What to wear

For most of my life I’ve never had to wear make-up or dress any particular way. Most of my high school years were spent wearing jeans and T-shirts (unusual in Australia), which was also my uniform for pretty much every job I’ve ever had. For the last few years my working life has been spent wearing pyjamas. This means my wardrobe consists of lots and lots of pjs, a few jeans and T-shirts and some fun dressing-up clothes for party time (I do love to dress up), but bugger all in between.

Thing is of late I’ve needed some of that in-between clothing. Quite a few of my dressy clothes are way too much for school, library, book festival etc. appearances, but jeans and T-shirts are too casual (no, I don’t think so, but yes, I’ve had people say that to me) and Scott won’t let me wear pjs outside the flat, not even my fancy sushi ones (what’s that about, people?). So what are you supposed to wear to such events?

Meg Cabot gives some hints:

    It bugs me SO MUCH when I, a reader, go to an event featuring a favorite writer, and that writer has made NO EFFORT WHATSOEVER to look good for his or her readers.

    Look, I know most of us were not blessed with unbelievably good looks, and if we were, we would be on TV or in the movies, not writing books.

    But you can at least groom yourself properly. I never thought I would quote Sylvester Stallone’s mom about anything, but she was right to be so outraged when Sean Penn and his then wife Madonna showed up at that awards ceremony that year looking all skanky and unwashed. It’s just rude!

    And please do not go on about how we as a society are too preoccupied by physical appearance and ought to concentrate more on intellectual concerns. If your book won a literary award, would you show up at the award ceremony in your pajamas, with your hair looking all ratty, like you just rolled out of bed (and please do not bring up Lauren Hutton at this year’s Academy Awards)?

    Well, a book signing is like an awards ceremony. People are rewarding you with their presence. So show a little respect for them, and try to look nice—even festive. Sparkles are never NOT appropriate (except at a funeral).

I’m not sure I’d go the full sparkle route—except perhaps on my shoes, but I gotta say I agree with Meg Cabot. I’ve seen authors at such events wearing stained clothes, kind of smelling, with scary green things still caught between their teeth. Not good. And, no, stuff like that won’t stop me reading their work, but it’ll definitely make me think twice about ever doing an event with them again.

But I’m totally cool with jeans and T-shirts and no make-up. (Except for John Scalzi—he should always wear make-up.) I’d be cool with pjs too. Just as long as they’re clean pjs. But I’m not big on offending folks what do not consider such clothes to be appropriate.

So what do you fellow authors wear to signings and the like? Do I really have to get a suit? Most of them are so ugly, though I would totally go a 1930s, 40s or 50s style one.

How do you expect an author to dress? What do you reckon are safe least-likely-to-offend-those-what-care outfits?


  1. Harriet Jordan on #

    I’m probably not the best person to respond, since I’d wear jeans and a t-shirt to work every day if I could (sadly, in the corporate world, it’s only acceptable on Fridays) and I only put on makeup maybe twice a year. However, for what it’s worth …

    For a signing in a bookshop or library, I really don’t see anything wrong with jeans and a t-shirt, provided they are clean and neat and don’t look fifteen years old. Though maybe a “dress” t-shirt (i.e. like you might wear with a suit) rather than one with a funny logo, or from a band tour, or something.

    I think a suit would be overkill for a bookshop/library signing, but if people do seem to be uncomfortable with jeans there’s still a lot of flexibility before you hit suits – casual trousers/slacks (probably not cargo pants) or even maybe a skirt (though that then gives rise to shoe issues).

    For something like a literary lunch, or whatever other “dos” you authors go to, jeans probably are a bit too casual. But there’s still a lot of options before getting into a suit.

