writers who dress well | An essay by Lauren Stroh
© New Line Cinema / Courtesy Everett CollectionEverett
As far back as I can remember, I have admired the way writers dress. Good style, it seems, as the frequency with which it appears, is a practically essential trait for those with prolific publishing careers. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Kathy Acker in her leathers as much as with her irreverent prose? Ditto for Patti Smith, so gothic and crass at first glance, and James Baldwin, immortalized through his essays and clothes as eternally debonair.
While the idiosyncrasies vary widely from personality to personality, most writers tend to pack their iconic literary sensibility into a unique personal aesthetic. Consider Jack Kerouac, could he have written On the road in something less American than a medium wash gingham button down denim? And Sylvia Plath, largely responsible for the popularity of modern poetry, would she have wowed audiences without her Mid-Century sensibility, in outfits that were kitsch, adorable and incredibly chic at the same time?
I suspect that these icons were part of my initial attraction when pursuing my career: I love shoes and pretty dresses, and I also love people who love them. Fashion and writing, although distinct and separate industries, often find themselves intertwined, even married. Many writers start their careers writing for magazines, which feature glossy ads for designer perfumes and ready-to-wear collections. Other models, like Arthur Miller in khaki for Gap and Joan Didion sulking in oversized sunglasses for Phoebe Philo’s Celine.
Because workers are historically identified by their uniforms, it makes sense for those outside the industry to assume that, because famous writers once dressed well, the industry is paying tariffs capable of supporting this. . Suffice it to say: this is certainly no longer the case, although at some point it does. Every now and then I hear muffled whispers, like in a state of disbelief, from fairy tales long ago, when writers were flown to islands to work on their manuscripts, given maps payment company with unlimited budgets, and asked to come back only when they had developed something polite. and ready for printing. Even in fiction 20 years ago, well after the 1950s and 1960s (the heyday of the publishing industry), work was still characterized as outrageously lucrative: Carrie Bradshaw was working as a freelance for Vogue at a now unprecedented price of $ 4 per word.
Yet the industry I write for today is remarkably different from what it used to be: per-word rates for writers fluctuate wildly; I was offered a range between ten cents and a dollar a word. Adjusted for inflation, this is only a fraction of what writers did a century ago, as other industry standards have continued to drop and the cost of life was composed and increased.
As new media infiltrate popular culture, traditional publishing withers and writers’ livelihoods become increasingly precarious. When publications close, staff are laid off en masse, while freelancers work for ever lower rates with no fringe benefits. Fighting against a client for payment is not an uncommon rite of passage for early career writers, nor is he forced to relinquish future rights to his work under the threat of not publishing it. at all.
As our culture shifts to image awareness at a time when anyone can be a writer-fashion blogger-Instagram influencer hybrid, one would speculate that writers’ closets would mimic this sensibility in accordance with earlier traditions. Some of them do: Hari Nef, Tavi Gevinson and Lindsay Peoples Wagner dress impeccably, though they and public figures like them, whose professional lives exist at the intersection of fashion and media, are exceptions and generally not the rule. Most writers I know have a hard time making ends meet, making it far less likely that their hard-earned income can support a frivolous habit of buying designer clothes on a regular basis.
Under capitalism and in a society as materialistic as America, much of our personal branding influences how we are viewed by the outside world. The way we adorn ourselves reflects both the current material conditions of our lives and the future lives we aspire to lead. But because writers’ wardrobes are increasingly subsidized outside of their writing rather than because of it, those who dress the best are misleading readers about the realities of working in a rapidly declining industry. Therein lies the paradox.
Popular culture has not caught up with this insider knowledge; neither does our collective consciousness. Because writing is a highly respected job, people outside the industry often expect it to be fairly compensated as well. But the reality is that writing is no longer the glamorous profession it once was, and there is no promise that it will be again.
Access to fashion is a matter of workers in the most frivolous and practical sense of the term; it requires capital available for leisure, pleasure, beauty and pleasure – an aspiration behind the practical reason most people show up to work every day: to make ends meet. But in an industry as wildly unregulated as this one, writers are increasingly forced to make sacrifices to pay their rent, provide for their loved ones, and pay their bills on time. When there is money left, he is unlikely to go to clothing.
Still, I find myself motivated by a sense of nostalgia for those earlier times: I still spend a huge chunk of my salary on clothes, and I dress as I imagine a writer of my kind would like to appear. In this work largely avoided by smoke and mirrors, the most ambitious and irreverent of us perhaps continue to acquire a sense of moral obligation. I hope the industry will recover so that we can dress beautifully again; it’s a cultural and moral imperative, lest this tradition become the next part of our industry to die off and we soon forget.
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