Monday, August 23, 2010

Tom Wolfe: Sartorial Silliness in Southampton



A reader who shares the same hometown as Tom Wolfe left a great comment the other day in response to my ADG In Book-Land: What are you reading? post. oldominion crossed paths with Jennet Conant one day and Tom Wolfe the night before. A writer and writing teacher in Baltimore, oldominion has recently resurrected his own blog.

Here you go…directly from his email…
oldominion said...
“Was happily making my way through The Irregulars recently on vacation when, looking up, I saw the author herself walking towards me in her tennis whites. The book is wonderful when focusing on Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, Ivar Bryce and Henry Marsh, slows a bit otherwise. Recommended. (Thanks oldominion...I've read it)
The night before seeing her I was browsing in a bookstore in Southampton when a dapper elderly man walked in: tailored very light linen with what appeared to be a half-lining of seersucker with working sleeve buttons, white trou, white Keds and, incongruously, a cummerbund. Of course you know who it was: My fellow Richmonder Tom Wolfe, God bless him.”
God bless him indeed. I’ve long since lost objectivity about Tom Wolfe. His clothes, his writing, his counter bohemianism in-your-face-in-white…intrigues me. I won’t bore you with the stories about how he began wearing white suits. Most people already know that. I won’t rehash the albeit great but over-told tale about how he coined the term “good ole boy” when doing a piece on Junior Johnson many years ago. 
What I will do, after tossing in your face for the zillionth time, the letter Wolfe wrote me, is ramble on a bit about Wolfe-whateverishness.
oldominion‘s sighting of Tom Wolfe in his Hamptons play-clothes reminds me of this little story from a 1980 Wolfe interview. Wolfe talks about the issue of hostility towards sartorial outliers….
“…the hostility for minor changes in style was just marvelous. In fact this summer I was in East Hampton visiting some people who took me to a party. I was wearing a four button seersucker jacket that buttons up really high—I think it’s actually Edwardian—with a little tiny collar and white tie with small, far-apart black stripes, and I had on a collar pin and cuff links, white serge pants and white cap-toes shoes, which are real English banker shoes, only I had them made in white doeskin…pretty soon I noticed that I was the only man in the room who had on both a jacket and a tie. 
Finally a man came over to me; he was a little drunk, but he was also angry. He asked, “What’s the idea of the rig?” I asked “What do you mean?” He said, “The tie, the pin, all this stuff.” So I looked at him and he had on a polo shirt and some kind of go-to-hell pants, and he had this big stain down the front of his polo shirt—right down the middle, right down to his belt line. I asked… “How do you do that bright stripe down your polo shirt?” He looked down in sort of surprise and said, “That’s sweat goddamn it, that’s sweat!” He suddenly was very proud of it.”
Somewhere I had a photo of Wolfe in that little Edwardian Vincent Nicolosi contraption but I can’t seem to find it now. But the shots I've posted here pretty much represent the gist of the rig that seemed to piss off the sweat-striped-polo-GTH pants party guy. I love his ever so elegant in your face dandyism…and he really, really isn’t concerned with what you think of his contrivances.
So here’s to you…man in full with the sartorial right stuff. Keds and cummerbunds…sign me up.
Onward…closing out summer…ADG

16 comments:

ami said...

Richmond has a definite sartorial signature, I think, that is a little eccentric while still decidedly Trad.

Wolfe is a special breed, to be sure, but I believe his fashion roots took hold early and geography played a part!

LPC said...

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I will say no more. Except, wait, have you read Trout Fishing in America? One must have a side of Richard Brautigan with one's Wolfe.

oldominion said...

Yes, that handwriting on your letter, the pen and ink, is the same that was on the envelope that fell in the mail slot lo those years ago...Also much of that same 'font' appears in the text of In Our Time, along with Wolfe's drawings. Have you seen that? It's a weird book and was a bit jarring for the then young teenaged me, edgy as I recall, which maybe is why I've always viewed Wolfe as a subversive...I'm going to go look at it now. THanks for the mention; I will try to uphold the high bar set by Maxmin, tho' I own no Flusser so will be behind the sartorial curve.