  2. Rachel Brown on #

    i don’t care what other writers wear but i do try to look nice. if i’m signing “all the fishes come home to roost,” I sometimes wear an indian outfit– not a full-on salwar kamiz, but maybe a nice salwar top over dress pants, or an embroidered summer dress.

    for bea i wore a silk blouse and dress pants, plus a silk haori jacket i bought in japan. that’s the sort of outfit i would also wear if i was pitching a tv show.

    i wouldn’t sign or pitch in blue jeans and a t-shirt, but it wouldn’t offend me if someone else did. (i might wear black or white jeans with a black or white dressy-type t-shirt and a nice piece of jewelry, but only if no one would look at the outfit and identify it as “jeans and a t-shirt.”)

  3. cherie priest on #

    I’ve been wrestling with this very question lately. As you know Bob, I’ll be in Portland this coming weekend for the trade show … and I’m never quite sure. I mean, for a con experience like DragonCon, all bets are off. But for a professional organization’s trade show? Where I’m a guest? Um?

    When I attended the SEBA in Winston Salem last year, I wore (and am considering wearing again) a pair of black pinstripe pants in a very low-shag corduroy – paired with a solid black top. It was warm in Carolina, so I wore a nice black tank top and open-toed, heeled sandals (plus nice porn-star-red pedicure). It’s cooler here, so I’ll probably wear a long sleeved black shirt and low heeled boots. Probably, with those same pants.

    Yeah, it’s a lot of black. But that’s what’s great about black – it’s never wrong!

    To continue a ramble on this subject – I don’t think dressing up like you’re going to church is necessary for a reading or a signing. And I wouldn’t be remotely offended if I showed up and saw an author in jeans; hell, I’ve done it before myself. But I figure that “pants” and a tidy shirt/shoes is fair game. If I’m *really* feeling neurotic about it, I’ll go ahead and wear a skirt. I figure it’s always better to be a little bit overdressed than to be a little bit underdressed … at least when one is hoping to at least marginally impress people one has never met before. But that’s not a neuroses I’d ever impose on somebody else.

    I say wear the sushi jammies.

  4. Chris McLaren on #

    I’m not sure I have a mental expectation for “what an author should wear to a signing”. I would think it would depends on the venue and the circumstances–the rules are different for an appearance before tons of people at a formal setting, versus a small bookstore signing, versus a convention, you know?

    Of course, in reality, my expectations depend on the author, and what they’ve written, and that’s usually utterly ridiculous on my part. Even when you know a lot of writers, and you should know better, you still kind of expect them to be like their characters, or at least to look like they belong in their settings, etc.

  5. Darice Moore on #

    As I spend most of my days in shorts and t-shirts, with rare outings that require nicer clothes, I have found that the t-shirt and jeans combo can be easily upgraded if you (a) wear a nice t-shirt, maybe a lower scoop neck or a higher-class fabrick like silk, and (b) add a button shirt or cardigan or whatever you like over said t-shirt. It doesn’t look like a blazer (unless that’s in the “whatever you like” column) but it doesn’t look over-dressy, either.

    Another option is to keep one half of the t-shirt/jeans combo, and swap out the other half — for example, pair the t-shirt with a skirt, or pair the jeans with a more tailored top. Then throw on some jewelry for that extra “no really, I dressed up!” touch.

    And I realize I’ve just described my congoing wardrobe. *sigh* Maybe I need fashion lessons, too.

  6. David Cake on #

    SO, is this a good opportunity to mention what Charles Stross wears to collect Hugo awards?

  7. John Scalzi on #

    I prefer just a little foundation and rouge myself. Don’t want to look too glammy. Unless it’s a special occastion, you know. In which case, three words: Glitter, glitter, glitter.

  8. holly on #

    It’s all about the jacket and the shoes in my opinion. Everything else can be pretty casual, if the jacket is cool.

    Then again, I probably smell right now.

  9. Rachel Brown on #

    i would probably not wear the italian slut shirt to a reading. unless a guy i was flirting with was going to be there. then i would wear it with tight pants and maybe boots and i would read the chapter with the line “his penis went bouncy bouncy bouncy.”

  10. robinwasserman on #

    In-between clothing is so hard. I tried to go on a shopping spree today–and failed miserably. Came home with a single item: a black hooded sweater that is nearly identical to three other things I already own, not to mention utterly useless.

