Posted On October 20, 2010 by Print This Post

Fashion for your Characters

RU welcomes Ashley Hammen! Ashley is a dear friend of mine, and currently works in LA on the Style Network television show, How Do I Look?” Today, Ashley is going to give us a run down on what our characters might wear, depending on where in the country they are located. (Something I wish I had known before I wrote my first New York heroine!)

Ashley Hammen from Style TVFashion. A word that I once knew nothing about and now, somehow, has become the center of my universe.

As it is a huge factor of my everyday life and something I have paid a great amount of attention to over the past ten years, I would love to share some of my findings with the readers of Romance University. I too spend a lot of time writing and tedious things like character description can really make or break your credibility as an author.

Character fashion is something, in novels, I often find misrepresented. If you are describing a young woman in a business field, her fashion from hair to stiletto could be extremely different depending on her line of work, the time of year, and the location on which she resides. As I don’t have time (or word count) to describe all these things, I’m going to try to hit on the big ones. If there are any specific questions, feel free to drop me a line anytime and hopefully I can lend assistance.

The NYC Business Woman:

From CEO down to assistants, the business fashion in NYC is very easy to pin down. There is no such thing as business casual if you are serious in your career. Style is fashion forward while still maintaining that business appeal.

Starting from the top, the hair is polished. When thinking business, think straight styles. Bangs emanate that professional vibe and pulling back your hair amps up the serious tone.
The outfit, as I previously mentioned, is serious while still being fashionable. Think trousers, blazers, and pencil skirts. A cardigan is even pushing the bounds of being too casual.

Women in NYC are the queens of the high heel. Think conservative peep toes or the classic black pump. However, women in NYC also do a lot of walking, so the career gal on the go would always have a pair of flats in her bag.

New Yorkers are big into after work drinks/happy hours, so if this is something your character would partake in, perhaps to meet a girlfriend or significant other, or perhaps even to spark a bit of romance with a co-worker, it is a great time for her to let her hair down out of her bun and throw on a little extra jewelry for that after work cocktail.

Ashley Hammen from Style TVThe LA Career Gal:

To be honest, most people in Los Angeles are tied to “the industry” in one way or another. They are involved in film, music, or television. This is not a place where you would find a “super corporate woman.” There are definitely CEO’s of these companies, but women here are much more casual with their style. Lose the business suits and the pulled back hair.

Women here are definitely less fashion forward. The trends utilized are much more casual. Think long cardigans, buttons ups, leggings, and slouchy boots. The looks are still put together, but a bit more “California cool.” Heels still come into play, but definitely as more of a nighttime look. Instead of having flats in their bag for the walk home, women carry a jacket or a pair of heels to throw on for after work networking events, premiers, etc.

East Coast Casual:

This look is again, much more fashion forward. It is very put together, no matter where you are hailing from, whether it be the Upper East Side or Brooklyn.

If your woman is into designers, labels, and perhaps a snob or from a well-off family, she would hail from the Upper East Side.

Bohemian styles and layering are trends that are more specific to the more “artsier” Brooklyn. Think patterned dresses, vests, and messenger bags.

Trends seem to directly match parts of Manhattan and if you are ever looking for specifics, I suggest you research the characters of the CW show, “Gossip Girl.” The fashion is amazing and fairly true to the world of NYC.

West Coast Beach Babes:

The casual look in LA is fairly sloppy. I reside here, and so I honestly say that. The weekends here include a lot of outdoor activities, like hiking, laying out, and wine tasting. Make your fashion fit the occasion. The girl who is leaving for the afternoon to run errands would be found in a jeans skirt, short shorts, and a tee shirt. The shoes are definitely flip flops or a pair of casual flats. California girls are known for their long waves and “sun-bleached” hair. (I’m going to tell you a secret….it’s all bottle dyed)


Menswear in all situations pretty much follows suit to women. In the business world of NYC, think well groomed and wearing a suit. Wall Street is one of the last places where you see men in ties, but incorporating a tie into the outfit is not out of place.

