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Jeannie Lin | She's Got the Look – Costuming Your Characters

You know you've got one of these. The power suit that you feel you can take on the world in. That dress that always gets you compliments. We take on a different attitude and persona when we wear certain outfits and our characters are the same.

Jeannie in costumeClothing was especially important in the Tang Dynasty. Though the 8th century is often considered ancient or medieval, but in China this period was a Golden Age and the height of Silk Road trade—which meant it was also the height of fashion.

Elegant ladies wore flowing robes and experimented with gravity-defying hair styles. Bodices were elaborately embroidered and court ladies showed of a scandalous amount of skin. They wore lip stains and face powder and polished their nails.

Women weren't the only clothes hounds. Men also wore embroidered robes and it was fashionable to don vibrant colors as a show of wealth. There were even ordinances passed to regulate the length of sleeves  when fashion started favoring excessively long ones. At times, merchants, who were considered lower class, were prohibited from wearing colors as it seemed they were imitating the noble classes by doing so. Yet the wily businessmen continued to do so, wearing silk tunics beneath their robes so the color remained visible at the edge of the sleeve.

There was written evidence that society appreciated and recognized these trends. Poets wrote about women using the red polish of their nails to frame their face and draw attention to themselves. They complimented women for how they moved like flowing water, how their lips and eyebrows were drawn in fashionable shapes. Popular hairstyles were documented for posterity.

Tang Dynasty Hanfu robeImperial consorts were like the super-models of ancient China. Catching the eye of the Emperor was considered the ultimate favor and their styles were believed to inspire looks that spread throughout the empire. The legend behind the beauty dot on the forehead was that the Emperor saw how a flower petal had fallen upon his concubine's face and became transfixed by it. As a result, the other court ladies began drawing in the dot and the fashion was copied by noble women. Tang Dynasty fashions were so popular that the hanfu robe influenced kimono designs in Japan.

A theory about the origin of footbinding even traces the practice back to the imperial court in the 10th century Tang Dynasty (much later than when my stories take place!) or early Song dynasty. The dancing girls were known for having especially tiny feet and wore special bow shoes.    

In THE DRAGON AND THE PEARL, the heroine is a trained courtesan and a former imperial consort. Costuming her was very important because she was a person who was accustomed to being always watched and admired. This plays into how she interacts with people, how she exerts status, how she commands attention, and thus power. It was a lot of fun working out how the hero, an austere warlord living a stark existence, reacts to her sensuous display.

THE DRAGON AND THE PEARL is available September 20 from Harlequin Historical and is set in the Tang Dynasty, during a time of court intrigue and a great power struggle between opposing warlords. It's a follow-up to my 2010 release, BUTTERFLY SWORDS. A linked short story, THE LADY'S SCANDALOUS NIGHT, is available as an ebook release now from Harlequin Historical Undone. 

BUTTERFLY SWORDS
BUTTERFLY SWORDS

THE LADY'S
SCANDALOUS NIGHT
THE LADY'S SCANDALOUS NIGHT
e-book novella

THE DRAGON AND THE PEARL
THE DRAGON AND THE PEARL

What are some other examples of costuming affecting character? I'll be giving away a free print copy of the DRAGON AND THE PEARL to one randomly selected visitor.

 

 

Comments

48 comments posted.

Re: Jeannie Lin | She's Got the Look – Costuming Your Characters

Oh, this sounds so wonderful! I love stories set in China with a lot of history and romance.
(Karen Gervasi 6:32am September 14, 2011)

I think one of the best ways of clothes affecting a character
was in calamity Jane, she went from tom boy to stunningly
gorgeous woman just by wearing a dress, Dragon and the Pearl
sounds great, can't wait to read it x x
(Julie Newberry 7:36am September 14, 2011)

Clothes definitely impact how one act and how one feels about oneself. Katherine Hepburn was known for saying women should only wear silk undergarments because it made them feel special and that was reflected in how they looked and moved.
(Pam Howell 9:00am September 14, 2011)

Morning and thanks for having me here!
And hello to all the early commenters. The Tang Dynasty is a great period in terms of stunning clothes. I've bought two robes myself and I must say I do feel like a princess when I wear them, you know, like around the house just because :)

Karen - I love stories set in China too! (okay, might be obvious there) Thanks for commenting.

