Jilly: Seeking Fashion Advice

Anyone else ready for a break from reality? I hope so. I’m in need of some super-glamorous, exceedingly outré wardrobe suggestions.

Alexis, the heroine of my fantasy WIP, accompanies Kierce, the hero, to a very OTT aristocratic celebration. Something as showy as the Oscars, hosted by royalty, but in a horses-and-swords kind of world. Alexis was raised in a monastery; she’s spent her whole life passing as a boy, so it’s challenging enough for her to have to act and dress like a female. To glam up, and preen, and flirt is her idea of a nightmare.

It’s mine, too, which may be why I’m struggling with her wardrobe.

Alexis is going to the party as a woman, but afterwards she expects to revert to her monkish persona and she needs to do her best to stop other characters from joining the dots. She’ll wear something very feminine, flashy and distracting, so that people will remember the outfit and not think too much about the person wearing it. She has a lot to disguise: she’s six feet tall, very underweight, with strong features and a shaven head.

I’m thinking her head is the most obvious problem, so maybe I should start with that and build the outfit around it. I want to disguise her lack of hair without making it look like a cover-up. The obvious move would be to give her a wig, but I don’t want to do that. When Alexis finally gets hair, it will be her own.

I have some thoughts:


Kierce’s father, a retired soldier, grows flowers that Kierce’s mother and sister sell. The sister, Mirel, also makes the family’s clothes and has an eye for design. Mirel is the one who’ll be responsible for Alexis’s party outfit. She’s used to working with flowers, real and imitation, so I was thinking maybe she could make Alexis a stunning flower headdress (I guess they’d have to be fake) and a matching flower-embellished dress. See the sketch at the top of the post for the kind of look I had in mind.




Or what about this? Feathers would be easily accessible and a clever needlewoman could make something dramatic and frou-frou. Do you remember Ginger Rogers’ legendary ostrich feather dress from Top Hat? If you don’t, check out the photos here. Something like that, with lots of movement, would be fabulous.







I really like this beaded flapper cap, but it gives a neat, rounded head shape and I’m not sure whether it would be distracting enough, or whether a beaded dress would have enough volume.



Alexis’s body

At this stage Alexis is all skin, bone and sinew, so I think she’d want to show as little flesh as possible. Lurking at the back of my mind are the costumes for the ballet La Bayadere, a flashy love triangle starring a warrior, the temple dancer who loves him, and the Brahmin’s daughter who marries him. Modern ballerinas are strong but have whip-thin bodies and I’ve often thought they look fabulous in the golden, glittery, evil princess dress, but the gauzy bikini top and harem pants of the temple dancer is challenging. Alexis is taller than a dancer, but I think she needs shape and volume and lots of flash.


catherine-the-greats-shoesI was initially thinking that she’d have to wear flat shoes because she’s so tall, but Kierce is taller so I might make a virtue out of a necessity and give her heels to go with her headdress, which would make her as tall as him. I’ve heard ballerinas say that after years of dancing on pointe, high heels are a breeze, and with a lifetime of martial arts training, Alexis has great balance. Heels would make her walk differently, too, and they’d be fine from a world-building perspective. Did you know high-heeled shoes have been around since Ancient Egypt, and were much favored by European royalty in the 16th century? Check out the mules shown on the left—according to Wikipedia they belonged to Catherine the Great.

What do you think? I’m off to check out this year’s Oscar dresses to see if further inspiration is to be had there.

Right now I like the flowery cap, but I love the idea of my girl in heels and a Ginger Rogers-y fluffy, floaty feather dress.

Any and all suggestions most gratefully welcomed 😀

21 thoughts on “Jilly: Seeking Fashion Advice

  1. The first thing I thought of was, “Did Alexander McQueen do anything for Iman?” (Googled it. Not really, but there’s an amazingly beautiful woman with her hair slicked back and she’s wearing bronze ram’s horns. Thematic?)

    Also, the “I’d Rather Be High Venetian Mix” for Louis Vuitton came to mind. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAjD1HJISDY You can see how there are some really stunning uses of headdresses, pearls and even hoods, but because everyone else is so totally outre, you don’t notice unless you are looking for it. Plus, note how the Girl in a Little Black Dress totally stands out in the video by being so normal.

    Thematically, though, flowers might be what you are looking for, fake or real. Virginal, yet the sexual organs of plants . . . . Things to think about would be what’s in season, and also what colors go well with her. Also, if the rest of the court is wearing flowers, then it won’t stand out so much. Except for those who love her, of course.

    (-: Plus, the nice thing is that as a fantasy world, you can have blue roses, or a giant lily that fits over her head as a cap (something you’d see on a flower fairy, maybe).

