Writers’ Style

by Alex

No, I don’t mean WRITING style. I mean DRESSING style.

Someone posted to one of the loops asking about attire for the LA Times Festival of the Book, and someone posted back something like, “Dress nicely. Even if you wear shorts, make sure they’re nice.”

You know, somehow I never got that ‘nice’ memo.

For me, dressing for the LATFOB means sunscreen, sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and as little as possible after that. Plus, of course, a parka stashed away in the bag in case of bone-chilling coastal fog. I grew up in the California desert and I say, what good is it to start out looking NICE if after forty-five minutes you’re burned red as a lobster and sweating through three layers of clothes?

I don’t know, maybe it really is a California thing, but if I have to spend more than two minutes getting dressed for ANYTHING, it’s not going to happen. Having spent so much of my life 1. Writing and 2. Dancing, it’s a good day if I even make it out of pajamas or a leotard and leggings. That’s why I like dresses so much – you can throw one on in ten seconds and everyone acts as if you’ve made some kind of effort or something. Hah!

I get hives just thinking about the RWA national conference in San Francisco this summer. Everyone is going to be business elegant, with the manicures and stockings and salon perms and designer everything and I’m going to look like I just crawled out of the Haight… which, let’s face it, I will have.

Part of it is the hair. I know that. With this hair, a tailored look is just not in the cards. I can live with that. You have to work with what you’ve got, and what I’ve got is what casting directors tactfully refer to as “equestrian” when what they really mean is a rode-hard, put-away- wet look.

But that is not to say that I don’t enjoy clothes. Actually, I enjoy the hell out of clothes. I’m hardly unaware that we authors can communicate a lot about the books we write through the clothing , shoes and accessories we wear. It really is instant branding,

And I have managed to figure out the touring clothes that work for me – things that look a little rock star, a little Gothic, that make people I meet say things like – “Oh, I love that shirt!” when really my only criteria for buying anything these days are: 1. Can I wash it in the sink in my hotel room and get it dry by tomorrow? And 2. Will I be able to wear it two days in a row – or three – without ironing if my suitcase or I get laid over in Chicago (Phoenix, Atlanta…)?

But even though simplicity is my fashion mandate these days, I am thrilled that my intensive touring is ending with my secret favorite conference, the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. RT doesn’t require business elegant. It does require stunt dressing.

Now, those of you who don’t live in LA have probably never heard this term. Actually, those of you who do live in LA probably haven’t heard the term, either, because I’m fairly certain I made it up. But stunt dressing is the only way I can properly describe the phenomenon I’m talking about. (And those of you in the SCA, World Con, World Fantasy Con, Comic-Con, StellarCon, AnyCon crowd -you know who you are – know exactly what I mean…)

What you’ve probably heard about Romantic Times, if you’ve heard anything at all – that it’s full of women dressed as vampires and fairies, and half-naked male cover models slinking around. Well, this is a normal party for me, and I’ve got to say I miss that kind of hedonism at the more sedate conferences.

This was my packing list for RT last year:

red velvet opera coat
saloon girl parachute skirt
black net crinoline
red velvet corset
black fishnet cape
black lace bodice
1 pair Victorian boots
1 pair red fishnet stockings
1 pair black fishnet stockings
harem girl outfit
3 veils
1 dozen arm bracelets and cuffs
Glinda the Good ballgown
matching wand
1 pair vampire fangs
sparkly Western hat
red lace mantilla
body glitter
hair ornaments
Victorian choker
riding crop
micro leather mini
thigh high vinyl boots
red leather vest

Admit it – it’s a hell of a lot more fun than “business casual”.

Now, I wasn’t born a stunt dresser. It took years for me to even want to try. But I have lived all my life in California and some things just rub off.

Los Angeles is, after all, home to thousands of professional special effects wizards, costumers, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, narcissistic histrionics, and actors – oh, wait, that last is redundant. (KIDDING. Some of my best friends are actors.).

And in LA, event partying is a competitive sport – literally. Costume contests abound, and some people I know make a very nice auxiliary income from them, around October, especially.

Arguably some even more outrageous stunt dressing goes on in San Francisco, where most of my friends have also spent at least half their lives. You want to see some world-class costumes, try the Castro on any given Halloween (I’ll never forget the life-sized walking convertible with JFK and Jackie… well, all right, never mind that.).

Put all that together and you have what I call stunt dressing. Parties where costumes are NOT optional – not if you don’t want to stick out like a wallflower with a sore thumb.

