Inspiration from Sitcoms: Clothing Matters – Lesson IV of V
By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins
Part I, Part II, Part III of the Inspiration from Sitcoms series.
Fashion matters. Okay, maybe not to you, but what someone wears (which may or may not be fashionable) is important in character development. Your knowing how your character dresses, and how they feel about clothes gives you and your readers insight into a character’s personality. And isn’t that what your readers really want?
Ever since I moved to California, people have always asked me why I wear certain clothing. If I’m going someplace important (like work, or a party), my go-to clothing item is a a knee-length sheath dress. I love knee-length sheath dresses because I don’t have to worry about if an item I’ve picked out goes with the rest of the outfit. Besides, it helps me feel pulled together. In a nutshell, it’s laziness combined with actually caring how I look. Whenever someone questions me on why I am so “dressed up,” I steal a line from 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy.
Liz Lemon: Why are you wearing a tuxedo?
Jack Donaghy: It’s after 6pm. What am I, a farmer?
This is clearly an exaggeration, as comedy lives in the hyperbole, but you get the message that appearance really matters to Jack. It matters so much to Jack that he is constantly giving Liz Lemon negative comments about what she wears. At various times he’s called her shoes “bi-curious” and told her that she dresses like a “small-town lesbian.” All in all, the writers of the show take great pains to say that Liz Lemon dresses like a particular lesbian stereotype. They even go a step further to point out that her hair is always a mess and that she always has food stains on her clothes. If you haven’t watched the show, you’re still getting the picture of the kind of person Liz Lemon might be.
Neat, tailored, designer clothing is a sign of power on television. Think of the characters you see on television that dress in a way that exudes power and confidence: Don Draper (Mad Men), Olivia Pope (Scandal), Wilhelmina Slater (Ugly Betty), Tom Haverford (Parks & Recreation).
Now think about the television characters that care less about appearances: Frank Rossitano (30 Rock), Andy Dwyer (Parks & Recreation), Stephen Q. Urkel (Family Matters).
In a nutshell, the way your character dresses can tell you a lot about a character’s motivations, aspirations, and self-awareness.
How does your favorite character dress? Have you ever thought about that?
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