Home » RWA Conference » What Should I Wear to the RWA Conference?

What Should I Wear to the RWA Conference?

All over Romancelandia, folks are getting ready for the annual RWA National Conference. Two weeks from today I’ll be on my way to Hotlanta to attend, and for the past months I’ve been worrying about my wardrobe.

Today I’ll be attempting to answer the oft-asked question, “What should I wear to the conference?”

Simply put, you should pack two types of clothing: business or business casual for everyday (the choice of casual or not is a personal preference) and dressy for  the awards ceremony. Simple, huh?

Not really. A lot depends on your pocketbook, your personal taste and style, perhaps the stage of your writing career and what you will be doing at the conference (for example, are you speaking?). Let’s go through each of these in a bit more detail.

Your pocketbook – For some folks, dropping a couple hundred dollars on a suit is nothing. For me, it would be the precursor to bankruptcy. I’m a bargain hunter and a discount shopper. I haunt places like Ross and TJ Maxx. I’m also not above shopping at thrift stores.  I have a black and red dress that’s going to conference and it was only $8 at a thrift store. I also found a pair of genuine Crocs for $5. They’re not going to conference but they are terrific at the pool. But I digress. It’s not impossible to look good on a budget. It just requires a little diligence and patience as you rifle through the racks at an off-price store or watch the sales at your favorite mall anchor store. And it doesn’t hurt that I’m of an age when certain stores give me a 10% discount on a certain day of the week.

Your personal taste and style – Several of my chaptermates load their suitcases with stilettos. My personal taste, foot problems notwithstanding, runs to flats and lower heels. Those chaptermates also wears a lot of really cute dresses. I tend to lean more toward dress trousers with some sort of stylish top and a jacket or sweater. Those chaptermates feel good in their wardrobes, and I feel good in mine. And that’s what it’s all about, folks. Feeling good about yourself and projecting an image of self-confidence and professionalism. Some authors have a personal style that makes them stand out in a crowd. If you see a very attractive woman wearing an uber-stylish business suit and stilettos, it’s probably Hank Phillippi Ryan. Hank not only writes, she’s an investigative reporter for a Boston TV station and has won a gazillion Emmy and Edward R. Murrow awards. She’s about as put-together as they come. I can’t imagine her in what I’m wearing as I write this (elastic waist shorts, a t-shirt from a divorce attorneys’ conference and bare feet), but I’m sure she has her own brand of “writer casual” for home.

The stage of your writing career – Published writers are “on” much more than us unpubbed nobodies. Granted, I want to look good, but at this stage of the game, I don’t have an adoring public watching my every move like Nora does. I’m sure if she showed up at conference in cut-off sweat pants and a ragged t-shirt, the blogosphere would be all ablog about it. But even at the unpublished stage, I want people who DO notice me, to notice someone who’s put together. A couple years ago I actually had someone look at my nametag in the elevator and say, “YOU’RE the Playground Monitor! I love the Writing Playground!” I was flattered. And shocked. And very happy I was dressed nicely.

What you will be doing at conference – Are you just attending workshops or are you perhaps also presenting or moderating one? I’ll be moderating on Friday morning, so I’ll want to look especially nice because I’ll be behind a podium reading into a microphone that’s connected to the all-conference recording system and my voice will be recorded for posterity and OHMYGOSH everyone will be looking at me and gee whiz, should I buy a new outfit for that day? —deep breath— Do you have an editor or agent appointment? You’ll want to look sharp for that too. Your wardrobe won’t make him/her ask for your book, but feeling good about yourself will surely come through in your demeanor. You only have one chance to make a good first impression and you want that editor’s first impression of you to be a positive one.

So based on the aforementioned criteria, what will be in my suitcase? A couple pairs of black trousers and coordinating tops, a jacket to go with these (probably black too), the $8 dress and a black shrug, a $109 sparkly tank and jacket set that I got for $19 to go with dressy black pants for awards night with my fancy shoes and a small evening purse, jewelry for all my outfits, shoes for everyday, undies, pajamas and blah, blah, blah.

What about after-hours attire, you ask? In past years I’ve taken clothes to change into after the workshops are over and brought them home unworn. I may tuck in a pair of capris just in case. Gym clothes and a swimsuit? Are you kidding? I took a swimsuit to my first conference and never used it either. Just remember, though, if you do change into something more comfortable or are tempted to “just run to the ice machine in a t-shirt without a bra,” you also might just run into the agent you pitched to earlier in the day. I’m just sayin’.

This will be my 9th national conference, and you’d think by now I would have it down pat. Oh no. I’m still agonizing over clothes. It’s not so much about the perfect dress as it is about the dress that doesn’t elicit an “UGH” when I look in the mirror. And who knew there were a dozen shades of black? I have so many debits and credits to and from Ross that I’m afraid my bank might be thinking I’m laundering money or something.

One last thing.  Make sure it fits – try on clothes with the appropriate undergarments BEFORE conference.  Wear it a while to make sure it’s comfortable.  Because never ever underestimate the importance of comfort.

Got any clothing tips for me?

P.S.  Did you vote for BETTER AS A MEMORY TODAY?


6 thoughts on “What Should I Wear to the RWA Conference?

    • Yes, two weeks! Can you hear the panic in my voice? Last night I was watching Rizzoli & Isles and at the same time trying to make a wardrobe plan for my days at conference. Which pants and top on what day? What to wear to the Boroughs Open House? Oh, and don’t forget to take the new jewelry I bought. You get the picture. Have fun at your fashion show!

  1. Why were you shocked? Who doesn’t know the Playground Monitor? 🙂

    Thank you for the heads up on what to wear. I had thought some of my teaching outfits would be sufficient until I saw an editor send out a tweet that she had worn out her Macy’s credit card. Ok then. Time to go shopping! Off to Ross and T.J Maxx!


    • Piper, have fun shopping! And to be honest, you’ll see everything from blue jeans to designer suits. Go with what fits your budget and your personal style, and don’t forget comfort! Oh, and the Playground Monitor comment was in the first year of the website’s existence, so we weren’t sure if we were even a blip on the radar or not. Apparently we were. 🙂

    • Piper, I wear several of my teaching outfits each year at conference. It is just a great excuse to pick up some trendier new things….like today I got some shiny turquoise flats that I can wear to teach but conference means I could have them now guilt free. 🙂

      Best of luck!


  2. Pingback: RWA Countdown: One Stop Shop for Linkage | Angela Quarles | Geek girl romance writer

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