Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Writer's Dress Code?

I'd like to welcome Carolyn J. Rose to my blog today. After 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, she teaches novel-writing in Vancouver, Washington, and founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking.

Over the course of my life, I’ve had to adhere to a number of dress codes in order to succeed—or at least stay far enough under the rule-makers’ radar to reduce the hassle factor and/or hang onto a job. I despised most of those codes. In my opinion, they didn’t make good sense.

The first code was imposed by my grandmother who loved to sew and made almost all of my clothing. The code was simple: pink is for girls and blue is for boys. Part two was: you’ll grow into it. Suffice it to say that once I got a job and could buy my own clothing, I never again wore a pink tent dress.

The second code was the one enforced at my high school in the mid 60s. The word Draconian leaps to mind. Girls weren’t allowed to wear slacks. So, on icy Catskill winter mornings, I walked the quarter mile to the school bus wearing two pairs of tights, knee socks, boots, and long woolen skirts (in shades of pink and red my freshman year). Books clutched against my puffy ski jacket, I repeated through chapped lips, “Get good grades and get out of here.”



After a seven-year respite from dress codes during my college and VISTA Volunteer days, I worked at a TV station in Little Rock where heels and pantyhose were part of an unwritten code. They were “just what everyone wore.” To get along, I went along. My arches are still paying the price.

In the 90s, I worked in a building where the dress code was generated by safety concerns—open-toed shoes or sneakers were not allowed. Finally, a dress code that made sense.

Today I work as a substitute teacher. I’ve never checked to see if there’s an official code for me because, so far, “neat, clean, and covered up” seems to be working.

It’s in my nature to rebel against rules, especially pointless rules, but last week as I shuffled to my office in my early morning writing attire, I wondered if perhaps a few—let’s call them guidelines—would boost my self-image and consequently increase my productivity. Torn T-shirt, frayed pajama bottoms, hand-me-down bathrobe, down-at-the-heels slippers. Comfortable? You bet. Professional? Nope.

I considered the outfits I don later in the day when I’m not due at school: stretched out T-shirts or sweaters, baggy jeans or shorts, droopy socks, beat-up running shoes, worn sandals. Again, not choice #1 for a job interview.

I seized the opportunity presented by a simile about writing that wouldn’t develop and dashed to my closet in search of more professional attire. After sliding hangers back and forth along the bar, I discovered I still owned one jacket; it’s a deep blue and, from the puffiness at the shoulders and bits of snipped thread in the lining, I knew it once had shoulder pads. Where they are now is a mystery, but I have broad shoulders from swimming, so I thought it wouldn’t look too bad. Besides, I wasn’t going farther than my office.

Forging on, I found I own exactly no skirts and only one dress, a sleeveless print from Hawaii that screams “party time” not “take me seriously.” So, slacks it was. I discovered one pair of all-purpose black ones that were just a little tight in the waist, and a black blouse that wasn’t too wrinkled. From the rear of the shoe rack I unearthed a pair of dusty black two-inch heels that, like the slacks, were just a little snug.

I decided a true professional would pull on a pair of stockings, but found that mine apparently left the building with my skirts. A search revealed only two knee-highs, one nude and one gray. The gray one had a hole in the toe the size of a stuffed olive, but I folded the toe under. What the heck, this was just an experiment. Right? I pulled them on and started hunting for accessories.

Nothing too extreme, I decided. That ruled out the earrings that look like Ritz Crackers, the mini bananas, and the ones that say “in” and “out.” Didn’t I once have a pair of silver hoops? I discovered only one. Well, maybe if I combed my hair over the naked ear I could get by.

Shoot! The hair. I got out the curling iron to do a little styling and, while gazing in the mirror, realized that I’d definitely need makeup—a lot of makeup.

An hour later, I settled back in my office chair to wrestle again with that pesky simile and found myself wrestling instead with the outfit. My toe slipped through the hole in that knee-high, my blouse slid out of my slacks, and the waistband that was just a little tight while I was standing compressed my internal organs and impeded my digestion when I sat.

The simile continued to evade me and I felt my legs throbbing as the elastic in the knee-highs cut off circulation. In an effort to take my mind off that, I leaned over to get my coffee and my earring snagged on the puffed up shoulder of my jacket. As I tried to work it loose, my elbow came down on the keyboard, printing a long line of Vs.

In an outdoor voice, I used a four-letter word. Thinking it was a command, the dogs raced to my side and . . . sat.

