Friday, May 1, 2015

Deb Crombie: Boxers or Briefs?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: First, a big kickoff huzzah to Hank, Hallie, Lucy, and Rhys, who are representing your fabulous REDS this weekend at Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland. Hank is up for two Agatha awards, Best Contemporary Novel (for Truth Be Told) and Best Non-fiction (for Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer's Journey. Rhys is nominated for Best Historical Novel (for Queen of Hearts.) Fingers crossed for them both, and for all our JRW friends who are nominated as well.  The REDS are putting on a terrific game show panel, and those of us who are not there will be missing out on a great time. Sigh...

And now on a completely different subject... This is What We're Writing week here on the blog. I am slowly (is there an award for tortoises? If there is, I should win it) working my way forward on the as yet unofficially titled Kincaid/James #17, and I am thinking a lot about how writers build up characters who seem authentic to the reader.

Last Sunday I had the great pleasure of attending the Jane Austen Society of North America North Texas Region's Annual Spring Tea in the French Room at the Adolfus Hotel in downtown Dallas. (Thank you, Ashley Kath-Bilsky!) The speaker was a Regency period re-enactor named Brian Cushing who gives a wonderful talk called Undressing Mr. Darcy. Here's a little video clip to give you an idea. 

I was absolutely fascinated by Brian's talk, and I will never again read a Regency novel in quite the same light. Clothes do indeed make the man, and Brian took us through the Regency gentleman's wardrobe literally from the top (hat, although they weren't called top hats quite yet) down.  I learned, among many other things, that the Regency gentleman's long linen shirt (they reached to just above the knee) served as a one-piece undergarment. I'll let your imagination take it from there... 

I've also been watching (last person on earth here) the adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, and have been riveted by the men's clothing. I mean, really, how can you top a Highlander in full kilted plaid? (Speaking of undergarments, ahem...)

All this started me thinking about how I dress the characters in my books. I do pay a good deal of attention to what my characters wear, and each of my main characters has a very specific style.  Gemma, for instance, avoids the stereo-typical female detective's suit at all costs. She wears greens and browns and russets, and never black, unless it's to a funeral.  Melody Talbot, on the other hand, does wear suits, but they are very expensively tailored--part vanity, part armor--and if you see Melody in ragged jeans and an old t-shirt, you know something is up. (Melody, with her dark hair and fair skin, looks terrific in black.)

Doug Cullen's wardrobe I imagine as what I call nerdy/preppy.  He's never without his wire-rimmed glasses, and while he does care about his appearance, he will, if focused on a problem, put on whatever is closest to hand. And yes, he has a cardigan or two, and they are slightly ratty...

Which brings us to Duncan. Duncan pays attention to his clothes, as befits a detective superintendent. But no pin-stripes, ever! His suits are well tailored, usually in blues and grays (not black!), and he shops in the menswear department of House of Fraser, just down Victoria Street from New Scotland Yard. On a splurge he might buy a Crombie suit--for obvious reasons I am partial. But I never see him in a waistcoat, and I always like him best in casual clothes--button-down shirt, an Arran pullover, or his scuffed leather jacket. 

All this may seem silly, but it helps me (and, I hope, the reader) to visualize my characters. Even more importantly, what my fictional people wear reveals much about their personalities and backgrounds.

Which brings us to the big question, the one I had never considered until I contemplated Mr. Darcy's one-piece undergarment--does Duncan wear boxers or briefs?

Maybe we'll find out in #17...

Readers, do you pay attention to fictional character's clothes? 


  1. The clothing isn't necessarily first and foremost in my mind when I am reading, but I have found that if the descriptions are too involved or too repetitive, then they will pull me out of the story [something I find particularly annoying].
    I really like brief descriptions that allow me to picture the character's outfit . . . .

  2. Love it, Debs, especially the long linen shirt. I pay attention to my character's clothes. I have a tall young woman in one series who I love dressing in all kinds of of odd and stylish outfits, like a vintage rayon dress with combat boots and turquoise scarves. If anybody can pull it off, she can.

    In my historical series, my Quaker midwife wears plain dress, which was basically the fashion of about ten years earlier with no adornment, and in somber colors like dark red or dark green - no, they didn't always wear gray. I love reading through books on how Victorians dressed for the other characters. And as a reader, something seems lacking when there is no description of what a character is wearing, especially a main character.

  3. Love a man in a ratty cardigan.... Adore clothing descriptions in novels, especially period novels. I think I was so obsessed while writing MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY because I'd just had Kiddo and was wearing nothing but post-baby baggy clothes, generally covered in spit up and goodness knows what else....

  4. Never thought about it, but I'd say boxers for Duncan.

    I remember reading the early Spenser mysteries. Spenser always took such care in choosing what to wear--it became a part of who he was--if that sort of description had been dropped from one of the books, it wouldn't have seemed right.

    I pay attention to clothing insomuch as it defines the character--but too much, like Joan mentioned, draws me out of the story and I start skipping ahead.

