Thursday, 3 February 2011

What's That You're Wearing? Catherine Johnson

Sparked by a vicarious frock fest on facebook, and possible ideas for a writer's work uniform (anything from slankets to tassled jumpsuits since you're asking)I thought I'd talk about clothes.
I love thinking about what my characters are wearing, whether it's stays from the 18th century or regency Jane Austenesque muslins, 1940s siren suits, or 1970s Faye-Dunaway- as-Bonnie-from-Bonnie-and-Clyde 30s rip offs. Obviously I get the chance to dress up as a boy too, Russian leather boots, really good hats and floppy lace collars. Actually what I like, as a bloke, is a really good white stock collar and well fitting breeches, and this has nothing to do with Colin Firth.

Historical fiction does give you the ultimate dressing up box. In past stories I've had characters dress as Russian countesses, in Victorian mourning, as posture club molls, and in 1970's fabulous.

Imagine how you'd cope with doing anything wearing stays, or layers of heavy wool. I suppose this is easier for me as I can remember life before lycra. And now I now longer spend the hours I used to thinking about how I look, I can at least dress my pretend people.
I've always loved the idea that clothes could transform - even though it never worked in real life - that you could go from scruffy to sublime with some well judged under garments and good grooming.

I usually wear writing clothes around the house - a variation on pyjamas and t shirts. I think these days pretend clothes are more improtant that real ones.
Having said tha,t there are some real clothes I look back on very fondly, I remember when a second hand clothes shop opened up in my London suburb in 1979. Punk, which involved a lot of dresses made out of pillow cases, (for me anyway) was over, by then and I had some of my best finds there; a cream lace flapper dress that I wore until it disintegrated, a pair of black satin 1940s utility shoes that were always too high for me, a couple of horrockses cotton summer frocks with boned bodices one white with navy polka dots, one pink and flowery. I still have the polka dot one in my wardrobe, one day it will look as ridiculous as the stays.
What are your most memorable outfits, yours or your characters?
Happy writing.


Anne Cassidy said...

The main character of my MURDER NOTEBOOKS series, Rose, just wears black and white. Years ago, when I wrote THE EAST END MURDERS, my main character, Patsy, had a thing for hats. She collected them and wore different types every time she went out. She also wore DMs and interestingly Rose, fifteen years later, also wears DMs. Classic.

Deborah Swift said...

What a great post. My favourite things have always been things I have "customized" - i.e chopped off the sleeves or dyed a different colour, or in the punk era (yes I confess to remembering it)slashed holes in. Though I like the idea of sitting in front of my computer attired in full be-jewelled corset and Elizabethan ruff and sending out a serf in tights for the morning coffee.

karen ball said...

You were actually able to buy Horrockses dresses? Oh, I am dead jealous. Describing outfits, the colour of fabrics etc has to be one of the best parts of writing historical fiction.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Karen, I still have the polka dot one, I went through quite a phase with them, but it would never fit me now :(

Leila said...

Oh, I had a great little black tutu style skirt with a skull and crossbones motif on one side of it. It was so easy to wear. I wore it to death, unfortunately.

adele said...

I could happily ditch the entire plot of my novel and just write about the clothes, jewels and occasionally just for variety, you understand, the FOOD! I do have a uniform: Jeans and something up top. A sweatshirt or a t shirt or a blouse or a something or other. I found I have been wearing this for four months, except for about half a dozen times when I've gone out to meet friends, or do a gig or go to a party. I have a cupboard full of clothes and simply can't say: Nothing to wear with any conviction....still swoon when I go into the shops though. I had a nice buy of stuff when I lost 4 stone recently but now I have no other excuse. So writing about clothes is a good substitute. Too many favourite outfits to recall but I even remember a smocked dress I had when I was about six: brown and white stripes, it was and I loved it. Smocking all across the front and puff sleeves.

Anonymous said...

Is that a tea cosy on top?