Wondering if dogs just don’t hear the letter “h,” I worked the earring loose and tried to get back to work on that blasted simile. But the dogs, who were still sitting, whined because I haven’t provided a reward. I abandoned the simile yet again and plodded to the kitchen where my slick-soled heels slid on the linoleum and catapulted me against the counter.

Limping to the bedroom, I changed back to my usual attire and decided that in the future comfort comes first. The minute I was back in my baggy jeans I came up with that simile: A writer needs a dress code like a rainbow needs government regulation.

If you have a simile that applies to how you dress for writing success, Terry and I would love to read it. One commenter will get a copy of The Big Grabowski. Winner announced this weekend.

Carolyn is the author (or co-author) of nine novels including Hemlock Lake, Sometimes a Great Commotion, and The Big Grabowski. To read first chapters or find out more about her, visit her website: www.deadlyduomysteries.com

31 comments:

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Thanks for inviting me over to your blog, Terry. I'm looking forward to seeing you at Left Coast Crime next month. And I hope you have a happy birthday when the date arrives later this week.
CJR
P.S. I'm still in my bathrobe.

Terry Odell said...

Carolyn, I'm happy to have you. And I'm not dressed yet, either.

Allene said...

Loved this blog! I am reading it while still wearing my very colorful caftan - a favorite for working at the computer.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Oooh. I love bright colors. My bathrobe is a maroon towel-like thing, but my office walls are splattered with colorful artworks.

Elizabeth Lyon said...

I certainly wouldn't want a Skype call right now, or, for that matter almost any time I'm "working." Now: Big Green, the 20-something-year-old bathrobe that is the only one I've ever found that is long enough and big enough around for my big beauty self. Underneath, the long-sleeved thing green T, with a black image of a typewriter on it--found it at Goodwill and slept in it last night. Then, my everyday work pants in winter: blue, green, and black plaid wool pants that my son found while dumpster diving. Completing my color-coordinated writer's finery are big puffy LL Bean-style down booties, hand-me-downs from my daughter. My trouble is that I can't color coordinate anything when I go out . . . did I just come out? Thanks, Carolyn.

Sharon Ervin said...

Like you, I wore woolen "leggings" under dresses and skirts winters through elementary school. In junior high the discomfort of freezing was necessary for looking good. In college, we were still required to wear skirts and dresses on campus. My first jobs we wore heels, even on unforgiving cement floors. Men wore ties and stiffly ironed shirts. We looked good. In 1969, married and the mother of two, when I donned denims to travel to a college football game, my mother-in-law (and best friend) insisted denim was on "its way out," and I was out of step. She was rarely wrong about fashion, but she was way off on that one. I'm in warm-ups this morning. Brilliance on the keyboard requires comfort. My husband is easy. Today good sense prevails. Designers agree. Size 16 today is far roomier than they once were. That's not a complaint.
Sharon Ervin - Author of CANDLESTICKS

Carolyn J. Rose said...

I feel like we're in the Comfort-First-Style-Second Club. Or maybe that should be Style-Seventh. It's a lot farther down my list than second, that's for sure.

Jan Kozlowski said...

I'm a little younger, but growing up girls weren't allowed to wear slacks until I was in 5th grade and jeans weren't allowed at the high school until after I graduated. Over the years almost every job I worked came with a uniform of some kind, various horrible waitress uniforms, nurse's whites, scrubs and worst of all, our EMS uniforms that were exact copies of the Hartford CT Police department.

After all those decades of being forced to wear nauseating, ridiculous, scratchy, binding clothes chosen by others I refuse to apologize for or feel badly about dressing for comfort and my own pleasure. And FYI...given the choice between wearing pantyhose again or death...I am 50 years old and have lived a full life.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

I'm with you on that full life thing. But pantyhose can come in handy if the fan belt breaks on your car. Or so I've heard. Never had to put it to the test.

Terry Odell said...

LOL to Jan. I did a stint as a part time convention assistant for the Orlando CVB, and I wouldn't even hang my dorky uniforms in my bedroom closet--they were relegated to the guest room so they wouldn't contaminate what I liked to wear in "real life." (Which, living in Florida at the time, wasn't a whole lot!)

The World of the Blue Bells Trilogy said...

I certainly do find the casual dress code a great benefit of the writing life!

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I'm afraid I always get dressed first thing in the a.m. Too many people wander in and out of my house and office. No, I'm not dressed up, just wear comfortable pants, and while it's cold sweaters, socks and comfortable shoes.

