I have a hard time viewing clothing outside of the simplest descriptors. A shirt is just a shirt, shoes are simply shoes, pants, etc.

Basically, what I'm asking for is some clothing terminology?

  • One option could be to search for images (e.g. on images.google.com) to find clothing you'd like your character to wear, and then find out what it's called and how it's described on the website where that image comes from. Additionally, just seeing it may help you to think of ways to describe it.
    – user54131
    Jan 19, 2022 at 7:00
  • A shirt is just a shirt so you pay no attention whatsoever to the attributes of an individual shirt when you buy one? nor when you get dressed in the morning? Never bought a beautiful shirt only to find out after first wearing (and pouring gin and tonic down the front) that it is dry-clean only? and like, who can be bothered ... Jan 19, 2022 at 8:56
  • 5
    Does this answer your question? Details: How do you describe a character's clothing in a story?
    – NofP
    Jan 19, 2022 at 9:40
  • 2
    You don't need fashion terminology. What you need to do is to consider how clothing relates to character, and then be able to define that character. Looking at images, people you know or strangers in public, etc, will help you get the relationship between clothes and character. But unless you're writing what used to be called Sex & Shopping novels you don't need brand names and fashion terminology, just to give the general impression or mention clothes when they are important to the plot or to understanding character.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 19, 2022 at 13:07
  • 1
    I like this question, but it's hard to give a good answer. I also agree with @StuartF that it depends on your story. For what it's worth, here's a list of adjectives to describe clothing: englishbix.com/adjectives-to-describe-clothes But also consider the different aspects of clothing that matter. Are people fighting and grabbing at each other, then it may matter more if it's lose or tight clothing than what color it is. If they're outside it may matter that it's warm and water-proof.
    – user54131
    Jan 19, 2022 at 16:51

3 Answers 3


It's not about what they're wearing. It's about what they are.

Instead of going to your character's figurative closet and slapping on some clothes, look at it as a way to explain what type of person they are, how others perceive them or maybe even something about the setting.

For example:

  • Rich? The woman is wearing a gaudy diamond so massive she keeps massaging her finger.
  • Clumsy? There's a fresh red stain — surely ketchup — on the front of the child's school uniform, exactly like Texas though not as big.
  • Alien? The creature wears a unitard made of chitin shells, each one gathered after a fearsome hunt.

(These examples are condensed. It helps to not try to shove too much description into each sentence.)

Each one of those examples reveals more than just that one aspect I outlined. A ring is a sign that someone is married (or will be soon), and the fact that it's gaudy shows that the viewpoint character is judgmental to say the least (maybe jealous?). A mention of Texas indicates the setting is America (or the viewpoint character is American), plus you might even have an idea what lunch was if there was ketchup. And every aspect of the alien's clothing contributes to the world building.

Research helps

Can you vividly visualize in your head what people in your setting would wear? If not, then an image search would help. These images shouldn't be hard to find, as you don't need to tailor your search to clothing at all (for example, a search for fishing boat gives enough results with people).

If you don't have enough vocabulary for your setting then search for that. For your average modern setting, consider browsing online stores, which have an image of the item and usually several keywords that people use to describe it.

Searches for technical vocabulary can also be effective. For example, by searching armor vocabulary, I was able to find List of medieval armour components. Some of the words there are familiar enough, but others are unknown outside of historians. Avoid overwhelming your audience with obscure words.

You don't need too much detail

You don't need enough detail for anyone to be able to reproduce the clothes. Your descriptions can be minimal. Write your descriptions and see if it's pulling its weight. If not, it should be reworked, if not removed. Sometimes you won't even describe what a character is wearing.


I offer a couple of my own:

"She recognized him as soon as he came in the door. He was one of the few men who looked as good in civilian clothes as he did in uniform. He wore a western sheepskin jacket, jeans with a rodeo buckle and plain cowboy boots that looked like they actually had stepped in horse shit."

"...accompanied by a young woman in civilian clothes carrying a duffel and a suit bag. She had short, black hair in a kind of pixie cut, and a strong, squarish face more handsome than pretty. What Grandma called an Irish blonde. She put down the duffel with the easy grace of someone in control of her surroundings and made no effort to hide the port-wine-stain birthmark that ran from her right chin into her collar of her brown leather flight jacket. Liz instantly coveted the jacket."

Don't overdo descriptions. Give a few articles that say a lot about the person wearing them. Let the readers fill in the rest with their imaginations — they like to do that. It doesn't matter what kind of shoes the character is wearing or what kind of watch unless it says something about the character you want to get across. A Rolex would indicate vanity, a nice Timex, thrift and practicality. Same with shoes: running shoes or highly polished Kordofan wingtips. If it's not important, leave it out.


The important thing to remember is to remain in the character's point of view. Do not describe a character's clothing except as that point of view character would do so.

Which is to say, if you write from the point of view of a character who thinks of clothing only in terms of the simplest descriptors, that's just fine.

I also note that description for description's sake does not move the story, and therefore if you chose a different sort of character, ideally the clothing description is relevant to the story, though it can be so only in terms of making the character convincing. A nobleman in the city would be quick to notice that someone's clothing is expensive or cheap, whether it's all new (indicating, probably, someone who just came into money) or all old and shabby, or a mix of new and reasonably old showing a person who's been prosperous for some time. An artist would be quick to notice whether the colors or cut flatter the person wearing them. In that case, research would be indicated.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.