Author Fashion: The Fabric of Language, or What to Wear on Book Tour (Plus: GIVEAWAY)

Photo: Alessandro Lucioni

Please welcome author Julie Gerstenblatt to WU today for a uniquely fun post on fashion and authors!

Julie holds a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from Teachers College, Columbia University.  Her essays have appeared in The Huffington Post, Kveller, Cognoscenti, and Grown & Flown, among others. When not writing, Julie is a college essay coach, as well as a producer and on-air host for A Mighty Blaze, which has grown into a leading resource for author interviews.  A native New Yorker, Julie now lives in coastal Rhode Island with her family and one very smart shichon poo.

Daughter of Nantucket, which released on March 14th, is her first novel.

Set against Nantucket’s Great Fire of 1846, this sweeping, emotional novel brings together three courageous women battling to save everything they hold dear.  In a starred review, Booklist hails it as “a beautiful historical novel… Gerstenblatt’s distinctive tale, a triumph in storytelling, celebrates the courage and tenacity of women.”

You can follow Julie on Instagram @juliegerstenblatt and sign up for her newsletter on her website.

Who are you wearing? is a question hardly ever asked of a writer. Who are you reading?  Sure. What are you working on now?  Absolutely. But inquiries from the press–and the reading public–about fashion have largely eluded the literary set, with notable exceptions made for icons like Truman Capote and Jackie Collins. And, sure, David and Amy Sedaris. Perhaps this is due to the fact that writers hardly ever leave the house.  Red carpet moments are rare for us creatives, who historically worked from home in comfy sweatpants eons before that became a necessary evil for the masses. And secondly, writers tend to make less money than professionals in pretty much any other field–with notable exceptions made for the fictional Carrie Bradshaw–thus choosing to spend their savings on items more practical than Jimmy Choos, like rent. And health insurance.

But, as reported in the 2017 New York Times article entitled “Your Literary Idols and Their Wardrobes,” Vanessa Friedman debunks that myth–at least for 50 of the world’s most notable authors. The article celebrated the release at the time of the book Legendary Authors and The Clothes They Wore by journalist Terry Newman, which features notable style icons including Zadie Smith and Fran Liebowitz, Maya Angelou and Tom Wolffe. Joan Didion graces the cover, leaning against a Stingray with a cigarette in her hand, looking effortlessly cool–if a little bit irked–in a long, casual dress and flip-flops.

But we can’t all be Didion, can we?

In the article, Friedman states that author Terry Newman’s “surprisingly convincing thesis is that the sartorial choices authors make are deeply connected to the narrative choices they make — or, as Beckett put it, “the fabric of language” they use. And that as a result, in developing their own idiosyncratic style signatures, they created trends that fashion itself seized on, was inspired by and still finds a fertile source of ideation today.” In other words, when they do step out into public, truly fashionable authors are in dialogue with their art. 

And, in that way, perhaps we can all channel our inner Didion, at least when we go out on a book tour.

I was first truly moved by an author’s fashion choice in 2016, when Emma Straub walked into an event wearing a silky turquoise muumuu with a very distinctive print: an exact replica of designer Leah Goren’s cover art illustration for MODERN LOVERS, the novel Straub was promoting. Genius!  Comfort!  Ease!  Just pull it over your head to look elegant and pulled together!  And moreover, much like a mother-and-child in matching ensembles, Straub signaled to everyone in the crowded room of 100 plus guests and several authors that a) She was one of the authors present and b) THAT book belonged to her. In an essay written this past May for Lit Hub, Straub reflects on that particular fashion choice, and all others she made for book tours before and since. Her second child was only four months old when Straub went out on the MODERN LOVERS tour with two versions of that outfit, the other being a jumpsuit, “and they were comfortable and hilarious, and it meant that I never had to think about what to wear. Thank god, because my brain was absolute mush.”  Proving that sometimes, an author’s sartorial fashion choices are made particularly for modern lovers.

I believe that Straub’s bold fashion choice ushered in the “Match Your Book Cover” trend in publishing. When author Jenna Blum’s historical novel THE LOST FAMILY came out in 2018 depicting a woman in a 1960’s style red cocktail dress on the cover, Blum quickly scoured her favorite fashion haunts for a few good reds, the more Mad Men-inspired the better.  And for Jane Green’s recent SISTER STARDUST tour, Green not only wore Moroccan-inspired caftans and snake-themed jewelry like those worn by her real-life character Talitha Getty, she designed the textiles and baubles herself.  In every image of New York Times bestselling author Lisa Barr on her 2022 tour, she stood out from the crowd in a brightly colored dress that signaled that this was indeed a WOMAN ON FIRE.  For her GILT book tour, author Jamie Brenner wore lots of kelly and emerald shades to match her bright green book jacket, accented with layers of pearls and charm jewelry by Lulu Frost, the designer who inspired one of GILT’s main characters. Vintage clothing paired with winged eyeliner, a bold lip, and oversized glasses is Brenner’s signature look, true, but it is also a deliberate way for her to champion recycled clothing and jewelry without actually uttering a word.  And Alka Joshi, New York Times bestselling author of THE HENNA ARTIST and THE SECRET KEEPER OF JAIPUR loves statement jewelry so much that she often shares pieces on her Instagram account, dedicating an entire section of story highlights to short videos about what she calls her “power rings,” chunky necklaces, and unique brooches.  

Queen of the Beach Read, New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand, selects a color story for each event and invites her readers to dress in the same shade as her, from peaches-and-cream on a Tuesday in Boston to lavender on a Wednesday in Greenwich, CT. Each event feels like a giant bridesmaid party and creates beautiful Instagram reels.

In her terrific guide to publishing, BEFORE AND AFTER THE BOOK DEAL, author Courtney Maum demystifies many parts of a publishing journey, including a chapter on book tours with a specific section called “What should I pack?”  Reflecting on her first time hitting the road, Maum writes, “I crammed a checked bag full of outfits that complemented my then-aesthetic, a diaphanous attempt at nonchalance that was three-parts resort and one part fallen socialite.”  The end result?  She was freezing cold in Chicago.  For her second tour, Maum opted for “a touring uniform.  I was only going to wear navy.”  She bought three identical “form-fitting, stain resistant” dresses.

In her memoir, I CAME ALL THIS WAY TO MEET YOU, author Jami Attenberg discusses this very dilemma as well. “I stand in my closet, whispering to myself, pack light….Pack light, even though what I am about to do is heavy, standing in front of rooms of people, presenting my wares, my brain, my book, myself….I want them to think I had a sense of style.  And that I was a good person, or at least an okay person.  Look at that nice woman up there in the cute dress.  Let’s buy a book from her.”

Jami ends up packing eight dresses, only a few of which survive the journey. Which is perhaps why author Annabel Monaghan, now busy on her paperback book tour for NORA GOES OFF SCRIPT, tells me in all seriousness, “For the SAME TIME NEXT SUMMER tour, I’m getting a subscription to Rent the Runway.”  Proving that the most sartorial choices of a contemporary writer are decidedly practical ones.  

Which begs the question, what am I, a debut author, going to wear on my upcoming book tour?  Do I have a signature look?  I’m working on it.  I love to shop, and being a debut author at 52 years old is as good an excuse as any to dress up.  Plus, in the age of social media, when even people who are not present at the event will see me in my outfits, appearance matters more than ever.  Come see in person at one of my local events, or follow me on Instagram to find out.  And please, always, always buy a book from that nice woman in the cute dress.

What is YOUR most creative idea relating to a book-themed outfit?  Post an image and/or a one-sentence description of the idea in the comments section!  The best idea, as judged by Julie, wins a copy of her book.



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