Novel Fashion

A New Book Celebrates the Intersection of Style and Literature

What would literature be without fashion?

Diana Vreeland’s words, “What would fashion be without literature?” is the starting point of Terry Newman’s new book, “Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore.” But after having poured through the pages of this tome, I can’t help asking in reverse: What would literature be without fashion? As much as the high brow academy and intellectual world would loathe to admit it, what one wears has a great impact on one’s life and occupation, even if it is a daily uniform. 

Only a few months ago I had written a brief piece on my sartorial and literal envy of Zadie Smith

I didn’t know it while writing that article, but Terry Newman had long been working on this noteworthy undertaking of a book that spans decades of authors. Within its pages, the reader will find a deep and intelligent approach to the intersection between fashion and literature. Though some sections are set up according to signature looks like hats, hair, suits and glasses, Newman is a diligent scholar of fashion (with many years as a writer and editor at fashion magazines to boot) and provides thoughtful analyses on authors such as Samuel Beckett, George Sand, Oscar Wilde, Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion and Maya Angelou. And even if you thought you knew everything about your favorite authors and what they wore, you might be surprised to discover a lesser-known fact or a photo that adds more dimension to their “character.” As Newman puts it, “An author’s work is similarly a composite of their life, values, imagination, talents and distinctiveness. Some of those magical ingredients inevitably seep into their wardrobe, and an examination of what our favorite authors wore is as enthralling a story as any told.”

From Colette’s own chic choices, and careful descriptions and observations about what women wore in her novels and in real life, to Hunter S. Thompson’s oddball uniform of aviators, khaki safari suit jacket, Hawaiian shirts and Converse sneakers, Newman’s book should be a coffee table regular. It's a conversation starter for anyone who enjoys both the fashion and literary worlds. 

Newman captures the running leitmotif of the book in these few words, “What you read is as important as what you wear.” I can’t help but thinking and phrasing it the other way around: what you wear is as important as what you read. Perhaps it’s two sides of the same coin, but this book shows how self-influential and coupled that relationship is. -sc

"Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore" (HarperCollins) will be released in the United States on June 27, 2017. The UK on sale date is July 27, 2017.