    One more thought. If the other ladies are wearing cones and wimples and netting/lace, then her height may not be such an issue. Especially if her headdress is lower. I saw some great images by Googling “medieval cones and wimples” — bet you could add flowers!

    (-: We need more fashion on the blog! I’m a total schlub about this in real life, but I do adore a hypothetical outfit.

    • Wow, Michaeline, I love the Venetian video. It’s utterly gorgeous and decadent, has something of the feel I’m after. My fictional celebration starts like that and degenerates into something closer to the Rite of Spring 😉 McQueen is wonderful too, and John Galliano. I’ve also been looking at images from the last great Imperial ball in the Winter Palace in 1903. All the guests wore bejeweled 17th-century Russian court dress. The photographs are amazing, and if you look on a website like DeviantArt, some clever creative types have added color. Isn’t it a wonderful thing that you can just google and click on “images” and get a whole world of wild inspiration?

      I love the idea of cones and wimples and the like, I’ll definitely play with that. Even more I love the idea that it could obscure her height problem. That’s excellent!

      I agree we should have more fashion! Not for me in real life, thank you very much, but fictional wardrobes can add depth and richness to a story, plus the research is sooo much fun.

      Thank you!

      • I was doing some research for costume parties awhile back, and there are a lot of Canadian fancy dress parties from the turn of the 19th century. Plus, some of the Gilded Age matrons did medieval in their costume parties. And, Michille I think it was steered me to the Labyrinth movie’s ballroom scene, which is a cool way to see costume in motion.

        Oh, and there’s also a version of “Golden Years” from some movie where all the courtly people start minuetting with their bad selves in that kind of dress. Just fun!

    • Michaeline is a genius–I’m so glad I put up this post. I am absolutely going to put all the women in spectacular head-coverings. I’m also thinking that whatever I give Kierce to wear, it will be dark and plain-ish, making him stand out amid all the court peacocks like the Girl In the Little Black Dress in the Vuitton video.

      Totally agree about ostrich feathers. I know I’m writing fantasy, so in theory I can have whatever I want, but I don’t think there would have been ostriches in Alexis’s world. Hmm. Cogitating.

      • If your islands are volcanic islands, then probably no ostriches. If your islands are bits and pieces of some lost continent of Atlantis or something, then it’s possible you’d have ostriches and other fabulous beasts. Oh, wait, I’m thinking emus I think. Well, still, if evolution holds true, you’d get weird holdovers on islands that were once part of something bigger, but if you have volcanic new islands, you’d only have what can fly or float in later.

        (You did say these were kind of based on islands, didn’t you? Or am I just imagining stuff?)

        • Absolutely there are islands, and volcanoes. I don’t think there can be ostriches or emus, though there are strong trade routes so I suppose could force a bunch of exotic feathers in if I had to. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be flowers, though. I dreamed about her dress last night (hurrah for an active subconscious) and it’s spectacular, in my mind, at least. Now I just have to figure out the rest of it!

        • (-: If there are lots of flowers, birds might be colorful for camouflage! Lots of answers there. But anyway, you have the dress! So cool!

          My dreams last night were weird. I was cleaning my ears, and out popped a beautiful walnutmeat half, which I remember looking a little bit like a brain. I looked up the meaning on the internet — they say if you dream of cleaning your ears, there’s either too much information, or you have to stop and actually listen to what people are telling you. Walnuts are lucky, though (-:. At any rate, both apply. Too much junky information coming in, and I’m not listening to good advice (or at least, I’m not applying it properly). The week is young; may all our dreams be useful!

    • I know you’re right, Elisabet. I’ve been avoiding Pinterest because it looks all too tempting and I don’t need another online time sink, but I think I’m going to have to sign up.

      • I agree with Elisabet. I did a search of “kate middleton gowns” on Pinterest, as I think she has the same sort of build as your character, and there were several that I thought would suit. Doesn’t help from a headwear-type of perspective, but it’ll get you started.

        The other benefit of Pinterest is you can create a private (or public) board and save everything you see. I’ve done that for my book for 19th century Georgian dresses and it’s VERY helpful. Yes, it can be a time-sink, but well worth it and a heck of a lot easier than Google.

        • Okay, thanks Justine, I’m convinced! Funny, I never thought of Kate Middleton (probably because I never looked beyond all that glorious hair), but you’re right. More time sink ahead!

        • I like Pinterest for finding stuff, but if your computer has plenty of room (or maybe if you just buy a dedicated USB stick and back it up regularly), I prefer to keep my pictures offline. I feel a little guilty about that because the reason why Pinterest works is because people are so good about sharing. But the fact is, I’ve been caught several times with no or slow internet, and I haven’t been able to access my Pinterest stuff quickly.

