Emergency Interview Wardrobe

By I. M Stunning
As told to Allison L. Bent, Geological Survey of Canada
(from Seismological Research Letters Volume 66, Number 4, pp. 4-6; July-August 1995)

Tokyo has fallen and it get can’t up. Vancouver has just been subducted. Montreal is now at the bottom of the St. Lawrence.

The aforementioned are but a few of the possible earthquake emergency scenarios to which you may be called upon to respond. Often this will take the form of a television interview. In these days of public service bashing, it is more important than ever to present the proper image. By planning your emergency interview wardrobe in advance, you will be prepared to deal with any and all media encounters. You will be able to avoid that sinking feeling that comes with the realization that one is about to appear live on national television and one doesn’t have a thing to wear.

The purpose of this memo is to provide some guidelines for interview attire so that when the time comes you will not have to ask, “What shall I wear?” You will know. You will be prepared. This letter was written with eastern Canadian earthquakes in mind. The author trusts that readers in other settings will make the appropriate substitutions based on local tradition and culture.

The perfect emergency preparedness outfit depends to some degree upon whose emergency it is, whether the emergency occurs during normal working hours, and the interview venue. First, I would like to discuss a few simple rules that apply to television interviews. I have concentrated on television on the grounds that no one can see you on the radio (although that is, at best, a poor excuse for slovenliness).

The most crucial point to remember is that earthquakes (even two-o’clock-in-the-morning earthquakes) are not come-as-you-are events. Do not, I repeat NOT, show up in your bathrobe. It is very unprofessional.

Second, the ’60’s are over. Wear shoes.

You should also wear garments with sleeves. Long sleeves are not mandatory, but no one wants to see your armpits. Trust me.

Stains, holes, and tears are unacceptable. Pierced ears are okay, but nose rings do not inspire confidence. Spinach or other green matter between the teeth is considered a faux pas.

Invest in a comb. Learn to use it. Einstein was entitled to an occasional bad hair day because he was, after all, Einstein. You aren’t.

I would also like to emphasize what I consider to be the most important of the 10 Beauty Commandments as revealed to Miss Piggy (scoff if you wish, but she was interviewed on 60 Minutes by Morley Safer–to rave reviews, I might add). The three essential commandments are as follows:

  1. Never wear yellow lipstick.
  2. Never powder your tongue.
  3. Never stick flowers in your nose.

Once you have memorized and put into practice the above pointers, you will have taken your first steps toward sartorial splendor. You will then be ready to commence phase two. I suggest the following procedure: Don your interview outfit. Take a long hard look at yourself in a full-length mirror. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. If my mother sees me on television in these clothes, will she announce to the world that my sole purpose in life is to shame her?
  2. If the Queen sees me on television in these clothes, is she likely to suggest that I search for a new employer?

If you can answer “yes” to either of these questions, you should wear SOMETHING ELSE.

With these basic considerations in mind, we will now focus our attention on specific types of emergency media encounters.

  1. Someone else’s earthquake

    If the earthquake in question has not occurred in or been felt in Canada, chances are you won’t be expected to show up for a 3:00 a.m. live interview. Therefore, there is no reason to look anything less than stunning.

    If you are normally reasonably well dressed at work, your usual work clothes should suffice for interviews. If you normally look like something the cat dragged in, read on. If you don’t know whether you normally look acceptable, ask someone who does (preferably not me).

    Business suits are considered appropriate attire in this situation, although they are not de rigueur. Ties can be loosened; sweaters can be substituted for jackets. Painful shoes required for operas, weddings, and other cultural events can be replaced by sensible footwear. As I am wont to say, it is difficult to think when one’s feet hurt. If in doubt, you should dress in the manner that would be expected in businesses that still enforce some sort of dress code.

    If all this is too difficult to master, you may prefer the mad scientist look. This simply requires that you cover up your unacceptable clothing with a white lab coat. Appropriate accessories include heavy glasses and pocket protectors. Strapping a calculator holster on your belt is going too far.

  2. An earthquake of one’s own

    If the earthquake of the day has occurred in Canada, the formula becomes somewhat more complex. For earthquakes occurring during or close to normal working hours (very roughly defined as 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday) you should dress as you would for a foreign earthquake. If the earthquake occurs during the middle of the night or a weekend AND if you are expected to show up immediately, a slight relaxation of the dress code is permissible. For example, jeans and tennis shoes would not be amiss, although you should try to make an effort from the waist up. Sweatsuits are a tad too casual. Miss Manners once commented that people clad in business suits at 3 o’clock in the morning are probably up to no good and should be regarded with suspicion. If interest in the earthquake continues for more than one day, on subsequent days you should revert to the more formal attire discussed previously.

    The previous paragraph assumes that you will be conducting the interview(s) form Earthquake Central in Ottawa. For those of you who will be sent to The Field, I have some additional advice. If you are There (There being somewhere near the epicenter) solely for the purpose of interviews, you should dress as you would for a middle-of-the-night or weekend earthquake.

    If you are expected to do some sort of science while you are There, you will be permitted to wear field clothing. Note that you are not granted permission to dress like Adam (the psycho chef of Northern Exposure fame). If you want to know what proper field clothing consists of, I recommend that you watch Out of Africa. Meryl Streep was able to go directly from shooting lions to fine dining without a change of apparel. Of course, if you can manage to take Robert Redford along to do your hair, so much the better. Abercrombie & Fitch carry a nice selection of field clothes. A note of caution: If the field work is taking place during the winter, you may wish to add gloves and a coat to complete your ensemble.

  3. Too close for comfort

    If Ottawa is in a state of postseismic ruin, you are off the hook. There will be no power, no computers, and possibly no seismology building, so the media will have to go elsewhere for scientific interviews. If you are hoping to appear on the news as a newly homeless or displaced person, dress as you would for field work. A brightly colored hard hat perched jauntily upon your head would make an attractive yet practical accessory.

A Few Final Thoughts

As seismologists we should all take emergency preparedness seriously. However, emergency preparedness extends well beyond stocking up on water, batteries, and chocolate and knowing how to turn off the gas. In addition to your basic survival kit (for a list of suggested contents see the Red Cross, not me), you should begin to assemble your emergency wardrobe now while you are not suffering from the effects of too little sleep, too much coffee, and 38 phone calls per minute. To be truly prepared for an earthquake emergency, you may want to keep two interview ensembles at hand–one at home and one in the office. You will then always be appropriately attired, and the rest of us will not have to pretend that you don’t really work here.

Suggested items for Emergency Preparedness Kit:

  • Dress pants or skirt
  • Decent shirt
  • Sweater or jacket
  • Socks, pantyhose, etc., that don’t clash with above items
  • Comb
  • Hairspray
  • Shoes (real shoes, not boots, sandals, or sneakers)
  • Toothbrush (read and understand instructions)
  • Mirror

Optional items:

  • Tie
  • Pearls
  • Pointer (so you will look professional when pointing out features on a map)
  • Latin dictionary (so you can sound erudite even if you aren’t)