Gail, in northern California said...

Maybe fellas are used to in-your-face stuff but I would be crushed if anyone ever had the nerve to come up to me, drunk or not, and question what I was wearing. I know I've groused and complained about over-weight women wearing plunging necklines, but fer' hevins' sake, I'd never walk up to them and ask what they thought they were doing.
Between you, me and the lamppost...well, never mind....there is no such thing as "between.....

ADG said...

GailNorCal...I'm lost this week without LFG being within reach...figured I could tell you of all people that. And yes, fellas are a bit used to the in your face stuff. And...when you wear things that are provocative, it goes with the turf.

oldominion...."Wolfe as a subversive" ...Yes! Yes! That's it! You've nailed him strait-away, at least in my humble opinion. I've always gone back to his self identified "counter-bohemianism" as a way to sort him out. Same thang-ish as a subversive. And yes, I'm aware of In Our Time and the drawings. Sure you know that Updike was also a good sketch artist, having wanted to be an illustrator.

LPC...indeed. But no Prunella, I wasn't aware of Trout Fishing in America. I hope that all is well with you.

ami...Richmond has a lot of "signature"...I loved, at least I think I did, a woman from there...and I haven't loved that many women. One observation of the old, old Richmond guard...they drank their faces off and smoked cigs like crazy...and lived forever.

Gail, in northern California said...

Can just imagine how lost you feel without your little golden-hair. Too much of a good thing - her and that little tow-headed charmer.

Toad said...

The best lesson Wolfe has taught is to do it with attitude. Straight in their face. God bless him, may he live forever.

...ami... said...

It was a pretty fantastic place to grow up, in my opinion. It made me a lot of what I am, good AND bad!

oldominion said...

Yeah, go take a look at IOT again. That satirical, take-no-prisoners and no sacred cows sensibility is *not* very common in Richmond, especially in the Richmond TW was from: St Chris and W&L. Some of that satire, well, if it isn't rapier sharp let's say it's at least sharper than the old family silver (that was hidden in a box under the floorboards during the war of northern aggression).

...ami...oh boy, here we go, playing the Richmond game.

Where'd you grow up?

Where'd you do your schooling?

I'll go first: I'm a Fan boy, born and bred. Ma and Pa still live in the house I grew up in. But I was bused way out to Collegiate. Yeah, yeah, preppy rich kids and all that...(of course it wasn't at all like that!) I agree with your assessment, viz., a GREAT place to grow up, especially the Fan in the 70s.

Anonymous English Female said...

ADG - By happenstance I'm wearing my Tom Wolfe Tribute Shoes today (Church's co-respondent brogues in tan and white, Made in Northamptonshire circa 1985). Here in New York they were met with just as many looks of admiration as derision. May be next time if I teamed them with a white Homburg the balance would tip - one way or the other...?

Anonymous said...

I dined over the Christmas holidays a few years ago at the terribly pretentious The Inn at Little Washington, and I do believe that at a near table was Mr. Wolfe with a lady friend. Good post, sir. However, what the hell is Mr. Vonnegut doing up there with Mr. Wolfe?

Carry on.

~Hilton

RHW said...

Is it confidence, "Idon'tgiveadamn", or what? Whatever it is, I aspire to it.

-RHW

Patsy said...

Tom Wolfe & Kurt Vonnegut <------ really bad lifeguards.

Barima said...

Sad, but true - I gave myself a month to complete , so as to make myself proud when I did it in half the allotted time

Unfortunately, I left A Man in Full behind in London. Egregious Oversight be my name

B

ilovelimegreen said...

I read "The Painted Word" at the very beginning of my freshman year second semester; it was on the "suggested" reading list. I finished it and decided from that moment onward I wanted to be an art history major - much to my parents' dismay. I had no choice but to listen to my parents and did not major in art history. So...to make a long story very short, ADG, let LFG major in WHATEVER she wants when she goes to college.

Barima said...

Good God, I was supposed to be talking about Bonfire... in my opening sentence. Technology

B

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