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AWP Style Guide


The Narrative

Fashion is one of my favorite AWP events, on and off-site. I have been brought to swooning at recent conferences by Joy Harjo’s white boots, Dorothea Lasky’s spectacle collection, and Anne Carson’s pantsuit. There’s nothing quite like sliding down a convention center wall in exhaustion to sit on the floor, recharge a phone, and watch the show—over 12,000 writers en flique. (It’s like they consulted an amazing AWP style guide or something).

AWP conference

General conference style advice is useful but not comprehensive for AWP. Levels of ‘professional attire’ vary to the extreme because a writer’s work costume can be anything from a bathrobe to a button-down. Writers tend to hate generic statements about writers but let’s generalize anyway: I think writers are rebels. Economic odds are against most of us, human attention spans are shrinking, and yet, we passionately persist.

Writers are also creatives, which means we get off on tweaking reality, tweaking imagination, rebuilding, recombining, explosions. Expressive fashion caters to these qualities—and as inventive rebels, we can also choose to ignore advice (like what follows) completely. Respectfully—to each author, their own suitcase.

business suitcase

Layers of Meaning

If weather estimates for D.C. hold up, it should be in the mid 40s to low 50s for the conference. You’ll want layers because writers get cold. In Submittable’s home base of Missoula, Montana, writers (and skiers and ice fisherpeople) prefer to layer with Patagonia down jackets and fleeces, locally known as Patagucci.

Layers are great because they allow you to complement, contrast, or just get weird with it—they are very bold and very 2017. I’ve come across articles suggesting that writers dress for their genre and it’s hard to think of a more cross-genre look than layered fashion—what are we all doing if not putting pieces together and then taking them off?

Flannel wrapped around striped shirt


Think scarves, sweaters, blazers, hats, and light coats—another plus for layers is that you can reinvent yourself constantly without having to change completely (how are you feeling about that Bukowski tattoo right this second?). It’s also likely that temperatures will vary throughout the day because you should go outside the conference hall at least a couple times—REALLY, it’s a sanity thing—even if just to see natural light and check on/join the smokers, plus you’ll start sweating during social interactions you didn’t mean to have, and you may not have time to change for off-site events before tromping into town.

There is something simultaneously comforting and revolting about being a member of the tote tide, thousands of dazed writers with matching canvas bags flowing by, at the bookfair and within a square mile of the conference center. Writers need community but writers write alone. Setting yourself apart can feel especially important (read: vital)—and time is limited. I’d suggest focusing on your head and your feet, mirroring writerly extroversion and anxiety in turns.

AWP tote bags Seattle 2014

Image c/o behance.net.

The Hair, The Shoes and The Contest

What’s going on with glasses this season? Lots! AWP is the ultimate menagerie of cool eyewear. Although not everyone needs glasses, a lot of people have hair. The diversity of hairstyles at AWP is guaranteed epic—every color, cut, shave, and shape is likely to be represented. There’s still time to revise your do abecedary style or brainstorm your next beard strategy. In LA, I tried repeatedly to count the number of people in line for registration whose hair was dyed a primary color and I kept losing track. It was awesome. Also, be sure to mark your statement earrings with exclamation points.

In terms of footwear, comfort is important. Glam shoes are tops (and make for a nice segue in dying conversations) but blisters will ruin you. If you’re bringing new kicks, try to break them in beforehand. Boots provide the perfect all-weather option—they can dress you up or down depending on your aspiration. They also look like you intend to kick ass, a sentiment many artists are full up with at this historical moment. Here are some fierce options for the season.

Blue hair in a bun

The cool thing about AWP is that you don’t need your style to assert that you are a writer since your presence makes it a given. You don’t need your style to assert anything but it can be fun to shine some light on the special snowflake that you are. And we want to see that sparkle. Stop by Submittable’s table #375 anytime during the conference to participate in Style Guide 2017, an AWP fashion contest. More contest information coming soon.

Rachel Mindell

Rachel Mindell is Senior Editor for Submittable's Marketing Team. She also writes and teaches poetry. You can find Rachel's creative work here: rachelmindell.com