Bookstore Fashion Crisis?

Dear Sarah,
My publication date is six weeks away, and my best friend just asked me "so, what do you wear to do a bookstore event?" And I realized I have no idea.

Dear T.
I had the same question this past winter! And now that I live in a part of the country where "dressy" means wearing your newer fleece vest instead of the one in which you split wood, I asked a few friends for help. Here's what they said. –Sarah P.

Brenda Janowitz, author of Scot on the Rocks and Jack with a Twist makes a good point.

I always get dressed up for readings.  We writers have so few excuses to get out of our sweatpants!!  For me, I usually wear a dress.  I think it's nice to dress up for my readers, and you also never who's going to take a photo that will end up on Google images!  So pick something that photographs well from every angle.  But most of all, have fun with it.  Writing is a solitary art.  Readings and book events are the rare occasions when we get to leave the computer and socialize- enjoy it!

Poet and memoirist Sandra Beasley, author most recently of Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl and I Was the Jukebox knows of what she speaks. Beasley tours for months at a time:

I would recommend that authors get an advance sense of the position in which they'll be speaking at the bookstore. If you're going to be seated, don't wear a short skirt. If you're going to be at a podium, don't put all your visual interest below the waist. It feels dirty to say it that way, but you know what I mean.

If there is the slightest chance you'll be raising an arm to emphasize a point--or call on a question--choose a fabric where you're not introducing the audience to your utter excitement over this event, a.k.a. your pit sweat.
Because I often travel for extended stints, packing a suitcase with black and red clothes makes it easy to mix and match efficiently. Downside: seeing yourself in a dozen snapshots, each taken in a different town, each wearing approximately the same outfit. I love that red t-shirt with the ballet cap sleeves, but I swear to god I'm burning it before my next poetry collection comes out.

Mollie Cox Bryan, author of the new mystery Scrapbook of Secrets:

You want to look professional, with little hints of creativity. One item that stands out if sufficient, like big jewelry, or red shoes, but the rest of the outfit is subdued, but not boring.
Watch the sexy factor— cleavage, short skirts, and so on.
Wear something you are comfortable in and that travels well.

Nichole Bernier, author of the upcoming novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D:

YES: Something that is flattering and comfortable and projects the you you’d like to present.
NO: Bathing suit, unless you’ve written a book about wearing bathing suits. Lingerie, unless you’re EL James. Eveningwear, unless you’re on the dias accepting the Pulitzer or Nobel.

Sandra Neil Wallace is a children’s author of the middle-grade novel Little Joe, and an historical novel Muckers, forthcoming from Knopf in 2013:

DO: wear a signature accessory like a chunky turquoise necklace with a crisp dark denim dress.
DO: test an outfit first. I packed a newly-altered pair of slacks for hubbie Rich Wallace when he was about to do an out-of-town signing, but they actually got lengthened instead of shortened by mistake. It made for a funny conversation as he still had to wear them!
DON'T: wear bright, long-sleeved shirts that show sweaty armpits, wrinkly linen, or bangles that get in the way of signing.

Thriller writer and HuffPo blogger Karen Dionne, whose latest book is Boiling Point, had this to add:

My suggestion is to wear the tallest shoes possible to your book event. You'll be on your feet for a couple of hours, mingling and speaking, so you want your footwear to be reasonably comfortable, but don't sacrifice comfort for height. Platforms are great. You want to create the most commanding presence possible because you're the star!

Thank you to Brenda, Sandra, Mollie, Nichole, Sandra and Karen!


  1. What a fun and useful post! Thanks for including me, Sarah

  2. Thank you, Karen! I've never thought of myself as "commanding." Maybe that's because I only wear flats? I must give this some more thought...

  3. Lots of helpful advice here, Sarah! It was fun to join in. So tell us, what did you wear to your book signing at Gibson's this week? As a fellow New England author who gets vertigo wearing platform shoes, I'd really like to know.

  4. Skechers? They're tall without hurting. Not sexy, but Ms. Bryan says to "watch the sexy factor" anyway.

    What a great post.

  5. I learned the tall-shoe trick from running my Backspace writers conferences, where I'm one of the folks who's literally in charge. As a person of average height, I've found those couple of extra inches do wonders for my self-confidence - something an author at a bookstore event definitely needs!

    I'm wearing these at the Backspace conference next week - at least, during my program parts. I don't think I could survive wearing them all day!


    1. Awesome! But I lack the gene for walking in those. I'd spend the whole day accidentally falling into strangers' arms. And not in a made-for-fiction kind of way. In a what-did-that-lady-pour-into-her-coffee kind of way.

  6. Hahaha. I won't wear them all day - only for my program parts on Friday and the cocktail reception that evening. I might be limping on Saturday . . .

  7. Here you go. Not sexy, but they'll give you height.