Style Icon Gay Talese: The Dean of Long-Form Journalism on the Necessity of Suits (and the Terrors of Normcore)


I never wanted to be affiliated with anything having to do with blue jeans. I’ve never owned a pair. Why? It’s a uniform. It’s a cop-out. It’s an easy, lazy, communal form of attire that I don’t want to be a part of.

I’m not an elitist — I just don’t want to be so intermingled with everybody. What does that mean? Attention to detail, a special style. It means no casual Fridays; you don’t have a Saturday attitude about going to Central Park. I get up in the morning and think of what I have to do. Sometimes it’s nothing! Just going downstairs to work in my bunker. But I’ll dress in a suit or a jacket for that. I often dress for the afternoon, and I’ll usually put on a darker suit for going out.

I came to New York in 1953 and started as a copyboy at the New York Times. Journalists dressed much better then. You see old photographs of Yankee Stadium where every man in the grandstand has a jacket, tie, and hat. The Sixties changed that. Now the grandson of the guy watching Joe DiMaggio is wearing a baseball cap and a jacket that looks like a blanket.

“Normcore”? I don’t know what that means. N-O-R-M? What an interesting phrase. I do see magazines devoted to men’s fashion that is distinctly not attention-getting. How do designers profit from that, I wonder?

I have a few hundred neckties, about a hundred suits or jackets, fifty hats, a dozen pairs of custom shoes. I always leave my cufflinks in the shirts. I don’t feel as though I’ve had an adversarial relationship with fashion. My clothes are never in fashion, but they’re never really out.

I go on the subway all the time, dressed in a three-piece suit, and I feel comfortable there next to the construction workers with their hard hats. Greatest city in the world! I’ve been going out every night, almost, for about seventy years and I’m very impressed with how there is still a standard of style in New York. You can go to any street and see people of fashion — and people who have their own, contrary sense of fashion.

I grew up in Ocean City, New Jersey. I didn’t rebel against my family. My father was a tailor and my very stylish mother had a dress shop. I always wore what my father made for me, so I did not look like a typical teenager. When I was thirteen or fourteen, very often some of these high school kids in mackinaws (now they call them hoodies) would come up and knock my hat off. So I was singled out in this unattractive way. I always felt different from other people. But I also felt better about myself because I believed — as much as I do now, as an 84-year-old — that I’d made a choice about how I wanted to appear. Summer or winter, no matter where I am, I have never felt that I was like anybody else.

[This is part of the spring 2016 edition of Sheer, a quarterly style supplement by the Village Voice devoted to exploring and sharing the most dynamic elements of New York City’s fashion and design worlds, from the iconic to the as yet undiscovered.  Check out the rest of Sheer’s featured stories here.]