what writers wear (or don’t) when writing

I prefer to dress lightly indoors; no shoes, socks, or sweaters for me while at home. Weather permitting, my preference for light clothing extends outdoors. And at night I like to sleep as I was born. Before gravity snuck up, I’d snorkeled butt-naked in the warm blue waters off Spain. Gasped for breath as I showered under frigid waterfalls around Ben Nevis. Purred in delight as I lapped up sun rays on the nude beaches of St. Tropez, Cannes, and Poqueroles. And learned the full meaning of wind-burn after sailing around Catalina Island wearing nothing but an itsy-bitsy French thong and not enough sun block.

But my eyebrows shot up, and I stepped back a little, when a seemingly straight-laced colleague asked, “Do you ever write while naked?” And then proceeded to tell me how freeing it was … letting it all hang out … in every aspect.

“Well”, I said tongue-in-cheek, trying (and failing) not to envision the “letting it all hang out” bits, “There are times I’ve written nakedly—exposing, but never completely divulging, my inner most secrets. But no, I can’t say I ever sit at my PC and write while naked.”

We writers are weird. But that weird, I’m not!

However, it got me wondering: If my buttoned-up, brace-wearing, non-cursing, non-drinking colleague (yes, he’s Mormon) gets naked to write, how do other writers dress when they sit down to write?  Or, more to the point, do they undress?

  • VictorHugoVictor Hugo (left) had his servant take away his clothes while he wrote … so presumably, he wrote in the nude or in his underwear.
  • James Whitcomb Riley wrote naked … he had a friend lock him in a hotel room and take away his clothes so he couldn’t go out for a drink until he’d finished writing.
  • John MCPhee wrote in his bathrobe, tying its belt to the arms of his chair to restrain him from leaving.
  • Badyl Hiram wrote in the buff … clothes restricted him and the sight of him naked was supposedly so repulsive that no one ever disturbed him. jane smiley-0540
  • Jane Smiley  (right) often wears a robe … but won’t share what’s underneath.
  • Simon Galleene writes on his beach deck wearing nothing (peepo … nothing!) but a Polynesian sarong wrapped around his waist.
  • John Cheever dressed in a business suit … then walked from his apartment downstairs to a room in the basement where he hung his suit on a hanger and wrote in his underwear.
  • Agatha Christie often wrote naked in the bathtub with a basket full of crisp apples at her side (which she also ate in the bath).
  • Michael Mu writes in just his undershorts. Haynes stretch, denim color, if you please.
  • Jessamyn West wrote in PJ’s in bed.
  • Charles Dickens wrote in a suit while writing… in debtor’s prison.
  • William Maxwell wrote novels in his PJ’s, a visual warning to leave him alone.
  • Benjamin Disraeli wrote his novels dressed in evening clothes.
  • John Keats dressed as if he were going out, clean and smart.
  • Ralph Keyes dresses to write, but prefers to abandon any kind of footwear while at his desk.*

BettyBoopWhen I have a long writing stint ahead of me, I like to get comfortable, and must admit I’m rather partial to kicking off my shoes and rolling up the bottoms of my favorite bright red Betty Boop flannel pants.

So … ‘fess up. What about you?

* Some of the above notes came from The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes.

no pants–no service

“Mind your Ps and Qs … ” she said, inspecting me, my brother, and sister, adjusting the knots in our thick winter scarves and making sure our coats were buttoned, socks pulled up, shoes polished, and gloves on the correct hands, “… and if you’re good, we’ll stop at Lyon’s Café on the way home for a Knickerbocker Glory.”

I made eye contact with my nine and ten year old siblings letting them know I expected to get a Knickerbocker Glory that day, so they’d better listen to Nan. My brother stared back, “Ditto!”

Fast forward a few years, rather a decade or two, and I’m sitting in an American diner known for its pancakes. I order my eggs over-easy with blueberry stuffed French toast, and cupping the chunky brown coffee mug in both hands, inhale my first coffee aroma of the day. That first aroma is always the best … just like the first gulp of steaming coffee is always the best.coffeemug

Savoring the rich dark roast, I glance around the diner while my honey runs out to the car for his wallet.

At the table next to me sits a family of five. Two girls and a boy, just like our family. But unlike our family, no adult ran a quick discerning eye over them to make sure they were dressed to meet the world. With sleep in their eyes and ratty, greasy bed-hair, all three apparently rolled out of bed at the trumpet call of breakfast and forgot to dress. They’re still wearing crumpled pajamas, bed socks, and slippers … and that ratty, greasy bed-hair. Is that a piece of lint?  No, it’s fluff.  Did they at least brush their teeth?  More than one of them needs a long hot shower with a hefty squirt of fresh spring bodywash and a dose of man-strength deodorant.

Lest you’re thinking these are babies, the youngest is probably 12 or 13. The others, around 18 and 20.

I tell myself to live and let live, but mentally sigh. My honey returns with his wallet and slides into the booth, facing me. He leans forward nodding his head toward the booth behind me and whispers, “I think we’re overdressed”.

Two more pajama wearers. And over in the corner, a group of five friends, three of whom sport ratty, greasy bed-hair and yes, those crumpled pajamas.

psj2I don’t get it.

It’s not a “generational thing” because since then I’ve noticed many pajama-wearing adults from Gen Y to Gen Xrs and Boomers … at diner’s, coffee shops, grocery stores. Even in the mall and at the movies.

It’s not a “trend thing” because, in most cases, these PJ-wearers still appear to be in the zombie state of unwashed and disheveled half-sleep.

nopantsnoservice_pajamashoppingIt’s not a “comfort thing” because we’re already a nation that wears stretch garments with elasticized waistbands and oversized sweatshirts – and we’re known worldwide for our preferred footwear of sneakers, flip flops, and Uggs.

Neither is it a “socio-economic thing”. When you drive your sleepy, pajama-wearing-ass home in a Lexus 570L – whether it’s owned, financed, or leased – let me tell you, you can splash down twenty bucks on a pair of pants at Target. (Or that other colossal store that begins with W and plans to take over the world, but that’s another post for another day).

And it’s not a “cultural thing”. My family in Europe sees it too, albeit to a lesser degree.

So what is the deal with wearing pajamas in public? When did it become okay to roll out of bed and not clean up or dress up before heading out in public?

I’m not talking about glamming up to go on the town. Or being obsessive about designer clothing and preening in front of the mirror for hours. Or worrying about having the right accessories. Or dressing to impress.

no-pajamas-no-service-signBut can’t we have enough pride in ourselves to at least clean up before going out? To run a comb through our hair? Splash some water on our face?

Why don’t friends and family say – as I admit I would: Wear what the hell you like. Dress to express. But ditch the PJs and wear something.

Beachside restaurants and stores post signs saying: “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service”.

I say: “No Pants, No Service.” And PJs, my friends, are not pants!

What do you think?