I’ve read a few of Tom Wolfe’s books. I love his writing. He was a great writer and he knew it and more than one person has noted that he was guilty of excessive purple prose or showing off – basically masturbation in prose form.
It’s pretty evident that he was showing off. But that never bothered me. He was still a pleasure to read. And don’t Olympic ice skaters get artistic points as well as technical points? The man had style. The man knew it. The man boasted. And I enjoyed every word.
He passed away recently and I listened to an interview he gave to Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air podcast. She asked him about his signature 3 piece, custom tailored white suits. In particular, she noted that journalism can often be a down and dirty (literally) business and she wondered if wearing all white and sticking out like an alabaster thumb ever encumbered him. He replied that it had quite the opposite effect. He said if you adopt the “man from another planet” approach to how you dress (don’t try to blend in at all; dress how you like), you’ll find people are more receptive to you. Much more so than if you tried to match the group’s style.
I like that a lot. For the vast majority of my life, as soon as I started dressing myself, I always considered what people would think of how I was dressed. Before I was interested in women, I dressed to attract the least possible attention from bullies. I specialized in hiding in plain sight.
Then starting at about age 21 I made my couture choices based exclusively on what I thought made me the most attractive “me” to women, regardless of whether I liked it or not.
I can’t even calculate how many hours I spent contemplating what I should wear or how much money I wasted. This was especially hard and stressful for me because I honestly have no fucking idea what colors go with each other. When shopping, I would just always tell the sales person to match the colors for me.
But besides the visible clothing, I even considered what socks to wear or even what underwear to wear (in case a woman lost her mind and wanted to see me undressed). I considered the aspect of my facial hair, whether or not I should use cologne or brush my teeth for the fifth time that day. I knew I had a lot going against me since I was in the 3rd caste so I was all about removing every possible reason for women to reject me. My hope was that after I met all their basic requirements, they would go out with me just based on the process of elimination.
My goal wasn’t to impress all the single ladies. Even before I was demoted to the 4th caste, I knew my limitations. I just didn’t want to distress.
Well since I hung up my dating guns, I now dress like the casual geek slob that I am in my heart of hearts. Unless it’s a wedding, funeral or job interview, it’s gonna be a T-shirt and jeans (or dorky cargo shorts if it’s hot out). There’s no more stress or high expense being put forward for making anyone else happy.
Frankly, fuck everyone else.
So I like that Wolfe embraced his signature style and wore it happily among all the disparate individuals he ran into over the course of his journalistic career and writing life.
I’m not sure I agree with his opinion that more people will open up to you if you stick out aesthetically in a homogeneous group but I do think he’s spot on about people sniffing out a fake. When you try to blend in by wearing someone else’s heartsong, the note always comes out wrong. You just aren’t as comfortable as you would be in your spirit animal armor. And comfort and ease resonates. People like it.
As an agnostic, I’m not really sure where Tom Wolfe’s spirit is right now. The kid in me really hopes it’s in a nice place where he can talk to all of his departed friends and people aren’t as evil as they generally are. The cynical adult in me says it’s gone forever. The hybrid adult/kid likes this one cosmology theory says that we might be like ants living next to a super highway where the highway is an advanced civilization or being. Just as there’s no conceivable way to explain interstates to an insect, maybe our tiny hairless ape minds simply can’t grasp the nature of some much higher power.
Regardless, I hope Tom Wolfe is doing well and that the dry cleaning rates are reasonable wherever he may be.