Everybody knows something. Nobody knows everything. Between these two truths stand all humans, past, present and future.
There are two particular areas of knowledge that I am very lacking, and when writing about them, I encounter problems.
The two areas are Fashion and cars.
When it comes to cars, I find myself unable to care about them, and I’ve had little or no exposure to them. I have a brother who likes cars, and my father did try several times to teach me a little about cars. Also, I drive one, so I am at least somewhat familiar with what they are and how they work.
When it comes to cars in my writing, I usually just avoid talking about them. I don’t write much taking place in the modern-day, so that’s pretty easy. And when I do need to write about cars, I can usually stumble along well enough with some internet research.
Fashion, on the other hand, gives me the fits, and there’s not much I can do about it. Like cars, I don’t have any interest in fashion. Unlike cars, I didn’t grow up with a sister who exposed me to fashion and my mother was way too practical to be focused on such things. Also unlike cars I don’t wear fashions every day. I wear clothing. Clothing is something to wear to a) be warm and b) not get arrested for indecency. Beyond that, I am mystified by the byzantine complexity of the fashion world. Until I started working, I wore only jeans and tee-shirts. My footwear? Barefoot or – if needed – sneakers. When I started working, I was confronted with “dress codes” – another arcane and mystical set of rules that made no sense to me. But I transitioned to khakis and polo shirts. From June 1st to August 31st I wear shorts and tee-shirts at home. The rest of the year I wear khakis and tee-shirts. Weddings and funerals cause me to dust off a pair of dress pants and a button-down shirt. Somewhere I own a suit jacket or two, and I’m aware you wear such things when you go to some important event like a wedding.
My wife, bless her soul, will often look at me and say “Are you wearing that to [function name here]?” And it’s not that she’s picky. I’m probably in an old stained t-shirt and a ratty pair of shorts when she says that. Going to a concert. Or church. Or the above-mentioned wedding. I’m not the worst in the world at fashion, but I’m pretty close.
So what do I do when I’ve invented a whole new world that is a blend of several earth-based cultures, and several original ideas? How do I describe the clothing they wear?
No, really. I’m asking you! I really don’t know. How do I describe unique new fashions that have never existed before? I don’t have the language or vocabulary to do it. I don’t even have a clear picture in my head. Fashion, for me, is a black hole.
What have other writers done in the past? I’ve been looking around over the past couple of years, and the other writers seem to fall into two categories. The first seems to know about fashion, and I assume this because they often describe what people are wearing, and in some detail. The second group seems to describe things very simply, using generalized terms like tunic and robe and sandals. But in my writing, I need to describe the clothing my characters are wearing, because I need to evoke a certain feeling, to detail a new world, and I don’t know how.
Is this something editors help with? Do they employ people just to draw fashions for authors like me? I’ve never heard of it before.
And how important is fashion to you, as a reader? My default setting is “skip over the clothey-bits” but I know others eat that detail up. I want to include it, but I lack the knowledge.
I am, very truly, fashion-blind. So how does a blind man describe a color? How does a deaf man tell you what he hears?