Pam - Katherine Hepburn is one of my favorite icons. She was known for wearing sporty "men's" clothing and was strong and independent, but still very feminine.

Julie - I read an Eloisa James (Duchess by Night?) where the reverse happens and this fine lady masquerades as a young man and finds wearing pants absolutely freeing.
(Jeannie Lin 9:44am September 14, 2011)

I love seeing some of the 'wild' costumes the Hollywood stars wear to different affairs. Not that I would wear many of them but it gives you ideas---maybe for Halloween costuming.
(Shirley Younger 9:52am September 14, 2011)

Shirley - I attended the RT convention in Los Angeles last year for the first time and I think some of the costumes could rival those crazy ones in Hollywood. I made the mistake of buying fairy wings with glitter--so much glitter! :)
(Jeannie Lin 10:21am September 14, 2011)

can't wait to read
(Lynne Hankins 10:21am September 14, 2011)

Clothes are important, especially when you are trying to make a statement. Many beautiful, artistic items come from ancient China. Your book sounds interesting.
(Beverly Beltz 10:27am September 14, 2011)

Costuming is part of the development of the character. Clothes give a visual to an internal emotion or thought.
(Tanja Haack 10:39am September 14, 2011)

costuming certainly can put the reader in the story.

the one that comes to my mind is the old classic Gone With the Wind scene where Scarlet makes a dress out of the draperies. It put me right there with her in her determination to put on a good show for Rett.
(Heidi Durham 10:56am September 14, 2011)

I love how you can change your personality just with clothes - power suit, preppy, frumpy - it all works!
(Beth Elder 11:16am September 14, 2011)

I love period costumes. I love historical clothing. Very sexy, like petticoats, dress, corsets. I have a real small waist and large hips. I have a perfect hourglass figure and this style would have worked great for me. I think clothes give and extra visual for the book. I visualize the book in my head when I read. Like my own little movie going on. Would love to win and read this book, thanks for the giveaway.
(Chris Bails 11:36am September 14, 2011)

As a real life example, I know I felt more lady-like whenever I put on a cheongsam (or even a dress); dressing in my aunt's hanfu robes instantly gave me a theatrical flair. It was fun stuff. :D
(Julie Guan 11:37am September 14, 2011)

I know one other example of costuming was their obi. They used to wear their kimonos to coordinate with the seasons. The patterns were in accord with the seasons. The amount of make-up they wore had to do with their seniority as a Geisha. I have no idea how you got under my radar, but I am in love with the cover of your book!! Thank you for coming here today, and sharing not only the story of your latest book, but the pictures on your post today!! You have jumped to the top of my TBR list, and I have to get my hands on the other 2 books of yours as well!! I read anything to do with China or Japan, and have for years. It's a passion that goes way back. I also collect figurines as well as Hakata dolls. Thank you again for coming here. I am deeply honored today!!
(Peggy Roberson 12:27pm September 14, 2011)

Loved Butterfly Swords! I'd say that anytime clothing is drastically different than what is worn on an everyday basis, it does change your outlook and the way you carry yourself. Especially when they are so different like the hanfu robes or a sari or a fancy cocktail dress.
Thanks for the giveaway!
(Erin Fender 12:39pm September 14, 2011)

That is a beautiful cover for DRAGON AND THE PEARL! I love how clothes and costumes can make people feel a certain way.
(Colleen Conklin 2:32pm September 14, 2011)

a good example would be the movie The Unsinkable Molly Brown. she went from a ordinary,"backwoods" counrty girl, to a high society lady that survived the Titanic. (her character was played by Kathy Bates in the movie Titanic).

trvlagnt1t@yahoo.com
(Tammy Ramey 3:40pm September 14, 2011)

There are several instances of ladies wearing pants etc...but the 2 that first spring to mind are older books. MOONSTRUCK MADNESS, the heroine is a highwayman, still a favorite. ASHES IN THE WIND, she disguises herself as a boy and assists a Union Dr. I still have both of these. The latter is one of the few I have or will read about that era.
(Ivy Truitt 4:02pm September 14, 2011)

