Tailoring of a Writer

From Scott Fitzgerald's Jazz Age glamour to Joan Didion's fusion of Californian ease with Parisian chic, culminating in Truman Capote's eclectic elegance  — How renowned authors wove their own style into literary legacy.

Tailoring of a Writer

While celebrated for the resonant depth of their prose, many writers have also carved a distinctive identity through their sartorial choices. Consider Samuel Beckett, who became synonymous with his Wallabee boots and Aran sweaters, having decided on his hairstyle at the tender age of 17. William Burroughs adopted the classic suit and tie, making it his signature 'brand.' Charles Baudelaire, known for his dandy style, often dressed in all black, reflecting the depth and intensity of his poetic work. Mark Twain, with his iconic white suit, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, a sartorial reflection of Jazz Age glamour, also exemplified this trend. 

Unlike politicians or celebrities, whose public appearances necessitate a keen awareness of nonverbal communication, authors operate without the guidance of stylists or specific dress codes. Their fashion choices, therefore, offer an authentic insight into the often subconscious interplay between identity and image. This unique circumstance becomes particularly evident during book releases when authors step into the public eye, not just as creators of written words but as embodiments of their own artistic essence.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald, renowned for his masterpiece The Great Gatsby, transformed American literature with his vibrant portrayal of the Jazz Age and made a lasting impact in the realm of fashion. More than just a well-dressed author, Fitzgerald lived the very lifestyle he depicted in his works. His fashion choices offer a window into his life and mirror his literary genius. One of the hallmarks of Fitzgerald's style was his distinct hair parting, a centre part that lent him a refined, scholarly look, typical of an esteemed writer. Though a common trend of his time, such a hairstyle would be quite bold and unconventional today. Fitzgerald's wardrobe was characterized by smart suits and unique accessories. He favoured plaid, flannel suits with wide notched lapels, adding a touch of distinctiveness. His ties, often in unusual patterns or featuring horizontal stripes, were not just accessories but statements in themselves. Even when combining patterns and accessories that seemingly clashed, like pocket squares not matching his suit or tie, Fitzgerald managed to carry these looks with unparalleled class. Particularly noteworthy was his fondness for knitted neckties with horizontal stripes, often tied slightly shorter and paired with a two-button flannel suit. 

Joan Didion

Joan Didion's style seamlessly blends laid-back Californian ease with Parisian chic, creating an effortlessly classy combination. Even in 1977, Didion's minimalist outfits transcended time, appearing as if they could grace the pages of a contemporary fashion magazine. Her idiosyncratic relationship with clothes is evident from her packing lists, revealing a distinct and impeccable taste likely honed during her tenure at American Vogue. Didion, celebrated for her raw, incisive prose, carries a to-the-point style that complements her writing. Her approach to fashion is not separate from her literary work; as Paul Newman once noted, her writing is infused with descriptive analyses of clothing as a cultural consideration. For instance, in The White Album, Didion's narrative includes purchasing a dress for Manson Family member Linda Kasabian’s court appearance. Similarly, in Blue Nights, she touches upon the grief associated with her late husband and daughter's clothing. Didion’s most famous book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, highlights her literary prowess, while her iconic sunglasses and role in fronting a campaign for Céline underline why her style is as revered as her writing.

Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany's’ Truman Capote was as much a style icon as he was a literary genius. His fashion sense was an eclectic mix of international influences and preppy elements, reflecting his distinctive voice in Mid-Century America. From the heavy-rimmed glasses reminiscent of the Italian intelligentsia to the jaunty boater hat of an Oxford undergraduate, Capote's style was a parade of varied cultural references. He embraced the elegance of a riviera socialite with his towelling playsuits and exuded the relaxed charm of the Deep South with pale seersucker suits. In his wardrobe, one would find a bookish blend of fair Isle sweaters, WASP-ish polo shirts, thick knit cardigans (often worn at the elbows), and Cuban collared shirts, catering to his tropical inclinations. A quintessential traveller, he always carried a rollable Panama hat, a club collar shirt with a tie pin, and a silk-lapelled tuxedo, ready for any occasion. His defining look included horn-rimmed spectacles paired with a velvet bow tie, creating an image of intellectual elegance. Known for never being seen without a drooping cigarette and often in the company of an ageing heiress, Capote's style was as unique and memorable as his writing. He even crafted the dress code for his legendary Black and White Ball, showcasing his flair for fashion and event planning.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, celebrated for his wit and literary mastery, was equally notable for his distinctive fashion. Transforming himself at Oxford, he adopted an English fashion sensibility with a unique twist. His attire, often an extravagant interpretation of the trends of the time, included tweet jackets, bird’s-eye blue neckties, and curly-brimmed hats, reflecting his affiliation with the Aesthetic Movement. Wilde's style was a statement against the restrictive norms of Victorian puritanism, characterized by luxurious velvet suits and eye-catching accessories. During his 1882 tour of America and Canada, he stood out with fur-trimmed long ulsters, patent-leather shoes, and distinctive cravats. This sartorial elegance was a tangible expression of his artistic beliefs and a deliberate deviation from conventional aesthetics. Even in the face of personal adversities and societal condemnation, Wilde's commitment to his personal style remained steadfast. The preservation of his white dinner shirt, now a family heirloom, symbolizes the enduring importance of fashion in his life. 

