We don’t usually think of writers as fashionable people. Indeed, the word “writer” calls to mind a slob in slippers and ratty bathrobe. Just as his desk is a disaster area of dirty dishes and day old coffee mugs, papers scribbled with half-formed ideas strewn everywhere, his appearance is disheveled: he hasn’t combed his hair in weeks, hasn’t showered. His beard is so straggly he looks like Tom Hanks in Castaway; the only thing missing is Wilson the volleyball. In some ways, the writer—too— is far from civilization, lost on the forsaken island of his novel. He’s too preoccupied with his fictional world to care much about the real one.
In some ways, it makes sense for the writer to be unkempt. After all, why bother to get dressed in a sophisticated three piece tweed suit when you rarely leave the house? The writer’s life is inscribed in the small circle of his desk. The furthest he travels is the distance from his desk to the driveway to fetch the mail. Some might say the beauty of being a writer is you no longer have to care about shallow, surface-level things like your reflection in the mirror.
But though clothes may seem superficial, how we dress immeasurably influences how we feel. Think about your state of mind when you dress up. When you doll yourself up in a chic dress and red lipstick, you carry yourself with more confidence, more conviction. In a pair of powerful heels, the world is your runway; suddenly you can write that lead for your essay, apply for that prestigious writer’s retreat, give that presentation, close that million dollar deal. Dressing in clothes you love makes you feel invincible. On the other hand, when you just toss on the first thing you see in your closet, you feel incapable.
But why, oh why, you might wonder, do you need to bother getting dressed when you work from home? Who cares if you surrender to the sloppy shapelessness of sweatpants and let your leg hair grow?
The answer is simple: the muse.
The muse is a temperamental lover who needs be seduced. She isn’t a two-dollar tramp who’ll just come to back to your hotel if you offer her cheap wine coolers— she’s a coy mistress who needs to be romanced and wooed. Just as we seduce our real life lovers with stockings, silk negligees and perfume, we need to court our muse by putting on makeup every morning and dressing ourselves in our most stylish ensemble. The muse— much like our significant others— isn’t turned on by unwashed hair and frumpy pajamas.
“Dress for the job you want” is a saying we all know. It stands to reason that if you want to be doctor you should dress in a white coat and stethoscope, if you want to be a teacher, you should don prim cardigans and scholarly pencil skirts. It wouldn’t make much sense for a bank teller to wear a ball gown or a plumber to wear a formal suit.
So if you want to write, the idea goes, you should dress like a writer. What does being a writer mean to you? Does your conception of writers include artsy beatniks chain-smoking in a corner cafe? Then clothe yourself in a cool turtleneck and black beret. Do you imagine writers are more scholarly? Pair some studious loafers with your most bookish brown tweed. Writing a 19th century love story? Get into character. Work in a tight corset and frilly lace skirt, write your novel with a quill and ink. Composing a period piece set in the 1960s? Grow your hair long, put on some groovy bell bottoms, break out your tie dye and paisley and acid trip into your psychedelic story. As Grant Faulkner writes in Pep Talks for Writers, “dress like the author you want to be.”