For reader question month, Megan B wanted to know: Where do you get your ideas for what the characters wear?
Oh, the clothes are so much fun to play with! Since I tend to stick with a time period for several books, I get a thorough grounding in the popular silhouettes and fabrics. Luckily for me, there are photographs of 1880s and 1920s fashions, so there isn’t much guesswork. There are websites devoted to period fashion, and I also have a small selection of costume and photography books. I will hit museums for special exhibits that feature period clothes, and I study the artwork of the era as well.
Once I know the shapes and fabrics, the colors come into play. Colors themselves can be tremendously important. For instance, in mourning clothes, bombazine was favored because it lacks sheen. (This is why a widow wearing black satin might find her choice exciting comment where a duller black silk might go unremarked.) Colors are a good way to show trends–during the reign of Marie Antoinette there was a rage for the color puce, a reddish brown hue the color of a flea’s back. (There was also a thoroughly unsavory fad for a color called caca dauphin when she delivered the long-awaited heir to the French throne. I’ll let you imagine the rest for yourself.) White has often been the color that sets the rich and idle apart from the working classes, while red telegraphs boldness in most circles. I choose colors based upon the messages they send, but also based upon whether or not they’re supposed to flatter the coloring of the character wearing them. And current fashion magazines are also a great source of inspiration–read them long enough and it soon becomes clear that there’s nothing entirely new under the sun!