You might think the white suit is something you wear once, in the dog days of summer, before retiring to its closet for the other 364 days of the year. But author Tom Wolfe, who has spent decades surveying America and reporting back to his readers with radiant prose and sharp commentary, wears his to work–even, rather especially, after Labor Day. Wolfe adopted the look in 1962, had all but branded it by the 70s (pictured left), and is still spotted wearing it today. (A 2008 appearance is pictured below.)
With his latest book, the sprawling, Miami-set novel Back To Blood just released, here are five reasons Wolfe has donned the trademark look–and none of them is dress code-related.
1. Just to say G.T.H.
“It started back in 1962, when Wolfe was living in New York, making $130 a week as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune. A product of Richmond, Va., Wolfe had ordered a white silk twill suit that left him hot and bothered during the summer. So Wolfe wore it during the winter. ’It created such resentment,’ says Wolfe. ‘I loved it.’” (“Tom Wolfe, in ‘Full’ flower” USA Today, 12/2/1999)
2. To Get Noticed
“On arrival in [New York], he felt he needed a trademark, so he adopted the suit and a homburg hat, an outfit that his father, an agronomist and gentleman farmer in the Shenandoah Valley, had worn in the golden summers of his Virginian youth.
“Most of all, [the suit] gave him something to write up to. As he is fond of pointing out: ‘If most writers are honest with themselves, this is the difference they want to make: before they were not noticed, now they are.’” (“Dances With Wolfe,” Tim Adams, The Observer 1/19/2008)
“‘I found early in the game that for me there’s no use trying to blend in. I might as well be the village information-gatherer, the man from Mars who simply wants to know. Fortunately the world is full of people with information-compulsion who want to tell you their stories. They want to tell you things that you don’t know. They’re some of the greatest allies that any writer has.’
(The Paris Review Interview, George Plimpton, Paris Review Spring 1991)
4. To Let It Do the Speaking For You
“[The suit] has done me so much good. Not long after I published my first book, I quickly found I was terrible at being interviewed. But then I’d read the piece and it would say, ‘What an interesting man; he wears white suits.’ And so it was a good 10 years where the suits were a substitute for a personality. (“10 Questions for Tom Wolfe,” in response to David Royce’s question, “Do you ever get tired of being known for your white suits?” Time Magazine, Thursday, Aug 28, 2008)
5. To Look Good at the Gym
“‘Tom Wolfe wears a white suit, even at the gym.’ Someone who saw him at the New York Sports Club at 86th and Lexington, ‘walking slowly on the treadmill … in a white button-down and long pants‘ told us this at last night’s National Book Awards. Was he wearing white sneakers? ‘I was afraid to look for too long.” (“Daily Intel” column, Jessica Pressler, New York, 11/18/10)