Friday, October 28, 2011

Author outfits and other disguises

by Meredith Cole

Halloween always takes on a certain sort of magic--the joy of dressing up as something powerful, scary, sexy and adventurous. Something or someone that is not us in our day-to-day lives. The homemade costumes are my favorite. So are the timely ones (I'm sure this year there will be Occupy Wall Street protestor costumes, and Charlie Sheen and Michele Bachman masks).

When I lived in DC, every Halloween there were the "drag races" where men in drag first paraded around in amazing outfits, and then ran a block in high heels to much applause and fanfare. Weeks before I'd run into the guys shopping -- they would hold up a high heel shoe at a store and ask the clerk if it came in a size 13.

But what interests me more is the costumes we wear on ordinary days. Lydia McKenzie is of course a huge clothes horse who focuses on what she wears everyday. She likes to dress for the occasion, and enjoys fabrics and colors, and vintage designs. I can sometimes rise to the occasion when I get dressed, but never give it as much time and attention as she does.

And then there is the anxiety that comes with dressing up as an author. What do you wear to a book signing? New writers sometimes get a bit nervous at their first event, as if there's some secret costume code and they're going to look too casual or too dressed up when they arrive at the party.

Authors spend days in their pajamas with unwashed hair (okay, so maybe it's just me) and having an event where you actually talk to people can be exciting--or intimidating. Some authors dress as professionally as their previous (or current) career. SJ Rozan says that you should consider yourself lucky if an author puts on earrings for an event. Hank Phillipi Ryan always looks stunning and polished in a suit, her news persona. Kelli Stanley wears her trademark fedora and is easy to find in a crowd. I have clothes in my closet just for going on tours--stuff that doesn't wrinkle, looks professional and isn't all black.

But author outfits are often all over the map. One person in jeans, another wearing a blazer. And perhaps some of us get some flack for not taking the time to put on make-up or get really dressed up. But writers live mostly in their heads so it's hard for us to come back to reality with a thud. Wear a dress? Maybe. A tie? Doubtful. Bring good pens? Of course.

So we clothe ourselves and go out in public, perhaps clutching our book in front of us for protection. And hopefully we discover that each time we read aloud, or discuss our characters in front of readers it gets easier.  And our author costumes feel more natural and more like a part of us. After all, in the end, it's all about the story.


Anonymous said...

When I was on the Mystery Writers of America board, a bunch of us were meeting in the lobby of our NY hotel before a booksigning. Six of seven authors showed up in some version of a black turtleneck.

I haven't worn a necktie in 15 years, and it's a point of pride for me.

--Steve Brewer

Meredith Cole said...

Black turtlenecks--I wear those a lot, too! It helps to have a fallback outfits that's comfortable and you can put on quickly (even when your mind is still in the world of your latest novel).

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I love to dress up--but my version of dress up is nice black slacks, black blouse and a jazzy jacket, and I have lots of them.

Ellen Byerrum said...

Well, Meredith, I've only seen you dressed up and looking spiffy. But I love to dress for the occasion. When I do writing-related gigs, I take my cues from my character and try to wear a touch of vintage. But for me, makeup is essential. I disappear without a little war paint. Cheers.

Meredith Cole said...

Marilyn-the spiffy jacket is a great option (I know Donna Andrews does the same) and can take a pretty casual outfit up to the next level.

Meredith Cole said...

Ellen-you always look gorgeous at author signings! I love the vintage look (as you well know) and it's great that it relates to your protagonist as well.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

The scariest costume I wear is my writing "uniform" for those long weekends I spend holed up at my desk right before a deadline. Pj's and dirty hair are just the beginning. By Monday, if I were a building, I'd be condemned. For book signings, I usually wear what I wear to the law firm - business casual - along with light makeup. Althought I wear lipstick at signings and not at the office. I hate lipstick.

Graham Brown said...

I always get flack for not putting on makeup!!!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Just a little eyeliner, Graham! Then you could be in an 80s hair band! (with a wig)

Dressing up as an author is one of the hardest parts of the job, isn't it? Men have it so much easier: jeans/khakhis/slacks, white shirt, blazer. Done.

But I have to wonder about shoes and tops and are jeans too informal and and and. If I toured in the winter, I'd probably go for that black turtleneck idea myself.

Thanks, Meredith, for a great post about the other costumes we wear.

Kelli Stanley said...

Great post, Meredith!! Having clothes specifically for signings, conferences and public appearances is, I think, very helpful in reorienting ourselves as writers.

We spend so much time by ourselves, in our own heads ... wearing specific clothes can help us focus on the public aspect of what we do.

When I was acting, a good costume could help me get in character much more quickly. They can also give you courage. I know I'm much braver in a fedora! ;)

Reece said...

Nice post, Meredith. I tend to adhere to the unoffical male thriller writer's uniform: jeans, sport coat, open-neck shirt. We guys don't like a lot of sartorial options -- we get confused.

Meredith Cole said...

I've seen quite a few of you at conferences and book signings, so I know you all look spiffy (and confident) at those events! Thanks for swinging by the blog today--hope you have a Happy Halloween!