On the West Coast, mens work gear consists of polo shirts, button-ups, and jeans. Occasionally, if there is a big meeting or an after work date there will be a blazer involved.

Casual wear in The City is similar to formal wear in LA. If your character is going out on the town, he will be wearing a crisp button-up and nicely tailored dark jeans. The shoes will remain designer and the grooming is still sleek.

In LA, night time casual can go two ways. The surfer dudes can be found at a beach bar in their shorts and t-shirts, rocking a pair of flip flops or sneakers. Those involved in the Hollywood scene can be found in a club, wearing the exact same thing they would have worn to work.

Where the Midwest Fits In?

With style in the Midwest, I usual find, in a non-offensive way, that the trends are about one year behind. It seems that things really become popular about a season after they were introduced to the big cities. This is to be expected, as the main source of fashion knowledge is simply magazines and department stores. The work style is a lot of casual suits for both men and women who work in larger companies; where as business casual could be jeans and a sweater. Heels are definitely less pertinent in both the work place and in casual encounters, but seen as something “dressy” nonetheless.

Hair is less dramatic and takes fewer risks in the Midwest, think highlights as being a dramatic style, and again, everything picks up about six months to a year after it is seen on the runway.

With all of this being said I know I haven’t covered EVERY fashion trend or hit every cities style. The most important thing to remember when dealing with fashion and your character is keep the personality you want for them in mind. If your character is confident, she/he can probably pull of a lot more then if she/he is shy and laid back. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask, and I hope this helps you as you move forward in your writings. Best wishes and happy words to all of you! =)

Ashely will be popping in and out today and answering your character fashion questions. Have any of your characters made a fashion faux pas?

Join us on Friday as we talk with Lisa Plumley on Writing the Holiday Romance.

Ashley’s Bio:

Ashley Hammen grew up in the middle of nowhere. “Where?” you ask. Storm Lake, Iowa. No one really knows where that is, besides fellow RU member Carrie Spencer, so for now, we will simply call it… the middle of nowhere. Since her college graduation from the University of Iowa, she has spent time living in NYC, and currently resides in Los Angeles.

She slowly found that her passions for style, celebrities, and pop culture could easily translate into her career field. She was accepted into an internship program with BNC PR in New York City the summer following her junior year of college, and now her journey has led her to work as a freelance associate producer on the Style Network television show, “How Do I Look?” Although she knew she would miss her family, a crazy Midwest version of the Brady Bunch, and the community she had become so close with, she loves that she gets to spend her days helping deserving women change their lives. In her own words, “I feel so blessed for the life I get to live and most certainly enjoy!”

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16 Responses to “Fashion for your Characters”

  1. Hi Ashley,

    Thank you for visiting RU and sharing your knowledge.

    If it takes a year for fashion to reach the Midwest, I’m more outdated than I thought. 🙂 I generally need a year or more to warm up to the newest rage. I live in the suburbs of Chicago, and the style is definitely more casual. However, I’ve always had the impression that folks in the city were more tailored.

    What are your thoughts on Chicago? And the burbs across the country?

    Thanks again!

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | October 20, 2010, 5:39 am
    • Hello Tracey,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. As for Chicago/Chicago Suburb fashion, I had some insight into these trends when in college. A majority of my best girlfriends either lived in/near the city or moved there following graduation.

      For the business woman in Chicago, it does lean a bit more towards the put-together East Coast fashion. I see a lot of my girlfriends attending work in nice trousers, blazers and dark skinny jeans, and even pencil skirts with heels. Chicago, to me, is an up-and-coming city and the people there do tend to try to follow NYC trends.

      As for the casual girl-on-the-go, think slouchy boots, leggings, skinny jeans, tailored blouses, and warm jackets. In the Midwest, I also see Uggs as something that is not only practical, but still very prominent.

      Let me know if you have any more specific questions, but there is the general run down!