Mark Twain

Mark Twain, best known for his classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was not only a master of American vernacular but also had a unique sartorial presence. He famously donned white suits, a style he adopted later in life that became as much a part of his identity as his literary works. His preference for white attire was first prominently noted in 1906 when he wore his trademark white suit to a Congressional hearing on copyright. Twain's choice of light-coloured clothing was both a personal preference and a statement against the conventional dark attire of the time. He explained to Congress that at the age of 71, dark colours had a depressing effect on him, and he found light ones more pleasing and spirit-lifting. His approach to fashion was fearless and individualistic, as he expressed no concern for criticism or conventional norms. Twain's commentary on dress extended beyond personal choice; he critiqued the monotonous black of men's evening wear, likening it to a "flock of crows" and finding it uninspiring.

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe, celebrated for The Bonfire of the Vanities, was as famous for his literary contributions as he was for his unique sartorial choices. Known for his white suits, printed ties, and straw hats, Wolfe's fashion sense became one of the most iconic and discussed elements in the literary world. His white suits were an integral part of his identity, worn in public, at home, and even to the gym. These suits, perfectly tailored yet defiantly out of fashion, especially when paired with his hat, stood as a testament to his individuality. Wolfe's choice of attire was a deliberate form of self-expression. In a 1989 interview, he explained that writers are inherently in the business of drawing attention to themselves, and his white suits originated as a "harmless form of aggression," accidentally discovered when he wore a summer suit in December and found it irritated people. He later reflected that for a long time, his suits acted as a substitute for a personality, humorously noting that they had done him "so much good." Wolfe's approach to fashion was a mix of counter-bohemian taste and strategic self-branding. 

Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire, most renowned for his literary masterpiece Les Fleurs du Mal, is often credited with practically inventing the Dandy style and was a famous client of the prestigious men's store Charvet. Baudelaire's approach to fashion was characterized by an "all-black dandy" aesthetic, embodying a new aristocratic style that was sober and refined, a stark contrast to the highly decorative attire of the old style. His choice of all-black clothing was not just about colour but also a statement of his philosophy. Baudelaire redefined Dandyism, associating it with a colour that symbolized a new kind of intellectual and cultural aristocracy, distinct from the old aristocracy and the bourgeois class. His fashion choices were a reflection of an attitude of coolness and hipness, akin to the modern concept of a hipster.

Fran Lebowitz

Fran Lebowitz, a veteran New Yorker, has perfected the art of the personal uniform, a quintessential aspect of city living. Her signature style consists of cowboy boots and straight-leg blue jeans, often paired with a button-down or crew neck, topped with a slightly oversized blazer. In winter, she adds a longer tailored coat, but the blazer remains a staple underneath. This look has been hailed as “the ultimate anti-trend NYC wardrobe,” embodying a timeless aesthetic that eschews passing fads in favour of classic, comfortable, and chic attire. Lebowitz's style is not about being revolutionary; it's about embracing a look that is unfailingly stylish yet practical. Her choice of slightly oversized blazers adds effortless elegance to her outfits, while the cowboy boots and jeans maintain a sense of rugged simplicity. This combination reflects her straightforward personality and her deep connection to the ethos of New York City. Her approach to fashion reflects a philosophy that prioritizes comfort and authenticity over the fleeting allure of trends. 

Gay Talese

Gay Talese, renowned for Thy Neighbor's Wife, is not only a celebrated author but also a style icon known for his impeccable fashion sense. He frequently sports pastel suits, classic hats, and often completes his outfit with a scarf, demonstrating a keen eye for detail and elegance. Talese's style philosophy was deeply influenced by his father, a craftsman tailor, from whom he inherited a love for custom suiting. His commitment to fashion is such that he was named to the International Best-Dressed List in 2007. Talese's approach to dressing is both a personal ritual and a tribute to the art of tailoring. He views his wardrobe as a collection of art, emphasizing that “putting on a beautifully designed suit elevates my spirit, extols my sense of self, and helps define me as a man to whom details matter.” For Talese, well-tailored clothing is a celebration of precision and a testament to his highest ideals and respect for craftsmanship. Even when not leaving his house, Talese dresses with the same care and attention as if he were going to a midtown office, embracing the ritual of dressing as a fundamental part of his daily routine. In his bunker, equipped with the comforts of home, he would often change his clothes again, underscoring his devotion to dressing well as a form of personal expression and satisfaction.