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40 Question Craft Artist Blog Series - Question #35 - How do you dress for Success for an Art Fair?

Greetings to everyone and Happy (belated) Halloween! When I was thinking about Halloween one of the most frequent asked questions I hear is “what are you dressing up for on Halloween”, right? Well, it made me want to revisit a topic I talk about often (just not lately) and thought about it until just this week. I am referring to the topic of dressing for success – at an art fair, not so much for Halloween. :-) I do believe the way you carry and present yourself certainly reflects how people perceive your artwork. Today I am going to talk about what I think is and is not appropriate to wear for an art fair and why. (Note: The photo is one I took of my pekingese dog named Hayley while I had some down time at my part time job).

Question # How should I dress for success at an art fair?

First and foremost, dress comfortably. That doesn't mean you should dress “frumpy” in your old college sweatshirt with holes or stained t-shirt you just can't part with. This means wear comfy shoes (for starters) to prevent injury and aches and pains. Depending on the weather forecast, dress for the weather – if it is going to be rainy, bring an umbrella or better yet a durable raincoat. In hot weather dress in loose fitting airy materials like rayons, silks, or cotton blends that allow for “personal air-condition”. During colder months, dress in layers this way you can peel off one layer at a time if it gets warm (like some indoor shows I have participated in where it is freezing in the morning yet like a sauna come close down time). I can't tell you how many times people think it is far more important to dress in their “Sunday's Best” yet quickly find they are making customers feel intimidated or uncomfortable. I often see art sellers irritated because they are uncomfortable in their suit or dress, and their feet hurt and often do not see this affects the attitude of buyers. I guess some just have to learn the hard way – you don't have to!

I also find coordinating your clothing with your artwork could help benefit you in the long run. For instance if you sell tropical photographs or paintings wearing a tasteful Aloha shirt this could add to the ambiance and show you have a very laid back easy person to talk to. If you sell metalsmith jewelry, think about dressing in black with silver/gray accents or browns if you work in copper. If you demonstrate wear a smock/apron, this can show you aren't afraid to get down and dirty yet at the same time can take it off and start selling being clean and presentable. If you sell dog art/craft, perhaps a t-shirt or sweatshirt of your favorite breed would be ideal to not just advertise yourself but could be an ice breaker too. Another idea is to wear what you make like scarves, jewelry, hats, belts, etc. If you are proud of what you make, wear it proudly.

For an added professional look think about getting some professional shirts made with your business name and /or logo on it. I have done this in the past and not only does it work as a badge at shows as well as walking advertisement, it makes you look sharp and professional. This could be a simple personalized apron, polo shirt, button down blue jean shirt, or even a jacket. There are tons of companies, especially local businesses, that specialize in this sort of thing and often a lot more cheaper than shopping for regular clothing that you may find you will want to wear it all the time – outside of doing art fairs.

Lastly, whatever you choose to wear for a show at the very least make it clean. Some people do work up a sweat setting up – especially on those hotter than Hades days, so bring an extra shirt or pair of shorts/pants. Also, this goes for those who just can't avoid dripping ketchup or mustard on your clothing during a quick lunch break. There is nothing more distasteful than seeing a person with arm pit stains or holes in their shirt or pants, yet selling nice artwork. It leaves a bad taste in peoples mouths and if their first impression is you, before they see your booth, you will forever loose them as a customer. Wouldn't you think twice if you saw this at a show? Share with me and others how you dress for success and if it has helped in making sales by using the comment button. The next question will tackle good and bad spending habits artists are faced with when wanting to take your busienss to the next level. Until next time, hope you had a great Halloween! - Michelle Sholund,

Views: 229

Comment by Katherine Graham Sarlson on November 10, 2010 at 8:00am
Hi. I sell silk paintings so I generally try to wear ephemeral, gauzy, silky skirts in the summer time with handcrafted jewelry made by friends. Cold weather shows get quilted silk jackets. I think (just my HO) that when people come to art fairs they have a certain expectation of what an artist looks/dresses like. Dressing to fit that expectation seems to work.
Comment by Barbara Westlake-Kenny on November 10, 2010 at 8:05am
Those are some good, logical tips. I would add that if you dress "like yourself," you will feel comfortable. Most important, I believe, is to greet everyone who enters your booth and try to engage them in conversation so that they see you as a real, down-to-earth person. And don't forget to smile!
Comment by Ann Marie Crosmun on November 10, 2010 at 8:10am
Good Morning Everyone! I create silver & woven bead jewelry. So, I always wear a handcrafted dress and jacket made by a fellow artist. I make sure that the necklace will accent, or focuses on that piece. I never wear slacks-they are not 'upscale' enough for my jewelry. For shoes, if it is an indoor show, I wear Dansco shoes. For outdoor shows, it usually warrants nice tennis shoes (due to the terrain). For setup and tear down, I always am in comfortable, clean, working clothes. Ann Marie
Comment by Carolyn Lockwood on November 10, 2010 at 8:40am
I have been doing art fairs for 25 years. With any aspect of your life, you never get a second chance at a first impression. Whether it is the layout and display of your booth or how you dress. Dress for success and treat every show as if you were going on a job interview. I believe basically you are. I am not saying to pull out the three piece suits, but you can dress approprioately and comfortably and still be professional.

