Five Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore

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Joan Didion, 1977From Legendary Authors and The Clothes They Wore, © Alamy Stock Photo

A new book by Terry Newman draws parallels between the personal style and writing of 50 seminal auteurs – here, we spotlight five of them

While many writers become known and loved for their distinct style when it comes to words on a page, the same is not necessarily always assumed sartorially. But who’s to say that the clothes don’t merit equal attention? Fashion journalist Terry Newman has dedicated a book to this very subject, entitled Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore. Detailing the careers and wardrobe habits of 50 of the most prolific and revered writers of recent times – think Simone de Beauvoir, Donna Tartt, Tom Wolfe and Maya Angelou, to name a few – Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore sees Newman seamlessly root out symmetry between style of dress and style of writing, and bring to light the storied links between fashion and literature. After all, as Newman writes in the introduction, “the distinctive individuals included in this book are not just fabulous writers: they looked fabulous, too”.

1. Joan Didion

Reading Joan Didion’s packing list, it becomes clear that the seminal writer has an idiosyncratic relationship with clothes. Her impeccable taste was likely influenced during her time writing for American Vogue, and Didion is renowned not only for her raw, incisive and affecting prose, but the similarly to-the-point style with which she carries it off. Though she is revered in equal measure for her words as for her clothes, Newman points out that the two need not be separated. “Her writing is infused with descriptive analyses of clothing as cultural consideration,” she writes, citing an instance in The White Album in which Didion buys a dress for Manson Family member Linda Kasabian’s impending court date, and the grief exacerbated when Didion comes across items of clothing that belonged to late husband and daughter, as told in Blue Nights

2. Edith Sitwell

“The theatricality of Edith’s dress sense mirrored her literary approach,” Newman writes of 20th century poet and critic Edith Sitwell. Known for her eccentricities and avant garde style of writing, Sitwell’s appearance turned heads too; a “handsome, exotic” turban was her trademark. Her singular regalia and attitude has continued to inspire long since her death in 1964 – the likes of Rick Owens, Marc Jacobs and Isabella Blow have harboured a fascination for her, and it shows no signs of waning.

3. Djuna Barnes

The image of American Modernist writer Djuna Barnes in a trilby almost covering her eyes, black and white polka dots to her chin, and a tailored black blazer is as striking as her literary output. In her 90 years Barnes honed a “skilful and strange approach to writing”, covering topics like homosexuality and “How It Feels to be Forcibly Fed” with steadfast and unapologetic aplomb.

4. Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag is noted in Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore for the shock of white hair that singled her out from a crowd. “Sontag’s stripe was blatant and bold,” Newman declares, matching her sharp criticism and astute, outspoken writing. It became her greatest accessory.

5. Jacqueline Susann

In 1966, American novelist Jacqueline Susann published her debut work, Valley of the Dolls, and with it cemented her place in literary history. Susann had previously worked in New York as an actress, on both stage and screen, and garnered considerable attention with her “audacious, courageous, larger-than-life” personality and “ballsy plotlines,” Newman notes. She was innately glamorous: coiffed and made up to perfection, she embraced the loud prints and blousy silhouettes of the 60s. Even when plotting her novels on chalk boards in her Manhattan apartment, as pictured.

Legendary Authors and The Clothes They Wore by Terry Newman is published on July 27, 2017, reprinted courtesy of Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins.