Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Sandra Parshall

What is it with celebrities who appear in public looking like they just crawled out of a cardboard box under a bridge?

The men are the worst. Most actresses still get spiffed up for movie premieres, but alongside each bejeweled, beautifully coiffed and gowned woman, you’re likely to see a guy with a three-day growth of beard, torn jeans, dirty sneakers, a plaid shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest, and hair that looks like monkeys have been combing through it for fleas.

Charming, right?

It’s possible that the guy is clean and smells like a rose, but I always feel sorry for the woman who has to go out in public with a man who looks as if he stinks.

The facial hair thing has been out of control for years. I don’t recall exactly when it started, but at some point every man in show business suddenly had beard stubble all the time. I kept wondering how they managed to keep it perpetually at that two-day stage, then I learned that razor attachments are made for exactly that purpose. What I’ve never learned is WHY any man wants to look that scruffy. For whatever reason, the old-fashioned close shave every morning is history for many male celebrities.

The bed-hair style took hold hard soon after chin stubble did, and I don’t think any man in show business who’s under 45 has combed his hair since.

What kills me is that they seem to think they look great. Sexy, even. They pose for the cameras with a confidence that says, “Take a look at this, girls. Am I irresistible or what?” All I can think is, why would any woman want to run her
fingers through that greasy hair? Do these men not own mirrors?

I give rock musicians a pass. They’re a different species, living in their own little universe. You can’t be a rock musician and look normal. I also don’t mind Johnny Depp’s clothing and hairstyles, which have grown increasingly eccentric as he has aged. He’s Johnny Depp, after all, not a mere man, and besides, he always looks clean. But I have to wonder about actors who work hard to put an impressive performance on film, then go around promoting that film in such disarray that their appearance detracts from anything insightful or appealing they might have to say.

Now I fear the trend toward grunge is invading the world of mystery writers. With each year that passes, I see the appearance of conference attendees slipping ever more rapidly toward that just-got-out-of-bed look, and some writers have decided that being comfortably sloppy is their right, wherever they are, so they dress the same way for panels as they do for playing with their pets at home. I have recently seen jeans and tee shirts at an awards banquet. It wasn’t the Edgars banquet, you can be sure; Mystery Writers of America still knows how to emphasize the specialness of an occasion by asking everyone to look their best.

I realize it’s unseemly for one adult to tell others how to dress in public. I’m just saying that mystery readers who go to conferences to meet writers might appreciate seeing them looking tidy and attractively dressed.

Here are two writers, Jason Pinter and Hank Phillipi Ryan, who sat next to me at the Oakmont Festival of Mystery in May. Don’t they look great? They aren’t overdressed, but they do appear to care about making a good impression on readers.

So how do you feel about grunge? Is your opinion of a show business celebrity or a writer diminished when you see that person looking unkempt or frumpy in public? Are you ready to sign my petition to Angelina Jolie imploring her not to let Brad Pitt out of the house again until he shaves and combs his hair?


Lesa said...


I won't leave the house without combing my hair, so why would a celebrity think they look great doing it? Louise Penny. Louise Penny always looks wonderful, even when she appears in blue jeans. She dresses beautifully, with a scarf, and color, and always appears to have made an effort to look attractive. Most of the female authors I've seen dress well for their appearances. Alafair Burke and Avery Aames come to mind as looking great in recent appearances at the Poisoned Pen. But, who wouldn't want to look sharp when sitting up there with Barbara Peters, the owner? Barbara always looks elegant herself.

Lesa -

Sheila Connolly said...

My grandmother, who lived in a nice residential hotel on Park Avenue in NY, would not take her trash to dispose of it fifty feet down the hall without putting on a girdle and hose. My, how the world has changed!

I think dressing nicely for your audience, whoever they may be, is a mark of respect for them. So the flip side of that is, dressing poorly is an insult.

Don Johnson in Miami Vice may have had a lot to do with the permanent two-day beard--and that was in the 80's. They really did make razors to achieve that.

(BTW, Hank always looks great.)

Sandra Parshall said...

At least Don Johnson combed his hair. :-)

I agree completely about the women writers mentioned. I've never seen Hank or Avery looking less than stylish, and Louise Penny always looks wonderful. The Todds, mother Caroline and son Charles, also look as if they really care about the impression they make on readers.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Well, here's a lovely way to start the day! How absolutely wonderful. Thank you. (And my mother will be so delighted..she spent most of my teenage years in despair at my mini mini skirts and blue eyeshadow.)

