February 18, 2013

how to dress like a writer

I know, I know. I look like a seriously
fabulous writer. And, today, I'm going to
tell you how to copy my look. Hot dog!
Some of you may know, I once had a short-lived career as a Mary Kay sales person. I was a 19-year-old with virtually flawless skin, which did not work in my favor. Not that I can blame my clientele. Who was going to believe that a beauty product had saved my life? Throw in my lack of a sales gene, and earning a pink Cadillac was not in my future.

I did gain five key takeaways during my stint in the beauty industry:
  • Use your ring finger to dot on eye creams. This is the softest part of your skin and your weakest finger, and this magical combination prevents you from poking out your eye (or something like that).
  • Taking off your makeup every night before bed is crucial. Granted, I read that in my Teen magazine, but hearing it from a top sales executive made the lesson stick.
  • Your neck ages faster than your face. This is in part, because people forget to put sunscreen or moisturizer on it. So moisturize your neck to avoid looking like a turkey later in life.
  • It is OK to oversell yourself. You may have only sold $20 in product last month, but as far as anyone knows, you are working towards a free car. This is called faking it until you make it.
  • You should dress for the part in the world you want to play. Case in point, you have to wear your war paint and cute shoes or no one will take you seriously.
I still follow much of this advice (or I do in the sense that I try to work out and eat healthy), but today, I am going to talk about dressing the part.

As a writer who likes to be seen at coffee shops, bookstores and cafes -- I am playing a role, after all -- I put a lot of consideration into what I wear each time I go out. It's something I've done ever since I moved to Southern Illinois for a newspaper internship the summer after college. I spent a lot of time writing in coffee shops. The motel I stayed in had no Internet, and stealing it from the neighboring swankier hotel was not always possible. While there I noticed the people had a certain bored, but pretentious look to them. I later learned this was my first exposure to hipsters, but my first blog, "Pretending Pretentious" was named with those people in mind.

Because I wanted to fit in and wanted people to take me seriously as a writer, I realized I need to put forth a little more effort with my look. I've been carefully cultivating my struggling but successful writer look for years, and I want to impart some of that wisdom with you.

I cannot stress this enough, the most important element of dressing as a writer is to make sure it comes off effortless like you are so involved with your story that you hardly know what you're wearing while also exuding the confidence that you are awesome. Basically, I'm telling you to channel your inner honey badger. Honey badger may seem like he doesn't give a shit, but we all know he really does.

(And if you don't know what I'm talking about, you should probably watch this video and ask yourself what you have been doing with your life the past two years.)

Now, to get into creating the look. The best way to do this is to walk you through what this looks like. We'll use yesterday as an example, because it's as good as any and only took me a few minutes to put together.
  • Pink and brown: a winning comb.
    After taking a quick shower and washing my hair, I applied minimal make-up. This includes moisturizer, powder, light eyeshadow and mascara. It's important to keep the make-up light -- you want people to think you just rolled out of bed to get here. Now, after having a week of late nights and early mornings, the rings under my eyes were looking pretty damn rough, and my skin super pasty. When the powder alone didn't fix it, I added a bit of bronzer, because I'm vain like that.
  • Make-up done, I threw a little leave-in conditioner and heat protector (note the casual terms I'm using to describe these -- I don't know enough about product to be exact, and am too busy writing my novel to be bothered to research it) in my hair and dried it partially, pulling a brush through it once or twice. Sometimes, if my hair is already washed, I'll do a quick and sloppy braid. If it's a little dirty and I don't have time, I'll wear a hat. It's important not spend more than five minutes doing your hair if you really want to master the busy writer look.
  • Scarves really do bring a whole
    look together. They keep you
    warm while telling the world
    you are fabulous and important.
    I knew I was going to wear jeans and a sweater, but which route did I go? I put on a grey t-shirt, and recalled I'd worn it last week. I wasn't about to be caught in the same outfit two Sundays in a row! So I tried on a black t-shirt, but noted my cats had apparently used it as a seat for the past few days. I finally settled on a brown tank top, which I picked up at a Wal-Mart or equally shameful store four years ago when I was a broke entry-level journalist. 
  • I topped this with a hot pink cardigan (picked up on sale at Target for $5 -- can you believe it?!?!?!). Cardigans are an important part of any writer's uniform. If I ever see one on sale I make sure to buy it, because of its important to my overall look. In recent years, I've become more brave with my cardigan purchases, venturing beyond neutrals to bright colors. I want the world to see that while I take my job as an aspiring novelist seriously, I am also fun.
  • Now that I'd limited my accessory selection by selecting a brown palette for the day, I chose a scarf with brown-ish undertones. It also has bright green in it, which is apparently one of the colors of the season according to a Google search I did in the fall. In addition to investing in cardigans, I encourage my fellow authoresses to curate a collection of scarves. They, along with a newsboy hat are among the best accessories to jazz-up your outfit.
  • I like these boots so much,
    I want to run away to Paris
    with them. We'll live off
    our wits and love.
    It's still winter in Nebraska, but we're between snow storms, so I chose my brown boots with a bit of a heel. I almost opted to wear a pair of ballet flats, but since this is likely the last year I can wear these boots (they're sadly falling apart), I wanted to give them a few more uses this season.
  • Feeling more than a little sassy this morning, I opted to wear my big sunglasses. They're the same pair that a group (OK, three or four) of railroaders saw me wearing a couple of years ago and called me "Hollywood" for the rest of the day. Now, keep in mind, it's important not to go for this sophisticated and glamorous writer look unless you feel like you can own it for the day. You don't want to confuse people.

With this look, I'm pleased to report that people clearly were impressed with me during my morning writing excursion. The young man in charge of bussing tables stopped by repeatedly, and I'm sure it had more to do with how impressive I looked as a writer instead of him doing his job.

Look how gloriously bored I look when
you put it all together. People will take
one look at me and know I'm taking care
of some pretty serious stuff in my book.
Looking at this, even I respect me.
OK... I should probably come clean. This is all bullshit. No, not the story. I really did give this much thought and consideration into my outfit, because I am kind of nuts and always change my clothes two or three times before leaving the house. But I'm telling you it's B.S. to think there is a right or wrong way to dress if you're going to spend a day writing.

It really isn't that important to get spruced up when you go writing. I'm a big believer in wearing whatever makes you most comfortable. It's hard enough to get in the mood to write without having to worry about your pants cutting off circulation to your waste or your shoes pinching your toes.

I will say, I have found that certain items of clothing do have a way of helping me focus. For whatever reason, especially if I'm writing in the evening, wearing a hat seems to help me concentrate. This is likely all in my head, but whatever, I'll take it.

And I really do love my boots. I bought them when I was living in Houston and thought I should probably own one item of clothing that was acceptable for going to a rodeo or night club. Now whether or not they make me a better writer... I'd say probably not.

Receive Change the Word's latest updates in your Inbox. Subscribe by entering your information under "Follow by email" in the sidebar. Follow me on Twitter @lmchap or "Like" Change the Word on Facebook.


  1. ROTFLMAO You always, always entertain and inform. Love reading your posts. I don't go out to write, so the topic isn't totally relevant. BUT! I do go to this one spot with a writing critique group once a month and I never thought how I must look as a writer there. I will have to think about that persona. Our server (for years!) knows we're writers. Wonder if she tells others? Wonder how she views us? Wonder if she gives a hoot? lol Thanks for another good read.

  2. I totally heard the use your ring finger for applying goop under your eyes and still have to do that! God forbid I use my pointer finger instead.