I’m So Vain, I Probably Think This Is About Me

Tomorrow evening I will be presenting something in front of a roomful of people, most of whom I’ve never met before. ‘So what?’ I hear you say.  ‘That has been your job (in various incarnations) for a while now.’ True enough: I’ve been a teacher, a lecturer, trainer/facilitator and what is laughingly known as a ‘headliner’. I’ve even been an enthusiastic participant in amateur dramatics – as if you can’t tell!

So what is different this time?

Well, this time I won’t be reading somebody else’s words. I won’t be presenting general knowledge or sticking to the tried-and-tested pedagogical methods. This time I will be reading my own contribution to Offshoots 12 , the annual publication of Geneva Writers’ Group. It’s like cutting off small strips of your flesh and presenting them to the audience. I just hope none of them are cannibals.

So, of course, the question now is: what should I wear? In my corporate world, I have a ‘uniform’ – reasonably smart, modestly flattering, yet flexible enough for the temperature variations of training rooms and the mad dashes down airport corridors.

The look I am aiming for: the effortless elegance of Simone de Beauvoir, one of my heroines
The look I am aiming for: the effortless elegance of Simone de Beauvoir, one of my heroines

For poetry, however, something more free-flowing, more creative is required. Shall I go for the romantic look we tend to associate with poets (rightly or wrongly)? I cannot bear trailing scarves or opinion-piece jewellery. It’s not quite warm enough anymore for a strappy summer dress.  The other major staple of my wardrobe (jeans and white shirts) is an over-done look for hip, happening SLAM poets and spoken word ambassadors. Besides, I’m neither hip nor happening (as you can tell from the fact that I am using these words, which are probably a couple of decades out of date).

So what do poets and writers more generally wear to readings? Any suggestions?  Wikihow tells me (seriously, perhaps?) to either dress in existentialist black if I want to seem thoughtful, or in dramatic high boots if I want to be showy. Checking out videos of poetry readings, I notice that many have taken this advice to heart.  Meantime, I’ve found some wise words here, but no matching, colourful clothes in my wardrobe.

Scruffy mad poet look it is, then!

17 thoughts on “I’m So Vain, I Probably Think This Is About Me”

  1. Marina Sofia – I know exactly what you mean! It really is an important question what one wears for these things. For what it’s worth, I’ve learned two important things about choosing ‘presentation clothes’ for readings and other public things. One is: wear something that makes you comfortable both physically and emotionally (i.e. makes you feel good about the way you look). Clothes that are too tight/too itchy/too low-cut/too ‘not me!’/too…whatever are distracting. And therefore you distract the audience. The other thing I’ve learned is this: your clothes are not the reason people are listening to you. It’s your words. So obsessing about it is counterproductive past a certain point.
    That said, here’s my usual choice. When I’m doing readings, I either wear dress jeans with a dressy top, or khaki-type pants, again with a nice top. When I’m presenting at an academic conference, it’s usually dress pants and a nice top. But that’s just what works for me, for what it’s worth.

    1. Comfort is key – I certainly use that a lot in my training. But, given that I’ll only have 5 minutes or so of fame, I was contemplating some stunning high heels. I have a shoe fetish and I like towering over people physically if not mentally.

  2. Good luck Marina, I think you’re so brave. How about jeans and a white shirt with one of those trendy blazers with turned up sleeves? It says smart but casual/ made an effort but doesn’t need to try too hard … Or at least I hope it does because that’s what I wore to my launch party last night 😉 Whatever you wear just try to dress like you and you’ll be fab xxx

  3. I love so much about this post, I don’t know where to start. 😉 I love that your first thought, after the cannibalism – ha! is what will I wear? I do that, too. I am intrigued by your de Beauvoir look idea – I think you might blow everyone away with that. I don’t know your age, but dressing “older” is always classier than “younger”. And finally, there is never anything wrong with looking better than everyone else in the room.

    1. Thank you for your lovely words – yes, I have to admit I do worry about appearance even when I shouldn’t. Looking better than everyone else in the room might be setting a bit of a high bar, though: this is Geneva we’re talking about here. My whole house furnishings probably cost less than one of the watches these gentlemen and ladies wear on their wrist.

  4. Just be yourself and feel good about it! And think about being in love, then you will exude a warmth and vibe that everyone will want a little bit of, much more valuable than any dress, or glamorous outfit and a wonderful mental space to escape to, if you feel nervous! 🙂 Bonne Courage! Maybe a little glass of wine too.

  5. Presenting your own work is exciting but nerve-wracking. Good luck! I would say wear whatever makes you comfortable. I would go with dark colors since they hide spills and stuff really well, also nervous sweating :/ But other than that, I say be comfortable.

    Good luck!

  6. I would offer the advice to just be you, then I’d go and stress over exactly the same thing.

    I like Joanne’s idea of jeans and a white shirt and bearing in mind your love of heels, I think some stunning heels with jeans would strike a great middle ground.

    As for nervous sweat – talcum powder – ALL over!

    Have a really great evening whatever you decide and I look forward to catching up.

  7. First of all, congratulations! When it comes to outfits, I think business casual might be the best way to go. To me, you’ll want to appear professional, but also approachable, so maybe a looser shirt and dress pants would be the best route?

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