Conference Season: Attire

on June 24, 2014

I have two conferences coming up — Thrillerfest in NYC and RWA in San Antonio. I have a lot to say about these conferences, and you’ll hear most of it over the next couple of weeks, but today I want to talk about CLOTHES.

I’m a writer. When I get up in the morning, I walk on the treadmill, take my shower, and dress in clean pajamas or maybe — if I might be going out later — sweats and a T-shirt. I spoke to a writers group in Elk Grove last week and lamented that I had to find pants to wear because they probably didn’t want my showing up in my Mickey Mouse PJs. But even so, I didn’t get overly dressed up because really, no one cares what I look like as long as my hair is brushed, I’m clothed, and I don’t have spinach in my teeth.

RWA is a whole other story. I was stunned by how everyone dressed up. Not just business attire, but NICE business clothes. And formal dresses. And the Ritas! OMG, I was floored by the ball gowns and the jewels and the crowns and the heels.

I’m just not a dress-up kind of girl.

But I played the game for a couple of conferences. Bought cocktail dresses and heels (though never pantyhose — sorry, had to draw the line SOMEWHERE.) I own Spanx. I went out and bought make-up over and beyond mascara and a single palette of eye color. I thought, this must be fun, right? If so many people do it, it has got to be thrilling.

Uh, no.

I realized that at mystery and thriller conferences that while there are some guys in suits (and some in tuxedos, usually answering to the name of Brad Parks) and some women in business-ish attire or dresses, most of the writers (and readers) were in comfy clothes. Jeans. Polo shirts. Blazer over a T-shirt. Maybe a sweater set for the daring. And for the dinner? Even the elaborate Thrillerfest banquet? Half the attendees were in jeans.

Yes! My kind of people.

Was this because half the attendees are men? Hmm.

Okay, I won’t wear jeans to a banquet, but after about 2010 I decided that dressing up was not worth it. I bring jeans, capris, a nice pair of black slacks, a few shirts and blouses, and one cocktail dress. All in one suitcase. Sneakers, sandals, and one pair of heels (I’m liking the wedge heels these days, and have a great pair I bought last year that’ll last me for awhile.) I have the Urban Decay Naked palette for eye color (neutrals) and one small Urban Decay colorful palette, mascara, moisturizer, and that’s about it.

Sorry, but I’m a writer, and I’m comfortable in my own skin. When am I not comfortable? When I’m playing dress-up. And I’m OK with that.

But then … Victoria Alexander called me. She asked me to present one of the RITA awards. I said, “Why me? I’ve been nominated five times but never won.” I think she might have said, “Because I know you won’t say no” or “sucker” I’m not quite sure, but since I love Victoria, I said yes. Then hit myself every day for the last two months.

Why? Because presenting at the RITAs means wearing a DRESS. I think I would be banished for life if I walked out in jeans and sneakers (though I could live in them!)

This is when I wish I were 50 pounds lighter. Honestly, I’m chunky. And that’s being kind. I stopped going to my trainer, so I’m also flabby. I’d like to blame it on having five kids, but then I look at Brenda Novak and realize I can’t use five kids as an excuse for being thick in the middle. Trying on clothes is never fun because I want to see me when I was an 18 year old soccer player … but I’m not there anymore. Sigh.

Yesterday, I went shopping with my mom. I didn’t want to try on dresses, but I did. Everything looked like crap. Except one. It didn’t suck. It didn’t make me look older or fatter than I was. It was simple, elegant, black. No frills, no prom dress, but almost like casual formal, if there was such a thing. Sure, I spent over $100, but not much, and it made me happy to not look like a frumpy cow or like a cougar trying to reclaim my high school prom night. And best? I can wear it to both RWA and Thrillerfest! (I would normally not wear a long dress to Thrillerfest, but this is casual enough I can get away with it, and since I’m both presenting an award there and up for an award, I might as well be slightly more presentable than normal …)

Truth be told, I’ll be dressing down for both Thrillerfest and RWA. No one cares what I’m wearing, as long as it’s clean and doesn’t smell like unwashed college student. But more important, I’ll be comfortable, and if I’m comfortable, I’ll be relaxed and have fun and get far more out of each conference.

Writers write. If people want to see us in our element, trust me, it won’t be pretty. There are days I don’t hop on the treadmill until dinnertime … which means my shower is at night.

What say you? Dress up? Dress down? Don’t care?