Tom Wolfe’s trademark white suit. Marcel Proust’s elegantly knotted bowties. Joan Didion’s sunglasses, or her packing list as found in “The White Album.” In “Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore,” fashion journalist Terry Newman assembles 50 iconic authors and their equally iconic outfits, featuring archival photos, anecdotes and depictions of fashion in their work.
The book aims to “tie together the heavyweight value of, for example, Samuel Beckett with a discussion of the fact that he wore Clarks Wallabee shoes,” Newman writes, and makes a good case for studying authors’ sartorial choices. Studying their clothes is a chance to discover whose understated ensemble matches their minimalist prose, or who dressed-down on the daily, saving their flair for the page. Patti Smith and Zadie Smith, Oscar Wilde and Fran Lebowitz: Literature has produced a few fashion icons.
“Authors who dress to please themselves, outside the constraints of being ‘fashionable,’ are captivatingly compelling,” Newman contends. Even today, when media culture has narrowed the gap between celebrity and audience, “writer” remains a profession that toils in semi-solitude and, often, for years in obscurity. What are they wearing behind closed doors? And what, from an artist whose job it is to communicate the experience of being a person, do their clothes have to say?
A few favorite authors and the clothes in their prose:
From “Within a Budding Grove”: “Fashions, being themselves begotten of the desire for change, are quick to change also.”
From “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now”: “Seek the fashion which truly fits and befits you. You will always be in fashion if you are true to yourself, and only if you are true to yourself.”
From “Valley of the Dolls”: “Everyone has an identity. One of their own, and one for show.”
From “Ulysses”: “A neat blouse of electric blue, selftinted by dolly dyes...with a smart vee opening down to the division and handkerchief pocket (in which she always kept a piece of cottonwool scented with her favorite perfume because the handkerchief spoiled the sit) and a navy threequarter skirt cut to the stride showed off her slim graceful figure to perfection.”
From “Bonfire of the Vanities”: “You never realize how much of your background is sewn into the lining of your clothes.”