When that Superman “S” comes out, the reader knows that it’s time for adventure. The same goes for costume changes in Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight!
Here are a dozen reasons to change your hero’s clothes.
1. To Introduce the Hero
- Harry’s introductory clothes show that he is neglected: “[A]ll he had to wear were old clothes of Dudley’s, and Dudley was about four times bigger than he was.” (HP Ch.2).
- Katniss’s clothes establish that she is a hunter. “I swing my legs off the bed and slide into my hunting boots. Supple leather that has molded to my feet.” (HG Ch.1).
- Bella’s outfit represents how much she will miss Phoenix. “I was wearing my favorite shirt — sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka.” (TW Ch.1).
2. To remain inconspicuous
- Harry dresses in muggle clothes while in the muggle world: “He got up and pulled on his jeans because he didn’t want to walk into the station in his wizard’s robes — he’d change on the train.” (HP Ch.6).
- Katniss wishes she and Peeta did not stand out at training: “I do a quick assessment. Peeta and I are the only two dressed alike.” (HG Ch.7).
- Bella wants to blend in at her new school. “I kept my face pulled back into my hood. . . . My plain black jacket didn’t stand out, I noticed with relief.” (TW Ch.1).
3. To establish a new threshold’s uniform
- Changing in to wizarding robes signifies that Harry is entering a magical world: “You’d better hurry up and put your robes on, . . . we’re nearly there.” (HP Ch.6).
- Katniss changes in to a new uniform before entering the arena: “Then the clothes arrive, the same for every tribute.” (HG Ch.10).
- Once she arrives in Forks, Bella must constantly wear a raincoat like everyone else. “The people in front of me stopped just inside the door to hang up their coats on a long row of hooks. I copied them.” (TW Ch.1).
4. To show parental love
- Harry wears an invisibility cloak that belonged to his dad. “His father’s . . . this had been his father’s. He let the material flow over his hands, smoother than silk, light as air.” (HP Ch.12).
- Katniss wears her mother’s dress to the reaping ceremony. “To my surprise, my mother has laid out one of her own lovely dresses for me.” (HG Ch.1).
5. To show friendship by sharing a jacket
- Harry sleeps under Hagrid’s coat when they first meet. “He took off his thick black coat and threw it to Harry. ‘You can kip under that,’ he said.” (HP Ch.4).
- Katniss accepts Peeta’s jacket when she is cold. “Peeta takes off his jacket and wraps it around my shoulders.” (HG Ch.6).
- In a chivalrous move, Edward lends Bella his jacket. “He handed me the jacket, interrupting my ogling.”(TW Ch.8).
6. To play sports
- Harry must change clothes to play quidditch. “Harry and the rest of the team were changing into their scarlet Quidditch robes (Slytherin would be playing in green).” (HP Ch.11).
- Bella does not know what to wear to the vampire baseball game. “I gave up quickly on choosing an outfit — throwing on an old flannel shirt and jeans — knowing I would be in my raincoat all night anyway.” (TW Ch.17).
7. To make a good impression
- Bella wants Edward’s family to like her. “It was hard to decide what to wear. I doubted there were any etiquette books detailing how to dress when your vampire sweetheart takes you home to meet his vampire family.” (TW Ch.15).
- After the games end, Katniss tries to dress innocently to convince the audience that she acted out of love instead of defiance: “The sheer fabric softly glows. Even the slight movement in the air sends a ripple up my body. . . . In this dress, I give the illusion of wearing candlelight.” (HG Ch.26).
8. To show anxiety
- Katniss is anxious about her costume that lights on fire. “A few hours later, I am dressed in what will either be the most sensational or the deadliest costume in the opening ceremonies.” (HG Ch.5).
- Bella is nervous while waiting for Edward to pick her up for a date. “I dressed in a rush, smoothing my collar against my neck, fidgeting with the tan sweater till it hung right over my jeans.” (TW Ch.12).
9. To prepare for a challenge
- For a midnight duel, Harry dresses in his pajamas and bathrobe. “They pulled on their bathrobes, picked up their wands, and crept across the tower room, down the spiral staircase, and into the Gryffindor common room.” (HP Ch.9).
- Bella switches clothes with Esme to get the bad vampires off her trail. “’Trying to confuse the smell. It won’t work for long, but it might help get you out.’ I could hear her clothes falling to the floor. ‘I don’t think I’ll fit . . .’ I hesitated, but her hands were abruptly pulling my shirt over my head.” (TW Ch.19).
10. To announce a formal occasion
- Katniss changes in to a fantastic interview dress: “Because my dress, oh, my dress is entirely covered in reflective precious gems, red and yellow and white with bits of blue that accent the tips of the flame design.” (HG Ch.9).
- Bella changes in to a formal dress for prom. “Then she’d dressed me in the most ridiculous dress —deep blue, frilly and off the shoulders, with French tags I couldn’t read — a dress more suitable for a runway than Forks.” (TW Epilogue).
11. To show a change in the weather
- Katniss’s clothes for the arena are weather-specific. “The material in the jacket’s designed to reflect body heat. Expect some cool nights.” (HG Ch.10).
- Bella changes her outfit for the first warm day in Forks. “I dressed for the warmer weather in a deep blue V-neck blouse — something I’d worn in the dead of winter in Phoenix.” (TW Ch.7).
12. To go home
- Harry changes back in to muggle clothes on the train ride home. “They were . . . pulling off their wizard robes and putting on jackets and coats.” (HP Ch.17).
- After her last interview, Katniss changes her outfit to head home. “I excuse myself to change out of my dress and into a plain shirt and pants. . . . I begin transforming back into myself.” (HG Ch.27).
Why it works:
Linking a change in clothes with a symbolic event is a natural way to tell a story because the reader is already familiar with the act as preparation– getting ready for a job interview with a suit, putting on a white dress for a wedding.
It makes sense that Clark Kent needs to change clothes to fight crime, and Harry Potter needs to put on his wizarding robes to do magic.
Let’s add six “clothing description” cards to the master outline.
We’ll put one in Chapter 1 to introduce the hero. Then, let’s add three cards at symbolic transitions: one to mark the pre-middle in Chapter 4, one to mark a trial along the hero’s journey in Chapter 12, and one when the hero heads home in Chapter 20.
We already show the hero playing sports in Chapter 9, so I will add a note there to change clothes for the event. Finally, let’s also throw in a card for “share a jacket” in Chapter 5.
If you are struggling with clothing, check out Now Novel’s article on clothing choice and characterization.
So, the next time you find your Hero getting dressed, do as Clark Kent does and enhance the scene by letting the clothing represent a little more.
P.S. Did you notice that Katniss and Bella change their outfits more often than Harry? Do you think that’s necessary for a female heroine?