…or really any of your other sartorial decisions.
I know when you look nice. I know when I like a color on you and when it clashes with your hair. I notice when you wear a bold shade or something glittery that catches my eye in a crowd. I know when your bosom is framed in a frustratingly tempting way, and I notice if you’re showing ankles.
But I do not notice in a glance if your dress is a la francais or a la polonaise. I don’t think of your little spencer jacket as being jaunty–probably I don’t notice it at all, except to note that you are all buttoned up. I don’t catalogue your evening cloak as being flannel or wool, and I’m really not even sure if what you’re wearing is a cloak or a cape. It has a front closure and hand-holes so it’s a cloak? Got it. I…can’t promise I will remember that tomorrow.
You should wear green more often. It looks nice on you.
The Dashing Lord Griffyndor
Got that, romance writers? Can we please agree to stop cataloging outfits unless it is done by the heroine, of the heroine, and for the heroine?
Nothing annoys me more when I’m reading a section from the male point of view than when her outfit is described in detail, in precise and correct fashion terms. It’s one thing for him to notice the generalities–she’s in a green dress with lace at the elbows and the material is shiny so it must be silk…but he’s not going to think about whether it’s taffeta silk or satin weave silk, or that it has three rows of ruffles at the bottom and not five, or that it’s Brussels lace not domestic, or any of a dozen other things that a woman would notice because she would have been involved in making every one of those decision on her own dress.
If the hero is thinking about those things, the heroine has bigger problems than the villain of the story.
I am sure this is one of those conventions of historical romance that at some point became like the fourth wall in theatre, part of the suspension of disbelief we go into the story willing to give. After all, we read historicals in part for the fabulous costume drama angle of the genre, so we want to know what the heroine is wearing at all times. We rarely see her full-length from her own perspective, and since romance doesn’t offer points of view other than heroine and hero, that leaves him to tell us about her fabulous dresses. I just find it unrealistic when he spends a paragraph describing what she has on for their walk in the park.
Men don’t pay that much attention to the details of fashion–they look at whether it looks good on you, if it’s appropriate (for the outing and time of year and decade you’re living in), and if it looks like it was expensive. Impressionist painting style swaths of general form/color but no real attention to the details.
Certainly my husband can’t remember my clothing. I am not sure he could describe his favorite of my dresses other than to say “that 50’s dress.” Maybe he would get that it’s black and white polka dots. But he’s not going to talk about cap sleeves and under-bust gathering and bias-cut swish on the high-waisted A-line skirt. I bet he hasn’t even noticed that the collar and belt are a different fabric with the same pattern, or that all of it is a crepe gauze over a black slip. He knows he likes it on me, though, and that’s all I need him to notice.
That’s all I need my romance heroes to notice. In fact I’d rather have a paragraph of him watching her dress move and wishing he could be somewhere taking it off than a paragraph giving me the details of her wardrobe.
Jane Austen had it right: “Woman is fine for herself alone.”