clothes and certainly wear them to reflect my personality. I’ve also used them in some of my fiction as shorthand into particular characters.

    I wrote a blog not very long ago about writing in my pyjamas, something I do almost every day. It’s a very different take on this subject, but you might find it interesting. Take a look if you like:

  • Thanks for all these fabulous comments. I’m still contemplating what I could do with a set of characters dressed in their pyjamas. A bit of a bedroom farce?

  • […] welcome debut author Anne Goodwin to my blog! I stumbled upon her blog Annecdotal while reading her illuminating post on the Black Fox Literary magazine, and ever since I’ve been a fan of her and her writing. Her […]

  • I have spent a small fortune collecting WWII clothing, because it’s easier for me to write about a particular piece of clothing, say helmet vs. RAF officers cap. Puts my mind/voice in a whole other place.

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