And that was a wonderful event--what a treat to hang out with the amazing Jason.

(I won't even begin to say how I look at my writing desk. Maybe even the ultra-glam Sandra Brown writes in sweatpants. You know, even writing those words, I doubt it!)

Thanks Sandy!

(My lawyer-husband always comments on how people dress when they show up for jury duty--jeans and t-shirts with slogans, and flip flops. Can you imagine?)

Carol Baier said...

I love comfort and I love jeans -- I live in L.A. :) -- but I wouldn't show up at a a conference looking like a member of a garage band. On the other hand, I wouldn't shun Avery Ames if she did (I might miss some good cheese recipes). The pet peeve I most share with you, Sandy, is men with beards. Where do these guys get the idea that looking like they're on vacation from a North Pole toy shop is sexy?

Sandra Parshall said...

You'll never, ever see Avery looking sloppy! She always looks great.

Diane said...

First, I've never seen Barbara Peters (of the Poisoned Pen) less than perfectly groomed. She is a true example of class.

I'm with you on the grunge look guys seem to go for now. I think it started with the Brit singer, George Michael, and was cemented by Don Johnson im Miami Vice, but hey - that was decades ago. As the kids would say, so last century. Most of the ladies seem to have come out of it. On the other hand, one of the hair product brands I've seen at salons is Bed Head. Really? I don't like real beards as a rule, and absolutely hate the stubble look. Wouldn't let a guy near me with that. The episode of the new 'Covert Affairs' last night had a guy who was supposed to be an Israeli spy who looked like he had 3 days of stubble. Made him look tired - not sexy. And you're right about Johnny Depp. He just looks worse and worse as time passes. I vote to give some of these guys razor, shampoo and combs. Oh, a trip to the hair salon (don't know if barbers even exist now - maybe that's one of the problems).

Julie Kramer said...

And why can't American Idol judge Simon Cowell wear something a little nicer than a black t-shirt on television?

Anonymous said...

I don't like the grunge look generally but I do sometimes like beard stubble (best example) on Timothy Dalton as he looked as James Bond "The Living Daylights." Unfortunately, the ones you see it on now mostly should not have it. (I think that is what makeup artists are for, someone to gracefully tell them?)

I hope that the grunge look isn't spreading but you are probably right that it is. Attention to detail is what makes a good author so those who don't notice their own may not be the best ones? That would be what would make me think twice.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Nobody's yet mentioned my pet peeve: the jeans that are designed with rips in them. I truly don't get it.

kathy d. said...

No. I don't get jeans designed with rips in them or that people buy distressed jean.

I agree that Johnny Depp can dress or look however he wants to and he's still stunning. I think Brad Pitt can kind of get away with that, too.

I don't like the grungy, few-day beard stubble if I see a reporter on tv with that, but beards! Some of the best-looking men I've known in my life--personally or else celebrities--have beards. Or great authors, philosophers, historical figures? Abe Lincoln? Walt Whitman?
That's personal taste. Beards never bothered me if they're neat and clean; lots of men are handsome with them.

Leslie Budewitz said...

I think some men adopt the grunge look as a way to say they're carefree and unencumbered by society's standards.

Personally, I kinda like the scruffy look, as long as the wearer is clean and the clothes aren't sloppy. But then, I happen to be married to a man who looks great with a neatly-trimmed brown-gray beard and mustache and a shaved head (yes, barbers DO still exist!), wearing a sport jacket with his jeans or khakis.

And Hank, I share your husband's horror at how jurors come to court. Lawyers have some control over witnesses, but not jurors -- although some judges now include a reminder about "appropriate dress" in their summons and the jury questionnairs.

Society's standards have relaxed quite a bit over the years -- a good thing to those of us who dislike hose and have never had to wear a girdle. For writers, of course, dress is a great way to show our characters' attitudes toward for people, places, and situations.

jenny milchman said...

This post made me laugh. I'm pretty scrupulous myself, if only because I like feeling clean. But my husband is a big one for beard growth and getting enough wears out of a pair of jeans to make water conservationists happy. I do think there's a difference between affected carelessness and genuinely feeling like looks shouldn't be placed paramount (something missing with the Hollywood set). But I agree with Lesa--all the authors I've been lucky enough to meet seem to be as careful with themselves as they are with their prose.

AC said...

Charles Bukowski wrote that no woman should ever trust a man with a clean kitchen. That goes double for a man who worries too much about his appearance. It means there's nothing going on in his brain.