Mar 15 2012 2:30pm

Do Clothes Make the Man? Dyson, Raylan, and Devil’s Cub

Raylan Givens in JustifiedTelevision series are like visual Cliff Notes when it comes to romance.  In the span of a half hour or an hour, each episode must hit emotional high notes that romance novel builds up to in 300+ pages. Naturally, since TV is a visual medium, clothes are the easiest ways to hit these notes. Sometimes the cues are subtle: In the series, Justified, for example, Marshall Raylan Givens, wears an off-white Stetson—the first sign that this good guy might not be quite so good. He also wears the dark colors that are the uniform of the bad boy, usually an elegantly tailored sport coat, paired with jeans. This combination signals to the viewer that while Raylan has gained a veneer of sophistication during his time away from his hardscrabble Kentucky home, at heart, he’s still a rough and tumble cowboy.

Some visual cues are even more obvious. Dyson in Lost Girl favors black shirts and a dark blue and black vest with his jeans. (That is, when he’s not half, or completely, naked.) Occasionally, he tosses on a leather jacket. No doubt about it, black makes a bad boy even badder and when it’s black leather…rowwrrr.  (If you doubt me, Google Richard Armitage and Guy of Gisborne. Or Richard Armitage and black leather. In fact, there are entire websites devoted to evolution of the 6’2 blue-eyed, black-haired actor’s leather costume in the BBC’s Robin Hood series.) 

Dyson and Bo in Lost GirlWhile watching my own personal Lost Girl marathon, I noticed an interesting thing. Spoiler alert. (But only about Dyson’s clothes.) 

At a certain point in the story line, Dyson begins wearing rumpled pastel-colored cotton shirts and faded jeans. In one episode, he even dons a pale pink polo shirt and khakis. While there are arguably good reason for these fashion choices, super sexy Dyson is instantly transformed from delicious to dull. Needless to say, the overall effect is…well, depressing

The effect of this visual cue—from black to pink—was so dramatic it got me thinking about the extent to which clothes make the man in romance. So, I went back to look at some of my romance heroes and was surprised by what I found. Visual cues in romance novels quite often are deceiving…

Devil’s Cub by Georgette HeyerGeorgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub opens with the hero, Vidal, riding in a coach at night. He is introduced, not with a physical description of his face or his body, but of his clothes. He’s riding in a coach in a speeding coach at night and the “occasional lantern light or flambeau” cuts through the darkness to reveal a diamond pin, a pair of large shoe buckles, a gold-edged hat tilted low over his eyes, obscuring his face.Vidal is a wealthy and powerful man, dark and dangerous, but Heyer’s description suggests there’s more to him than than meets the eye. His true self, the tender romantic the heroine will fall in love with, is deliberately concealed behind an elegant exterior. 

When the reader first glimpses the Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel, he isn’t even dressed as a man, but as an old hag holding a whip to which have the locks of victims of the guillotine. The ‘hag’ is stroking the hair with a “huge bony hand.” When the hero appears in what is supposedly his ‘true identity,’ several chapters later, an “inane laugh” is “heard from outside” and then an “unusually tall and very richly dressed figure” appears in the doorway.  What is interesting about these descriptions is that while both are disguises of weakness—an old woman, a fop—both also hint at the incredible strength of the hero behind the façade.

Mr. Perfect by Linda HowardIn Linda Howard’s Mr. Perfect, the reader first sees the hero through the heroine’s eyes. He’s her “ill-tempered” neighbor, whom she describes as “a rough-looking character…who didn’t seem to a hold down a regular job. At best, he was a drunk, and drunks could be mean and destructive. At worst, he was involved in illegal stuff which added dangerous to the list.” While Sam Donovan is definitely dangerous, I suspect there are few examples in romance literature where a first impression has been so deliciously and delightfully wrong… 

Which hero’s clothes suit his personality the best? Which do you remember the most?


Before turning her hand to writing commercial fiction, Joanna Novins spent over a decade working for the Central Intelligence Agency. She does not kill people who ask her about her previous job, though she came close once with an aging Navy SEAL who handed her a training grenade despite warnings that she throws like a girl. Published in historical romance by Berkley, Joanna also writes YA spy novels as Jody Novins.

