Can I make a confession?
I love fashion. Yes, I’m a slightly nerdy tomboy who loves action movies and rolls my eyes at drama. But I also love fashion.
For artsy “free expression” types (that means me, by the way) “fashion” is usually whatever we feel like wearing. For introverts, fashion is often just another word for camouflage that allow us to blend into the wall (preferably in house plant brown). Sometimes fashion is functional (I work from my couch in my yoga pants). Sometimes it’s fun and flirty. And sometimes it has to be professional.
Because, like it or not (usually not), prospective clients and publishers base their perception of your competence on their first impression of your appearance. To adopt a writer-ly analogy, a book can have engaging characters and a riveting story, but if has a cheaply-made cover and is riddled with typos, a reader probably won’t pick it up long enough to find out it’s actually a fantastic book!
But striking the balance between personal and professional can be a challenge – at least, it was for me for many years.
When I dressed too fashion-forward and professional, I didn’t feel like me. When I just threw something together from the confines of my closet, it didn’t look professional. When I tried to dress fashionably like “everyone else,” it failed hopelessly. What’s a nerdy introvert girl to do?
Good news! Fashion can be learned. And while balancing fun and professionalism in fashion can be tricky, I know you can do it. Believe it or not, putting together an outfit isn’t that different from putting together the next bestseller.
DO YOU. Not anyone else. Learn from others, steal awesome ideas, but remember that you make you unique. So, you have curves? Own them. Flat as a board. Own that, too. Find clothes that fit and flatter you. Find a look that works for you.
STEP OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE. This is a biggie. After all, no one wants to look or feel ridiculous! But nothing ventured, nothing gained. Maybe you never thought you could write in a different genre, but discovered you loved it. Be willing to try fresh looks – a new style, a new haircut, a bolder print than you’d normally choose – that you may just discover you love.
BUILD FROM BASICS. Sometimes classic outfits and cuts are classic for a reason. Because they work! Be willing to pay a little extra for quality, great-fitting basics like dress pants and/or a skirt, a solid-colored top, and a nice pair of comfortable dress shoes.
Just like you have to check off the fundamentals for your novel structure, great basics are the backbone of a fun and professional outfit.
DO YOUR RESEARCH. Dressing professionally doesn’t have to break the bank. Create a Pinterest board. Know your style and what fits you (there are numerous great blogs on this topic online, so I won’t bore you with details here). Then, you can shop for deals and still get a great look! All three of my dress heels were either free or bought at thrift stores for under $5.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. The eternal conflict for the author is staying true to yourself, while always keeping your reader in mind. The same is true when dressing for professional situations. Most book events or conferences encourage “business casual” dress. Others are more casual, while some awards banquets and such require formal dress. Ask ahead of time! It will give you time to prepare and feel more confident.
LET THE INSIDE OUT. Most writers I know are stunningly creative, funny, quirky and imaginative. Ironically, most of them are also introverts who prefer to blend in with the wallpaper. Do us all a favor? Don’t.
You were created with vibrant personalities that spill out onto the page. Just like emotion in writing feels flat if you’re not putting your heart out there for others to see, your outfits will feel flat if you don’t let some of those beautiful inner worlds out for the rest of us to enjoy.
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS. Great writing nails the basics and adds sensory details to bring it to life. If your basics say, “I’m a professional,” all the details and accessories say, “I’m a creative professional.” So, go for the Firefly earrings. Wear those bracelets you got in Africa. Pick a top with slits in the sleeves. Choose a necklace with a pop of bright color to go with your neutrals. Let everyone know there’s more to you than meets the eye!
ASK A TRUSTED FRIEND. Not the friend who tried to get you to wear a neon pink leopard print mini-dress to your graduation party. Ask someone whose look you like, or who just seems to be a few steps ahead of you in the “fun and professional” fashion journey. If you’d ask trusted friends and colleagues for their opinions on your novel, why wouldn’t you ask their advice on something as important as making a great first impression? Ask those who know you best how to represent your personality. Odds are, they’d love to help.
EMBRACE THE PROCESS. You won’t always get it right. And that’s okay. You wouldn’t expect to write a flawless novel on your first draft, right? So, you realize, upon looking around, that perhaps your favorite rock band t-shirt wasn’t the right choice. Live and learn, and move on. Just because you tried something and ended up not liking it, doesn’t mean the next thing you try won’t knock it out of the park!
DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN. Let your inner child out to play. Try on the most ridiculous outfit you can find and text a picture to your girlfriends. Go for a classy, vintage look. Treat yourself to that pretty scarf you’ve been eyeing. Just because we have to be professional doesn’t mean we can’t have fun in the process!
So, there you have it. If you can write a 150,000 word novel about imaginary worlds and people that only exist in your head, you can definitely put together an outfit that works for you, and conveys to everyone, friends and colleagues alike, that you’re fun, fabulous and oh-so-professional!
Now’s your chance to share your fashion tips (and flubs) with our writerly tribe. ‘Fess up!