Born on 7th February 1932, today Gay Talese celebrates his 80th birthday—a suitable moment to pay tribute to this most admirable of American dandies with a Dandyism.net Lifetime Achievement Award.
Talese is, of course, best known as a journalist and one of the initiators of the “New Journalism” that arose in New York during the 1960s. Along with contemporaries such as that other noted journo-dandy, Tom Wolfe, he pioneered a form of writing that fused factual details with eloquent storytelling, an approach that remains influential to this day. Indeed, he has been called “the most important non-fiction writer of his generation.”
Though it is as a dandy rather than a writer that we wish to celebrate Talese today, there are certain comparisons to be drawn.
Significantly, he has been criticized for taking too much time and care over his writing. Doubtless some would accuse him of taking too much time and care over his dressing. But as he has said: “You’d think people should be criticized for not taking enough time and doing a sloppy job.”
In common with Wolfe, Talese always believed in “dressing up for the story”. His pride in his craft as a writer parallels his pride in the craft that goes into the clothing he wears so well. (In a curious coincidence, Talese shares a birthday with another prose stylist, Charles Dickens, who also cut a dash along the boulevards and who today would have been 200 years old.) “Putting on a beautifully designed suit,” he once said, “elevates my spirit, extols my sense of self, and helps define me as a man to whom details matter.”
Talese epitomizes the qualities of a specifically American dandyism. His very personal tailoring tropes speak of a fresh and individualist approach to classic style. Nevertheless, the strongest and most visible influences are inevitably Italian, stemming from his Calabrian father who came from a family of tailors.
Too many contemporary dandies – even “Mr. White” Wolfe – too often seem to be playing the part. Talese seems to be always and everywhere simply expressing his singular self.
And no more so than in this short film by Jake Davis, where we can enjoy Talese displaying his plumage in his native habitat.
When this film was first posted at GiltMANual last year, one wistful viewer commented, rather poignantly: “I want to be this man when I grow up.”
We all do.
Happy Birthday, Gay Talese.