    I do agree, however, that a funky jacket and sparkly shoes can fix pretty much any wardrobe problem (except nudity).

  11. shelly rae on #

    jeans and cashmere my dear. Add some pearls for that extra pizzazz! jeans and a silk tshirt or blouse works well too. nifty shoes are the piece de resistance. But I’d avoid wearing anything white cause when I do I end up spilling tea down my front.

  12. Diana on #

    I feel ike i have it easy, because in trying to match my look to my brand, it luckily coincides with whatever I’d be wearing anyway. I often wear nice, dressy jeans and a cool top. Hip, casual. Maybe vaguely dressier than the people who have come into the store to shop. when i’m on tv, i dress up a little more, and perhaps a little more conservatively, because you never know how something cool in person may look on film. sparkles on film may be awful.

    so pretty much in the exact outfit you’ve always seen me in.

  13. Di on #

    nick earles wears jeans t-shirts and sneakers to his appearances.
    we forgive him for he is so funny.

  14. may on #

    i don’t expect a ballgown, but i do think that a writer should at least try to look good.

    jeans and t-shirts are fine, but dress it up a little, like diana does. all black is an easy combination–black jeans and nice black shirt, maybe in silk.

    no make-up doesn’t bug me. not every woman likes to use make-up.

  15. G. Jules on #

    khakis or a decent pair of dress slacks, a basic sweater, a basic shirt. really not that hard to find if you know where to look (this is basically my standard workday outfit, unless it’s a dressy event or casual friday). h&m has some great basic dress slacks for decent prices, and some interesting funky shirts to match them with.

    alternatively, if you’d rather confound people’s expectations, you could head to vintage shops, or vintage-rich thrift stores. or do something like ordering a salwar kameez from one of the sellers on ebay.

  16. E. Lockhart on #

    I try to dress up a bit for appearances. I saw Cabot at Books of Wonder and I did appreciate how fab she looked — a wild pucci-print dress and very high heels with rhinestones. It made it feel like more of an event to see her — and it made it feel to me in the audience like the event mattered to her, if that makes sense.

    I always appreciate how pleasingly Holly’s appearance matches with her books and how chic she looks; I think YOUR delicious accent (on this side of the ocean at least) makes it very fun to see you talk or read.

    I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not how dressed up the person is — it’s how much the writer’s personality comes across in a personal appearance. The more the better. Clothes and makeup are part of that, but so is gesture, eye contact, vocal stylings, etc.

  17. Victoria McManus on #

    I think jeans are okay for events if they’re sleek and not too faded or ratty, and especially if you pair them with a nice, tailored shirt or silk blouse or cashmere sweater. I’d use funky jewelry and shoes to add personality, and/or nifty jacket or cardigan, depending on weather and how formal the event.

    For more formal than jeans but not Dressy, it’s hard to go wrong with a pair of charcoal-colored trousers, or navy, or dark brown if you hate grey. Or an A-line skirt, likewise. You can then add on your funky pieces, and it will balance out. Black is great, but a lot of people wear black, and it kind of blends into the background after a while. I guess the trick for looking fashionable is to find something that doesn’t look standard business-y in cut, and that suits you…I’m starting to sound like a fashion magazine! Which is really weird, considering what I’m wearing right now.

  18. Victoria McManus on #

    Yeah, I’m back. I thought of something else. I know fashion mags are Teh Evol, but they DO give one ideas about what one might like and about what one definitely DOESN’T like. I flip through them while having pedicures and thus don’t even have to buy them. JANE magazine is pretty good. http://www.janemag.com/

  19. Anne on #

    I’m not an author, but I do like to attend author events. From my perspective, as long as the speaker looks like they made an effort and they seem comfortable, it’s all good. I don’t see anything wrong with jeans and a t-shirt as long as they aren’t stained/etc.–some people (myself included) are more comfortable in jeans. If the speaker is clearly not comfortable in what they’re wearing, it’s distracting (definitely moreso than wearing casual clothing would be).

