Friday, July 3, 2009

A Writer’s Personal Brand: What is Your Attire Selling?

For many, what to wear to a business conference is a closet-tossing experience, particularly if you rarely meet the people with whom you work or with whom you hope to do business. The ambiguous dress code of 'Business Casual' makes the decision harder. Having to leave the vast majority of your wardrobe 500 miles away can cause a meltdown.

Starting feel light-headed yet? Sit. Read.

The Personal Brand: Appearance Matters
Tauntings from the popular clique in grade school can warp anyone’s sense of self, and away-conferences zap us back to those soul-contorting years. Sniggers from hundreds or thousands are enough to force the most stalwart into hotel-room retreat. Gods help you if you are presenter commanding undivided attention. Naked-on-stage nightmares have been linked to rapid weight-loss and increased snarky-ness.


You’re not 15 anymore. You’re not enduring 12 years in state prison with fellow convicts whose crimes are age and citizenship. Everyone attending a business conference, regardless of tangible product or service, is there to buy and sell relationships.

Relationships. Say the word aloud: Relationships.

This is why your appearance is important. This is why dressing in a way that supports your Personal Brand is critical. What you wear while you create your book doesn’t matter. Butt-naked or bustled, unless you’re broadcasting your ‘creative flow’ no one knows what is cradling your keyboard.

What you wear in public does matter, particularly at conferences, because you are buying and selling relationships with agents, editors, authors, illustrators, readers, critics, mentors, etc. Acknowledge all of those dating analogies because they’re true. A lot of assumptions are going to be made based on your appearance. People will engage or avoid, welcome or dismiss. It doesn’t matter what is Politically Correct because instinct makes the selection. It is the only way to function during a huge conference. Among a cast of thousands, you will not meet everyone, but 6 Degrees of Separation is always in play. Networking is a big part of why you paid to attend the conference.

What is networking? That’s right. It’s building relationships.

How you present yourself will be captured in memories, both human and digital (those digital memories will most likely end up on the Web somewhere to hurt or help your relationships). Consider the following scenario of Attire-Backfire:

A scruffy man wearing a ratty sweat shirt, stained cargo shorts, and no shoes chats you up in line at the breakfast buffet. He says he’s an agent. He reps your genre and would love for you to send him a partial.

The impression? If he doesn’t have enough respect for the business to put on clean clothes, what kind of respect is he going to show you and your work? How many business-minded editors flee from his frat-boy ways? He might be a detriment to your book. You take his card, but you pass on the opportunity. A lack of representation is better than bad representation.

Personal Brand: I Am Not a Lemming
Businesses succeed because of they offer something unique – a differentiator. You are a business of one. What is your visual differentiator? What is the snapshot impression you wish to make?

The world of fashion is as vast and varied as the world of writing. Embrace your style. Is Kahlan Amnell from Legend of the Seeker your fashion icon? Good. Bring on the billowy sleeves. More of a fan of Elyse Keaton from Family Ties? A silky blouse and kitten heels are classics for a reason. Does Phoebe Halliwell of Charmed fame use her magic to add to your wardrobe? Confidence is the ultimate foundation garment for slinky sexy.

Whatever your style is, don’t hide it behind stereotypes of ‘business.’ Do, however, be smart. Wear what best represents your brand, which means:
  1. Put the kibosh on T&A: Unless you’re attending AEE and are up for an AVN award, remember what you are selling. Ladies, wear camis if your blouse/dress exposes cup-size instead of a hint of décolletage. Men, wear undershirts if you’re sporting a button down. Both sexes, no ass-cheeks. No skirts/shorts so short that they are a walking advertisement for the Brazilian Waxing Hut. Don’t forget about transparency. Your product is you, not La Perla or ManSilk.
  2. Choose Logos/Words Wisely: If you are going wear anything printed on your clothes or accessories (including your briefcase/purse/messenger bag), be certain it is in line with your Personal Brand. Is a t-shirt with ‘Beer Holder’ scrawled across the bosom really communicating the type of relationship you wish to establish at this conference? ‘The Bitch is Back’ in blood-spatter script on your laptop skin could be exactly what you want to advertise if you write paranormal, but maybe not if you’re an inspirational author.
  3. Avoid the Extremes: Same-shit-different-day uniforms are a beacon of humdrum. Packing smartly with mix-and-match pieces is not an excuse for bland attire. It is a wonderful opportunity for conversation-starting accessories. Conversely, peacock plumage and jingle bells are attention getters…the first time. After the third time they’re just down-right annoying. Again, think of the relationship you are selling.
Whatever you develop as your Personal Brand, be sure it is a reflection of you. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or time. Be deliberate and confident in your choices.

Remember, you are in the business of relationships.

Do you have Personal Brand: Attire advice, tips, and/or tricks? Have you witnessed Attire-Backfire? Tell us all, tell us everything in the Comments.


  1. My attire at Surrey. Bailey 100x hat. Heavily starched jeans in various colors. Also heavily starched long-sleeved shirts, except the silk ones. Layers. Either Laced tank tops under my shirts and shirts unbuttoned a few buttons, or vests and jackets. Belt and trophy buckle. Boots.

    I decided to be comfortable in my own skin, which was mostly covered.

    I did have one tee-shirt I wore in the bar that had a picture of a kitten in a toilet and the words, "I'm in ur bathroom stalkin ur agent."

  2. Layering is brilliant and key to surviving the fluctuating temperatures. I'm still laughing at the bar shirt.

  3. I have several different "looks" for different occasions. For example, sitting here right now I am in cargo shorts, t-shirt and boots. Would I wear this out, absolutely, but only to buy something at the gas station or the beer store. I was working in the garden so it was absolutely appopriate.

    As for business casual, I like the khaki style pants in different colors and either a cool "golf" shirt, usually made by adidas or Under Armour or a cotton button down, long sleved shirt.

    For interviews, formal occasions or meetings I have 2 suits that I really like that can be worn with a multitude of different shirts and ties. I love the classic black 3 button suit, or I have a "green" suit that works well with my eyes and skin tone.

    If I do not want to wear a suit I wear comlimentary slacks and blazer. I mut say that the days of grey or khaki slacks and the blue blazer are way over, and if you see someone wearing either of these, that person either recently graduated from a Catholic High School or they used to work for old school IBM.

    As for belts I will pull out the leather with a cool animal buckle just to throw people off.

  4. Funny you should write this now as I've been thinking about it a lot lately. My "office at the beach" apparel is usualy flannal pj bottoms and a t-shirt until 11:00 a.m. (when half the work day is over). After I shower, if I shower, I throw on khaki clam diggers and some sort of button down shirt, just in case I see another human being, like my father who is pretty sure that I will be ready (any day now) for rehab or a mental institution. When I actually do need to see people (I do great phone and email) I don black slacks, white oxford shirt, which I may or may not layer depending on whether it will actually button all the way down. Then I put on a great necklace and earrings. My mother always said you can wear anything if you're wearng great jewelry. She once wore a fancy bathrobe she picked up in the Post Exchange (with great jewelry) to a military ball. Anyway. Timely article. I needed the push.