Theme parties used to scare the s – stuffing out of me because I don’t think of myself as a crafty person. (You know, craft as in sewing, not all that OTHER stuff, which is another post entirely.) But I do love excess, and after attending a few L.A. parties like oh, A Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Voodoo Magic, Survivor (yes, that Survivor), Gilligan’s Island, Under the Sea, any number of the requisite Moulin Rouge and Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings and Mardi Gras and Tiki parties… well, I started to think about it. I started thinking about what to actually wear to some of these things. I started to think – isn’t costuming just as much an artistic expression as words?

And that’s how I released my inner Stunt Dresser. I love dressing up as an Elton John song and having people guess which song I am, preferably with touchable clues. I love sequins and feathers and masks. I love a RED party where everyone and everything is – you guessed it. Have one some time and see what it does to the libido – yours and everyone else’s, in every possible combination.

Every thrift store is now an opportunity to collect cheap frothy things that will one day make the perfect drop-dead costume. I have hats. I have Victorian opera coats. I have a menagerie of corsets and boas and headgear. I have chain mail. I have every possible net garment you can think of. I have more sequined gorgeous confections than you can shake a stick at. I’ve also recently started on props. After all, how do you dress as Trillian (for a HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE party) without mice, which you can get three for a dollar at a novelty store? Throw on a string of battery powered fish lights, maybe even add a real fish net, and you’re all set for an Under the Sea party. You see what I mean? It’s not like you have to spend a lot of money or take a lot of time with it.

The thing about stunt dressing is that it gives OTHER people so much pleasure. You don’t have to make much of an effort to make so many people truly happy that you’re wearing part of the party. That’s what’s so great about it – and if you’re shy, I suggest you think about it that way – in terms of how much others will enjoy that you’ve done it.

These are the RT parties I have to look forward to this week:

– Under the Sea Faery Ball
– Hollywood’s Golden Age
– Midnight Speakeasy
– These Boots Are Made for Walking
– Western Extravaganza (at which there will be a real, that is, real staged, hanging)

And of course, the Vampire Ball, at which I will incongruously be tricked out as a kinky Bride of Frankenstein, due to my role in Heather Graham’s always outrageous dinner theater show.

Business elegant… bad. Bride of Frankenstein… good.

I can’t wait.

So I say – it’s Spring. Go ahead. Unleash your inner stunt dresser. There might just be an Elton John song in you that’s dying to get out.

And here are my questions for the day. First, what’s your style? Do you have one? Have you cultivated it?

If you’re an author, have you deliberately changed your style or invested in a new wardrobe as part of your author persona? If you’re a reader, does it matter to you if authors dress “nice”? (Or are you, ahem, on to us?)

And everyone – what’s the most outrageous stunt costume you’ve ever worn?

And, okay – have you ever had your colors “done”? What season are you? Do you incorporate color dressing into your style?

27 thoughts on “Writers’ Style

  1. Kaye Barley

    Darn, Alex. Your RT packing list is exactly the same as my Baltimore B’Con packing list!


    Noooooo its not. But it sounds wonderful, and loads more fun than a single thing I have in my closet. This con is definitely going on my list of things to do! Have fun!

  2. R.J. Mangahas


    I guess the days of the tweed jacket with the elbow patches are gone then?

    As I’m still working on my book (and possibly a good marketing strategy) I haven’t really thought too much yet on my ‘author persona’.

    I’ve been to a few conferences, none of which thankfully have been business elegant. Personal stylewise, I’ve always been pretty casual. I could never understand those people who put on a pair of khakis and a nice shirt to just hang out around the house. I guess that may be me.

    Stunt dressing you say? Hmmm. Does theater count? I’ve had some pretty fun costumes in some roles I’ve done. In one role, my director said that I resembled Odd Job. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. I guess it’s good.

    My most outrageous incident of stunt dressing? I went to a party in what I would describe as goth-glam. I wore mostly black, painted my nails black, but I had outlandishly colored boas, and a sparkling hat with a rather large feather coming out of it.

    Hope you have fun at the RT parties. The Midnight Speakeasy and Hollywood’s Golden Age sound cool.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hey Kaye! I actually think B’Con is a great con for dressing up. I wouldn’t want to do anything as outrageous as full-on RT gear, but I found in Wisconsin that people really appreciated a little verve in the clothing department.

    B’Con’s going to be such a HUGE party this year – we might as well have some extra fun!