          I believe some authors use their Pinterest boards for generating interest and as advertising for their books. But, in that case, I would think it would be pretty easy to post a curated board of the best of one’s ideas (that are good for promoting the book).

          Another plus for private curation is that one can use photos and inspiration that are not in the public domain — I try to be careful to label the stuff that’s not explicitly public domain so I don’t goof up and use something that might be copyrighted.

          The only thing about my system is that it’s hard to attach notes. If I put them into a word doc, they seem drowned in words. If I put them in a file, I can browse through a slideshow if I need inspiration, but the notes are limited to whatever I can name each picture. And doing both seems like a waste of time and a bit of overkill.

          I do love Pinterest a lot, so if you have fast and reliable internet, it really might be the best way to go.

        • I have lots of images on my hard drive. I tend to find them while I’m working on a particular story question. I have landscapes, cityscapes, people, hairstyles, dresses, color schemes, monasteries, weapons, you name it… I keep them on my desktop while I’m writing the scene and then stick them in a file when I’m done. Apart from convenience, my main reason is the one Michaeline quotes below–I don’t know which of them are in the public domain and I’d rather not have to worry about inadvertently breaching someone’s copyright.

    • I forgot to ask…Elisabet, are your Pinterest story inspiration pages public? Would you care to post a link? I’d love to see them.

  2. That Louis Vuitton/Venetian Mix video is terrific! But when you said “head gear,” Jilly, all I could think of was Bob Mackie and Cher. Here’s a link—nothing looks “historical,” exactly, but something might work as a jumping-off place.


    Also, for full, long dresses and elaborate head gear, the Victorians really had it going on:


    • Cher was so super-glam, and absolutely timeless. (She probably still is, come to think of it.) The thing about writing is that unless there’s a picture of it on the cover, the reader is left to her or his own devices as far as interpreting the words on the page. So, it’d be perfectly OK for us to base a fantasy look on a Cher look (keeping in mind that the sequins might be replaced by river pearls, and spandex . . . maybe there’s knitting in our universes, so the stretchy fabrics might be OK).

      That one with the black feathers coming off of her head like a fountain is amazing! But more for an evil queen. Although, if everyone is dressing like a fabulous mythological beast, something like that might blend right into the background.

      Those Victorian-era Russian headdresses are something else. I clicked on an image and got this Tumbler: https://www.tumblr.com/search/russian%20headdress Wowee!

    • Wow, Kay! I immediately thought of Cher in that see-through, bikini-esque dress, but I didn’t know it was Bob Mackie and I had no idea there was so much more. I had so much fun browsing those images. Like Michaeline, I especially love the black feather evil queen headdress. It’s not right for Alexis but don’t be surprised if it turns up before the end of the series.

  3. My writing buddy and I often use the comment feature to provide links to the outfits we’re trying to describe, just to make sure we’re on the right page!

    I think you could do live-flower headdresses — I have a friend who does belly dance and often uses live blooms in her “hair garden.” Hardy ones will last the night, and a mix of real and false blooms could come off looking all-real. I’m sure Alexis’ sister could make it work! (This one in particular could obscure a shaven scalp: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/53/7b/e5/537be5ffd69f8eb0433358992d9a63d7.jpg

    Some more hair garden pics: https://www.google.com/search?q=belly+dance+hair+garden&safe=off&espv=2&biw=1300&bih=577&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjD2J-hjK_SAhXn24MKHdZsDEkQ_AUIBygC#imgrc=UotufsZjrSJWtM: )

    One of the Project Runway finalists did floral headbands in her winning runway show (Ashley: http://prettypearbride.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/SHEVA-Ashley-Tipton.jpg ). A lot of her designs had sheer portions to create more movement/layering, which was cool.

    If flowers are to frou-frou, she could do something with decorative leaves… like this? https://www.pinterest.com/pin/573575702514180864/

    And, yeah… you might have to sign up for Pinterest. It’s pretty perfect for this sort of thing… I delete the app from my phone whenever I’m not actively using it, because you’re totally right about it being a gigantic time suck, but when you’re storyboarding or seeking inspiration… https://www.pinterest.com/floresecorp/floral-dress/

    • Thank you for all these fantastic links, Peggy. Time suck, already, but in the best possible way 😀

      There’s potential in all of these, but the decorative leaves are my absolute faves–they’re amazing. I think you’re right about using at least some live blooms for Alexis, and it just occurred to me that there are reasons why that could work particularly well. Thank you again!

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