I just finished reading The Glass Wives, Amy Sue Nathan’s moving and surprisingly funny new novel about a woman who ends up living with her ex-husband’s second wife after he dies. (There was no clearer way to write that sentence. You’ll just have to read the book.)
In one of her descriptions, Nathan notes that one of her characters wears yoga pants only to do yoga. I stopped as I was reading that and glanced down at myself. Yep. Yoga pants. And I certainly wasn’t doing yoga at my desk. Nor did I have any plans to do yoga that day, or any time in the next year.
I’ve been a writer for 25 years, and in that quarter century I’ve discovered that I can only feel truly creative in certain outfits. Fortunately, as a freelance writer I am not doomed to be a slave to fashion. I have worn Spanx for a total of five minutes in my life, just long enough to regret the money I spent on them after realizing that wearing Spanx is equivalent to being swallowed by a boa constrictor. I own two pairs of high heels and have worn each pair exactly once; the only pantyhose in my drawer is a pair of black wool tights that I sometimes don under jeans because this is New England.
Every morning, I do what essentially is the reverse of what most women do: I get up with my family, make breakfast, drive my son to school, then come home and get undressed before going to work, slipping out of whatever respectable disguise I’ve worn in public and into my favorite writing armor: yoga pants, a T-shirt, and a flannel shirt.
In the worst of times, usually on Monday when my yoga pants are in the wash, I might even wear flannel pants with my flannel shirt. It is unfortunate that the plaids don’t match, but who is there to see me but the UPS guy, who is wearing a brown uniform with brown knee socks, like an overfed Brownie?
I can only write in slippers—maybe because slippers symbolize the fact that I’m not leaving my study–and in clothing that doesn’t itch. My hair has to be off my face and, if I’m working in my barn office and it’s a chilly day, I wear fingerless gloves and a cozy scarf.
Oh, and no matter what the weather, I shed my bra. Being braless is absolutely critical to my writing process. Who can possibly feel creative, with underwires threatening to pinch or sproing free as you invent dialogue or imagine a heart-thumping plot? Once I’m bra-free, the words flow and my sentences turn lush and beautiful.
Is there really such a thing as creative clothing, or am I making this up? It’s not like I’m a sculptor, after all, who might need carpenter pants with lots of pockets for tools; a painter with a smock to protect her clothing from paint; or even a potter who wears overalls to help stay dry when she’s at the wheel.
Yet, I would say yes. To be artistically creative in any medium means being able to remove yourself from the constraints of ordinary civilization and plumb the depths of your intellect and, more importantly, your emotions.
Ideally, when you create an original work, you access the deepest recesses of your imagination, unleashing images and ideas that don’t typically surface in normal day-to-day life, where your thoughts are fractured by interactions with other people. It therefore makes sense that you’d need to invoke rituals to spur you into this secret place—and that those rituals would involve donning certain clothing. Or, in my case, taking it off.
Whatever the reason, try it: If you’re feeling creatively blocked, change your clothes. Experiment with different favorite shirts, slippers, combinations of textures. Find your creative armor and wear it with pride.