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    R.J, Goth-Glam is my favorite style of all (Have you seen VELVET GOLDMINE? Fabulous movie and clothes.) Your outfit sounds smashiing- and it’s a great example of how it’s not at all hard to pull something together to look drop-dead.

  5. Lori G. Armstrong

    Alex – Soooo jealous you’re going to RT this year, first year in 4 that I’ve missed it 🙁

    And RT is my very favorite con, partially for all the reasons you mentioned, the costume parties, the anything goes atmosphere, the dancing til the wee hours with women from every conceivable background…I get damn misty-eyed thinking about it.

    But I think the biggest reason I love that conference is because it is *fan-based* and I love talking to fans while standing in line for the parties, for the bathroom, at the bar, at the panels (gasp, yep, I actually go to the panels because, dude, the day I stop learning from other authors in this business is the day I get out of it, and romance authors are the savviest in the business). I can’t tell you how many people (readers) I’ve met in the elevator and the hallway and on promo row and they are so enthusiastic about books! (Romance readers rock, tellin’ you the god honest truth)It’s quite a refreshing difference from the business like atmosphere of some of the other cons, where god forbid you ever look like you’re having fun because someone will think you aren’t a “real” author.

    But know what I don’t get? Authors who go to RT and spend the majority of their time in their rooms, or going out to dinner with their other author friends and they don’t hang out at the Vampire Ball, or the Stud Muffin mixer, or the Wild West party. I’m like, what is the point? Why go if you aren’t going to get to the bottom line: enticing readers to buy you while having a whole lot of fun? Then again, readers can tell the sincere authors from the fakes. Some people just don’t get it, huh?

    I know I’m preaching to the choir with you Alex, because *you* get it, so darlin’, have a margarita for me, and think of me when you’re bustin’ a move to It’s Rainin’ Men!

  6. Rae

    Ooh boy, one of my favorite topics. I love interesting individual style. Fashion, not so much. To me, a person who goes to the effort of developing their own style cares about their appearance, but isn’t a fashion lemming. Fashion is all about trends, and trends usually don’t last much longer than it takes to clip off the price tags. And style doesn’t take a lot of money, it takes thoughtfulness, interest, and a bit of time to build up a wardrobe.

    Parisian women have marvelous style. They might have two outfits to their name, but each outfit is carefully put together from top to bottom and worn with panache.

    I’ve noticed a lot of pretty fabulous style in Crime Fiction Land. Alex, you have wonderful personal style, as does Louise. My own style is business casual, I think, with an accent on comfort. I like to be able to wear the same clothes for work and play, and a nice blazer can go anywhere. I have a huge weakness for handbags and shoes, which causes problems packing at times. I’ve been known to take four or five handbags to a weekeend-long convention.

    I must admit, the idea of stunt dressing fills me with trepidation, but it’s fun to see others’ creativity. I’ll look forward to seeing what you all come up with for Baltimore 😉

  7. J.D. Rhoades

    I’ve done quite a few events with Alex, and let me tell you folks, the lady has more sense of style in her little finger than I have in my entire body.

    I haven’t done the dress-up thing in a long time but I can probably find my Harlequin hat somewhere…

  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Lori, I can’t believe you won’t be there! It’s just not going to be a party without you.

    And you are so right – the place to meet people at RT is – everywhere. That’s another good reason to be a little creative in dress – it’s always a great conversation starter.

  9. Amanda Stevens

    What a fabulous post! I’m so glad I stumbled over here. Alexandra, you and my daughter would get along famously. She says, what is the point of throwing a party if it doesn’t have a theme? Her last one, I believe, was 80’s prom night. A big time was had by all. She’s always scouring thrift stores for ideas.

    I love how you throw yourself into RT. That conference is a hoot and a half. You make me wish I was going again this year.

    Stunt dressing–now that’s a term I gotta remember.

  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Rae, I agree, Parisian women INVENTED style. Japanese women and designers give them a run for their money, these days, though.

    With your great hair you make business casual devastatingly sexy.

    Actually, Dusty has the same kind of contrast in style – he’s a wild man obviously barely contained in a stylin’ suit.

    And both of you, and Lori, have that essential fashion extra: pure life force.

  11. Alexandra Sokoloff

    80’s prom night – now THAT’S a fun theme!

    Amanda, I bet you’re familiar with the one huge drawback of stunt dressing – once you or a loved one gets the bug, there’s just not enough closet space in the world.

    So sorry you won’t be at RT this year – maybe next?