      Happy Writing,

      Posted by Ashley Hammen | October 20, 2010, 12:34 pm
  2. Morning Ashley!!

    I will have to say that I agree with Ashley on the midwest being behind a year. When she comes home to visit she clothes…lol…a couple years ago it was leggings and boots. Seriously? Who wears that stuff? Well, everyone in LA and only Ashley in Iowa. Later everyone was wearing it! And still are!

    I thank you for you assessment on NY fashion, I got dinged on that on my very first chapter. NEVER would a businesswoman wear an outfit like that! Yikes. I’m definitely keeping a copy of this article for future reference!

    Thanks Ashley!



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | October 20, 2010, 8:34 am
  3. Ashley: Great post! Thanks for taking your time to give us all this info and insight.

    I have a couple of questions. I was wondering about fashion in the South. I’m from the south (Virginia) and many of my stories are set in that state – usually the semi- big cities of Richmond, Roanoke, and Charlottesville – not DC – that’s a totally different animal. Any insight on the dress code in the South? There is lots of money around here and there is a definite distinction between old money and new money – the class system still exists to a certain extent in some areas. For the most part, I see a lot of Talbot’s/J. Jill look for work and weekends.

    Second question – any insight Nashville? I’ve heard that it is called “L.A. with a twang”.

    Thanks, Robin

    Posted by Robin Covington | October 20, 2010, 9:40 am
    • Hi Robyn,

      Happy Wednesday! I have just recently started researching fashion trends in the South. As far as traveling goes, it is the one place I haven’t spent much time in. However, I will be traveling there for a TV special soon! Watch out Dallas 🙂

      At this point, what I can say about fashion in the South, is that it is fairly structured and well thought out. You are correct in saying that a class system does still exist and fashion definately plays into that. Designer brands are huge and a lot of the “hot spots” for shopping are boutiques and Neimans. So as far as business goes, think East Coast with a bit more color. I could also see women in the South really accessorizing to the nines. Think big, chunky pieces, scarves, and jewels.

      As for the girl on the go, it is fairly casual. Again, jeans and a tailored blouse would be perfect.

      And Nashville!!!! Sometimes I think I moved to the wrong city. It is LA with a twang and this seasons hottest trends fit in perfectly. Flannel, cowboy inspired boots, worn in jeans, a jean skirt or shorts and you’ve got the fashion! In the summer, the big thing was summer dresses with cowboy boots and that trend really took over the entire country. When dressing your Nashville ladies, think country with a kick of rock n’ roll!

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Happy Writing,

      Posted by Ashley Hammen | October 20, 2010, 12:46 pm
  4. Hi Ashley. You nailed the East Coast! LOL. I’m a Jersey girl living in Chicago and I can spot an East Coaster a mile away. When I was working out East I spent a lot of time stressing over my wardrobe (mainly because I was fresh out of school and couldn’t afford the trendy stuff). In the Midwest, it’s not such a big deal. When I first moved here, I was the odd one with my black suits and array of jackets.

    On to my question…I’m brainstorming a male character and I see him as wearing trendy jeans and t-shirts, maybe some cool button downs. He’s about 30 years old. What clothing lines would be appropriate for him?

    Thanks for a fun post!

    Posted by AdrienneGiordano | October 20, 2010, 10:07 am
    • Good morning Adrienne!

      I truly think that males in that age range are shopping smart these days. Some of the hottest trends, at an affordable price, which unless your character is extremely wealthy, he will be looking for, come from stores like H&M. If you are looking for hip stores and name brands, think Neiman Marcus, Diesel, Seven Jeans, Express, Guess, or Zara. These are stores that are pretty much found nationwide.

      My best advice is to go on the stores website and pick out an outfit you could see on your character. That way, you can visualize not only the character, but you can list correct brand names.

      As far as shoes for men, the trendy biker/combat boot, Converse, and your typical dress shoe (again look up one you like for brand reference) are still top of the line choices.

      I hope this helps! Let me know if you have a specific city you are looking in.

