Your Literary Idols and Their Wardrobes

“In the beginning, I thought perhaps people would think I was a bit crazy to pick all these literary heavyweights and write about their clothes,” Ms. Newman said by phone from Britain when I called to ask her about it. “And I did think, ‘Well, is my premise correct?’”

She became interested in the topic because of her twin fascinations for fashion and reading and, originally, just sat down and made a list of her favorite authors (as opposed to, say, simply the authors with the clearest connection to fashion, like Joan Didion, recent star of a Céline campaign, though she is also in the book).

Out of the 50 writers included in the book — from T. S. Eliot and George Sand to Malcolm Gladwell and Joyce Carol Oates — there wasn’t one, Ms. Newman said, who didn’t prove a rich subject as she combed through their writing and interviews. Though they often overtly rejected the diktats of the runway, in doing so they drafted diktats of their own.

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, left, and Virginia Woolf.

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From left, Topical Press Agency/Getty Images; George C. Beresford/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

Authors may be a more authentic case study for understanding the sometimes subconscious connections between identity and image than any politician or celebrity — than anyone with a job that nominally requires regular public appearances and hence demands awareness of the tools of nonverbal communication. After all, they have no stylists, or even a nominal dress code. And yet every so often, when a book appears, they have to represent themselves in the world.

“I always differentiate between the ‘writer’ and the ‘author,’” said Molly Stern, publisher of the Crown, Hogarth and Archetype imprints. “The ‘author’ performs the professional role; the ‘writer,’…

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