Marilyn

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I'm pretty grubby when I write--because half the time I'll jump up to do housework in the middle of an idea!

Mike Nettleton said...

I did a double, no make that a triple take when I saw Carolyn, my usually casually attired (read formally grubby) wife at work on her computer in a jacket. One of the things I loved about doing morning radio was that I could dress as far down as I wanted to and get away with it. First of all, you can tell the listeners you're wearing a tux. How are they going to know you aren't? Second, the real "suits" don't show up in the office till the and of your shift, so you can usually make your escape before earning a scowl from the general manager.

Cleo Coyle said...

Hi, Carolyn – I really enjoyed your post. I don’t have a simile for you, but I do have a metaphor: When I sit down to write every day, not matter what I’m wearing, I try very hard to be naked. :)

Read with joy,
~ Cleo

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Grubby can be a good thing. In the summer, when I'm not subbing, I get right to work, write for a few hours, then go to water aerobics and shower at the gym. Anyone who comes to the door early in the day gets to see bed hair as well as my bathrobe.

Anonymous said...

Cleo Coyle can wear whatever she wants-I'm waiting for her next book coming out in April. As for me,I get 'dressed' in the morning as Marilyn does to get it over with-LOL. Comfort musts for HOT-flip-flops; for COLD boots & socks only for inside.
Interesting blog, Terry :-)
Jackie Griffey

jenny milchman said...

Dressed for success? I know how I dress when I want to feel like I look good--suffice it to say, it involves a lot of work! I'm with you, Carolyn--pointless dress codes feel stifling. Then again, I do think my kids benefit from seeing me out of pajamas every once in a while, if only so their own clothes can show seriousness and respect for whatever they're doing.

Julie D said...

The beauty of working at home is that the shower and the lovely clothes can wait--for me, until about a half hour before I pick up the kids from school. I wore office attire for more years than I care to count, and now comfort is key. I must say, though, that if I MUST dress first thing in the morning, say for a class or a lunch, I do feel better, somehow more mature when I sit at my computer for the second half of my day.

Great post, Carolyn. I hope we can meet, finally, at LCC.

Julie
www.testarossabook.com

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Hmmm - more mature. I think it would take more than clothing to do that for me. LOL
I'm really looking forward both to being back in NM and to seeing writers in person at LCC.

Jackie King said...

I thought it was required for a writer to look like a bag of laundry. That's my dress code, anyway.

Melanie Sherman said...

I have to get dressed up to write. Usually because I'm at Starbucks when I write and they frown on people coming in wearing a nightgown and fuzzy socks. (okay, by dressed up, I mean I wouldn't be thrown out of Walmart)

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Jackie - love the bag of laundry simile.

And Melanie, I think I found one of your fuzzy socks in the refrigerator the last time you were over for dinner.

Monica Manning said...

I laughed through the entire read, Carolyn, mostly because I can relate. I attended a Catholic high school (kilt and all), then worked in funeral service for twelve years (quintessential sombre suit). Now I work in a law firm with a business-casual dress code. I can't bring myself to wear a dress or pantyhose. It's pants and simple shirts for me. When guilt creeps in, and I'm reminded of the saying "dress for the job you want, not the one you have", I will now say: I do. I want to be a full-time writer. After decades of uniforms, comfortable pants and a nice T is slumming for me.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Right on, Monica. We are what we write, not what we wear.

Suedenym said...

Personally I think Ritz Cracker earrings go with EVERYTHING! :) Susan Skipwith

Maryann Miller said...

This was such a fun post and I've loved all the comments. I'm kind of liking the idea of Ritz Cracker earrings.

One of my other writer friends once said she wondered what the UPS guy thought when he made a delivery late in the afternoon and she answered the door still wearing her robe. To her feeble explanation about going right to work and forgetting to get dressed he probably thought, sure, lady. Sure.

shirley said...

Not a writer but since I retired, my attire would fit right in with the code.

SlingWords aka Joan Reeves said...

This writer's uniform? Pajamas if the day is cold and gray (Unintentional rhyme.) until I'm finally awake enough to hit the shower. Otherwise, sweats for cold weather and tees and shorts for warm weather.

Actually, since Skype came on the scene, I'm always turning down freelance jobs where the client wants a "face to face" via Skype.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

So many great comments.

Maybe we should all send in pictures and Terry should hold a not-in-fashion-and-we-don't-care show on her blog.

Terry Odell said...

LOL! That would make a great Friday Field Trip.