      Happy Writing,

      Posted by Ashley Hammen | October 20, 2010, 12:50 pm
  5. Ashley –

    What a fun and informative lecture!

    I was going to ask the same question Robin posed – know anything about the South? I can tell you when I was living and working in Texas, Talbots was a good stand-by for work clothes that weren’t business casual, but weren’t totally buttoned-up either.

    I’ve recently moved to the LA area, and I’m still getting used to the “look.” Any advice for a 40-something mom who wants to look hip without looking stupid? LOL I don’t want to embarrass my kid, but I want to look decent. I’m a casual girl by nature.

    Thanks so much for being here, Ashley!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | October 20, 2010, 10:52 am
    • Hi Kelsey,

      First of all, I applaud you for writing in and asking such a personal question. My mom was always a great dresser and I found that her style, class, and life choices have directly inspired me my entire life. Whether or not the clothes she wore were always the most hip or trendy is to be debated, but as a young girl, I remember her always putting in the effort.

      Being a casual girl, you will totally fit in here. It is by far the most casual city I have ever lived in, which is great for anyone who is on-the-go! As our “winter” and I use that term lightly, is approaching, I have a few seasonal suggestions.

      Grab a pair of great jeans. Skinny jeans, boot cut, or trouser, all are in style at the moment. Lucky for us ladies, flats are back and Target carries a great line of basics for $12.99. Pair this with a flowy top or perhaps something tailored to your style. Throw in a great pair of earrings and you are off.

      Another great casual look that I personally adore is leggings with boots. Now, some women think this is a “young” trend, but I assure you that it is perfect for all ages. Leggings are quick, easy, and actually, although many women wouldn’t think it, are quite slimming. Paired with a longer top and a pair of flat, slouchy boots, this look is perfect for any occasion.

      Dressing up either of these looks can be easy. Throw in a pair of heels to either and you are on your way. Also, another go to piece that really adds flare to an outfit and takes it from day to night, is a blazer. In LA, this is really all you need in regards to a jacket.

      The great thing about LA is your look can be easy and fun. There is no pressure and you can try out different trends. Not all of them will stick, but with great designers doing brands for Target, Sears, K-Mart, JCPenny, etc, you can afford to try out a couple of new looks.

      I hope this advice helps and please feel free to email me anytime if you have questions.


      p.s. For great tips, catch an episode of “How Do I Look?” on the Style Network. The show airs on Saturdays at 8pm, but re-runs throughout the week. Our stylists and host, Jeannie Mai, do a great job of helping women with everyday fashion!

      Posted by Ashley Hammen | October 20, 2010, 1:02 pm
  6. Hi Ashley!

    What a fabulous post! I usually know what my characters will wear but I have problems with the how to describe what they’re wearing. If she’s wearing a gown and it’s got an empire waist or an assymetrical bodice, I wonder if the reader will actually know what I’m talking about. It’s especially difficult if I’m writing in the male point of view because most men don’t know a peplum from a flounce. They’d call it that ruffle-y thing hanging off the hem of her jacket. 🙄

    Thanks so much for the style tips too!

    Posted by jennifer tanner | October 20, 2010, 5:10 pm
    • Hi Jennifer,

      People definately know what you are talking about, and if not, when speaking about a gown, when you use details, the reader will assume at the very least that the person wearing the dress is educated on the style. It also makes her seem really dressed up to a person who doesn’t know much about the topic. Keep using details. It makes you seem like a well-informed, knowledgable author and that is to be respected, even if the reader does not completely understand.

      Happy Writing,

      Posted by Ashley Hammen | October 21, 2010, 12:03 am
  7. Thanks so much for posting with us today Ashley – and you KNOW you’ll be hearing more from me later with fashion questions.
    (See you at Thanksgiving?)



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | October 20, 2010, 10:45 pm
  8. Thank you so much for the opportunity! I had a wonderful experience 😀 See you soon!

    Posted by Ashley Hammen | October 21, 2010, 12:11 am

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