Writers I Wear : From Carson to Capote
There’s a good chance that labels like The Row or A.P.C. have knowingly or unknowingly been inspired by the geniuses that have been put on a course syllabus, or immortalized on screen for their semi-autobiographical works and sensational lives. Writing and fashion can signify a set of ideas and feelings, and can sometimes merge to create an eclectic and creatively hedonistic world. While some people look to musicians or designers, there is nothing more inspiring than when an author becomes iconic for their style — in both literary and sartorial ways. A number of these authorial legends ought to be recognized for looks that we kid ourselves into thinking are of the moment or intellectually innovative.
Truman Capote// the t-shirt and trousers
When most people think of Truman Capote, they see thick-rimmed glasses, weird hats and snapshots of the Black and White Ball, a party he hosted in NYC in the ‘60s (think the equivalent of Puff Daddy’s White Party). Before the flamboyant writer became part of the ‘jet set’ (a group of rich kids that travelled the world) there was a younger, boyish Capote photographed by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Carl Van Vechten. Sporting a t-shirt tucked into crisp, high-waisted trousers or wearing striped tops and leather sandals, Capote had a way of creating a smart, yet thrown-together look that would appeal to fans of American Apparel today. There’s something soothing in knowing that the childish character of Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird was based on Capote, and that his effortless style transcended to his outlook on life. He declared that he could only write smoking, lying down, and with a tea/ sherry in hand — an image that has now become intrinsic to his early style.
Carson McCullers// the collared shirt
Big collars and a blunt fringe. Carson McCullers was owning it back in the ‘40s. She was already killing it at the age of 23 when she published her first and most famous novel. As she mostly centred her fiction around themes of loneliness and alienation, it’s not surprising that McCullers shunned pearl necklaces and stockings for oversized pinstripe blazers and argyll socks. Displaced American youths and all kinds of rebels can be found in most of her works, alongside a refusal to conform to social standards — even when it comes to clothes. The female protagonist Mick in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter lives in ‘boy’ shorts thought the novel, a notion which doesn’t seem that controversial now when unisex and gender-neutral garments are increasingly part of our wardrobes. Looking at the photographs that do exist of her, with her sat next to a bookcase in a starched white shirt, or cross-legged with worn out brogues, it’s fair to say that McCullers was one of the first literary and style heroines of androgyny.
Jack Kerouac// the workman jacket
The workman jacket a.k.a the the bleu de travail (read: ‘working blues’), has historically been part of the working man’s life — now a staple for the masses. French in origin, ragged and effortlessly cool are ways to not only describe this garment, but the ensemble, writings and man himself, Jack Kerouac, and it’s probably no coincidence. Kerouac physically embodied the rhythmic, free-flowing and drug-friendly prose he created. Despite his romantically nomadic characters, and iconic for his philosophy of not giving a fuck, Kerouac’s image was anything but typical of the Beats. He favoured cotton shirts and mis-matched suits over the turtleneck and loafer wearing images that writers in his literary circle often conjure up, advocating a non-mainstream and liberating way of life. This relaxed, working-class hero look personified the subculture that he was moving in. He was a pioneer of hipsters then, and is the godfather of hipsters now.
Joan Didion// the long skirt & high neck
It’s no wonder that Joan Didion had roots in learning how to write for Vogue magazine, and to separate her from visions of huge sunglasses, a cigarette and a Corvette in California is basically impossible. Long, flowy skirts, ankle length trousers and high-necked tops have come to define the terms minimalist and understated for the modern reader. Opting for simple and structured clothes, there is a nostalgia and sophistication in her written works that are interwoven with her public image. Just like the ad campaigns for Gap and Céline, her style always suggests that there is something more than meets the eye. As a fashion and literary queen, there’s no better way to sum up Didion than as she told the Paris Review in 1978: “style is character.” The elegance, nuances and poignancy of Joan Didion’s political writings and personal memoirs are mirrored by her sartorial choices and the image that she continues to portray as one of America’s most important and iconic literary figures.