So the DH and I are wandering through this impossibly upscale boutique in Santa Fe, and he picks up an item of clothing that can be described as a long-sleeved bustier in rose pink velvet, satin, and lace. “No,” I say, shaking my head (I mean, it cost several hundred dollars). “Don’t you want to look like a romance author?” asks the hubs, innocently.
Now I found that comment fascinating; in fact, it haunted my thoughts for several days thereafter. It was particularly interesting because that boutique specialized in clothes I think of as sort of “Round-up Time At the Bordello.” Is that what I’m supposed to look like? What does a romance writer look like these days anyway?
Over the twenty-plus years of my teaching career, I developed a sort of teacher’s uniform: pants, blouse, jacket of some kind (sometimes just an overblouse), necklace, earrings. A lot of my colleagues wore outfits that were basically similar. You could see by our outfits that we were the faculty (sing that to “Streets of Laredo”). But one of the features of those outfits was their anonymity. We all looked basically the same and we all sort of blended into the woodwork. Somehow, I think romance writers don’t want to do that.
Looking at the author photos on romance novels doesn’t really help. The top NYT bestsellers all seem to own the same black pant suit, although they accessorize it differently (a gold necklace here, a silk scarf there). Rather than writing scenes of passion, they look like they’re ready to plead a case before the Supreme Court. Is that what romance writers should look like? A lot of readers might disagree.
I think the popular idea of how romance writers look may be based on Barbara Cartland. Now Cartland was definitely old school. She went on writing romances well into her eighties and she tended to dress like a certain type of romance heroine right up until the end—pink chiffon, pearls, picture hats, parasols, a platinum blonde wig. She also wore false eyelashes and the kind of eye makeup favored by Cleopatra and certain working girls. But she definitely stood out.
But to be frank, not many of us can carry that look off, particularly at the age of eighty. I’d just as soon not wear something that might have me skulking into corners, hoping nobody sees me when I’m dressed like this.
So what’s the right image for romance writers now? When we go to signings, should we try for professionalism? Armani suits and Manolos? Or do we dress like bronco bustin’ harlots? Probably we need some kind of middle ground, whatever that middle ground may be. Maybe the black pants suit with a rose pink bustier. Or maybe not. But I’ll tell you straight out: I’d rather not fade into the woodwork.
So tell me, y’all—what’s your mental image of a romance writer?