  5. I don't pay attention to what the characters are wearing, and I don't like detailed descriptions of clothing, unless it is pertinent to the story. To know that someone with a particular personality or background wears a particular kind of clothing is helpful However, when a character's constant changes of clothing are mentioned and it has no bearing on the story just annoys me! When I'm reading and see descriptions of clothing, I just skip over to the next paragraph.

  6. I love love love clothes.

    I love them in my real life and I love them in my fiction.

    I loved writing about them in my Whimsey and I love reading about them in my favorite series.

    Boxers for Duncan!

  7. I think clothes (and accessories) can be used effectively to build up character. But too much and yeah, I'm skipping ahead. Unless it's relevant to the story, I don't really care that those mother-of-pearl buttons are real or inherited from your great x5 grandmother or whatever.

    Then again, I'm not very fussy about my own clothes.

  8. I'm thinking boxers for Duncan. Sometimes I forget how young and vital he is, so the description of what he is wearing helps me remember.

  9. Boxers or briefs I confess it isn't a question I'd have thought to ask. Though I was just watching an episode of the British Antiques Roadshow and was fascinated by the Knickers Lady showing old fashioned women's knickers which were one separate piece for each leg... well ventilated.

    I paid a lot of attention to how I dressed Deirdre Unger in NIGHT NIGHT SLEEP TIGHT - in the 80s she's in a slouchy long T-shirt and leggings a la Flashdance. In the early 60s she's wearing a circle pin and flat shoes and a skirt (rolled at the waist) and blouse with a peter pan collar.

    Men's wardrobes I'm not so good at.

  10. Hallie, I loved Deirdre's clothes in Night Night. And maybe I have fun with men's wardrobes because I take women's clothes at least a little for granted.

    I don't like long, detailed descriptions of clothing in one lump, but I do like tidbits thrown in that really help me see the character.

    And I do keep thinking of Colin Firth's Darcy wearing that long shirt...

  11. And yes, in spite of the hunky guys in Jockey or Calvin Klein ads for men's briefs, I think Duncan is definitely a boxer guy:-)

  12. What a great discussion. For Duncan I'd say nice boxers. I think Gemma would be amused to see him in briefs, though.

    Btw, I, too, am absorbed in Outlander. It's nice to see a man's well-muscled legs! ;-)

    Finally, I'd just like to say what a joy it has been to discover this forum and authors. I am slowly making my way through every one of the Jungle Red Writers books. It's nice to escape into your characters.

  13. I see Duncan as a definite boxer man, no tighty-whiteys for him. Of course, since I'm partial to boxers, I may be projecting my preference onto him. What is fun about buying boxers for my husband and son is finding the whimsical ones, especially for son who has my weird sense of humor. Every Christmas, my son can expect some boxers that relate to an interest of his or something just off-the-wall. Old Navy is actually a great place for these interesting boxers, and they are so reasonably priced. I think that I have now proved that I can rattle on about any subject. Hahaha! Oh, and thanks, Debs, for the picture of Jamie Fraser and the subsequent daydreaming induced.

    I enjoy knowing the characters' dress style as a read about them because, as you said, Debs, it reveals their personalities and quirks. But, as Joan mentioned, I don't need or want such a detailed description that it interferes with the flow of the story. I love the two sides of Duncan, the serious detective superintendent and the softer family man, expressed in his clothing.

    Hank, Hallie, Rhys, and Lucy, have a great time at Malice, and great good luck to Hank and Rhys in their nominated categories!

  14. Here's a nice bit of underwear humor:-)

  15. Hahaha,Debs! Loved the underwear humor ad! And, I'd forgotten just how hot David Beckham is. Whoa!

  16. I watched the video and how cool was that! How do they get those long shirttails into those pants?
    Glad you're enjoying Outlander. I know I am. I was telling my husband once that those kilts have got to be handy with no boxers or briefs to get in the way. He looked at me like I'd lost my cottonpickin' mind. Oh well. Not gonna get him into one.
    As for the important question, boxers. Definitely.

  17. I also watched the video - fascinating! Attention to costume in creating character makes sense- after all, costuming is a huge part of ACTING a character.

    I don't give too many details of what my characters are wearing, but I agree that what is shown is significant. (It's also the genre. I'd be disappointed if I read a Regency and didn't get lots of luscious detail on the peoples' clothes!)

  18. I love the descriptions of Amelia Peabody, Eve Dallas and Jamie Fraser's clothing. I helps me visualize them, and the clothing adds to or supports the personality. But then, I'll go to a museum to see period costumes. On a personal level, I am usually wearing classic clothing with pearls!
    Duncan, I see him in briefs. He seems too buttoned down for boxers.

  19. Debs, I do pay attention to the characters' clothes. It tells me lots about them! Like you, though, I don't want a wardrobe dump. Just tell me enough as needed, to have a picture and a sense of their presence.

    I picture Duncan as a boxers guy. Everyone wore them in the grad dorm during hot weather. No air conditioning! The dean refused to pay. So we had our little boxer rebellion. Then the school converted the house, holy ground where Emerson and other greats lived while at school there, into offices for faculty and staff! Yes air conditioned! Now they have no residence houses. Oh the power struggles of youth. Who showed what to whom. And how, where, when, and why. Duke it out in boxers!