Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
As I pointed out in a previous article, “Quick Tips: 12 Methods of Characterization,” describing a character’s appearance is one way to characterize him or her.
There are books--maybe even whole libraries--concerning feminine fashion, and, as someone who buys his own wardrobe, such as it is, off the rack at Wal-Mart, I wouldn’t presume to suggest what women should or should not wear, and I probably shouldn’t presume to make many--or even any--such suggestions to men, either, about what they should or should not wear.
However, even a fashion Neanderthal can (and should) do the research necessary to describe the clothing that one of his or her characters wears in a story, particularly when attire is important to the character’s personality and to the reader’s perception of his or her personality.
Let’s assume that your horror story’s protagonist is a macho, macho man, like Alien’s Lt. Ripley.
Here are some tips as to how to bring his machismo forward, for all the world, you readers included, to admire.
You can’t go wrong with black leather, the fabric of choice for both military men and outlaw biker gangs. The black leather jacket is simple. It’s sleek. It’s elegant. It exudes masculinity. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel wears it, Spike wears it, and even Xander wears it, albeit in the form of an eye patch.
Real men wear leather, too. Marlon Brando, James Dean, Gary Cooper, Jim Morrison, Mel Gibson, Samuel L. Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ben Affleck, Mark Wahlberg, James Marsden, Hugh Jackman, John Wayne (or their cinematographic characters, at least) all wore leather, some routinely, others occasionally. Even George W. Bush wore leather, proving, perhaps, that the exception (that "real men wear leather") really does prove the rule.
As macho menswear, jeans are always a safe bet, too. Even the history of jeans is macho: Jacob Davis, a tailor during the days of the Western frontier, was hired to make a pair of trousers so rugged that they could withstand even the wear and tear to which a female customer’s husband routinely subjected his pants. At the time, Davis was making covers for wagons, tents, and horse blankets, and he used copper rivets to attach straps to the blankets. These rivets, he reasoned, could also be used to fasten the pockets of the rugged pants he’d designed from his stock of white cotton duck cloth. The result was a pair of trousers as durable as the Wild West itself, even when blue denim later replaced the duck fabric, and an enduring accoutrement of masculinity was made available to rugged frontiersmen everywhere when other tailors began to make similar trousers (“Jacob Davis: His Life and Contributions,” Levi Strauss & Company).
Plaid shirts are also a signifier of machismo, thanks to the lumberjacks who wear them. Any garment macho enough for the likes of Paul Bunyan, who (according to Shel Silverstein, at least) bested a thunderstorm in single combat, is macho enough for any man.
Because soldiers, Marines, and other military men (and, nowadays, women), as well as hunters, wear them, camouflage shirts and pants are definitely macho clothing. One may expect Sarah Palin to wear camouflage clothing, perhaps, in her next run, assuming there is one, at the presidency.
I could go on and, possibly, on, but I’ve done enough research already to uncover the principle at work in suiting a macho male character up for action, whether against cannibals, a demon horde, a mad scientist, vampires, zombies, or the extraterrestrial monsters that Lt. Ripley and her crew engage in hand-to-claw combat in deep space: simply identify the type of clothing that men in macho roles, whether cowboys or frontiersmen, lumberjacks, military personnel, outlaw bikers, or otherwise, wear in the performance of their duties and have your guy wear the same outfits, or, possibly, a combination thereof.
Oh, and don’t forget to accessorize him with, say an eye patch, a la Nick Fury or Nicholas Brendon (as Xander Harris) or a bandana or headband, a la John Rambo.
Although, as I admit, I’m the last person anyone should ask for advice about fashion, especially as it pertains to women, it may be safe (or not) to assume that a similar, but slightly more complex, principle for characterizing female characters as feminine (or not) applies: to identify what might be called “Femme Fashion,” first check out the ladies who are considered especially glamorous, such as movie stars or models, and see what they wear; then, consider what critics say about what these ladies wear and, when there’s enough of a match between the famous woman’s wardrobe choice and critical opinion, you’re likely, as a writer, to have about as safe a bet as there is in such sacred matters as women’s wear and you can (more or less) safely describe your horror heroine as wearing such a costume without alienating either, say, Sarah Michelle Gellar or Michelle Obama.