Saturday, 6 June 2009

Writing wear: the writer's wardrobe

Writers are not renowned for their glamorous wardrobes. Some scrub up nicely for public appearances - JKR looks pretty decent (but she can afford to) and Jacqueline Wilson is smart in black (wise choice, as the smudges don't show - not of course, that Ms Wilson would have smudges). Barbara Cartland used to wear pink silk chiffon and pearl-crusted cardies (or so she would have us believe). But saggy jumpers and torn things, layered for warmth, are more typical writerly attire, at least in this house.

One of the wonderful things about being a writer is that you don't need to get up and dress smartly and go out to work. In fact, you don't need to do any of those things - you don't need to go out, you don't need to dress smartly, or indeed at all, and you don't need to get up.

On the rare days when I don't have to dig daughters out of bed with that special tool on the Swiss army knife, lying bed to write is a delicious pleasure. You will need: two pillows, preferably Siberian goose down with white Egyptian cotton pillowcases, propped up in a cross (horizontal one behind vertical one); snuggly duvet of similar type; fully charged laptop (to avoid accidents with the cable) or pen/pencil and notebooks; heating on if it's winter; someone to bring you fresh coffee and occasionally croissants and wash the crumbs from the sheets later; soft pyjamas, preferably stripy, but not silk as they are too slippery. OK, I wish... You can do without most of them, and make a quick trip the kitchen yourself which you then blot from your memory. But you will need the pyjamas, or at least an old t-shirt as the top part of your sticks out of the duvet and gets cold. If you do without the writing materials you're in danger of being blamed for not working (by yourself or others), although you are of course thinking which is a vitally important part of writing.

If you do decide to get up, you can still wear the pyjamas. There's something so comforting and self-indulgent about still being in pyjamas that you can get lots of writing done. You can also keep having more breakfasts, living the whole day on coffee, toast, croissants, left-over tiramisu - whatever you like to have for breakfast - as it's the best meal to eat in pyjamas.

You might want to invest in a dressing gown, too. It can get very cold sitting writing for long periods. In the winter, I even write in a sleeping bag. It saves turning the heating on when I'm the only person in the house. The only drawback is that to move across the room you have to jump like some kind of up-ended slug and it's dangerous (especially if, like me, you have a polished wooden floor). Fingerless gloves, Bob-Cratchit style are indispensible in the winter, too, and even a scarf and hat.

Much of the time I work in any old mish-mash of clothes. Today it's some grey trousers (£5 in a sale) with a massive hole in (the sale was a while ago) and a pink jumper given to me by a friend who bought it a size too small (£0) and some flip-flops from Primark (£1.50). But occasionally even the most reclusive writers are prised out of their hovels to meet Other People. Sooner or later you will have to go to a meeting with your editor or your agent, and more often you will have to go to the library and the bookshop for extended periods of blobbing around doing 'research' and drinking coffee and thinking. You might go to book fairs (London, Bologna; if you're keen, BEA and Frankfurt; if you're very, very keen, Moscow and Beijing as well). And many children's writers - not me - do school visits, readings, signings and other publicity events [shudder]. You can't do all of these in your pyjamas. Some of them, it's best not to do in a holey pair of trousers and a handed-down jumper either. If you're successful enough, you might manage to project the image of someone so aloof from everyday concerns that clothes are of no importance to you, but for most of us it just looks as if we're poor and lazy. Which may well be true, but it's not a good impression to give those who might be thinking of commissioning you.

So what to choose? I have a few things which look sufficiently quirky (OK, downright odd) that they scream 'I am a writer - I don't have to conform to your ideas of sensible clothes. My favourite 'I'm a writer' outfit is a mauve/orange changeable silk skirt with artistically ragged edges, expensive blue leather flip-flops and a red jumper that is a collection of holes tied together (it's supposed to look like that). Except the flip-flops, they're from Jigsaw, which is a sufficiently not-totally-cheap shop to suggest that I'm reasonably successful but not so rich I don't need to sell any more books. More importantly, it's a colourful and comfortable outfit that is memorable but not remotely smart and business-like. It's distinctive; I can say 'meet me in the British Library café ? I'll be wearing a red jumper full of holes' and un-met editors can find me.

Now the nosy bit. What do you wear to write? And what's your favourite 'I'm a writer' outfit? Please tell me - use the comments. I really want to know. My skirt now has extra holes in it and I need inspiration.

