What to Wear to a Writer’s Conference

I have to get something off my chest. Something that has been plaguing me for over a year. It happened in May of 2011 at my local chapter’s conference where I was happily helping out with the editor/ agents appointments. Through out the day I saw dozens and dozens of writers nervously awaiting their appointments. That day was a total blur for me and I can barely remember all the people I saw. But one person unwillingly stuck in my mind.I don’t remember her name or what genre she wrote. But I do remember what she looked like clearly.

Always Always ALWAYS!!!

And it was because she wasn’t wearing a bra. I know. I know. Who the hell does that nowadays? But apparently this unfortunate person didn’t think to put one on that day before she left the house, deciding to let her not so little girls swing free. And to make it worse she wore a neon green fuzzy sweater and jeans to her pitch sessions. I am not making this up to be entertaining. This girl, no, woman dressed like that that day.

So what’s the big deal? Well, I’ll tell you. Conferences are the places where you network. That means meeting and connecting with new people. That means making a lasting impression. Editors and agents are the people a lot of writers want to impress. They can help make your dreams come true. Doesn’t it make sense to dress to impress? The last thing you want to be known as is the writer who didn’t wear a bra.

I’m no expert but I do love to get dressed for any occasion. So I have compiled a simple list of things that are  more do’s than don’ts.

What you should wear to a conference when you are pitching…

1. Always wear a bra. Always. Always!

2. Some people would suggest wearing what you would to a job interview but I disagree.No suits. It’s okay to show your personality a little, because that can reflect your writing style. You like bright pink? Wear bright pink. Just keep it classy folks and try not to look like a bottle of Pepto.

3. Jeans–I would usually say this is a definite no. Women have so many choices out there, that they can come up with something else without much thought. But I have seen guys rock a pair of dark denmin jeans, a vee neck and a blazer, and look put together and hot. But no sneakers!

4. This kind of goes with number one but keep your girls fairly hidden. You’re pitching your book not going on a date. It’s not the right time to put the ladies on display. And on the opposite side don’t dress like a schlub. Baggy and ill-fitting are just as unattractive as tight and revealing.

You CAN'T wear this to pitch in.

5. Try to wear comfortable shoes. I personally think most comfy shoes are not fabulous but you will be on your feet a lot and you don’t want to end up looking like a scene from Thriller by the end of the day.

6. No Hawaiian shirts. Seriously unless you’re in Hawaii, or you’re Jimmy Buffett, or eighty, find something else to wear. A polo shirt works nicely.

7. Don’t look like the wait staff. Meaning black pants and a plain white top. Or khakis and a plain white top. It’s boring.

8. Don’t wear distracting stuff on your head. In my personal life I’m a fan of pretty hair accessories, head bands, crystal encrusted hair pins, flowers, but they can be distracting especially when you are trying to have a conversation with somebody. (Or is it just the ADD in me?)

9. Also, if you have facial piercings keep those bad boys to a minimum. Tongue piercings are distracting. (And a little eww if you ask me. I’ve seen two friends get it done and… Shudder)

See what I mean? Eww.

10. And finally keep your makeup clean and simple. You are not going to a night club, and if you pitch at the end of the day you don’t want to look like a gooey mess.

 It’s scientifically proven that people are attracted to pretty people. Of course your writing needs to be up to snuff to get an editor or agent to sign you, but it can’t hurt to give yourself a boost in the right direction by looking great. You want to be a successful best-selling author, then dress like one.

And I have to give a little shout out to author Sara Humprheys who looks great and well put together from head to toe in every picture and at every conference. And Kristan Higgins who always has fabulous shoes and perfectly painted nails.

Oh and one more thing CTRWA is throwing FICTION FEST and there is still room left. You can register by clicking the Fiction Fest above.

So what do you think? Have any fashion advice to give? Disagree with me? Love conferences? Any and all comments are welcome.

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26 thoughts on “What to Wear to a Writer’s Conference”

  1. Great advice, Jamie. My mom always said, “Clothes don’t make the man (or woman), but one should always dress for success.” I’m a firm believer in putting my best face forward. When I am put together and dressed well, I feel more confident. Presentation is very important–whether you’re talking about a meal, a business proposal, or the right outfit for the right occasion.
    I’m so looking forward to Fiction Fest!
    And no worries, my friend–I promise, I’ll be dressed to impress and I’ll most definitely be wearing a bra.

  2. I swear, I’ll have a bra on too. And I agree that it’s important to look professional and polished, not like you’re going grocery shopping! Mom’s advice is alway best – you really only get one chance to make a first impression and it had better be a good one! Though, I can’t promise that a pair of converse sneakers won’t appear on my feet at some point.

    1. Oh converses don’t count. They come in so many different colors and styles that you can put them with almost anything.

  3. Jamie, it surprises me when I see people dressed for a day at the mall or beach when trying to sell their work. Even though you are interviewing the agents, editors or publisher, remember they are also interviewing you. This is a professional event and one should dress accordingly. That means dress, skirt, or dress pants, a tasteful blouse and/or jacket. This puts you and your book in the best light. Good luck to all who are pitching in the near future.