  12. JT Ellison

    Oh Alex, to have the freedom of style.

    I, unfortunately, have the fashion sense of a gnat, and break out in hives at the mere thought of anything that doesn’t allow me to wear a pair of jeans, boots and a black shirt.

    I hate dressing up (costume dressing up, not black tie. Black tie I love) with a passion. Halloween as a child warped me. I think it’s because I had to wear my mother’s cast off witch costume year after year. The first year I ventured away from it, as Peter Pan, no less, a car drove over me and I had to go to the emergency room with a very messed up ankle.

    I admire anyone who has the guts to be flamboyant. I am definitely not one of you, but I admire it. : )

  13. Catherine

    As a reader it doesn’t really worry me how anyone else dresses, let alone Authors. Though I do think it would be funny to see a panel of Authors dressed in the clothing they normally wore while writing.

    I had to laugh at the term ‘stunt dressing’…. such an evocative way to describe much of my family’s attitude to dressing. My mother at one time was a ballroom instructor. So our dress up box growing up was filled with very flamboyant costumes. We were looking through old photos the other day and Mum had me dressed as Marie Antoinette when I was 8… for some school function, with a full white wig and curls, in a cut down version of one of her pale blue satin gowns. I never stood a chance to be ‘normal’ growing up in a little seaside town in Australia. lol. Dad once got pulled over by the police as part of a random breath test, while he was dressed full face and suit ala Al Jolson. I’m sure that gave the police officer pause when he approached the driver’s side window.

    The best bit of stunt dressing I’ve seen was organised by a 12 year old. I held a monster mash party for one of my daughters when she was 12. As we don’t celebrate Halloween with the zeal that Americans do…. the kids all went crazy with the chance to dress up and a fine array of vampires, devils, mummies etc filled my house.

    Except for one little girl who turned up in a jeans and T-shirt… when I asked her if she didn’t feel comfortable dressing up…she said no I AM in costume. I’m a monster, I’m a serial killer, it’s just that we look like every one else…

  14. Catherine

    Alex,I’m only a fair to middling dancer. I danced enough to be able to hold my own at the St Patrick’s Day Ball when I was in Primary School. I was a really shy kid and would lose any type of grace in dance class situation though.Horrible. My Nan taught me a mean Charleston which I could burst out into at times…I loved hearing her play Ragtime tunes and have my cousins and I madly throwing ourselves into the rhythm.

    I thought of this after I put in the post about the serial killer costume. Around that summer, that particular girl was attending a lot of workshops for writing… Coincidence?

    Also Toni, hell boots… go for it.

  15. Kaye Barley

    “Hey Kaye! I actually think B’Con is a great con for dressing up. I wouldn’t want to do anything as outrageous as full-on RT gear, but I found in Wisconsin that people really appreciated a little verve in the clothing department.

    B’Con’s going to be such a HUGE party this year – we might as well have some extra fun!”

    Oh boy.This will be my first big con, so I’m going to count on you guys to coach me on the wardrobe thing, please (and probably lots of other stuff). O.K.?

    Alex – Have a terrific time – can’t wait to hear all about it and see pictures! I am fascinated by all these very cool costumes and dress up stuff. Toni – I agree – get the boots!

  16. Fran

    Stunt dressing, I love it!

    I’ve been in theatre and I’ve been in the SCA. Oh my, dressing up can be fun!

    One of my favorite dressing-up times was when a friend threw a themed party. The theme was “Explorers”.

    My friend and I dressed up in bustiers, slinky skirts, white lab coats and wore big glasses with our hair up. We created a three-page questionaire on sex and went as “Jaspers and Monston, researchers”.

    We hit two parties that night, the Explorers one which was predominantly theatre folks, and one thrown by some engineers.

    The engineers had better answers to the sex questions, hands down.

    Hmmm…wonder if that’s why I finally ended up with one?

  17. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Cozy, we’ll miss you! But I know I don’t have to tell librarians a thing about how to party – I’ve seen y’all at PLA and ALA.

    Kaye, B’Con isn’t really a dress up con, but that’s why a great hat or a spectacular coat will get you a lot of attention. I’ll be happy to show you around – the bar! 😉

  18. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Catherine, that seems to be the pattern, most of the time. I grew up with scientist parents and am only a fair-to-middling scientist, myself!

    Fran, that is a GREAT costume idea – interactive is always the most fun. Engineers, hmm? You make me wonder what I’ve been missing…


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