    Being a jeans person who can’t wear them to work, I’m big on comfy trousers and sweaters or button down blouses that are designed not to be tucked in.

    PS. You rock!

  20. Callie on #

    Hmmm…I’m with you. I actually wear pj bottoms to go get brkfst or something if its early and I don’t feel like getting dressed. (& colorful ones, like sushi are the best! I have an assorted collection on yellow ducks, and monkeys on mine) Anyhow, I’m not a writer, but Im addicted to those makeover shows like, “What not to wear”, and “How do I look” and all that junk…

    Jeans can be casual, or semi-dressy, or dressy depending on what you pair it with. I read your post on shoes, so put on a nice dressy pair of flats. Doesn’t matter if you think the shoe is ‘too dressy’ .. no such thing lol. You could actually wear like, a fitted t-shirt and then put a nice fitted blazer-like jacket on over it. (There are lots of tweed ones that look really nice, but not so sure about this tweed phenomenon (sp?) but try it out. See what you like) Don’t know what it is, but ‘fitted’ things make you look ‘put together’, or so they say.

    That sort of outfit, is pretty much a casual dressy staple for work, events or anything of the sort where you need a happy medium between black-tie swanky event, and just a day off doing whatever.

    Also like victoria said black, or charcoal trousers, or tailored pants are good. Their great too because you can pair it with a more casual top. As for a lined skirt … I wear em but not real big on em lol 🙂 All depends on what you like. They look fabulous but I have been anti girl-dress since I was about six.

  21. Justine on #

    Ya know, you’re all convincing me that I don’t actually need to bother with the middle way. I think I shall just wear my really dressy clothes. I love dress up so why should I go out and buy clothes I think are boring when I already have perfectly yummy ones like my Argentinian chiffon silk gaucho skirt? Or my Tramando acqua girl jacket?

    Case solved! Mission accomplished!

    I totally agree, by the way, about how gorgeous Holly Black and Meg Cabot look at their appearances. Something most excellently yummy to aspire to!

  22. bennett on #

    uh… sparkles are ALWAYS not appropriate.

  23. Justine on #

    Bennett: What a cold, dark world you live in . . .

  24. E. Lockhart on #

    Don’t let Bennett fool you. He told me himself he wears short shorts to his readings.

  25. TIm Pratt on #

    For a reading, I go pretty informal. T-shirt (usually an interesting/cool/geeky t-shirt, and clean!) and khakis or cargo pants or something (probably not jeans, but all my jeans look pretty rough). I don’t dress up, but I bathe, and shave, and try to wrangle my hair into some semblance of order. I dress up for awards ceremony things, though, if dressing up is appropriate.

  26. Jeff VanderMeer on #

    In some ways, this is the most vacuous conversation possible. In other ways, it is very important. Readers do expect a certain “look” from certain writers. Imagine Neil Gaiman without the leather jacket. For example.

    But, ya know what, I’ve done readings in jeans and t-shirt and sometimes dressed it up with a blazer. And sometimes I’ve done a reading in shorts. And sometimes in a suit. As long as I don’t smell and my clothes aren’t dirty, who the hell cares?


  27. Justine on #

    Jeff: Lots of people care. I’ve had comments on my wearing jeans twice. Both from parents of kids who read my books. I figure that there are other people who are thinking the same thing but not saying it. Since I enjoy dressing up it’s no skin off my nose to look good for the people who come to see me. Most may not care, but I don’t see the point in offending those who do. Especially as, like I said, the dressing-up thing can be a lot of fun.

  28. Jeff VanderMeer on #

    You can look good in jeans and a t-shirt. And you can look like crap in jeans and a t-shirt.


  29. Lauren on #

    Jeans: fine.
    T-shirt: only if you wear a cool jacket over it.

    Why have we devolved to such extreme casualness? I don’t support it.

