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
1 dozen arm bracelets and cuffs
Glinda the Good ballgown
1 pair vampire fangs
sparkly Western hat
red lace mantilla
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?