Friday, June 25, 2010

On Looking Writerly

JAN:What with Wimbledon on, I was reading about the latest fashions for tennis wear -- which I admit to spending way too much money on, because HEY, you have to look good on the courts. That means pleated skirt if pleats are in, no pleats when they go out, and now of course, a tennis dress instead of a tennis skirt.

But it got me to thinking. How about writing wear?? Yes, or course, most of us sit down in front of the computer in our comfortable grubbies, but we do think about what we're wearing when we speak at book stores, libraries and conferences. We
think about what looks "writerly."

For example, I'll admit that I own a sheared fur jacket. I WOULD NEVER wear it to a writing event. And not because I'm afraid by being attacked with blood by PETA, because the jacket actually looks like it could be fake. The reason I wouldn't wear it is because in my mind, even fake fur is too flashy to be "writerly."

I generally feel most comfortable looking like a reporter, in dress pants and fitted, button down shirt. But I feel compelled to wear long earrings and jewelry. Not expensive jewelry, funky, arty jewelry.

So my question is this: What do you wear for writer appearances, and what exactly makes it writerly?

HALLIE: I want whoever walks into the book event to know which one of us is "the writer." So I do try to dress "up" - up from my usual jeans-and-T-shirt. Whenever I start promoting a new book, I treat myself to one special item (for Never Tell a Lie it was a long charcoal sweater from Eileen Fischer) that's gotta be washable and packable and no wrinkle, and then I wear it to death. Yay, funky jewelry! Hold the tiaras.

ROBERTA: Yes, what I wear at home should never be translated to the outside world! My hub works from home too now, and the two of us have to be the worst-dressed people in town. We have to remind ourselves to go up a notch when we visit the supermarket or the P.O.

But on the road, I'm with Hallie. I like to dress up a little--not like I was selling Mary Kay cosmetics, but a nice pantsuit or slacks and a sweater. And never, ever forget to wear the pin I had made with my cover on it and the cutest little's the best advertising I ever bought!

RHYS: I agree with Hallie. I want the person who comes into the store to know that I am "the writer" straight away. Also people who attend a speech or book signing have come with expectations. They want the writer to look good. How the writer looks good is up to her personality. Think of Barbara Cartland and her feather boas. I'm not the feather boa or the artsy-crafty type. In my case it's fairly tailored--either pant suit or interesting jacket and black pants, plus I often use scarves to liven things up (if only I could learn to drape them like the French do).

JAN: There's a book on scarf draping. I owned it once.

HANK: Oh, please. When I'm home writing? I have a t-shirt from the gap that says tiRED. And a baseball jersey someone gave me that says PRIME TIME. My lucky shirt.
At events I try to look like "the TV reporter." So suits, heels, pearls. And yes, scarves. (My theory is, they look best if you don't worry about them.) And I'll admit, I try to wear something that will photograph well.

I think it's also about respect--the wonderful people have come to see you! And if it's a signing where you're just introducing yourself as people come in--you've got to look like you're someone they want to meet.
And I've worn high heels every day all day for years--no problem. (Though I always have flats in my bag.)

JAN: I'm over six feet with heels, so I've avoided them most of my life. I WISH I could wear high heels. But if I could wear them, I'd probably reach right for the "floozy" models instead of the writerly ones. (that's what happens when you've been deprived.)

Anyone else out there have preconceived notions about what looks "writerly," and why?


  1. What looks writerly at home, when I'm actually writing, are my chill-axing clothes: tee shirts and pull up pants. Oh yes, very attractive. :) But I'm with the rest of you when it comes to events: if I'm on panels or signing, I want to look professional. It's a kind of respect thing, for myself and also for the wonderful people who might buy my book!

  2. For public appearances I feel undressed unless I have a structured jacket on (which can be a pain in summer!). Society's ideas of what looks "nice" keep shifting on us, so I usually ask my 20-something daughter if I'm dressed appropriately. Otherwise I'll leave the house looking like my late mother.

    But I agree with Rebbie--we owe it to the people who attend our events to dress professionally for them.

    At home? Tees, scrub pants or chef's pants (a recent find--so comfortable!).

  3. Okay, I'm game. For my readings as a mystery writer I wore black pants or a black skirt and a tight fitting top, but I often added the Brooklyn sweatshirt cause hey, my main character lived in Brooklyn. Of course now that I'm writing about Amelia Earhart et al I'll have to don one of those hats with the flaps. That will look perfect on my middle aged head.

  4. Oh, Rose - we'll have to get you a zippered jumpsuit made out of that parachute material. You'll look splendid!

  5. Sheila,
    Lately, every time I look in the mirror, I see my mother.

    Although she had the blond advantage.


  6. By the way Jan, how have you enjoyed Venus Williams' latest outfits?

  7. I find myself wanting to look a bit different depending on the book I'm promoting at the signing or panel. For my Lila Dare persona (who writes the Southern Beauty Shop mysteries), I want to be approachable and friendly and warm looking, so I usually wear a skirt with a colorful knit top and shrug or knit jacket. My PI series is a shade edgier, so I'll be in more tailored clothes this fall when SWIFT JUSTICE comes out, and will probably pull out my favorite royal blue leather jacket.
    (Hank--you always look like you could go on the air at any minute--soignee and beautiful and pulled together.)

  8. I'm always amused the way male writers try to look writerly. You know, the Hemmingway look? Beards, tweed sportcoats,suede vests. And they strike up the writerly pose at the bar--elbow on bar, drink in hand.

  9. Roberta,
    I guess I'd say she's taken a few fashion risks!!

  10. I was once on a panel at a local university about opportunites for young women in varioius professions--I didn't have much to say because opportunities in publishing arent many, especially in Texas, but I managed to blurt out that one of the advantages was being considered "literary" meant you could dress considerably more causally--I had a denim outfit on, actually by a well known designer, but it didn't go over well with the chancellor of the host university, who jumped to her feet to say it did matter how you looked. At the end of the program, the friend next to me (a book reviewer) said, "Let's get you and your deviant denim out of here!"

  11. Judy,

    Well your deviant denim is always welcome here!

  12. Charlotte MacLeod, who was one very wise woman, always said, "Let them know who the writer is," and she would arrive in a pink suit topped by a flowery pink hat that would have been at home at Ascot. She's also the one who first said, "Sparkling is the hardest thing we do."

  13. I did have once upon a time a beautiful herringbone sportcoat --with leather elbow patches. When I lost it in a firesome years ago, I was too heartbroken to try to replace it ...and as it turned out, it wasn't really the right sort of coat --as authorly as it looked-- that went with the events and venues I was reading at.

    I still miss that coat, though.