characters / descriptors / writers / writers resources

How to Describe a Person’s Clothing

This is a small thing, but can make the difference between a believable story or not. When your characters come on


Photo credit: Yuelcalnabi

stage, readers want to know what they look like. What they are wearing, including shoes, jewelry, dresses, suits–whatever. Give a quick description and be done with it. Do be sure, though, if your female character has boots on, don’t have her feet wet from a puddle.

Note: These are in no particular order, pretty much how I discovered them and wrote them down:

  • Wore martial arts slippers
  • Collar of his greatcoat
  • Poor taste in clothes
  • Top button of his shirt was undone, exposing his undershirt
  • Middle-aged, wavy-haired brunette packed tightly into a peacock-blue knockoff Chanel suit.
  • He wore a yellow-and-blue window-pane shirt, a big-knotted red tie of gleaming silk brocade, leather knit suspenders.
  • Round spectacles tinted pink
  • Wearing tan slacks and a powder-blue golf shirt, a thick gold chain around his neck. He chewed gum.
  • The driver was a big guy, wearing a steel-gray suit, wine-colored necktie and sunglasses.
  • Wore a rumpled suit and a tie that wasn’t knotted properly
  • He was not a man who wore suits well
  • Wore a faded gray David Lynch Rules sweatshirt, wrinkled cargo pants, high lace-up boots
  • Tight beige cotton pants and a loose cotton shirt striped with shades of blue and pink and red. No panty line.
  • His khaki shirt wet with spots of perspiration around his collar and under his arms
  • Dark blue tie, plain gold cufflinks and a pair of black lace-up Derby shoes.
  • Tweed jacket, coat
  • Tight sleeveless tunic over crop pants
  • Despite that, and the ugliest Aloha shirt I’d ever seen
  • With their beaded purses and gem-studded slippers, their arched eyebrows and raccoon eyes
  • Dust-streaked plaid shirt and faded Levis
  • Graying heavyset man with wire-rimmed glasses
  • His tshirt contoured around his body like wet kleenex


  • Sturdy, compact body, neatly dressed in a pressed suit, shined shoes and perfectly rolled-up sleeves
  • Tan jacket. Brown pants, black shoes, a groove in his forehead from a hat now resting on his lap.
  • Cheap sports coat he might have stolen from a used care salesman
  • Power suits, this morning a dark blue worsted
  • Wore an ill-fitting gray suit over a pale blue shirt and a 1980’s navy blue tie. Taking fashion direction from NYPD Blue

For more descriptors for characters and settings, click here.


24 thoughts on “How to Describe a Person’s Clothing

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  5. Wow, that’s a lotta ways to describe people’s clothes! I have to write a paper this week, so I’ll be visiting this post often to jazz up my clothing descriptions. Thanks!


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  9. Thanks! Can u advice me some good books and writers? I’m a student studying narrative. I’m lack of vivid phrases containing metaphor and so on…..thanks again!


  10. What would you call the following garment:

    First picture a High Elf female Sorceress. The garment she wore, which seemingly clung to the contours of her body was made from the silk of the Amazon spider. It was open in the front and loosely tied together with two strategically well placed ribbons; one just beneath her bosom and the other just above the navel. The rest of the garment was left to flow freely down to just above the knees.


  11. Here’s the follow up to my reader’s request for information on period clothing:

    Thanks for your reply Kali,

    “go to the Smithsonian’s and the National Archive’s collections from that era”. Is that some sort of Museum? I’m from New Zealand btw.

    My altered History, will actually be like a different Earth, different continents etc. But similar periods and history. I hope that still fits in the altered history genre lol.

    Yes you can post my original question ( i noticed i used the wrong word in my question if you can replace accurately with accuracy, at the end of the first paragraph it will read better.)

    Reading novels from that period is a good idea.

    I will check back on your blog, i have it bookmarked.

    Do some of your subscribers post links that is to do with your topics? So everyone can benefit from other peoples website finds/searches?
    Another idea could be to have some screen shots of costumes from period films or some artwork found the web (i dont know if there would be a copyright issue there? or perhaps linking to the website with the images there)
    I have some images i downloaded off the net from google image search if you need some examples.

    I got some off this website which is a community art/photography website
    Some good inspirational ideas there, from buildings to concept art. Which can be used as a jumping off base for ideas for writers.

    Thanks again for your reply,


    Hi ***

    The Smithsonian calls itself the world’s largest museum complex and research organization composed of 19 museums, 9 research centers, and the National Zoo. Here’s a link for an exhibition they have on Period Clothing.

    The National Archives is a massive collection of all things American, which includes world photos. Try this link to their photo collections.

    I have a writer’s resources list on my blog. Try that for more sources.

    Good luck!



  12. I received this request from a reader. Wanted to share his question and my response with you-all.

    Hello Kali,

    I came across your website via google as i was after tips on how to describe clothing. Your examples were in modern clothing, would you be able to do an example period clothing? I know this would be more like research, I’m planning a novel that is altered history set in late 18th century, but more advanced in technology. I have bookmarked sites on period clothing and grabbed some images for reference/inspiration etc. Movies seem to be a good reference too, because these days they go for accurately more or less in realism in the clothing department.

    I just wondered if you have any tips on how to go about describing the clothing, i could research names of basic clothing etc, but the reader still
    might be none the wiser. I want to capture the life style of life back then and make it rich, but i don’t want to over do it either, but enough for the reader to easily picture that world as it was then.

    So thought you could do another blog piece on period clothing as a suggestion.


    My response:

    Hi ***

    I love this question and have posted several times on clothing-type descriptors:

    How to describe people’s clothing
    How to describe a character’s appearance

    Unfortunately, I only post the lists that I either research for my own writing or research for a client. If I had a client who wanted this information, here’s some of what I’d do:

    read period magazines and newspapers
    read novels from that period

    go to the Smithsonian’s and the National Archive’s collections from that era
    I do have a collection of descriptors for women’s clothing I’ll be posting in the near future so check back with my blog or subscribe to the feed so you don’t miss it. It may cover some of the issues you’re interested in.

    ***, if you don’t object, I’ll post your question to comments under one of my clothing descriptors. We may get help from other readers that will assist you.

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Come back often!

    Any ideas?


  13. What a terrific post! I love the examples you have offered. Each gives a quick indication of character and carries the author’s voice. For an example of what not to do, see any book by Jonathan Kellerman. The man is a fantastic storyteller, but his descriptions of clothing are so overdone that they are humorous. It is important to select one or two revealing details and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination.


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