I always dress in "set-up" clothes and change into my business attire for the duration of the selling hours. You can't go wrong with black. Women - Black pants, nice skirts or capris complemented with a nice top. Skip the shorts regardless of the temperature. Athletic shoes are great for setting up, and tearing down but change them for the show. You will be able to find comfortable and supportive shoes without being ready for a jog.

I also agree with dressing to compliment your wares and don't be afraid to display them proudly on your person. I have literally sold pieces off my body.

I specialize in holiday themed art with Halloween being my absolute favorite. Come October don't be surprised to find me "in costume". Part of being successful is to work your booth. Simply being freindly, smiling and starting minor conversations honestly helps to boost your sales.
Comment by Michelle Sholund on November 10, 2010 at 8:43am
Outside the art fair realm I am a t-shirt and sweatshirt and jeans gal. Nothing is more comfy than a good pair of jeans, however I usually wear sweaters and dressier blouses at shows with jeans. Rarely do people see your middle down - at least my middle down as I am mostly behind part of my display which is focused on the waist up. I have started wearing tone-ups - those that are advertised - they really feel good on the feet all day long (and a little toning couldn't hurt...), but my ultimate favorites are Birkenstocks.

One time I did dress in a t-shirt and shorts - it was a hot day and could only think of comfort. The t-shirt I had was one of the Life is Good shirts only the opposite - Life Sucks and it is all about how everything Made in China sucks with images of recalled items like a kids dolly and toothpaste. While it might not be the most dressy of shirts, it got a huge reaction from people talking about how they really have a hard time finding made in America stuff and so on. It ended up being a great ice breaker. Thought I would share that with you all...
Comment by Alison Armstrong on November 10, 2010 at 10:02am
Try Zazzle, if you are a 2-D artist. I had some t-shirts made with my art on them.
Comment by MICHAEL ALAN STIPEK on November 10, 2010 at 10:19am
"You never get a second chance at a first impression." Better words were never spoken! An artist should dress for their potential buying audience. When I see an artist who is wearing raggedy clothing or such, I feel it pulls down the quality of the show. Tank tops on guys, torn jeans on guys and gals just don't cut it for me; maybe I'm a bit of a prude, but those types of clothing lend a "flea market" look to a show.

When someone walks into my booth and is looking at my photography, I want them to feel comfortable with what I'm wearing. Maybe it's classism - I'm appealing to folks who have some money to spend (hopefully!). Case in point - a friend of mine wore black tank tops, cutoff jeans and really dirty sneakers when doing art shows. One time, he complained to me that the only people who really walked into his booth to look at his splendid paintings were bikers and others of that ilk. When I mentioned (my wife added her excellent opinion, too) that you dress for your audience, by the next show, he had a nice shirt and good slacks (he is bowlegged and short pants only make that condition more obvious). His sales shot up!
Comment by Libby White on November 10, 2010 at 5:36pm
my booth and art work are very colorful and eclectic. I usually wear something that no else will be wearing. I get lots of my shirts and tunics handmade in Thailand. I usually wear jeans that match the tunic, rarely blue jeans. I also wear matching walking shoes and wear some fiber art from other artists. I think it pulls people into my booth.
Comment by Lawrence Cimaglio on November 10, 2010 at 8:05pm
I usually wear twill shirts with my studio name embroidered on them. I got such a great deal on them from (free embroidery with 3 piece order) I then wear tan Dockers to round it out. Suggestions: Sketcher's Shape Ups for foot comfort. If you find that you get leg cramps at shows, try a glass of tonic water in the evening during the show. Someone told me that it contains a very small amount of quinine in it that seems to alleviate leg cramps.
Comment by Wendy Lin on November 11, 2010 at 10:12am
For my jewelry sales, I make it a point to get a manicure just before the show, (but after the set-up). Showing my jewelry to customers who are looking very closely, helping women try on jewelry, pretty hands make a good impression. The most exquisite piece of jewelry is going to look even better being held out with clean, freshly-manicured hands. Or consider the alternative: a gorgeous brooch being held out to a customer by an artist with rough hands and dirty fingernails.

Last summer, a bunch of women exhibitors got together after a day of set-up (we all came in from out-of-town) and before having dinner together, went out for manicure-pedicures. You can usually get a manicure for less than $10 and it helps transition from "set-up day" when we're all just day laborers and pack mules to the "show days" when we are prima donna artists.

This comes from a jewelry person, mind you. I don't know about potters and such. I'm not sure I'd trust a potter with manicured nails...


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