So What Do Authors Wear, Anyway?

I’m heading off to NYC today for Page Turner, the Asian American Writers Workshop Festival, and one of the things that has stumped me as a newbie author is “what do people wear to these things?” I never thought about this much until recently, when I had a number of book events to do. Even more alarming were the requests for author pictures to go with interviews. It was then that I realized that there’s a big difference between clothes that feel comfy (like sweats) and clothes that, um, photograph well.

The not-so-fashionable '90s
The not-so-fashionable ’90s

Now, I must confess that before I became a stay-at-home-mum I did have another sort of wardrobe. This consisted of corporate-looking suits and their accoutrements. In fact, a leather briefcase was the first thing I bought after I graduated from university and got a real job. In a burst of enthusiasm, I rushed out and got one to signify that I was now one of the teeming, employed masses. In fact, when I was telling my mum that my publisher needed an author photo, the first thing she suggested was “why don’t you wear a nice suit?” I was only able to dodge this by pointing out that the few old suits I had left were boxy-shouldered and made me look like a prosecutor from the 2001 season of Law & Order (we’re talking Sam Waterston here, not Angie Harmon).

Jhumpa Lahiri could wear a potato sack and still look stunning
Jhumpa Lahiri could wear a potato sack and still look stunning

And then if I went further back in time, there was my college wardrobe from the 1990s. If anyone has forgotten what was “in” during the ’90s in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it was flannel shirts and Birkenstocks worn with socks. Now when I look at old photos, I experience this sense of horror. What was I thinking, wearing those flannel sacks and even green corduroy pants when I was still relatively slim at the time? And everybody had floppy “Friends” hairdos, except for me. I just had a bad case of puffy hair that lasted a decade.

I was explaining this to one of my fashionable friends, when she said “So what did you wear in high school?”

“Uniforms!” I said. This was perhaps the crux of the matter. Growing up in Asia and Europe, I wore school uniforms for most of my formative years. Actually, I think it’s quite a good idea. You never have to worry about what to wear, or whether it’s appropriate.

Jo Nesbø- just your average Norwegian rockstar turned novelist
Jo Nesbø – just your average Norwegian rockstar turned novelist

Which brings us back to what do authors wear for public occasions? A quick perusal of some of my favourite writers, like Jhumpa Lahiri and Jo Nesbø, simply revealed that some people are so good looking that it doesn’t matter what they wear. Unfortunately, that’s not my problem.

The other thing I discovered from years of house-wifery is that I don’t like to wear uncomfortable clothes. After all, if you have to squeeze under furniture to retrieve bits of Lego and Playmobil for your children, you might as well make sure you’re not splitting a seam. This means my wardrobe has been in large part taken over by yoga pants. I’m not joking. The few meager shelves that house my clothes are mostly occupied by stretchy, fleece-like apparel.

“Is it even a little bit cute?” I asked my husband, anxiously.

“It’s not baaa-d”, he said kindly. “But you can’t go and sign books like that.”

Of course, he was absolutely right. Nobody wants to see an escapee from a Wallace & Gromit movie. Not even me (I want to see Jo Nesbø). So I did a personal “know thyself” fashion reckoning:

  • Don’t wear horizontal stripes all the time. I have a penchant for striped tops, probably a carryover from early Sesame Street fashion influences Earnie and Bert. But I realize, reluctantly, that it’s not the most flattering silhouette.
  • Wear clothing that’s comfortable, yet professional. This means tailored jeans for me and a nice blouse.
  • Go out and actually buy a nice blouse. Yes. I had to force myself to go to the mall and look for clothes. This is very difficult because the clothes that you are trying desperately to buy are extremely wily when they know you are hunting them down, and tend to be suddenly “out of stock”.
  • Don’t leave this until the day before you depart for a literary festival in NY.

If you’re in NYC or Brooklyn on Saturday, October 5th 2013, I’ll be at Page Turner, the Asian American Writers Workshop literary festival, speaking at 6pm on a panel with novelists Justin Torres and Porochista Khakpour. I’m told there will be street food and make-your-own-dumplings. And if you come, you can find out whether or not I managed to give up my beloved Dansko clogs!

Photo credits: Allen Ginsberg – Jhumpa Lahiri – Elena Seibert. All other photos linked back to sources.

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What do you like to wear?

34 responses to “So What Do Authors Wear, Anyway?”

  1. Thank you for writing about this! I am going to be attending World Fantasy Con next month and have been wracking my brain trying to figure out what to wear so that I look “authorial” 😉

    I’m off to buy some tailored jeans and a nice blouse!

  2. What a fun post! I confess that I have daydreamed about book signings and wondered, “What would I wear?” Only one outfit in my closet was a remote possibility. Recently I had to buy clothes for a new job, so now I have options. (I just need my book published!) One thing I learned: Remember to accessorize (including with scarves). It improves almost any outfit–not to mention your confidence! Have fun in NYC!!!

  3. Oh dear, now not only do I feel out-of-fashion, but old too! I live in the Pacific Northwest and still wear Birkenstocks. No socks in the summer, but with socks in the winter. Socks have progressed (though not I) to Smartwool or polartec. Heavy (but toasty feet) sigh.

    Have fun in NYC.

    • According to my friends who live in the PNW, Birkenstocks are STILL fashionable there! Which is a good thing since I, um, still sometimes wear socks with mine…

  4. Great post! I have often wondered about the sartorial choices of authors.

    Have you read Danielle Steel’s blog? Apparently she’s a huge fashion fan, even wearing couture (although perhaps not to readings), and one of Christian Louboutin’s biggest “clients.” Wowza!

    I’ve noticed a trend amongst hip young male writers – red skinny jeans. It sounds so wrong, but it looks alright 🙂

    As for comfy but good-looking clothes, DVF and Issa dresses have lovely draping and good give (perfect for dinners where dessert is a must!).

    Have a wonderful time in New York!

  5. Hilarious post, Yangsze! Once you find that perfect outfit, the bummer is you can’t wear it over and over, like I intended to do, thanks to Facebook pics/postings. You’ll be adorable, whatever you wear. Have a great time!

  6. I’ve been having a bit of a wardrobe crisis myself – moving from an uber-formal professional company to one of those dress-down multinational types.

    Still figuring out where to go from here, but tailored jeans and a nice blouse sounds fitting as well!

    Hope you had fun at the festival 🙂

  7. So funny. You know my basic wardrobe these days is an Athleta pant-skirt and exercise hoodie. I DO have some fun jackets and shoes I’ve managed to buy online while procrastinating from writing/real things, but I usually only have a chance to wear them about once a year. Will save them for a (hopefully!) future book signing of my own 🙂

  8. Oh this made me smile! With the money from my first writing award I bought a jacket I’d been hankering after, telling myself I could one day wear it to writerly things. And then I got cold feet, thinking It would look too odd and unprofessional (its victorian-era-inspired). But then I went to a writers festival and saw some authors looking very ordinary, like businesswomen, and remember feeling rather disappointed – you couldn’t distinguish them from the agents! I wanted the authors to look a little arty-creative after all 😉 So maybe I will ewar it one day… when it comes back into fashion lol!

  9. I just finished THE GHOST BRIDE tonight (your audio book) and had to come and visit the blog. What a fun post! I splurged last night on an official Author Coat for myself, to help me look Cool. I hope you felt wonderfully professional-artsy at the conference.

    • Thank you Laura! I did have a lot of fun at the festival. Mostly because I was so busy admiring other authors who were wearing cool clothes. Well, it was in Brooklyn after all… 😉

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