There are a couple cliches about dressing professionally that basically boil down to the same thing: “dress for success” and “dress for the job you want, not the one you have” are supposed to motivate, to get people into the proper mentality for their desired careers. My five-year-old runs around in a surgical mask and latex gloves and plays with his homemade doctor’s kit, so at least one of us is on the right track.
I’ve pondered this work attire notion lately. There is something to dressing for a particular occupation. Think about a man on the street in the three-piece suit. He’s probably a lawyer, right? Or an executive at a bank or big corporation. If you’re a corporate headhunter, he might get your attention, and that’s the point, I suppose. One time, I paired a red sweater with some khakis, took one look in the mirror, and immediately changed because I felt like I was going to work at Target. In my case, I decided not to dress for the job I didn’t want.
As with the above examples, there are certain stereotypes. If I say “rockstar,” “priest,” or “Best Buy geek,” you probably get an automatic picture in your head. At my parents’ business, we have a lot of customers who are artists, and it’s not unusual to see eclectic or bohemian clothes, colorful hair, and tattoo sleeves.
Well, what about me? As a writer, what in the world am I supposed to wear to let others know what I do? I don’t fit in with the artists, nor do I wear a beret and tiny circular sunglasses, sipping coffee with my pinkie up at outdoor cafes, poetry journal in hand. Until recently, I pretty much dressed the way I had all through college: jeans and t-shirts or casual blouses. Then I started substitute teaching and found that my limited business casual wardrobe (which contained mostly pants and a few black dresses that I only ever wore to church) would never get me through a week of teaching. Now that I’ve been forced to expand my wardrobe, I own more clothes than ever before. And I find that wearing the occasional dress isn’t terrible, it’s just not what I would choose, in a perfect world. But at least I blend in.
The real me lives for stay-at-home Saturdays, maybe lazy, maybe catching up chores I couldn’t get to during the week. At the ends of days like this, I haven’t offended anyone by wearing workout clothes all day, or my bedroom slippers. Back when I envisioned myself as a successful, stay-at-home writer mom, that’s kind of how I thought every day would be. Let’s be silly and imagine, for a moment, that this really did happen. I’m the next American J.K. Rowling, and now someone wants to do a movie about me. The on-screen version of me would have to be sexed up a little for anyone to want to watch it. Okay, she’d have to be sexed up a lot. I can’t imagine someone wanting to watch an actress wearing baggy pajama pants and a non-matching, fifteen-year-old t-shirt, typing away on a MacBook, face devoid of make-up, hair long and limp. But that’s me.
Here’s another fantasy scenario: I have to go to a Hollywood movie premier, say a movie version of one of my novels. And the next day, when the entertainment shows dole out the awards for best and worst dressed, I get completely panned because I showed up in a Dillard’s special. Accessorized by my trusty Tigger watch.
I suppose the conclusion is that, for this writer at least, there is no dress code. Dressing in a way that someone else thinks is right is not going to make me write a better novel or get noticed by a big New York publishing house. In fact, as far as professionalism in writing is concerned, a simple, serious email address and clean query letter make more of a positive impression than a pants suit and stilettos. Writers who don’t dress their stories for success first are wasting their time if they’re mostly concerned with how they dress their bodies.