Tom Wolfe, the nattily dressed and prolific writer who penned The Right Stuff, one of the best adventure books of all time, died on Monday after being admitted to a New York City hospital with an infection. He was 88.
Wolfe began his writing career as a reporter, and helped pioneer the 1960s movement called New Journalism, a form that adopted novelistic techniques for news. It’s part of what made his books catnip for Hollywood producers; four of them, including The Last American Hero, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and Almost Heroes, were turned into major films.
He was as much a personality as any of his characters, and that—combined with his unique sense of style—made him as famous as his work. Wolfe was instantly recognizable in his trademark white suit, which he started wearing almost year round in 1962. In 2015, Wolfe told Vanity Fair he bought his first white suit when he was working as a young reporter for The New York Herald Tribune, but realized that it was too heavy to wear in hot months. Wolfe was so cash-strapped at the time that he kept the suit and wore it during the winter, causing no shortage of double takes in an era when people really didn’t wear white after Labor Day. It stuck, becoming as much of a signature as the phrases he coined or his ability to mine the deeper meanings he found in the minutiae of modern life.
Wolfe wore other colors, too, but his everyday garb was a frequently bespoke white jacket with trousers, a blue shirt, and a tie. It called to mind another great writer who often wore all white: Mark Twain. But it wasn’t a pantomime of that predecessor. Wolfe was a true original, and perhaps his greatest lesson to us is to find the habits and qualities that set us apart from everyone else—and stick to them for as long as possible. Below, a look back at Wolfe’s iconic style.
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