Coming soon (when it's sunny enough to take photos)? Work where? Writing spaces


  1. As I write curled up on the sofa, I love to wear comfy jeans and a really baggy sweatshirt along with the most enormous woolly, fluffy socks I can find.

  2. Totally bloody brilliant! I now feel totally justified in wearing pyjamas all day and every day that I'm writing! And if not pjs it will be loose gym pants (frayed at the hems), a floppy t-shirt and a baggy cardie - and slippers if it's cold.
    I've yet to try writing in bed - mostly for fear that I will just nod off... So usually it's a case of being tucked away in my study with the heater on if it's winter and surrounded by steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Can you tell that it's winter now...

  3. usually wear my pjs or whatever I've worn to bed until about eleven-ish, then whatever other slobby clothes I can find - sweatpants, t shirt, socks.
    def can't write in bed though, can't really write anywhere but at desk, in office - 's'work, innit?
    Stella x

  4. I'm with pinkgecko, you can't really write without fluffy socks on. I wear my lucky purple ones when editing tricky bits.

  5. When I take my 'day job' mobile phone out of my corduroy jacket it magically transforms from a 'middle-aged teacher jacket' into a 'middle-aged author jacket.' Other than that it's the jumper full of holes for me when I'm writing. One of those polar buff things is quite good and you don't feel like you're wearing a scarf indoors...

  6. Is there a theme going on here with writers having cold houses?

  7. My clothes of choice would beloose trousers, either jeans or joggers and a tee shirt. My position of choice would be with my feet propped on the end of the sofa with the laptop on my knee or if it's a day when I'm using a pen and paper I like to be curled up in the corner of the sofa.

  8. This post has missed the most important point of all!

    While slopping about in comfy, baggy layers, do not forget what is going on underneath. Your body will be seizing the opportunity to spread and relax, so when you prepare for a rare public appearance NONE OF YOUR SMART CLOTHES WILL FIT!

    So, at least once a week, take everything off and stare at yourself full-length in a harsh light. You may need a tape measure and a calculator. The ideal waist/hip ratio is 70%.

  9. I like to wear anything that allows me to happily and comfortably sit "cross-cross applesauce." Soft PJs will do. And my lovely new robe that I got for Christmas if it's cold.

  10. If I did what Lexi suggested, I should possibly never want to get out from under the duvet ever again, and should therefore be unable to write. Gah! Who wants to look at themselves NAKED for heaven's sake? Once a week? More like once a century as far as I'm concerned. Dear me, where was I....

    Ah yes, authorial clothes. For writing, too large p-j's in some soft snuggly material, cashmere socks (a long ago Christmas present), dressing gown (thin or thick depending on time of year), and a dog on the feet for extra warmth. For authorial expotitions (ie signings, school visits etc), something eyecatching (fuschia pink long cardigan, large silver turtle necklace). Well, you do want to be noticed, and you can't hide as the main attraction. For publishers and agents, smart but never extravagant. Successful but frugal and hard-working (and definitely not a woman who eats breakfast croissants in her nightwear, not to mention luncheon soup and curry for dinner). All reading research must be done in bed with a hot water bottle (or aforementioned dog) to save on heating bills.

  11. Thank you, Lucy - I was too stunned by Lexi's suggestion to respond. Lexi must look fantastic if she does this - we want to see a photo! I am not measuring my waist/hip ratio until I have had a glass of wine or two!

    I love your fuchsia look - but I leave it to balloon dog as it doesn't suit me, I don't have the colouring for it.

    Pinkgecko - *of course* we have cold houses! we don't earn very much. And even when we do, it seems extravagant to heat the house when no -ne else is in. I like Barb's idea of lucky socks. and I forgot to mention the necessity of fantastic underwear for doing anything public. But maybe that can get a post of its own later...

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  13. I like to wear an oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up with casual pants and oxford shoes. I also sometimes wear my University of Pittsburgh sweatshirt I bought sometimes when I'm cold. Or maybe an oxford shirt with jeans and dress shoes with my brown cross leather necklace. If I decide to wear a hat it is usually a visor. Iive in Miami so it is not cold often. That is MY writing attire.

  14. I like to wear an oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up with casual pants and oxford shoes. I also sometimes wear my University of Pittsburgh sweatshirt I bought sometimes when I'm cold. Or maybe an oxford shirt with jeans and dress shoes with my brown cross leather necklace. If I decide to wear a hat it is usually a visor. Iive in Miami so it is not cold often. That is MY writing attire.