30. October 2016 · Comments Off on Dressing the Part · Categories: Book Event, Domestic

A few years ago, when I was part of an enterprising indy author support group – which has since run out of steam as those participants have gotten what they needed, (primarily the mutual encouragement in the face of a world somewhat more hostile then to the aspiring independent author, and to share information, talents, and contacts along with the best and most creative strategies for marketing our books) one of the stalwart members had an interesting suggestion for garnering eyeballs at a signing or other book event. He suggested wearing some exotic attire with some connection to one’s book, or books; his own had to do with 19th century China, and he had a set or two of traditional mandarin robes with all the accessories, which he wore to fantastic effect at his local events. We agreed that yes – interesting suggestion, and well worth trying out, if applicable. (Most of us were scribblers of historical fiction in one era or another.) I tried, in a half-hearted way, to do a sort of semi-archaic cowgirl look, with long skirts, ornate boots and a vest, but it really didn’t take with me or with the crowd at book events. It just looked sort of vaguely Westernish by way of bouncing off hippy-chic. It had the virtue of being comfortable … except for the boots, but just really didn’t seem to grab attention at events.

So – on to another iteration of what I have come to call my “author drag.” This inspiration came about at the local Hancock Fabric ‘going-out-of-business-fire-sale’, when I leafed in a desultory manner through the pattern catalog and came up on a pattern for the Edwardian-style walking suit. Hmm, thought I – this has definite possibilities.
My historical fiction books are firmly set in the period from 1825 to 1900, in various locales in Texas and the west. The full hoopskirt and bonnet, or bustle and trailing gown is just not on. For one, in that get-up I could barely fit into the passenger seat of the Montero – our vehicle of choice for hauling stuff to book and market events. (Tubs of books at a minimum, tables, chairs, the pavilion, table dressings and racks at a maximum. Hoopskirt and corset? Helping set up, wearing all that? No … just no.) But a slim skirt and jacket, very much like I used to wear when at the office job, once I retired from the Air Force … OK, so the skirt is ankle-length, but that and a tailored jacket is doable, even accessorized with the requisite hat of flamboyant style and stupendous circumference. Yes … the more I thought about it, the more it seemed doable; comfortable for me, and eye-catching for events. Late 19th century, early 20th, in the style of what would be the everyday dress of those ladies who worked in various capacities at paid employment, like Margaret Becker Vining Williamson with her boarding house … or even those who were often found riding to hounds – like Isobel in The Quivera Trail. Something like a riding habit, perhaps, or a walking skirt … even a plain black dress and white apron, which was Sophie Brewer Teague’s work uniform as a Harvey Girl.

So – this is me, breaking out the sewing machine and cobbling together a small wardrobe of period outfits for my “author drag” wardrobe; dresses, skirts, shirtwaists and jackets, made from fabric bought on sale and stashed away, with the hats and reticules to match: four day outfits in grey, brown, navy-blue and black, with a purple evening gown for those rare night-time events. The sewing machine has not got such a work-out in years, and my hat-making skills are proceeding apace. When you look for me at events – look for the lady in late 19th century period dress. Trust me, you can’t miss the hats.

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