My power suit as a farm wife is jeans and a long sleeved shirt. I am just the opposite of Molly Brown as I went from being a buyer in a large department store to a farm wife. What Fun!!!
Blessings,
Marjorie
(Marjorie Carmony 6:26pm September 14, 2011)

I imagine costuming helps actors and actresses get into their
character as well. I've got to admit, Scarlet's dress made out
of draperies was the first thing that popped in to my mind.
(Lisa Richards 6:44pm September 14, 2011)

In more recent centuries, the tale of Cinderella in its myriad forms in myriad countries visually portrays how one's clothing accommodates a rags-to-riches story. Then think Eliza Doolittle in the "My Fair Lady" film.
(Carla Schuller 6:44pm September 14, 2011)

It seems to me that people act as they dress. The more
carefully they are groomed, the more carefully they behave!
But then, these days we don't see too many "well-groomed"
people.......just my opinion, of course!!
(Clydia DeFreese 6:48pm September 14, 2011)

I like the settings. To many peple judge you by what you wear or how you wear it.
(Alfredo Reyes 7:06pm September 14, 2011)

I love stories that take place in an ancient time & especially ones that take place in another culture. I love learning about the past of other cultures.
(Megan G. Rey 7:18pm September 14, 2011)

YES, Please enter me in this great contest and The Dragon and the Pearl book sounds like fantastic reading too. I love to enter great contests on freshfiction.com and love winning their contests too. Thanks so much. Cecilia
(Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez 7:41pm September 14, 2011)

I love reading anything historical and I do think part of it is the difference in clothing. Shogun was one of my favorite reads! This sounds like a great read!
(Jeanne Sheats 7:57pm September 14, 2011)

Awesome post, Jeannie! I've had many people comment on how
much they enjoy a scene of mine where a young character
describes an older, father figure as someone who doesn't
flaunt his status. The boy knows that because he knows the
father figure is a nobleman and could afford to dress more
expensively than he does. I look forward to the Pearl!
(Victoria Dixon 8:28pm September 14, 2011)

There are times that I wish we were in a different time. People seem to take casual to the extreme nowadays and it just seems to be getting worse, from clothing to manners.
Good luck and happy writing!
(Tracie Travis 8:28pm September 14, 2011)

I recently finished an historical that took place in the late 1890's. The costumes truly defined the characters. It was so interesting when the characters travelled from New York To England. There were some serious diffences in how the women dressed and what the clothing meant. I have Dragon and the Pearl on my wishlist. It sounds like a really good read.
(Jennifer Beyer 8:29pm September 14, 2011)

Hello again! Too many comments to address each individually so thank you all so much for visiting and adding to the conversation.

I do love the scene with Scarlet and the drapes. Also love that Rhett calls ends up recognizing the fabric and calling her on it!

We are a bit too casual nowadays and there is some value to knowing what clothes to wear for the right occasion to be taken seriously. As much as I love being able to wear jeans for almost any occasion, it seemed people do act more courteous and restrained when dressed more formally and a little more of that wouldn't be a bad thing sometimes! :)
(Jeannie Lin 8:52pm September 14, 2011)

In Gone With the Wind, Scarlet O'Hara made a gown out of drapery and was very resourceful as she flounced her ruffles and stared down Rhett Butler not giving up an inch of her regality.
(Alyson Widen 9:13pm September 14, 2011)

The ultimate costume to me is a judge's robes---a soldier's uniform to me is also a costume.
(Sue Farrell 9:17pm September 14, 2011)

I think most Historical stories work so beautifully when you can imagine the clothes that are particular for that era. Clothes they say don't make the man, but they can't hurt.
(Mary Preston 9:27pm September 14, 2011)

Well... there are heroines like Wonder Woman, Super Girl and you can't think of them without their costumes....
(May Pau 9:32pm September 14, 2011)

Princess Leia from Star wars is a good example of costume affecting character. When she is dressed in her flowing white gowns, she takes on the air of royalty.
(Marilyn Legault 9:51pm September 14, 2011)

Book sounds great. Thanks for giving me a chance to win it,to read it.
(Linda Hall 10:31pm September 14, 2011)

Enjoyed your blog, sounds like a great read.
(Sheila True 10:51pm September 14, 2011)

You know, I thought of Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake. The character was very conscious of what she could wear and be able to fight, climb, or hide her weapons yet she was fashion conscious.
(G. Bisbjerg 11:45pm September 14, 2011)

Fantastic post - this article is very well written and the pics are a great addition. I really enjoy your work, thanks so much offering this!
(Cory Glisson-Munier 11:52pm September 14, 2011)

I can think of one obvious example of costuming affecting
character from "The Lady and the Pearl" itself, which I read
a NetGalley ARC of:

Li Tao.