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Lege Artis
1. LegeArtis
Oh, another great example is Eric Northman from True Blood. I know, Alexander is gorgeous always, but come on, amnesiac Eric in that terrible hoody can't compare with Eric in black leather jacket. The level of his badassness was enough diminished in fourth season with Sookie making him her bitch and that clothing sure wasn't helping.
Dyson, rrrrowr...:)
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
Yes, agree on all, yum. I love the wacky fantastic vests they dress Dyson in, and of course I love Raylan's hat, not to mention Boyd's buttoned-up shirts.
3. jaymzangel
This made me immediately think of Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer & his black leather duster. (Long live the duster!) In one of the Season 7 eps, they have him in a tight blue sweater. Although he looked divine, it definitely diminished his bad boy cred. Still love Spike though. Always.
4. Rose In RoseBear
That magnificient promo shot of Raylan sitting in the lawn chair firing his sidearm is the sole reason I started watchng Justified. (Well, that and the fact that is was Timothy Olyphant --- totally addicted to his just-on-the-down-side-of-crazy charm!)
Anna Bowling
5. AnnaBowling
There's a reason that Pierce Brosnan's first poster depicted him wearing a tux. There really is something about a sharp-dressed man. Neil Patrick Harris as the ever-dapper Barney on How I Met Your Mother stands out as another example. Don Draper on Mad Men does the same with midcentury flair.

For historical fans, the clothes are essential. Jo Beverly's Rothgar from her Malloren series, wears his heels and lace in the very manliest of ways. I've loved many a pirate hero, but delving into the way back of my keeper shelf, the all-gray ensembles of Valerie Sherwood's Rye Evistock (aka Kells) from her Lovesong trilogy stand the test of time. When a man has that much natural appeal, who needs more than a classic neutral signature color?
Alie V
6. ophelial
How about Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl. Best dressed teen male ever.

I agree about leather, it just makes everyone seem tougher and more ominous (I'm looking at you Salvatore brothers).
Kiersten Hallie Krum
7. Kiersten
Not surprisingly, I love Dyson's vests (not to mention that sexy shoulder holster...I have a thing for shoulder hoslters on a hot man). He has such presence, there's always this sense of barely restrained power behind tie and buttoned up vest. But I didn't have the same reaction to the temporary change to preppy - I liked how it gave him a whole new level of sexy (tho that tied-around-the-shoulders sweater has got to go.) Come on, Dyson in tennis shorts? Rowr.

Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man (where have I heard THAT before?) and clothes definitely offer an opportunity to communicate character traits to viewers and/or readers by visual short-hand. In the end, I do prefer Dyson in his leather and vests because it offers such a dichotomy to the wolf that rules within. And when that wolf comes out and the clothes come off - Boy! Howdy!
Kiersten Hallie Krum
8. Kiersten
Oh, and Raylan. That hat is such a metaphor on so many levels, and one of the great things is that Raylan understands that himself. The season 2 episode "Hatless" really proved that.
He also wears the dark colors that are the uniform of the bad boy, usually an elegantly tailored sport coat, paired with jeans. This combination signals to the viewer that while Raylan has gained a veneer of sophistication during his time away from his hardscrabble Kentucky home, at heart, he’s still a rough and tumble cowboy.
This is such a good point! I dig him (just typed "did him" by accident. Freudian much?) in the sports coat and jeans combo b/c that duality is real and organic and adds many juicy layers to our angry, droll Marshall
Joanna Novins
9. JoannaNovins
Am now blaming Kierstan for the ZZ Top earworm. (How's a girl supposed to work?) Also, shocked, SHOCKED that Megan resisted the urge to include a photo of Richard Armitage in leather with this post.
Dolly Sickles
10. Dolly_Sickles
I LOVE Linda Howard, and Mr. Perfect is my second favorites of her books. I have a particular affinity for the milk carton scene. Yeah.
Toni Horton
11. Tonidh69
Man...great minds must think alike! You have just mentioned my two most favorite guys on tv right now! Raylan and Dyson. Mmmmmm.... I've always love Timothy Olyphant...A Perfect Getaway...Hitman...Deadwood, just to name a few. And I just got turned onto Dyson, aka, Kristen Holden-Ried, although I did notice him in The Tudors. They killed him off way too soon. Raylan and Dyson are bad to the bone and sure dress that way! (just a side caveat...Sooo glad Winer, I mean Winona, left him...again! Although...WHAT is she thinking?) I always like Ava better. More leather! And keep your hat on Raylan!
12. pauwels reynald
The only question i have is where da fuck does he gets all those nice clothes!!! I mean as a guy i'd love to know which collection or brand are Kris Holden ried clothes in this serié movie LOST GIRL???? Pleeeeeeeaaaaasssse!!!!!!?????
13. Susan L. White
All of Dyson's vests are custom made for him by the wardrobe staff (so, sorry, no hope for shopping). Wardrobe designer Anne Dixon has explained (in a behind-the-scenes video viewable in Canada on the Showcase website) that the vests are designed to look a bit like medieval armour (which recalls his warrior history). I think the leather is meant to make him look more tough (and sexy) than 'bad' (except in the slang sense of the word). Dyson's character isn't that of a (morally) bad person, but he is very dangerous. Team Dyson pack members will also have noticed how closely his vests (and shirts) are tailored to fit his glorious chest.
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