  4. I don’t really have much in the way of fashion sense. I’m a straightforward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of girl. And I’m a jeans fan. If I was going to Fiction Fest, I’d be there in a pair of jeans (clean ones, newish ones – not the pair I wear to mow the lawn!), a casual but clean (I have preschool-age twins, clean is often the best I can manage) an appropriate top, nice mules (I love mules!) and of course, necessary undergarments. I don’t work in an office any longer and my office clothes have gone the way of the dodo. But I agree Jamie, you need to look the part you want to play. Dress for the job you want, not the one you have is what we used to say in the wonderful world of corporate HR. And I agree with PJ above, dressing appropriately is like preparing for battle. I like to have my armor on, but I’ve still gotta be me. And I think that’s okay.

    1. I was really only referring to pitching… You can wear whatever you want whenever you want as long as you feel good.

  5. Agree with you (especially the bra! especially when it’s obvious!). You and your story should be the ones getting attention, not the girls or the shoes.

    <> Not even a *little* flower? ;-)

  6. My personal nit picking is loud shoes clomping across a wooden floor, especially when the guest speaker is speaking. And let’s remember that how you look may not be as important as how you behave. I attend a conference to hear the speakers, not the rest of the people at my table telling their stories thereby forcing me to miss the speaker, or ask them to be quiet.

  7. I agree with you, Jamie. When I attend a conference and I’m planning to pitch to an agent or editor, I try to present myself as a professional. I usually wear a dress, or skirt and nice top. I would add one more thing to your list, though. It is a very long day, so dress professionally, yet make sure you wear something comfortable. This year I plan to wear flats. I know … can you imagine … me in flats! Yet, I have a very busy agenda that day and the last thing I need is to be limping in for my pitch session. Oh, and yes, I will be wearing a bra!

  8. Jamie, your post is excellent, and well written. I am in complete agreement. In fact, dressing as though you respect yourself is critical as you present yourself to the world. I think some do not know what is right and what is wrong. They might not have had a role model, or the role model they had was someone who did not know or understand how to dress.

    You know, when I was a young girl, there was Barbizon modeling school. I went and learned about personal presentation. Berkeley business school also had a program about personal presentation. They abandoned the program in 1991. At last months CTRWA’s at the Holiday Inn, do you know the group that superseded our group for our regular meeting space? It was Barbizon Modeling School. No kidding, I thought they were gone. The person at the desk said, “We are here teaching modeling.” We need to send our daughter’s for training.

    I notice some older women trying to look like they are in their 20’s. They wear tights, with short blouses. Their derriere has collapsed, is broad and sagging like their girls, they look ridiculous. Sometimes I think maybe they don’t have any friends to tell them what they look like. I am so sad for these folk.

    Great message Jamie.

  9. damn it! i have that exact animal print dress and it. looks. awesome on me. even better bra-less, well, shoot. now i gotta go shopping. i’ll stay away from fuzzy green sweaters too. thanks for the advice!

  10. I’m afraid I’m going to have to violate rule #1. I don’t own a bra. ;)

    In all seriousness though, the general point of your post is good advice, and I don’t disagree with any of the particulars, either. I will say this about shoes, though – most attendees are going to be sitting most of the time. It’ll just be presenters and people working at the conference who will be on their feet a lot. So, most attendees could choose shoes based on looks first and standing comfort second.

    And then there’s Kristan Higgins, who will be standing a lot AND wearing killer heels. She’s both fabulous AND tough.

    1. So true but I think you underestimate how painful women’s shoes can be. I had some on today that made me want to cry four minutes after I put them on.

  11. I had to respond, just having returned from my only outside conference (beyond Fiction Fest) and having commented on the very same thing on the ride home!
    To each her own and writers tend to be a quirky lot (aren’t we?), spending most of the working day alone and taunted by a blank computer screen (just me?), so it was my expectation that a conference was the opportunity to pull out a bra, press a blouse, turn up the volume on one’s appearance in the hope of dazzling an editor and snagging the most elusive of unicorns, I mean BOOK CONTRACTS. It was a little different than what I expected.
    Certainly there were the ‘totally put togetherds’ – KHiggs, always an excellent example, my fellow CTRWA-ers all looked great – and while many made an effort, there were those who left me scratching my head. I don’t think I’m better than anybody else but if you’re going to spend all the money to get there and network and pitch your little heart out, why not present yourself in a way that people know you’re serious?
    They could be the most wonderful of individuals and most talented of writers but I’m not sure a ratty sweater and ill-fitting stretch pants convey this sufficiently. I’m not talking expensive, just not sloppy. Then again, many of them have book deals and I don’t, so it’s likely me that’s still in the dark. On that note, I’ll be wearing black to Fiction Fest. Timeless, slimming (I hope), most resistent to the perspiration that will surely incur as I pimp my babies out to editors and agents.
    If only my hair holds up as well…
    Thanks for the post, Jamie & you always look great, you hottie :)

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