With so many people I interact with nominated for the Nebula this year, I’m hearing a lot of conversation about what one should wear to the awards ceremony. But of course, the question of how an author should dress comes up at other times, too. For example, if you’re attending a convention, or doing a reading, or giving a craft talk. What should you wear?
The answer to this is a firm “It depends.”
Like it or not, how you dress affects how people think about you and, therefore, how they interpret your work. A writer who shows up in cutoffs and a stained A-shirt is going to get a different reaction than the same writer in a top-of-the-line Italian suit. So the question is, which author do you want to be?
Let’s start with a simple fashion rule: The goal isn’t actually to look good. Choosing flattering cuts and colors is actually the last step, and only necessary if you care about such things. The first thing you need to consider is what message the type of clothes you put on will project to the world.
Something that is conservative and conformist, like, say, a business suit, presents the air of a professional. Since writers don’t work in the types of offices that require a suit, the message you send with that sort of an outfit is that you’re most comfortable in that setting. You probably hang out with lawyers and accountants. Your day job might be in an office. You come across as more about the business than the art.
Something out-of-the-ordinary, like that lunatic writer I know who shows up at conventions kilted, stakes out a position of non-conformity. Authors who dress like this will be read as artists first, people who are deliberately choosing to think outside the box, but are perhaps a bit pretentious.
A lot of writers prefer jeans and T-shirts. After all, many of us gave up our day jobs. Why should we dress like we’re still punching a clock every day? These authors need to move with confidence, because if they don’t they come across as sloppy and uncaring. But those who can own casual attire and march in like they own the place? They come across as down-to-earth, practical, and approachable.
Within these options, of course, you can choose flamboyant styles and colors or more muted, sophisticated ones. You can accessorize. In other words, you can make the look your own, regardless.
And that awards banquet? Same rules apply. Showing up in evening wear shows that you take it seriously and regard the evening as a professional event. Something daring but not casual? You’re the artiste. Basic sweater and slacks? Fuck you, I’m a writer, not a Hollywood type. All three are good choices.
Remember that fashion is a mask, a costume, a way of transforming yourself for the world. What you wear is telling people who you are. And how you put yourself together in what you wear tells them what you think of yourself.
I can wear a suit that is pressed, fitted, accessorized, and flattering or I can wear a suit that smells of mothballs, is fraying at the edges, and fits like it was bought for someone else. Both are suits. Both say that I’m there in “professional” mode. But one says I’m the meticulous, fastidious type and the other says that I’m either impoverished or a slob. (This isn’t a binary option, of course. It’s possible to pull off “nice” with a basic suit that’s clean, fits, and isn’t fancy.)
The one thing I’ve yet to encounter a pro doing, however, is cosplay. I’m not entirely sure how I’d read that. Cosplaying one’s own universe might be a bit much, and cosplaying someone else’s would likely make me think you’re a fan first and a writer accidentally, if at all. If anyone out there wants to try it and tell me if it helps or hurt your sales, I’d love to hear about it. Particularly since I own a 15′ scarf and a trench coat.
But I’m not sure if that’s the author I want to be…