  30. Ted Lemon on #

    Yes! Dress up! What could be wrong with that? Dressing nicely is fun! Just make sure that whatever you wear is reasonably comfortable as well as dressy. :’)

  31. Katie on #

    It’s not how you look, it’s how you feel. Something that makes you feel special and thus makes the occasion special. Isn’t specialness really what fans want actually?

  32. Robin L on #

    I’m really surprised no one’s mentioned that handiest of staples, the ankle length matte black jersey skirt.

    Goes excellently with flats. Can be casual with a nice Tshirt or quite fancy with a cool jacket or blouse. Just as comfortable as jeans, and travels like a dream.

  33. Jeff VanderMeer on #

    lol. if you’re reading in a performing arts center, dress up. if you’re reading in a local bar, don’t. it’s all a matter of context.

    you know, i can’t imagine jack k. or bukowski or alasdair gray or angela carter or a truckload of other writers even caring about this issue or spending any time on it at all.


  34. Benjamin Rosenbaum on #

    Dress code:

    SF authors should be surrounded by a shiny silver cloud of nanites which sinuously ebb and flow around them, anticipating their movements via swarm intelligence.

    Weird Fiction authors should be enveloped by some kind of coruscating, spiny beast-entity. Depending on how dark the fiction is, the beast may be vegetative with tendrils intertwining the hair, reptillian, or decayed and smoking. How much of you the beast-entity should cover/envelop is a matter of personal taste and season. For New Weird or urban weird fiction authors, the beast-entity may be wearing a leather jacket.

    Splatterpunk authors should be wearing leather or flannel, drenched in blood and with cunningly arranged bits of brain and spinal cord.

    Literary authors must smoke a pipe and wear a tweed jacket with leather pads on the elbows. Their hair should be clean, but inexpertly combed.

    Erotica authors may wear sparkles, silk pajamas, or ball gag and O-rings, depending on subgenre.

  35. Justine on #

    what about young adult writers, you bastard? you forgot about us!

  36. A.R.Yngve on #

    1. You can’t fail with black: black pants, black t-shirt/shirt, black jacket.
    (Black clothing also conceals unsightly, unexpected coffee/food/sweat stains.)

    2. Or try black shirts with Chinese dragon patterns: looks cool, and people will assume you know kung-fu.

    3. Avoid bandanas in any form, especially in L.A. — they could be fatally misinterpreted as gang signs! 😉

  37. Carbonelle on #

    i remember being shocked to the bottom of my soul when Marguerite Henry showed up in fluffy slippers and hair curlers. But then, I was ten and thought of her as Wild Horse Annie from the Wesley Dennis illos so Le Frumpy Haus Frau was a definite jaw-dropper.

    Don’t crush your teenage readers: Us old fogies can go hang.

  38. Charlie Stross on #

    I’m with Ben Rosenbaum, 100%!

    Well okay, that’s on the level of prescription, not description.

    For my part, I distinguish between formal events (things like the Hugo awards) and everything else. In the “everything else” camp … well, I just make sure I’m reasonably clean, have shaved where appropriate, and am wearing clean clothes. Typically jeans and a t-shirt (both black), and maybe a good quality jacket that raises the tone a bit if it’s an upmarket venue.

    Formal stuff gives me a headache: I have a major necktie aversion and will go a long way out of my way to avoid the things. As for the kilt at the Hugo ceremony, that was on a bet (and besides, as a hirsute resident of Scotland, I’m allowed)!

    And on that note, I have one strong recommendation for male writers: unless you live in Scotland or hang out in certain bars, don’t do the kilt thing. Real kilts are (a) extremely hot (think Scottish winters) and (b) cost considerably more than a tux.

  39. Justine on #

    I despair of the majority of boys posting here. “Relatively clean” indeed. Lazy bastards!

  40. Victoria McManus on #

    Ya know, you’re all convincing me that I don’t actually need to bother with the middle way. I think I shall just wear my really dressy clothes.

    And why not? They’re fun!

  41. cj on #

    I think YA authors can get away with jeans. At least…I hope so. I kind of live in them!

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