Unlike most warlords and other men of power (or would-be men
of power) in Tang Dynasty China he dresses simply, in plain
dark robes. I would assume he does so for a number of
reasons:

1. To intimidate. Black is a color often used to generate
fear.
2. To distinguish himself from such men whose selfish
motives he despises and who he claims to be very different
from.
3. To identify more closely with his common soldiers.
Although most military leaders throughout history have gone
for the ostentatious display in military uniform, there have
always been the notable exceptions who dressed very simply
in the field with only the abject minimum of displays of
rank. One thinks of Generals Ulysses Simpson Grant, William
Tecumseh Sherman,...

and Frederick Townsend Ward.
(Fred Town Ward 12:19pm September 15, 2011)

I see college students experiementing with how they dress and wonder if they will realize that as they enter the 'real world' they will be judged on appearances. I've always loved books set in China with good descriptions of clothing.
(Cate Sparks 4:51am September 15, 2011)

wow - fascinating information - I love it. I am reading Butterfly Swords and I absolutely love it!
(Felicia Ciaudelli 10:42am September 15, 2011)

Clothing affects us even now. I was invited to a party to celebrate I don't
remember what and we were all asked to wear something red. The host felt that
people wearing would talk and relate to each other better. Since then I have
found that wearing does make us talk more, not always a good thing.
(Sandra Spilecki 11:45am September 15, 2011)

Though I've had it ever since it came out, I regret to admit that I still have not read Butterfly Swords. In the meantime, however, my interest in China has been ramped up by several notches because I went to Toronto to see the exhibit of some of the Chinese warriors and other historical items from that period just before Christmas last year. I could hardly bear to leave the exhibit and bought a number of "souvenirs" including an 8" tall clay bowman and several books. A truly fascinating exhibit that I almost missed. I'm eagerly looking forward to your next two titles and hope to read all 4 in one go.

Maybe one of these days I'll even get to Hong Kong to meet my Chinese friends from university again. I've pretty well got a standing invitation from one couple. If all things go well, maybe we can make some excursions into China proper.

BTW, I remember reading again recently how classes in European countries were also banned from buying certain materials. I guess it also comes down to having money. Who but the wealthy were/are able to afford beautiful silks, satins, lace, etc. unless you want to get into massive debt? My niece got a dress from Goodwill and my sister was married in a cotton Edwardian-style dress.
(Sigrun Schulz 3:04pm September 15, 2011)

Costuming is important for actors and actors to feel their roles in movie-making and is beautiful to look at from the wardrobes of many years passed. The Chinese and Japanese silk & satin kimonos, etc. are very beautiful. My sister and I made friends with two sisters (Americans) who lived in Japan for over ten years when their father was a pilot for Pan-American Airlines. They had many kimonos that were gorgeous--bright red, turquoise, etc. with embroidered stitching. We borrowed them and dressed as Geisha girls one Halloween. We felt very special in them, but it was difficult to walk in these, but all the people complimented us on how beautiful we looked and where did we get these from. It's a memory, I've never forgotten. However, I'm sure the sisters got it trouble for sneaking this clothing for us to wear without permission from their mother! Your books look good and I'm sure very interesting to read and I'm looking forward to reading them.
(Linda Luinstra 5:57pm September 15, 2011)

Like movies in books pirates dress like pirates and have the pirates personality. Mistresses will dress kinda provocatively. Bad guys will creepy. Hot gus will at some point show their chest. It just all seems kind of common.
(Jeanette Huston 7:25pm September 19, 2011)

Your post had provided me with another point of view on this topic. I had no idea that things can work in this manner as well. Thank you for sharing your perspective.
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