At the reading Wednesday night I began to think about the MFAers in the audience, particularly their style. Somewhat disheveled and freshly rolled out bed, or rolled out from behind their desks at home where they no doubt take coffee intravenously, and shoved suddenly into the public with little time to prepare themselves. They wear stuff that shows that they don’t care, that the words are the most important thing and who cares what you look like. They wear their least-stained undershirt and some hoody and come to class.
How do writers dress? Is there a specific look that writers share? I think in this setting, those that are there to learn, they dress like that because their learning and their writing is all that they have time to think about. They’re saying, Yes, I’m not doing anything else but writing and learning about writing, and I don’t care if I’m wearing a cardigan and the same More Cowbell t-shirt every other day. Sure it is important to be comfortable but also it’s also important to be presentable. If you are going to be introducing a well-respected writer who is wearing jeans, nice shoes, a button down and a blazer, you should compliment that person with not just your words (let’s be clear: that is the most important part), but the person themselves by dressing like you respect what they do and dressing decently shows that you take this honor seriously. Wearing a long sleeved undershirt, jeans, and a pair of slip on Cole Haans does not show this.
What I’m really saying is not some bourgeois take on dress code but respect. Respect for yourself and respect for those you are learning from and though it pains me to say this as a t-shirt and jeans guy, how you present yourself does mean something especially when you don’t do it that much. So what is it about writing students? Why this expression of dressing like they don’t go out in public and have no idea what to wear? Once upon a time someone said to me that I dress like a writer, and I raised an eyebrow. What does a writer dress like? The shallow response may be something like these students. Maybe this has something to do with dating a girl who comes from finance for a long time, but, for me, I think dressing decently means I want people to get the idea that I respect this person and this environment when I walk into the room. Wearing a t-shirt and jeans and sneakers while introducing a well-respected writer will probably get some looks like who is this schlub who can’t even button a shirt and wear non-slip-on shoes? I’m not saying it’s right, it’s just how it is, and this comes from someone who once almost got in a fight with a bouncer for not allowing me into shitty Dorrians on the Upper East Side because I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. Have you been to that place?
There is a certain level of enjoyment in dressing up when you don’t do it often enough, I think. It makes it feel special and is second only to the writing itself; caring how you look and respecting others by trying to look and write your best goes a long way in actually gaining that respect.