I was in Providence for a catwalk show on Sunday. I find I get treated very differently on my way out for shows than I do on my way back.

When you go out to do a show or a shoot where you're going to be styled by someone else, they tell you to show up "clean-faced and carrying wardrobe". That means no makeup of your own, no product in your hair, and not wearing whatever it is you need to wear for the event in an environment as grubby as public transportation. (Even when the main wardrobe is being provided by someone else, as with catwalk shows, I'm responsible for my own undergarments, and usually shoes.) I usually sally forth in street clothes with my hair jammed into a hat, either carrying a flight bag or hauling a wheeled suitcase, whichever is easier.

(The suitcase went with me to RI -- I have now discovered that there is about 2" difference in seat pitch between Amtrak and the MBTA commuter rail, which makes the difference between riding with my feet stuck between the suitcase and the seat, and riding with my feet propped up on the suitcase. I have no idea what taller people do. Amtrak runs more frequent service and has nicer cars; if I were less skint, I'd take them both ways, but they're also ~$20 versus ~$10 for the T.)

Whilst I was in Providence, I was of course geschmenkt like I always am for stage lights, and had my hair unraveled from the braids I'd slept in, and puffed out to Sheena, Queen of the Jungle proportions. (I'll share photos when they show up on Facebook.) Nobody was especially rude to me on my way out, but neither did they take any particular notice of me unless I walked up and got their attention. On the way back, with a lot of green and glitter-gold eye shadow, and wild-woman hair sticking out from under a newsie cap, I had people talking to me left and right, and the T ticket agent made it a point to wish me a lovely day.

I do not look physically all that different with and without makeup. I was wearing the same clothes, in the same environment, doing the same thing, and hauling the same boring suitcase. Having 'done' hair and makeup do make an appreciable difference when interacting with people.

Occasionally someone will say "you ought to make more of an effort" and mean "you are insufficiently pretty for my tastes, spackle over that". These people are assholes and you have my official permission to ignore them. I find the best way to deal with them is to start channeling Daria Morgandorfer and not stop until they go away, but use whatever tactic works best for you. Most people who say that are not actually saying 'you aren't pretty enough'; they're trying to point out that visible signs that you have put time and effort into your appearance are often what cues people into your willingness to interact. If you don't exhibit any of these outward signs, most people will assume -- rightly or wrongly -- that you don't care how you look to others, and consequently that you don't care to interact.

Not caring is a perfectly valid choice. You don't need to. As long as you've got basic hygiene down and grasp the gist of your local indecent exposure laws, you've fulfilled your grooming debt to society. You also don't need to go for any particular style of clothing or makeup to seem like you're 'making an effort'. Wearing a giant bow in your hair serves pretty much the same purpose as all my glitter eye makeup -- it just needs to be something that specifically says "I chose to wear this so that other people could look at it".

Furthermore, indicating a willingness to interact with others does not oblige you to do so; you are still free to cut off a conversation whenever you want to. People can look if they want to. The photons that bounce off of you when you leave the house are public property. You still do not owe them a conversation, or anything else.

But if you're purposely going out to events and trying to make friends, and still feel invisible, this might be why. By and large, people try to respect it when they see what seems to be your effort to blend in with the wallpaper -- if you ask them why the best answer they can usually give is that "they didn't seem like they wanted to talk". So pick something visual that you like, and wear it proudly, with the attitude that you're inviting commentary on that hat, or that hair, or that shirt. Expect it, and expect to gibber "thank you" when you get a compliment. (Arguing is counterproductive. If you're going to argue that it's nothing or shabby or unworthy of attention, pick something else to wear.) If your aim is to meet and engage with new people, it'll help a lot.