We’ve talked about branding and how important it is to present yourself professionally online through your website, blog, Tweets, and Facebook page. But what about in person? How do you present yourself to the world? Are you the kookie artist with the wild hair and the scrappy jeans? The clean-cut professional who wears twin sets and flats? Or the hipster with the retro T-shirts and the Italian boots?
As some of you know from reading this excerpt from my work in progress, I was a fashion model from 1988 to 1997 (full-time for the first six years in Europe and Japan and then part-time for the last three while I was in college in LA), so clothes were a HUGE part of my life. I modeled for designers like Armani, Jil Sander, Hermès, Missoni, Kenzo, Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, Martin Margiela, and Dries Van Noten. I did their big press shows in Paris, Milan, and Tokyo. I did their show room and their fittings, and I wore their clothes in magazines. But my relationship with clothing was—and still is—complicated.
I’m one of those people who loves and appreciates nice clothes but finds people who spend a lot of time and money on them shallow. When I was a kid, I had no sense of fashion and no interest in it. I began modeling for the money, not because I liked clothes. But I had to get interested, fast, because clothes were the product I was selling, and I wasn’t going to sell them well if I didn’t like them. I grew to appreciate the difference between cheap knockoffs from Gap and the real thing from Hermès or Missoni. The fabrics were softer, the cuts better, the designs more elegant and refined. And because I worked as a fit model as well as a press model, everything fit me—perfectly. I learned to love designer clothes and ask other models, “Who is that?” (not “Where did you get that?”) when pointing to an article of clothing.
I bought $400 Anne Demeulemeester shoes (this was 1990, before people were spending $800 on Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos), a $1000 Jil Sander jacket (directly from Jil at the wholesale price), and $150 Agnès B. shirts by the bagful. I spent $500 a month on clothes, and that was a lot less than many models. One woman I met said she spent $10,000 on clothes—every MONTH. I was most envious, however, of my friend who booked Vogue covers and wore thrift store clothing, managing to look stylish without spending much money at all.
Flash forward twenty years, and I am now 40 years old and living in Berkeley, CA, one of the least fashionable cities in the United States. The great thing about Berkeley is that I could go to the supermarket in my pajamas and no one would care, while in Paris I wouldn’t be caught dead stepping foot outdoors in tennis shoes or jeans (all that has changed since the 90s. When I visited Paris in 2005, the fashionable women were wearing Citizen jeans and Nike or Converse tennis shoes.) The drawback of living in Berkeley, of course, is that I sometimes DO spend all day in my pajamas, switching from my fuzzy socks to my Ugg slippers to take the trash out or get the mail. The only time I don’t wear tennis shoes is when I wear a dress, in which case I wear the one and only pair of flats I own—black and fraying at the edges.
So what happened? How did someone who used to spend thousands of dollars on designer clothes end up wearing $10 sweaters from Target? For one, I make far less money than I did in my 20s. I’m a part-time mom spending my nanny days writing for less money than I pay my nanny, which means my budget for clothing is exactly: $0. I’m also in a profession that doesn’t care how I dress. An agent isn’t going to care about the shoes I’m wearing as much as how well I can describe shoes, in a scene, in a chapter, in my book. And the only designer jacket that’s going to matter to my readers is the jacket on my book.
But wait, doesn’t image matter at ALL in publishing? What about personal branding? How you present yourself online matters, doesn’t it? Of course it does. And if you post photos of yourself online, you’d better be looking literary in front of a brick building and not doing beer bongs while getting lap dances from strippers. What you’re wearing doesn’t matter as much as how personable and professional you look. An agent or editor is going to look at those pictures and ask themselves, “Will this person present him/herself well at readings, on book tours, and on author panels at writers’ conferences?” Because although much book promotion is now online, authors do still make public appearances, and do still conduct interviews—whether in person, on television, or on someone’s video blog.
Should you have professional pictures taken of yourself for your website? Unless your mom or best friend is skilled with a camera, I say yes, you should. Just as you should have your website professionally designed, and your book professionally edited. Why? Because there’s a heckuvalotta competition out there, but there’s also a heckuvalotta poorly designed blogs and a heckuvalotta poorly written books. Professionalism will make you stand out above the rest.
What do you think? How do you present yourself to the world? Is your online persona different from your real life persona?